What Makes a Good Foreign Teacher
During this unusual period, many people are particularly concerned about the foreign teachers in YWIES Guangzhou. Have they returned to China? How are they doing now? What have they been through?
We are very pleased to tell you that we had almost all of our foreign teachers in place even before China tightened controls on the entry of foreign nationals in March.
Even though our foreign teachers were more or less dissuaded by their national governments, relatives and friends, and worried about the conditions and costs of quarantine after entering China, they returned to Guangzhou without hesitation. Before leaving, they even asked school eagerly: “Do we have enough masks on campus? Do you need me to buy some from overseas?
This is a group of admirable "reverse walkers": kind, generous, honest and dedicated. There is no doubt that YWIES Guangzhou has gathered an excellent group of foreign teachers.
So, what makes a good foreign teacher? How does YWIES Guangzhou recruit good foreign teachers?
“To be a teacher, the most important thing is personality."
Due to language barriers, it is not easy for parents to tell how well a foreign teacher is teaching, and they can only judge from their children's reactions. But children's most intuitive memory of class is: "I had a really good time in class." or "I think the teacher is very interesting." Parents will then wonder: so, what exactly are children learning?
To answer this question, we should start with the philosophy of Yew Wah organisation.
Chinese and Western education has its own advantages. Chinese education emphasises precision and systematic learning, while Western education encourages innovation and exploration. YWIES hopes to integrate these two advantages organically, so that students can grow into global citizens with Chinese heritage. But international education is not a simple addition of "Chinese teachers teach Chinese knowledge in Chinese" and "Foreign teachers teach foreign knowledge in foreign languages"，so this process of integration is bound to be persistent and subtle. Education takes place not only in the classroom, but also outside the classroom.
The oriental tradition has always respected the elders and the wise. The more knowledgeable, the more qualified to be a "good teacher". This kind of cultural meme has developed till today, inevitably and gradually evolving into "Only academic degrees and diplomas matter." However, as said in a documentary analysing Chinese education: To give students a glass of water, the teacher must first have a bucket of water. This logic seems reasonable, but actually it is not true. Teachers are not water sellers, but “fire thieves”，like Prometheus who stole fire and gave it to man contributing to human civilisation.
When asked what makes a good foreign teacher, foreign teachers all mentioned these features: openness, tolerance, and communication.
"The most important thing for me is to build a relationship of trust with my students," said Jessica, a young teacher who has been teaching for less than five years. "Even if a child is not the best in academics field, he can be a brilliant basketball player. If I ask him how the basketball game was on the last weekend, he would feel valued and more willing to express himself. I make sure that I see and remember what's special about each child so that I can motivate them according to their qualities. I'm learning Chinese myself, and they are happy to see their language and culture has a connection with me."
"What YWIES attracts me most is the concept of co-operation between China and the West," said Lee Ellen, a founding teacher who has been teaching for more than 20 years. " The East and the West are so different. Under what circumstances will they meet? How do you teach a child to respect his own culture and also understand other cultures? That's what my career attracts me: working with my colleagues in China to provide children with everything they need. I'm a big believer in this whole person education. I hope I can smoothly send children to the next stage of their lives, rather than just give them a high grade, so that they will eventually grow into citizens willing to contribute themselves to the society and making a difference in the world."
Mr Tonnie is the Western Vice Principal of YWIES Guangzhou, and he has been working at the school for nearly six years. He mentioned the most important factor in selecting talents: "No matter whether they are Chinese or foreign teachers, the most important thing is personality. When you get a master's or doctoral degree, you are qualified to be a teacher, but what makes you a good teacher is your personality. Students won't remember everything you taught them after they have graduated, but they will certainly remember the impact you left on them. As a foreign teacher, your respect for others, your humility and the way you work with colleagues will be remembered and learnt by students."
"Academic professionalism is reflected in day-to-day teaching."
Most of YWIES’s classes are taught by a Chinese teacher and a foreign teacher, but some subjects for senior students are taught by foreign teachers alone, such as Global Perspectives (GP), Drama, Economics, etc., which can help students to further adapt to the international academic environment and lay the foundations for their study abroad.
Foreign teachers have their own erudition in their respective fields, which leaves a deep impression on students.
"Many teachers are like ‘walking encyclopedias’ and I feel there are no questions they can’t answer," said Bobo, a Year 11 student." Mr Gary is an example. He teaches us Economics. He seldom uses a PPT in class, but he might fill in two whiteboards with major knowledge points five minutes before the class. Then he will start his lesson based on those key points on the whiteboards. If you ask any questions, he will provide answers with great detail. He can make difficult concepts easy to understand for us. He is an amazing teacher."
Nevertheless, no matter how knowledgeable teachers are, they can't do the work for students. Students will have to engage in necessary thinking and analysis on their own.
"Our teachers are very rigorous and honest in their approach to academic work," recalled Jordon, a founding student who recently graduated from the school as a valedictorian. "I remembered vividly that when my class just started learning Global Perspectives, and it was a little difficult to understand the lesson, so a student went to ask Mr Karl, our GP teacher at that time, if he could share some website links with all the information in the lesson. This student couldn’t find anything on his own. Then Mr Karl replied to the student with a serious look and said, ‘you should not come to me for websites; you should come to me for methods. I will tell you the methods, but not the answers.’" Jordon continued, “He (Mr Karl) is the kind of teacher who always encourages students to explore by themselves."
"Our academic professionalism is reflected in day-to-day teaching," said Mr Aaron Lennon, the Western Co-Principal. "When recruitment starts, we will select teachers based on their professional backgrounds and graduate institutions. More importantly, after teachers come to the school, the school leadership team (SLT) will carry out very frequent classroom observations to evaluate teachers’ teaching qualities."
Sometimes a classroom observation can be random and informal. For example, the team may focus on observing one student for half of the day to see how this student performs in all their lessons. There are also formal observations. These require the subject teacher to provide a clear learning objective beforehand, and the team will inspect how well the teacher does completing the objective in their class. We will provide feedback after the class for the teacher to self-reflect and improve.
"The teaching goal is very student-centred. The students’ starting points will decide the strategies the teacher uses to deliver the lesson and the skills students acquire in class," said Mr Lennon. "We want to see interactions between teachers and students that improves students’ confidence and independence, rather than constant lecturing from teachers."
Be tireless in teaching others and teach in accordance with students’ aptitude. Both Chinese and foreign teachers have formed quite an impression on students. So, is there any difference between teachers from different cultures?
"When some foreign teachers first came here, they were surprised how well Chinese teachers and students connect and get along because in some foreign countries, students only consult their teachers for academic advice," said Jordon. "But a cultural integration slowly happened. I saw some foreign teachers care about students' lives, not just in the classroom. For example, participating in extracurricular activities with students helps the interaction between teachers and students.”
"Do not leave children behind under any circumstance."
The recruitment process of foreign teachers in YWIES is quite long. One can say the whole year is recruitment season because it is not easy to find the “right fit”. Generally speaking, once a new academic year starts, the school will begin to arrange teachers for the next academic year.
An example of recruitment being an ongoing process is through the tracking of students’ academic performance. When we discover that our middle school students’ English proficiency is already very strong, there is a need to have a foreign teacher to teach Maths in English for those students. Another example is that with the increased number of students, we have expanded the classes. Accordingly, the school also created new teaching positions to maintain a reasonable ratio of teachers and students. The initial and ultimate goals of the recruitment plans are to meet students' learning needs.
Teachers who have applied for positions must first pass a psychological assessment and a vocational assessment, and then submit a prerecorded video to elaborate on their teaching philosophy and teaching styles. If the SLT and Human Resource Division (HR) think that the materials submitted match the school’s requirements of a strong educational background, educational major, and certain teaching experience, especially experience with teaching English as a second language, then the school will arrange the first round of interviews with this candidate.
In the first round of interviews, we will use the STAR interview response method. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. This interview method can help to create a number of situational analyses and gather in-depth behavioral information. The candidate will hear a lot of detailed questions. For instance, you have designed a learning objective, but the students are not able to follow the tasks and have not fully achieved the goal. What would you do in this situation? Another example question can be, could you tell us in detail about a bilingual classroom project you have taught?
Then the candidate usually will go to the second round of interviews including a trial teaching class or having an exemplar lesson.
While demonstrating an exemplar lesson, the candidate will get a text or knowledge points for the lesson they need to prepare in advance. Based on the given information, the candidate has to explain what the learning objective will be, how the candidate will arrange the whole lesson, what teaching strategies will be used to help students master the content, and what methods will be used to assess students’ performance.
As for trial teaching, as the name suggests, if the candidate is in China, the school will invite him or her to campus to deliver a lesson. SLT and the current subject teacher will attend the trial lesson. After the class is finished, they will even ask students how they felt about the lesson.
Whether it's the STAR interview response method, trial teaching or exemplar lessons, these all serve the same purpose which is to accurately observe the teaching quality of the candidate.
If the candidate performs well in all the above sessions, HR will conduct a background check. If there are any concerns with the background check, the candidate will not be hired.
"Once we had a case that the candidate did great in every session, and we felt he was a very experienced teacher. While doing the background check we found that he had received a complaint from a student’s parents. What happened was that this candidate was very emotional at that time and walked out of the classroom leaving the whole class of students unsupervised. We certainly can't accept this." Zoe, the Head of HR explained, "You can't leave children behind like this under any circumstance."
“The teacher will treat the student in the same way as the school does to the teacher”
The training started as soon as the foreign teachers received the employment letter from YWIES Guangzhou and obtained the qualification documents for teaching in China. Foreign teachers will have a "mentor" and another "buddy". They will introduce the new colleagues to all aspects of China, including the campus environment, curriculum setting, students' style and other work-related information, as well as trivialities such as how to pay water, gas and electricity bills.
Western Vice Principal Mr Tonnie recalled that when he joined the school, he felt that he had already been accepted and welcomed, before he even set foot in China! "HR colleagues kindly helped us to arrange medical checks and our work visa documents. They also gave a detailed introduction to the school, the local area, and the beautiful city of Guangzhou. The HR team arranged transport to our apartments, ensured that WiFi and other facilities were working and even ensured that the refrigerator was stocked with food on our arrival."
"The details are the embodiment of our value," said Ms Shannon Shang, the Chinese Co-Principal. "If any teacher has any questions in the WeChat group, the person in charge of the subject and Co-Principals will immediately answer it. This actually gives the teachers who are going to work abroad a great sense of stability. Stability is very important, because there are many excellent teachers, but if you do not provide them with such a stable environment in the future, their excellence will not come into play. We want to let these excellent foreign teachers build and make them feel at home in China."
This feeling of home is not only reflected in the early welcome and enthusiasm, but also in the continuous professional training and growth path of each and every teacher.
Yew Wah has been using collaborative lesson preparation and co-planning to promote teachers' professional growth. Chinese and Western teachers will discuss the details of the class together. For example, should the question be asked as interrogative or rhetorical questions? When grouping, which children should be put into specific groups? What should the structure of the lesson look like?
The process of working in teams not only truly enhances the professional abilities of teachers, but also allows the whole team to be more deeply integrated.
If a foreign teacher has a career plan to stay in Yew Wah for a long time, all positions are open, from the subject leader, project leader, director, to the Vice Principal and Co-Principal; there is a lot of room for career growth. Chinese and Western teachers are given equal opportunities and rights to share their ideas. Yew Wah's co-operation between Chinese and Western staff has never been "The Chinese staff govern the Chinese affairs, and the Western staff govern the Western affairs"; there is no distinction between Chinese and Western staff. A foreign employee is dealing with Chinese colleagues all the time, and this is how they slowly becomes a part of our "family."
One of our founding foreign teachers, Ms Tania said, "When I worked in other institutions before, I thought I was just a statistic, a number, but after I came to Yew Wah, I thought I was a person. You are valuable; you can create value."
"There are many touching moments in Yew Wah, even more so during the COVID-19 emergency. Everyone showed concern for me and sent me messages of support, or if I needed anything or if I needed someone to accompany me. "Jessica, a teacher who has been teaching at Yew Wah for two years, said, "All of this is from the top to the bottom. The management is really good to us and shows care and support all the time, so I think I should also be more caring for and supporting my children. The teacher will treat the student in the same way as the school does to the teacher."
"Our holistic education is actually a kind of care and support," another founding foreign teacher Lee Ellen said, "Let the students know that we will be here at any time, ready to help them grow into the kind of person they want to be."
If people ask why these foreign teachers stayed in YWIES Guangzhou or chose to return during the dangerous moments of the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps this is the answer:
The first thing an educator needs to do is to accompany the children, and without exception, they all choose to become an educator.
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