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Teaching assignment half a world away Lewiston-Porter art teacher takes crash course in Chinese

LEWISTON -- Getting ready to return to the classroom can be a busy time for teachers.

For Lewiston-Porter's Joshua Milovich, this year it's downright nerve-racking and exhilarating.

That's because he's heading to a classroom 6,700 miles from Lewiston -- he will be in Tianjin, China, teaching students conversational English and Western art.

"The things that make me nervous are also the things that make me excited," Milovich told The Buffalo News. "If it wasn't so different, I would probably be less nervous but less excited."

To be sure, the language barrier will be a huge factor. Although Milovich will spend two months living alone in Tianjin and teaching English as part of a teacher exchange, his Chinese knowledge is what he describes as "very slight."

"That's my main concern," he said. "I can say 'hello' and 'thank you' and 'I'm full,' but it's an extremely difficult language to learn. They use tones, and the difference between 'horse' and 'mom' is slight."

Milovich said he is "cramming like crazy" to learn as much Chinese as possible before he departs Sept. 24, but officials at No. 2 High School in Tianjin prefer English-language instructors to speak little Chinese so students are forced to communicate in English.

He teaches art history and studio art at Lewiston-Porter High School, a surprising benefit in his travels. He carries around a small notepad and pen so he can draw any words he can't figure out how to say.

Tianjin, the third largest metropolitan area in China, is a commercial and industrial port city on the country's northeast coast, about 85 miles southeast of Beijing, the Chinese capital.

No. 2 High School's international studies program will provide dormitory housing for Milovich on its school's campus, which may be particularly apt -- in China, the school day typically runs from about 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Milovich has spent his summer preparing lesson plans, gleaning inspiration from pop culture and the aspects of American life ignored in formal language instruction. He hopes some DVDs of the early-morning teen show "Saved By The Bell" will get Chinese students on board.

"I'm hoping to use the scenarios as a spark for conversation. 'Why did Zack Morris say it this way?' " Milovich said. "I told my mom all those hours I wasted after school in '93 weren't for nothing."

Milovich's exchange comes on the heels of a visit from Yang Yi, an English teacher in Tianjin who taught Chinese to Lewiston-Porter students for six months last year.

High School Principal Paul Casseri said the goal is to have regular exchanges where teachers can stay for entire semesters and teach Regents-level classes.

"We're really getting our feet wet as we move toward more formal and more extensive teacher exchange opportunities with our sister school, No. 2 High School," Casseri said.

Lewiston-Porter students already have done a handful of exchanges with No. 2 High School students, swapping locations and staying with host families. Students from Tianjin will return to Lewiston-Porter High School early next year.

The district will host a China Night event from 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 21 at the high school to kick off fundraising for future exchanges and give Milovich a send-off.

Although the nervousness and excitement are overwhelming, Milovich hopes he can bring some of it back to pass along to his students at home, such as when he talks about seeing the Terracotta Warriors in person.

"When you're excited about teaching something, the students can sense that," he said. "They get excited and they get more out of it."

e-mail: niagaranews@buffnews.com