The founding faculty, school leadership, and staff at BASIS Bilingual School Shenzhen have done an outstanding job creating a positive school community in just a year’s time. Their success and learning experiences from the 2020-21 school year provides a solid foundation not only for their own expansion and growth, but also for the future bilingual schools opening in our network in the coming years.

One of our expat teachers from South Africa shared about her experiences as a founding member of faculty at BASIS Bilingual School Shenzhen. Her story shows that not only can you learn about new teaching techniques and curriculum by teaching abroad, but also about yourself and the world around you.

What influenced your decision to teach abroad? Why did you choose to teach in China?

At the time of my application, there was a huge demand for teachers in many parts of China, and I could find that the opportunities to go to different locations were unparalleled. Furthermore in comparison to my country, the monetary reward for teaching was higher in China due to a wide variety of factors.

Depending on the type of school, I could teach to different curriculums and take on brand new subjects which might not have been taught in South Africa. I could meet students who have been brought up around a different culture and who have been involved with a different way of life, and learn about a variety of cultures while being able to see various parts of China and the world. China is also much safer than South Africa.

What do you enjoy most about teaching internationally in a bilingual school?

With English being a language which is in demand at BASIS Bilingual School Shenzhen, I enjoy the fact that I can make more of an impact amongst the students of BASIS Bilingual School Shenzhen than in my previous 28 years of experience. My mind has been opened to brand new methods of teaching/programs/testing programs (e.g. Saxon math, MAP testing, Fountas, and Pinnell) which I have not used before. And, as a teacher begins to live and absorb the culture of China, I am beginning to become a little bilingual myself–and I realize the connection which might be shared between the other languages in which I am proficient.

BASIS Bilingual School Shenzhen LET with students

If this is the first time you’ve taught in a bilingual school, what were some of the things you had to learn or adapt to?

The fact that there is a LET (Learning Expert Teacher) and SET (Subject Expert Teacher) in the classroom with a co-teaching model, can be overwhelming at first; however, once individual teachers decide to pool resources, interests, and expertise in the subject and implement a scheme of work suitable to the needs for their pupils and the facilities of their school, teaching becomes a collective responsibility.

Both the LET and I needed to accommodate each other in terms of teaching styles, methods, and needed to accept change and ensure that communication is clear and ongoing. There were times that our lesson had to change direction from the intended plan due to unforeseen situations. I had to adapt to my LET’s way of reasoning, and with both of us coming to a common consensus. One of the major areas that has to be constantly worked on is ensuring that both teachers have a clear understanding of expectations in all areas of teaching and learning. Every procedure and rule has to be revisited and taught in the same manner by both teachers consistently.

If you have taught in a bilingual school before, what has been unique about your experience with BASIS Bilingual School Shenzhen?

My previous school, which was predominantly local Chinese nationals, was accommodating and supportive; however at BASIS Bilingual School Shenzhen, our students include some foreign students, as well as local Chinese nationals. Parents at our school choose us because we are bilingual and international.

BASIS Bilingual School Shenzhen dance performance

What I love about working here is that the experience has really supported and helped me settle into Futian and the school itself, and as a result I am learning a new language, culture, and perspective on education. Both my family and I were welcomed very warmly here by BBSZ and everyone we have met here on campus. My employer, Dr. Guan (Head of Ascend Education Group), is very generous and kind towards all employees and my Head of School, Mr. Tom Davison, leads by example. He transferred skills of teaching routines and procedures as well as many areas of expertise regarding classroom organization and management.

What has been the most challenging aspect of being a part of a brand new bilingual school? What has been the most rewarding?

For me personally, I adjusted well to the brand new school, as I was instrumental in setting up three new schools back home. The so called “challenges” for others did not phase me as I experienced “real life challenges” back home whilst being part of a new school, e.g. lack of water, electricity, resources and infrastructure, etc.

There are many areas that were most rewarding:

  1. Aside from the management providing a month long training event to help new teachers integrate into BASIS Bilingual School Shenzhen, I connected with new colleagues.
  2. Guidance and support from a management and specific insights on teaching the BASIS Curriculum and procedures.
  3. Being a brand new school, we have many resources to help us teach the subject to the fullest potential.
  4. BASIS Bilingual School Shenzhen has a very understanding, engaged, and supportive parent community.
  5. I am trusted with the flexibility in my classroom in order to maximize student engagement. The flexibility allows me not only to pursue new ideas, or create new content, but innovate in a way that builds student mastery at BASIS Bilingual School Shenzhen.

BASIS Bilingual School Shenzhen campus

What has the collaboration been like between the expat and local faculty?

We need to collaborate all the time. There is a sense of health collaboration, however, certain activities, perceptions, etc. are still a work in progress. Whilst being a “smaller” new school until next year, and in light of COVID-19, we have built relationships, and our commitment and understanding of each other is growing and being strengthened. Many expats and local faculty spend time together after work or on weekends. The local faculty are extremely helpful regarding apps, getting around, or even simple things like ordering of food and groceries.

With the unique circumstances of going abroad during COVID-19, what type of support did you receive from BASIS Bilingual School Shenzhen that helped to ease this transition?

All our paperwork (bank accounts, life and international travel insurance, travel remission, visas, housing, tax registration, etc.) were handled by our approachable, vibrant, and knowledgeable HR team. More importantly, BBSZ ensured that we were tested on site for COVID, we received our COVID injections at the Hong Kong Hospital in Shenzhen and our temperature together with the students are monitored daily. Information on government regulations and other requirements of COVID-19 are communicated timely and efficiently to all staff.

BASIS Bilingual School Shenzhen campus

What advice would you give teachers who are considering teaching abroad?

After teaching for 28 years, I am both humbled and privileged to be a part of the BBSZ. This move has made a great impact on both myself as well as our family from a financial and social impact. We are constantly learning about other cultures, being able to see different parts of China (and later the world), and BBSZ helped me to realize that I am highly adaptable, teachable, a self-sufficient woman, unafraid of risks or change and most importantly–I am enough.

Tammy Naik is a Grade 3 homeroom teacher at BASIS Bilingual School Shenzhen. Originally from South Africa, the 2020 – 21 school year was her first year teaching with our school network.

Learn more about teaching with BASIS International Schools on our careers website.

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