Opening a new school is an exciting, and sometimes stressful, time. You’re developing new procedures, learning a new curriculum, working with entirely new students. But at the same time you are also enjoying brand new facilities, and the ability to make your classes unique to fit both your team, and your students’ interests and strengths.
BASIS Bilingual School Shenzhen opened in September 2020, and our newest teaching community came together to build a vibrant learning environment for the first bilingual school in our network.
As part of our series of reflections from teachers on their first year abroad, we have an experienced international teacher who has shared with us about her first year teaching at BASIS Bilingual School Shenzhen. Being a part of creating a new school community is a unique experience, and her insights on teaching abroad will help anyone who is considering making a change and teaching abroad.
What influenced your decision to teach abroad? Why did you choose to teach in China?
I had taught in the United Kingdom for 9 years before finally taking the plunge into teaching abroad. Teaching in the UK had become steadily more and more assessment focused, and with teaching very young children (3 – 5 year olds) I was spending more time assessing my class than actually getting to know them. The over emphasis on assessment and data tracking was time consuming and overbearing. I was more stressed, had a very poor work-life balance, and was battling with my conscience in knowing that this was not right for young children just beginning their learning journey.
I had many friends that left teaching altogether and many that moved into international teaching. The more I spoke with my friends that were teaching internationally I was eager to experience it for myself. I have been lucky to work at two very good schools in Shenzhen that are unique in their teaching philosophies. This is what drew me to teaching in China. When researching different schools in China it was very clear that each school is unique. As well as this, I have always enjoyed learning new languages and knew that Mandarin would be a huge, but very worthwhile, challenge.
What do you enjoy most about teaching internationally in a bilingual school?
Teaching in a bilingual school has given me the opportunity to be immersed in a rich cultural experience. Initially it took me out of my comfort zone and made me think differently about the way in which young children learn and develop. The part I most enjoy, especially with the younger age group I am teaching, is seeing the progress the children make and the fun, loving and individual personalities they each develop.
Getting to know such young children that, at the start of the school year, speak very little or no English is an exciting challenge. For me to be able to learn Mandarin at the same time my children are learning English is very rewarding, and I feel very lucky to experience this. During all of our daily experiences we “swap” words and phrases. Most recently during recess we found a big snail and a very small snail. The children could be seen for days afterwards looking for the snails, and loved that they had also taught me the Mandarin word for snail!
What has been the most challenging aspect of being a part of a brand new bilingual school? What has been the most rewarding?
The most challenging part of being part of a brand new school was actually knowing whether or not we would have a school building at the start of the year. As we were undertaking our orientation weeks with our staff teams, I remember looking at the still progressing building site and wondering how it would ever be finished in time.
The site workers astounded us all with their speed and dedication–meaning that come the end of our orientation weeks, we had new, beautiful classrooms. Having the opportunity to set up a brand new learning environment within our class teams was not only an excellent team bonding opportunity, but also enabled us to make our classes unique to our teams.
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?
I had already been in Shenzhen for two years prior to joining BASIS Bilingual School Shenzhen. Since joining BBSZ I have been supported in many ways, particularly by the HR department. The amazing ladies in HR have organized our COVID-19 vaccines as well as helping us to get regular NATs (nucleic acid tests).
What advice would you give teachers who are considering teaching abroad?
Teaching abroad has been a life changing experience for me, so to anyone who is considering taking the leap…do it! Not only have I had the privilege of working with some of the most inspirational educators, I have also made many lifelong friends from all over the world. Teaching abroad can be daunting and there are always times when you miss your friends and family from your home country, but it is most definitely worth it. I have learnt so much from working in bilingual schools and from teaching children with English as a second or third language, and these are skills that have most definitely improved and adapted my teaching.
Gina Winthrop is an Early Education teacher at BASIS Bilingual School Shenzhen. Originally from the United Kingdom, she taught in the UK for nine years before moving to China. She has been teaching in Shenzhen for three years.
Visit our careers website for more information on teaching with BASIS International Schools.