While Yu Were Out…

The absence and return of Jones Mandarin teacher raises concerns about staffing.


After a six-month leave for health reasons, Mandarin teacher Hongwei Yu has returned to her instructional position here at Jones. She is excited to be back, but she has a lot of catching up to do with her students.

“The thing I missed the most was the students. I came back, and a lot of them already accepted their colleges. My AP students even took the test without me,” Yu said.

Yu initially left in November for health reasons, but when Winter Break finished and she was still not in school, her students began to worry.

“I came back [from Winter Break] expecting to see her, and I was worried because she wasn’t here,” said Joanne Huang ’15. “I’ve had her since sophomore year and I’ve really enjoyed Chinese because of her. She even wrote me a letter of recommendation for a Chinese program at the University of Chicago.”

Huong and the other students had a series of substitute teachers in lieu of Yu. Retired Jones teacher Christine Malebranche served as Yu’s replacement for a long period of time.

“Ms. Malebranche kept us tame and on task, but it wasn’t the same as having actual Chinese instruction,” said Huong.

Typically, substitutes for teachers taking an extended leave of absence will actually teach and not just supervise the class, but part-time Chinese teachers aren’t as common as teachers of other subjects in CPS.

“The situation was unavoidable because we couldn’t find anyone who was qualified from the point of view of language and certification,” said Principal P. Joseph Powers.

The fact that Yu is the only Mandarin teacher at Jones made her absence especially difficult. Full-time CPS teachers usually teach five classes, but Yu was teaching six. This is known as a 1.2 teaching assignment. Usually, schools with more classes than full-time teachers hire a part-time instructor, but this was not the case at the beginning of the year.

Powers has already started planning ahead for next year in order to avoid another situation like this. “I’m hoping that the budget for next year will allow us to hire a part time teacher,” he said. However, one obstacle stands in the way of further plans: the estimate of funds for the school next year has not been given to Powers yet. “Usually, we have an estimate by this time, but [we do not].”

Near the end of the first semester, a certified Chinese teacher was found. Mei Li Lan began to teach the class, but the class had already gone more than two months without instruction. The school provided review books to the AP students, but it was still difficult because of the time lost.

“Ms. Lan is nice and she did activities in class with us, but I forgot everything during the two months without a teacher,” said Anthony Zhao ’15. Zhao was originally registered to take the AP Chinese Exam, but he decided to opt out because he did not feel adequately prepared. “I didn’t want to risk it,” he said.

Chinese IV student Natia Weathers ’15 felt that even though Lan was certified, “she just read straight out of the text book for the entire class, she never really taught us anything.”

Yu made her return the week after the AP Exam in May, much to the delight of her students.