If someone had told me five years ago that I would be sitting in a Year 5 classroom in China writing an article on what it is like to teach abroad, I would never have believed them. I hadn’t always dreamed of teaching abroad, and hadn’t really thought about it seriously until a friend of mine from University suggested that we came to China to teach.
If someone had told me five years ago that I would be sitting in a Year 5 classroom in China writing an article on what it is like to teach abroad, I would never have believed them. I hadn’t always dreamed of teaching abroad, and hadn’t really thought about it seriously until a friend of mine from University suggested that we came to China to teach. I am now in my fourth year at The British International School Puxi Shanghai, and it is amazing. This is my second international school and I am hooked! Aside from the amazing travel opportunities afforded to me by being here and getting to live in an incredibly vibrant city, I am truly privileged to teach such incredible children. I am Head of Year 5 and we have five classes in our year group with 109 children in total. In terms of my day to day job, this is one of the biggest differences to the small one-form entry school I worked at in Hertfordshire before I moved abroad.
When I sat down to really think about what the single best thing is about my school, I struggled to pick. Of course, I am speaking of what the best thing is after the children! If I was forced to pick, I would have to say our learning environment. We are incredibly fortunate to have two purpose built campuses designed specifically to engage children right from the youngest in pre-Nursery to our oldest in Y13. In our Primary campus, the EYFS area supports all areas of learning and the creativity is just wonderful. Our KS1 area supports a whole range of role-play areas and the displays in KS2 are child-centred and thought-provoking. In primary, we have a brand new cooking room and a purpose build Science lab to support the curriculum. In just a short time, both have been used to make all sorts of weird and wonderful creations and that is just the start. Our Secondary Campus hosts comfortable areas for students in KS3 and KS4 to congregate both inside and outside and our IB Academy has individual study areas solely for our IB students. Having such great facilities means that our students can pursue their interests from sports or languages to music and performing arts.
Of course, a school couldn’t function without it’s staff. BISS Puxi has a wonderful team who work tirelessly to engage and educate our students in every way they can. Both local and International staff work alongside each other to ensure that our students have a safe and happy learning environment. All students up to Y9 learn Mandarin (although it is an option up to IB) and we have a dedicated team of Mandarin teachers who bring the language to life. Special events in the Chinese calendar are often marked by our Chinese staff and teachers and Learning Assistants get together to celebrate Chinese New Year. This is a time when Chinese culture really comes into our classrooms through all sorts of different activities. On the last day of term before the New Year holiday, most female staff can be seen sporting Chi Pao, a tradition Chinese dress, while others join in by wearing lucky red.
A piece about teaching wouldn’t be complete without the thoughts of the students:
What do you like most about being in China?
“I have learnt more Chinese and the bullet train is really fast and exciting. It made me feel as if someone was pushing me backwards.”
“In China I have made lots of new friends from all around the world.”
“In China there are lots of beautiful gardens like Sheshan, the place we went for our trip in Year 2.”
“I like being in China because it is very interesting to learn about different countries and their cultures. I also like learning about Chinese history.”
“What I like about China is the different types of architecture, both ancient and modern.”
How is being at school in China different to your school at home?
“My school in South Korea was really small. I used to walk across the road from my Grandma’s house. Now I get on the bus and have lots more friends and teachers.”
“When I was at school in Holland we didn’t have the Smart boards. I love having these in class because we can move things around when we are in class and learning.”
“My school in Holland didn’t have football pitches. People bring in their footballs, we can play matches and practice goal scoring.”
“In the Singapore school I went to we didn’t have a swimming pool so I didn’t get to learn this in PE. I have learnt how to freestyle here. You have to take turns rotating your arms and hands. Also in Singapore I only learnt repeated addition, here I have learnt multiplication and times tables much earlier. BISS Puxi is different to my school in England because in England, my school is a village school so there are only about 90 pupils.”
What is your favourite thing about BISS Puxi?
“I like Maths in school because we do cool experiments and investigations.”
“I have learnt how to make my own movies and making step by step animations. I was really fun learning more about computers.”
“I love Literacy because I enjoy doing descriptions in my writing. We do these lots in class and learn different types of writing that gives me new vocabulary. The writing and words we learnt for dinosaurs is really different from the Just So Stories. It makes me a better writer.”
“We have lots of school trips now at school and we don’t do as many in Poland.”
“My favourite thing about BISS Puxi is that I can make new friends from around the world and learning about different places in history.”
And from the staff:
What do you like most about being in China?
“You never know what is going to happen next! I moved from rural Norfolk to Shanghai earlier this year. It’s just so diverse and it has a huge ex-pat population. It is totally out of my comfort zone.”
“I have never been anywhere where the general population are so positive about the direction of their country, especially coming from England. It is just great.”
What is the best thing about BISS Puxi?
“The kids. It’s got to be the kids.”
“The children. They are so happy and enthusiastic to come to school to learn.”
“Being able to teach. We have a new curriculum based on the IPC and it is just amazing.”
Why did you come to China?
“Nine years ago I asked my 11-year old daughter which place she would most like to go and she said China. There was a big dust storm in Beijing when I had to choose where to work, so here we are in Shanghai.”
“I came abroad to have the freedom to teach. This isn’t my first post in China nor is it my first international job. China gave me the best offer.”
“I came to China because it is a great jumping off point for other countries and it’s just so diverse.”
“China is awe-inspiring and Shanghai is an amazing, vibrant city. The skyline is forever changing and life never stops. There are so many ‘China moments’ every day and they just make you stop and think ‘I live here!’”
Elizabeth Westwood is Head of Year 5 at The British International School Shanghai Puxi, part of the Nord Anglia Education family of schools. She has been teaching for 13 years, 8 years in the UK and this is her 5th teaching internationally. She is currently in her 4th year at BISS Puxi, having spent one year in Oman before Shanghai. Follow the school on Twitter
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