Searching for Mr. Shirley

The former TBS Chinese teacher has taken his act on the road to find qualified student applicants for Benjamin


Mr Shirley (back row, second from right) now works to find qualified Chinese student candidates to attend TBS. This photo from the summer of 2013 was taken during a TBS summer-study trip near the Great Wall of China.

The question buzzing around campus has been: what happened to Mr. Steven Shirley? The former middle school Mandarin language teacher is now a professional educational consultant for Horizon Educational Services LLC, a company he founded this past year.  In this capacity, he is responsible for bringing Chinese students to The Benjamin School. “The work entails managing and servicing the needs of international students studying here at TBS [and] developing enhanced short-term study or cultural exploration programs for both Chinese and American students,” explained Shirley. “I work out of a separate office, not on the TBS campus.”

Shirley was at Benjamin for five years, and the Chinese language program began with him as he was the first to teach Mandarin at The Benjamin Middle School. In addition, he also taught science (Shirley has a degree from the University of Florida in agronomy, the science and technology of producing and using plants for food, fuel, fiber, and land reclamation) and language arts during his time at TBS.   After leading several cultural field trips to China for TBS students, Shirley had the idea, and eventually created the opportunity, for Chinese students to attend The Benjamin School. According to him, the benefits for experiencing another culture are invaluable.

“International exposure – whether traveling, studying, [or] working in another country and culture – broadens students’ perspective on the world, deepens their empathy, and broadens their horizons in terms of opportunities to possibly discover a unique life work they might have never stumbled across without it,” commented Shirley.

He would know as Shirley himself studied abroad in college. While attending UF, he decided to take an Asian language course in order to conduct international research in his degree field of agronomy. However, when he went to sign up for Japanese, the class was full. So he went next door and ended up taking Chinese. He enjoyed it so much that he earned another degree in Asian studies with a focus on Chinese language, history, and culture. That led him to an opportunity to study for a semester in China.

“The college I attended was known as Beijing Language Institute at the time,” explained Shirley. “It has expanded and merged with another college and is now the Beijing Language and Culture University.”

However, one’s willingness to study abroad and the means by which to do so are not all that it takes to transplant oneself into an entirely different culture. When it comes to selecting and accepting Chinese students for admission to TBS, there are several factors involved.

“Though we obviously seek high academic achievers,” said Shirley, “this is not the only criteria. We seek students who are a good match for the TBS community: active and interested in sports, the arts, and extra-curricular activities, and perhaps bringing some special skill or ability to add to our community so as to enrich it.”

English language skills are, of course, also very important, but Shirley believes there are even more vital characteristics students must possess to succeed here in America and at TBS. “The two most important indicators of a student’s success are the maturity and self-reliance necessary for a student to manage and direct themselves, and a clear objective to keep a student motivated and focused when the going gets tough,” said Shirley.

The three students Shirley had brought to Benjamin thus far seem to possess those skills. He brought over eighth grader Shayne Mao to the Middle School last year and there are currently two Chinese exchange students enrolled at the Upper School.

As a result of Mr. Shirley’s departure from TBS, the school had to find someone to fill the role of Chinese language teacher. Fortunately, Benjamin hired Mrs. Noela Kantor, or Kantor Lao Shi (meaning Teacher Kantor), a veteran educator who previously taught for the past six years at Oxbridge Academy. Mrs. Kantor’s presence allows Mr. Shirley to concentrate on his new adventure, an enterprise which Head of Middle School Mr. Charles Hagy finds exciting. “We are very excited to have international students [because it] is a great learning opportunity and growth opportunity for both students coming to Benjamin and the existing population,” said Hagy.

Eventually, Benjamin would like its students to travel to China for a true exchange program, a prospect that Kantor fully endorses. “ [I think an exchange program] would be [a] great experience for both our students and the Chinese student[s],” said Kantor. “It would be great for Benjamin students in order to practice and learn more Chinese.”

However, it remains to be seen when such an exchange program will become a reality. Shirley, though, is discussing with the TBS administration a trip that would allow Benjamin students to participate meaningfully in the Chinese community. “Besides our traditional study-travel summer trips, a number of possibilities for deeper experiences are being considered and developed,” commented Shirley. “One that is in a more advanced stage of development is a deeper-contact, community service trip involving both TBS students and local students from more privileged communities in China to give back to less privileged communities in the more remote countryside areas as an international community service trip.” he explained.

Shirley sees his new role as one that expands the perspectives of both the international students who are new to Benjamin as well as Benjamin’s current community. “Through my work, TBS can accept international students into its community to enhance our diversity, global viewpoint, and academic excellence and focus on the educational needs of the student,” he said. This unique addition to the TBS experience is also in line with the school’s mission to equip students with the tools to work collaboratively with others on a universal scale. According to Shirley, such opportunities will also “really set our School apart and enhance the total value of what’s available through a TBS education.”