The Fantastic Fangxia Zhao: Her Journey to North Atlanta


Ayana Ragin

NAHS’s Most Resilient Teacher: 赵老师 (Zhao Lao Shi) waiting for her scholar students to enter the classroom – always ready to teach and make a difference!

North Atlanta is one of two high schools in the Atlanta Public Schools district that offers Mandarin as a foreign language option for students. This option allows Dubs to improve upon their Chinese-speaking abilities, or start a new language journey. Nevertheless, this journey would not be possible without Fangxia Zhao – North Atlanta’s one and only Chinese teacher. 

 Zhao (赵老师) had a far from normal childhood. Born in a rural town outside of Xi’an in Shaanxi Province in Central China, Zhao grew up with seven siblings on her family’s farm. During this time, Chinese Communist Party Leader, Mao Zedong, launched the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). This movement established communism in China and stopped the spread of western ideology. Throughout this revolution, over one million people were killed, many were imprisoned and tortured, and peoples’ properties were seized. Zhao’s family was one of many that had their land taken from them by the government. Individuals that were part of the working class were classified as anti-revolutionists; for example, doctors and landowners. “If you had knowledge, you were bad,” she said. “Only peasants were considered reliable to the government because they were easy to control.”

This allowed for a very abnormal and obstacle-filled education experience for Zhao. At that time, China’s education system only focused on teaching content related to the revolution. Traditional subjects, such as math, science, history, and literature, were obsolete. Their education consisted of learning songs and dances related to the revolution, participating in farm labor, or going to factories and helping workers. Attending college was a distant dream for Zhao. Her family struggled to meet their needs with the little money they received from the government. “Seeing my family’s situation and seeing suffering every day, in my mind, there was no hope,” she said. “I did not think that receiving higher education would be possible.”

With hard work and lots of studying, Zhao attended Xi’an International University in 1983 and majored in the English language. In 1987, after graduating from college, she started working at the Northwest Institute of Plateau Biology CAS (Chinese Academy of China) in Xining, Qinghai, as an interpreter. Zhao’s knowledge of the English language provided her with lots of job opportunities. In 1995, Zhao decided to move to the United States. “I was not learning anything new as an interpreter,” she said. “I knew I wanted to go back to school and learn more.”

Under a visiting scholar visa, Zhao worked at Auburn University in the Zoology Department. She worked there for about three and a half years before she decided to get her Master’s Degree in Structural Design and Doctorate in Education. After 11 years of school, Zhao graduated from Auburn University with two degrees. 

In 2007, Fangxia Zhao started teaching Mandarin at North Atlanta High School. 15 years later, Zhao is still a teacher at NAHS and continues to teach and inspire students every day. “It is extremely motivating for me as a teacher to see my students make progress in their learning and knowledge of the language,” said Zhao. 

Fangxia Zhao is an incredible example of perseverance. “When you fear nothing and work hard you will succeed,” she said. “Only you can determine your future.”