Notes from UTeach Nation: William Chan Takes UTeach to China

Notes from UTeach Nation: William Chan Takes UTeach to China


When William Chan, AP environmental science teacher at Clements High School in Sugarland, Texas, moved to the United States from Hong Kong as a teenager, he’d grown accustomed to one pedagogical approach in the classroom: lecture. It wasn’t until he joined the UTeach program at UT Austin that he was able to reframe education to view it from a student-centered perspective.

“I was a kid with a curious soul, but my curiosity was basically crushed when I was in Hong Kong, where the mode of teaching has been predominantly teacher-centered. When I came to the States for high school, I initially felt weird about students asking questions and the teacher answering during the lesson. I realized that I had learned much more when a teacher is willing to address students' questions, because the questions are likely common for many students.”

Chan, who graduated from UTeach with a B.S. in chemistry in 2008 and completed the UTeach Summer Master’s program in 2011, attended Austin Community College before transferring to UT Austin, where he got his first taste of teaching as a science and math tutor. “I realized that the most fun that I had in my college career was not research, but working as a tutor. The satisfaction from helping students to understand science and math was unique and unparalleled.”

"Going through UTeach as an international student is not just a journey preparing myself to be a teacher, it is also a quest to understand the pros and cons of different educational philosophies."

Part of what attracted Chan to UTeach were the practical concerns. UTeach enables students to pursue a degree in their STEM major while concurrently earning a teaching credential. “As an international student, I paid at least double the tuition compared to in-state students. This design could help me minimize my cost.”

Financial concerns aside, what really captured Chan’s attention upon joining UTeach was the emphasis on student-centered instruction, as well as the support students receive from UTeach faculty as they progress toward their goal of becoming teachers.

“The professors worked closely and tirelessly to ensure that every UTeach student would thrive and become a successful science or math teacher. The focus on student-centered instruction helped me to view education from a different lens, especially coming from an educational background from Hong Kong where most learning is based on rote memorization.

“The most valuable aspect of student-centered instruction is the empowerment of students to explain concepts, rather than meaningless reiteration of facts. Student-centered instruction allows students to organize information that is relevant to their own prior knowledge and personal preference. This, in return, strengthens the retention of the information in students' minds because the information is uniquely valuable on a personal level.”

In this video, called "Why I Teach," Chan discusses the power of discovery in students' learning.

"Student interest is crucial in teaching and learning. The 5E model and student-centered instructional philosophy that UTeach advocates put the focus of learning back on students. As teachers, our mission is to assist students to see the value of knowledge and make personal connections to their life."

Because Chan has experienced education both in Asia and the United States, and speaks both Chinese and English, he is equipped with the kind of unique insight and experience that positions him to bring UTeach philosophies to China. “UTeach practices could reshape the future of China,” he says.

Last Christmas, on a visit to Hong Kong, Chan gave a biochemistry lesson using the 5E learning cycle to a class of 10th graders, and led a workshop on how 5E helps engage students in meaningful, authentic learning experiences. “The idea was well received by the local teachers, and they all would like to take this idea into practice so that their students would enjoy the lessons more. We expect to continue this working relationship in the coming summer.”

Meanwhile, Chan is making a difference stateside, presenting at national conferences and facilitating at the Rice University chemistry professional development program. During his first year teaching, he received the Rookie Teacher of the Year award, and was recently named an Outstanding Educator by the University of Chicago, which is given to educators who have tremendous impacts on the University's incoming freshman students. Chan was nominated by a former student with whom he had worked closely in AP classes and mentored during the college application process.

William Chan is an example of how UTeach alumni exemplify the University’s motto: What Starts Here Changes the World