Are you a British teacher considering a move to China? Working for the BASIS International Schools network in China can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but where do you start? In this blog post from Dr. Bryn James, Head of High School at BASIS International School Hangzhou, we’ll explain just how easy it is to unlock career opportunities for British teachers in China through the BASIS network.
This is part one of a two part series.
Back in January 2017, like many of you, I was feeling stuck and looking for a change in my life. Five and a bit years later, I’ve experienced a completely new culture, gained a new perspective on education, and even filled my passport with travels–all thanks to joining the American international school network, BASIS International Schools-China.
So, how was this possible? In this article, I will share my personal journey and the lessons I have learned while working for BASIS International Schools, as well as the benefits that myself and other British colleagues have experienced on our journey with the network.
Curriculum and Teaching Materials
One of the unique aspects of teaching at BASIS International Schools is the curriculum. The network offers a Common Core-based bespoke curriculum that is accelerated by around two years. This may be unfamiliar to some, but the experience of UK teachers has shown that Math is Math and Physics is Physics, and there is plenty of support in place to help with understanding the curriculum and teaching materials. Teachers are provided with course outlines, course handbooks, and typically teaching materials from prior years. Additionally, there remains a lot of freedom in how you plan and teach lessons.
Assessments and Professional Development
At BASIS International Schools, students take assessments such as MAP in Math and English in Lower School, subject-specific benchmark tests in Middle School, and Advanced Placement (college-level) exams in High School. This not only provides a challenging and stimulating environment for students, but also allows for opportunities for teachers to continue their professional development.
Professional Development Opportunities
Professional development opportunities have really increased since 2020. In my own school, BASIS International School Hangzhou, between one-third to half of staff per division are completing some form of certified Professional Development, such as Masters in Education Leadership, subject-specific Masters, NPQs, Doctorates in Education, and short courses from a range of providers. BASIS International Schools provides Professional Development Grants up to $1,500 per year, as well as time off-timetable and travel for study. The network’s reputation also allows staff to have access to the most selective courses from universities such as Oxford and Harvard.
BASIS International Schools-China is a rapidly growing international school network, and offers a wide range of leadership opportunities and pathways. I started as a classroom History teacher and Curriculum Consultant, similar to a Head of Department role. Then I moved to Hangzhou as a founding faculty member, with a promotion to Dean, a Middle Leadership role, and subsequently moving up to head of High School, and next year Vice Head of School.
Training and support is provided along the way, and as a data-led network, effort, impact, and good results will be noticed and rewarded. This not only provides opportunities for career progression but also allows for personal growth and development.
In terms of career progression, pathways include Deans who are division level pastoral leads; Curriculum Advisors, who are network-wide subject-specific curriculum leads; and Chairs, who are in-school Heads of Departments. All of these positions can lead to a Vice Head of Division role, which then leads to structured mentoring to a Head of Division role. It is typically estimated that you can accelerate your career by up to ten years at BASIS International Schools, which has certainly been the case for myself and other colleagues within the network.
Teaching Workload and Work/Life Balance
One of the biggest concerns for teaching considering a move to China is the workload and the balance between work and personal life. At BASIS International Schools-China, the teaching schedule is designed to promote a healthy work/life balance for teachers. Compared to the UK, where most teachers have a 90% teaching load and numerous different classes to prepare, at BASIS International Schools, teachers typically have 4-5 periods across an 8 period day, with only 1 or 2 preps maximum. This allows teachers to focus on refining their lessons and crafting their pedagogy without burning out.
The facilities at BASIS International Schools-China campuses are also top-notch. Schools are well-funded and equipped with modern facilities, varying from school to school. Many are grand and state-of-the-art, with onsite gyms, excellent free canteen food, swimming pools and great libraries. Teachers also receive a personal laptop upon starting.
Student Behavior and Expectations
Student behavior and expectations are also well-managed at BASIS International Schools-China. Students and parents are screened prior to admission, so teacher face few behavioral concerns beyond the typical challenges of teaching kids. English levels are high, especially in older grades, but teachers are provided with training on how to use strategies for English Language Learners (ELL) and English Language Arts (ELA). For many teachers, the quality and passion of the students is what keeps them at BASIS International Schools-China, as each year many students go on to prestigious universities such as Oxbridge and Ivy Leagues, and important work improving the world.
Professional support is also a key aspect of teaching at BASIS International Schools-China. There is a network-wide observation and evaluation system in place that is fair and supportive, based around genuine coaching conversations. Schools also run Professional Learning Communities, and there are a range of mentorship systems in place, including line managers, department heads, and course-specific Curriculum Advisors to help teachers grow and develop professionally. Overall, the emphasis at BASIS International Schools-China is on promoting a healthy work/life balance, while providing teachers with the resources and support they need to excel in the classroom.
Dr. Bryn James
Head of High School
BASIS International School Hangzhou
Learn more about teaching abroad with BASIS International Schools on our careers website.