The teachers across our network are a talented, interesting group of individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds and countries, and with diverse interests and abilities. Some have known they wanted to be teachers all their lives, while others found their way into education through more circuitous routes. No matter their journey, all of our teachers contribute their passion to make our school communities the special places they are.
In our latest Meet the Teacher post, one of our math teachers at BASIS International School Hangzhou, Shaun Bardell, shares a little about his journey as an educator and why he chose to teach abroad.
What made you decide to pursue a career in education?
In college I triple majored in Government and Politics, Geography, and Geographic Information Systems. Throughout college I volunteered with youth groups and worked as a camp counselor. While I considered a major in one of the fields above, I knew I enjoyed working with young people and felt drawn towards a career in teaching. With these things in mind I pursued a Masters in Teaching Secondary Social Studies.
While I attended an excellent Master’s program, things did not go as I imagined. I taught 6th grade Ancient Civilizations, and while I love my students I had a rough time. For two weeks however, the advanced mathematics teacher was on leave and I was asked to cover her class. I had loved teaching math for those two weeks, but the rest of my experience left me with major doubts about whether or not I should become a teacher.
After finishing Master’s course-work, I took the less traveled route. I worked for a year as a waiter, saved my money, then I hiked for seven months on the Appalachian Trail completing a “thru-hike” from Georgia to Maine. After seven months to walk and think I had the crazy inkling that I should become a high school math teacher. Upon my return that October I became a substitute teacher while self-studying math for four hours a day after work. I went on to pass a math certification exam before going to interview for a math teaching position in the school district where I was raised. At that point I had more than 100 credits in social sciences and 7 total credits in math. To my shock my former high school drama teacher had been promoted to Head of Human Resources of my home district. I was hired that day.
Teaching math by day and taking math courses by night over the first 5 years of my career, I eventually finished a Bachelor’s of Science in Mathematics. I taught for 4 years in Maryland, and 7 years in Madison, Alabama, becoming an AP Calculus AB and BC teacher along the way. While my path to teaching was a creative one, I know that I ended up in the perfect career for me.
What influenced your decision to teach abroad?
I loved coaching Math Teams and teaching AP Calculus BC at my school in Alabama, but in the summers I began to travel internationally for the first time. Eventually, I spent a summer in Antigua, Guatemala learning Spanish by immersion. A friend helped connect me to a small primary school outside of Antigua, where I was privileged to volunteer teaching math to 4th to 6th grade students in the afternoons…in Spanish. I would learn necessary vocabulary in the mornings and use it to teach in the afternoons. It was one of the hardest and most rewarding experiences of my life.
When I returned to the U.S. following my summer away, I began seriously considering a more permanent move. I loved the school where I taught, but just as I felt drawn to teach math before, I now began to feel drawn to teaching abroad. By Christmas I felt more convinced than ever and attended a job fair believing I was looking for a job in a Spanish-speaking country. I spoke to numerous such schools, but along the way made a connection to a school in China. For whatever reason, I could not shake the idea that I would end up teaching in China. It seemed every sign in my life at that time, big and small, was steering me toward China. I could not explain it. I even returned to visit my friends in Guatemala, but while many of them said they missed me, most recommended I move not to Guatemala, but China.
A week later, the night before an interview to teach in China, I was still trying to process it all. I knew it was time for a change, but I was still hesitant. That night I could only find one restaurant open with vegetarian food, thereby finding myself at a Panda Express. While I do not believe in fortune cookies, nor typically make major life decisions based on them, I had to laugh at the two I received that night. It was the last time I doubted whether I should set off to China. The picture is below:
What do you enjoy most about teaching internationally?
I love learning a new language and becoming accustomed to a new culture. In particular, I find learning Chinese to be incredibly difficult, but immensely interesting. I love realizing the commonalities and differences between the culture in which I was raised and the culture in which I now live. I have lived in China for more than five years, but the immense history and traditions here have not ceased to amaze me. Further, I find teaching students from another culture to be challenging, but worthwhile. I have had to re-invent myself as a teacher, but I have learned so much more through that process.
When you came to China, what did you find pleasantly surprising that you did not expect?
To be honest, my most pleasant surprise in coming to China was meeting my wife, Vera. I originally arrived in Chengdu looking forward to a new career in an international setting. I was definitely not expecting to meet anyone. My wife was the head principal’s assistant at my previous school and my liaison in assisting with the visa process. We met early on in my first year in China for vegetarian hotpot and to review GRE math. A year later, we were married. Now, our family has moved to BASIS International School Hangzhou, where I am delighted to be teaching AP Calculus BC and serving as the Chair of Upper Mathematics, while our three year old daughter, Adela, loves taking Pre-K1 classes with Mr. Justin.
What advice would you give to teachers who are considering a career abroad?
I would say it is a decision to consider carefully. There are incredible rewards, but there are moments that can be challenging too. I never could have dreamed how much my life would change when I chose to teach abroad. I enjoyed my last school in America, but I felt pulled towards a different path. Though living in a new place can be challenging, I believe it is even more rewarding. Today I have more trouble imagining what my life would be like if I had not chosen a career abroad. I view China as my home and I am so happy to have found a school like BASIS International School Hangzhou where I can teach amazing students in a place I love.
Shaun Bardell teaches AP Calculus and is the Department Chair of Mathematics at BASIS International School Hangzhou. This is his sixth year teaching in China.