Craig Blanchard at The Parthenon


Craig Blanchard has been a social studies teacher at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School for the last 25 years. He takes students to China and is also responsible for the 17-year partnership between Oxford Hills and its sister school Zhejiang Normal University School in Jinhua. A resident of Norway, Blanchard remains close to his mom, who is 76.


I grew up in Portland. I am an only child. My dad and my mom divorced when I was 1. I was raised by my mother and my grandmother. My grandmother worked days and took care of me at night. My mother worked nights for APA Transport, which is a trucking company.
My mother sent me to Catholic school for 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. I hated it, but I now see what the sisters at St Patrick’s were doing. They had the same expectations for all of us that we would study, do homework and go to college. You don’t know what you can do until you are required to do it. That impressed me at a young age.
During the summer, I went to a summer day camp on Little Sebago, which was run by the Jewish Community Center. On Friday nights, I was expected to say the Hebrew prayer and Shabbat Shalom. I pass3e the challah around, along with everyone else. People seemed very sincere and interested in their faith. They seemed to think nothing of me being a Catholic boy. They were very accepting. As a kid, that was an interesting contrast to the nuns.
I was about to start Cheverus High School. Then I decided I just couldn’t do the whole Catholic school thing and went to Deering High School, instead.
I was in the French Club and the French Honor Society at Deering. In April of my senior year, I went on an eight-day class trip to France. I was away from my family and out of the US for the first time. I remember drinking French wine. It seemed liberating.
I remember having a conversation in French with a bus driver about how he was going to vote for Jacque Chirac. Hearing about this guy’s life and communicating in another language, that was an education.
After I graduated, I went to the University of Maine Farmington (UMF). Both my grandmother and my mother wanted me to become a teacher. I did want to teach, and I did like history, but I also liked literature. I was enrolled as an English major until I found out we had to read a book a week. Then I changed my major to social studies, which meant I studied history, economics, political science and government. They say the field of social studies is an inch deep and a mile wide.
While I was at UMF, I did a semester in England at Oxford University. The people on my dorm floor were a diverse group. I became friendly with a man who was a Sikh. He invited me to his family’s house in Birmingham. They took me to their temple and cooked me an elaborate two-hour meal. It was incredible. It is still one of my strongest memories.
We also went to the Cabinet War Rooms where Winston Churchill stayed during the war. They showed us the offices and maps. I was impressed that a country could value their culture and history enough to preserve this kind of stuff. For a history buff, it was amazing.
I graduated from UMF in ’92. Though I thought about going to grad school, I pursued teaching first. I worked in South Portland and then applied for a job in Culter, which is near Machias. When they offered me the job, they didn’t exactly tell me what I would be teaching. I taught multi-grade classes in math, science and physical education to 7th and 8th graders. That year made me realize those grades were not for me.
I started at Oxford Hills in the fall of 1995. In the summer of 1999, I enrolled in Yale University’s Summer Institute. We studied modern China and learned a little Mandarin. I got into a program that took students to China for four weeks. We visited historical sites in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Jinan, Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius, Beijing, Xi’an, Guilin, and Guangzhou. We went to some universities and schools. China was beginning to get into capitalism, so we also did stuff on their economy. This is how I got interested in China.
In 2003, while I was on sabbatical, I went to Beijing to study Mandarin. We spent every day doing two hours of grammar, which was taught in French and two hours of conversational Mandarin. We met weekly with the language partners they gave us who were regular Chinese citizens. My partner was a college girl. I was only 33, but she thought I was old. She said, “You are a teacher. You’ve spent your whole life in school.” That stuck with me. Now it’s kind of true.
I was in Beijing for three weeks. Then I spent six weeks traveling around South East Asia. After that, I started a Master’s program in history at the University of New England.
My first trip to China with students was in 2002. I have been going to China every two or three years since then. Going to China this often means I have seen a lot of change. The first time I went to see the Terra Cotta Warriors, I traveled on a dirt road. Now there is a huge shopping mall.
The partnership between Oxford Hills and the school in Jinhua began in 2002. Trying to bring two cultures together has been great. They send us Mandarin teachers, and we bring students there. Last fall, some of their students stayed here for three nights.
I have taken students to China five times and made trips with two different superintendents. I have gotten to introduce them all to a different way of living. I learn a lot from my students that I find fascinating. When my students go to China, it is their view of the world that changes. I take great pride in that.

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