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Featuring Renee Stump '11

Position: Preschool 3/4 English Co-Teacher
School: 3e International School
Location: Beijing, China
(Profiled: 2011)

♦  How did you connect with this job opportunity?
♦  What attracted you to this position?
♦  What are the most gratifying aspects of your job?
♦  What has been/was your biggest challenge as a first-year teacher?
♦  How did your time at GCC prepare you for the teaching field?
♦  What advice would you give to a current pre-service teacher in order to better prepare for his or her future classroom?
♦  What job search tips would you give to GCC students?
♦  What are the challenges and rewards of teaching in another culture?
♦  What are the challenges and rewards of living in another culture?

How did you connect with this job opportunity?
I was applying to everything and anything! Shortly after graduation, the ads for teaching overseas began to catch my eye. I started researching various places and it seemed that China was my best chance at being hired for the coming school year and with very little experience. I started by applying to New Day since I know Grovers who work/worked there. They were not hiring, but they gave my name to another school. This second school was a Chinese public school. I consulted a GCC alumni friend in the area that knew the school and said she wouldn’t recommend it to anyone because there wouldn’t be much support for western teachers and class sizes would be big. I turned them down immediately after I realized they had hired me without even looking at my resume! A few weeks later, the same friend contacted me with the name of an International School that had potential openings. I spoke with the principal through email and Skype and fell in love with the school. I was turned down for the original opening, but hired when a sudden opening occurred. I arrived in Beijing exactly 1 week after receiving the job offer!

What attracted you to this position?
I was more attracted to the school than to the specific position. From my communications with the principal I could tell that the administration was extremely supportive of all their teachers. Even in the application process, they made me feel like I would be a needed, contributing member of the community. This was appealing since new teachers are often seen more as a burden from my experience. Since I was going abroad, I thought preschool would be perfect for me since there is less planning and grading than an upper grade. This gives me a little extra time to get out and explore the city.

What are the most gratifying aspects of your job?
The most gratifying aspect is seeing students make progress. At the beginning of the year, many of my young preschool class understood very few English words. Now, they are starting to use the words they know without hesitation. I think everyone’s first words were apple, pear, milk, and bread, which is what our snack is each day. I also love when they start initiating conversations with me in English. As their language skills improve, they become more and more fun to play and learn with.

What has been/was your biggest challenge as a first-year teacher?
Boys! I have one class that has 11 boys in a class of 16. I’m learning how to channel all that energy into something constructive, but it’s hard! The worst days are “Red Flag” days which mean the air pollution is so bad that we can’t go outside. The other big challenge has been managing classroom behavior in a group of ESL students. Since they are only 4 years old, they are still learning how to listen, but teaching a student to listen in a language they don’t understand very well is a difficult task.

How did your time at GCC prepare you for the teaching field?
I think aspects of Early Literacy methods, Children’s Literature, Art and Music methods are the courses I am pulling most strongly from. When I was packing my suitcase, I found my phonics flashcards I had made for class. I couldn’t find space for them in the end, but I regret it because I just spent 2 hours remaking a set to use here. GCC also did an excellent job teaching me how to find information when I need it. I have been doing a lot of research on how to teach English as a Second Language as well as how to teach boys effectively.

What advice would you give to a current pre-service teacher in order to better prepare for his or her future classroom?
Keep copies of favorite journal articles stored on your computer rather than just having copies in your portfolio. When I came to China, I brought 2 suitcases and had to leave all my portfolios at home. Now I wish I had “that one journal article from literacy methods” and have no way to get it. If you are planning to teach overseas, start collecting any materials you can’t live withoutCDs, books, posters, calendar, etc. Teacher supply stores are non-existent in China, shipping takes forever, and it is extremely expensive.

What job search tips would you give to GCC students?
Just keep applying! I estimate that I applied to about 40 places. Personally, I had no clue where I wanted to live or what type of school I preferred. I applied to public, private, and charter schools in several states, as well as International schools. If a school really fits your personality, send in your application whether or not they have posted openings. My only interviews were with schools that did not have postings. Also, complete your PA-Educator application before the spring semester starts and check the postings daily.

In terms of International Schools, try to find out as much as you possibly can about the school and its reputation. Beijing has at least 80 different International schools and the public schools hire Western teachers as well. Each school has different expectations for teachers and different philosophies on education. Search for one that fits your style. There are lots of companies that place teachers in schools, but I applied directly through the school. Ask about the demographics of the staff to get a sense of whether or not you will be the sole American. If you don’t speak the language, you will likely get lonely if you’re the only American at school.

What are the challenges and rewards of teaching in another culture?
I love how my students are able to teach me just as much as I teach them. One day, while lining up to go inside from recess my class taught me how to count to 10 in Mandarin. I love that my Mandarin skills are equal to their English skills and it helps me relate to their frustration in my class. But it certainly is a challenge to discipline students who don’t have strong English skills. They don’t usually feel like trying to understand me or my actions when they’re mad!

Another great reward is getting to work with a diverse group of teachers. At 3e we work in teams of 4: two Western teachers and two Chinese teachers. We share the same students and work to create consistent expectations across both classrooms. My co-teacher is from the Philippines and that adds another facet to our diversity. It’s fun to be able to share my experiences as an American, but it’s also great learning about Filipino and Chinese experiences and traditions. I’m looking forward to teaching my students and fellow teachers about Thanksgiving.

The biggest challenge has been learning the various cultural expectations parents have for their children. Chinese parents are particularly concerned with how much their child ate at each meal and whether the food was hot or cold, how often they went to the bathroom, how long their nap was, how many layers they wore outside, and what caused the tiny scratch on their arm. These aren’t things I’ve been conditioned to notice and I was a little shocked that no parent has expressed concerns over the length of recess time or the quality of the curriculum as parents would do in the USA.

What are the challenges and rewards of living in another culture?
Beijing is a very difficult city. I consider myself to be a very adaptive person, but I get so frustrated when I can’t take my antsy preschoolers out to play because of the awful air pollution. The language barrier has also been challenging, but I’m starting to get creative with taking photos of signs and buildings to show taxi drivers! I think one of the greatest rewards has been making friends with local Chinese as well as expatriates. China has a rich history and a lot of cultural traditions which are most appreciated when you have someone to share them with!
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