Happy Teachers' Day from a career teacher in China
I often tell people that if you had told me as a teenager I would be the one in my high school class to leave Canada and live in China as a teacher for almost two decades, you’d be absolutely crazy. Why would I – a bright, but a bit eccentric upper-middle class kid from Canada, ever leave my country? And for how long, you say? China? Get real. Are you sure you’ve got the right guy?
As a teenager, I wasn’t the best student in my class by any means. I always considered myself astute when it came to things like books and writing, music and movies, but I was terrible at math, and even worse at science. I was a comedian in high school – doing impressions of famous people, friends and being the life of the party. By the time I was nearing the end of my teens, I eventually switched high schools (I had a ‘reputation’ among teachers at my previous one) and actually applied myself to gain admittance to one of the top universities in Canada. I was accepted to other universities for drama, but I eventually pursued a double major in English and history. By the end of my second year, I knew that I wanted out of my hometown and went to study in York, UK to expand my horizons. After returning to Canada to finish my degree the following year, I knew that I wasn’t done seeing the world and was interested in a career in education.
Fortuitously, a college near my home had just recently announced a partnership with a university in Wuxi, East China’s Jiangsu province, and I figured I would give China a try as a means to start my career as a teacher. That was in 2002. I was 23 years -old.
While I have lived mostly in Beijing during the past 15 years, I taught all over the country when I was in my 20s and have welcomed students of all ages into my classroom. I have taught at elite international schools, public schools, universities and training centers, and now find myself as a lead teacher at an international school in its sophomore year in Beijing. Now a man of 40 with a wife and 2 kids of my own (who both attend my school), I have seen changes in the climate of education in China, but also some things that I don’t think will ever change.
When I first moved to Beijing in 2004, there were literally only a handful of international schools that were available for us expats to teach at. Compare that to now and the wellspring of schools that have popped up, the change is staggering. There is palpably an unquenching thirst for international education in China that I have literally seen and lived with my own eyes. When I speak with administrators at schools these days, their eyes often widen when I tell them how long I’ve been in China. I know 40 may not seem that old to some people, but I’ve spent my most of my adult life as a teacher in China. I often jokingly reply, “Yeah, I know – long time, eh? What took you so long?”
Another change that I’ve seen is the standard of teachers that are now entering China and the qualifications they currently need to teach. When I first arrived here, almost any foreigner could get a teaching job based on their country of birth. Later, foreigners needed degrees and eventually TESOL certifications. A few years ago, two years of teaching experience was added to the list. With that said, I have had to adapt and update my qualifications that now include an international teaching certification and an MA in education that I am currently pursuing. With the development of China, the standards for teachers interested in pursuing a career here have also risen. This has been a win-win for not only schools and students, but also the country’s overall reputation and prestige.
With all this sea change though, there are some things that really haven’t changed that much. The Chinese colleagues and students I’ve taught with and taught have pretty much always been welcoming to foreigners; they’ve consistently been friendly, hard-working and interested in learning about where I’m from and my experiences in their country. It’s funny that the first question a Chinese will often ask me is where I’m from; after so much time spent in China, and having my children born here, I have just as much of an attachment to Beijing and the pulse of China, as I do Canada (maybe more).
I should also, and importantly, note that teachers are very well-respected in China. I’ve always enjoyed my profession and pursuit of it as a passion for doing something good in the world. Not every country has a Teacher’s Day, but China does. The importance of teaching and education is ingrained into Chinese people and can go back more than 2,000 years to the days of Confucius (551BC). It is in many ways the lifeblood of Chinese culture, with a reverence rarely seen in other countries. Perhaps that’s why I’m still here all these years.
This Teacher’s Day I would like any teachers reading this to know that we are lucky to have the jobs we do. Teaching is not an easy profession, but it can be one of the most rewarding if you truly love working with children and seeing young people grow and become individuals. Next to immediate family members, teachers can leave an indelible mark on a child and, in some ways, even make an impact that a parent or grandparent cannot. I don’t know if I’ll live in China forever, but I’ll always know that I have given the formative years of my life to this country. I’ve taught thousands of children over the years; I just hope that they’ve grown up with a memory of me and what they could eventually be if they too open their hearts and minds to the world and its possibilities.
Happy Teachers’ Day!
The author is the lead teacher at Beijing Ming Cheng Academy.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not represent the views of China Daily and China Daily website.