10 Images

His own wall of China

Teacher Zhao Yan Feng, who’s on a two-year assignment from China to teach Mandarin at Dorsey High School in South Los Angeles, opens his classroom to his 8 a.m. class. Test scores at the campus are well below state and national average, two-thirds of students live near the poverty line and most have had little exposure to Chinese culture. (Bryan Chan / Los Angeles Times)
Zhao leads Bryan Payes, left, and Aaron Williams in a Mandarin vocabulary game in class at Dorsey High School. Zhao was selected to teach in the U.S. by a partnership between the College Board and Hanban, China’s language council. Early on, he stood out at Dorsey, where he seemed to be the only Asian at a school divided between blacks and Latinos. (Bryan Chan / Los Angeles Times)
Flash card
Zhao uses flash cards to teach vocabulary words. Zhi jin means “tissue.” (Bryan Chan / Los Angeles Times)
Mandarin teacher Zhao Yan Feng goes over a lesson with student Antonio Carrillo after class. Antonio grew more interested in Chinese each week. He thought it more exotic than Spanish or French. (Bryan Chan / Los Angeles Times)
Joyce Arely Realegeno giggles as she tries to pronounce a Mandarin word in class. (Bryan Chan / Los Angeles Times)
Heads down
Some students sleep as Zhao teaches. In China, teachers traditionally command unquestioned authority, but at Dorsey, the few good students were being overshadowed by those who walked around the class, sent text messages and defied Zhao’s orders to pay attention. A veteran teacher reminded Zhao that many of Dorsey’s students live in poverty and lack family support. “Some of our students are depressed. That’s why our scores are so low.” (Bryan Chan / Los Angeles Times)
Zhao chats with special-ed assistant Jessica Eneox in the teachers’ lounge. (Bryan Chan / Los Angeles Times)
Zhao Yan Feng leaves his Chinatown apartment at 6:30 a.m. to catch a bus to Dorsey High School for his 8 a.m. Mandarin class. (Bryan Chan / Los Angeles Times)
Zhao works on his lesson plans on the bus. (Bryan Chan / Los Angeles Times)
Zhao has dinner with Lili Wang, a fellow Chinese-language teacher from Zhao’s hometown of Shenyang, China. (Bryan Chan / Los Angeles Times)