Exciting things are happening in Xi’an! With a growing population of expats and global businesses based in Xi’an, so grows the need for more diverse education options for the families and students living here. As programs like the International Baccalaureate (IB) and Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) become more well known, an increasing number of educational institutions are offering these programs to meet the needs of international students.
Hanova International School, Xi’an
I have had the pleasure of teaching at one such school here in Xi’an since August 2015. Xi’an Hanova International School is one of three international schools here in Xi’an. It serves students from nursery to year 13 and offers both IB Diploma Programme and IGCSE exam options for graduating students. There are some significant differences between international schools and public schools in the US and some key advantages.
Smaller Class Sizes at International Schools
First, class sizes are generally smaller than their public counterparts. The average class size at Hanova is 12 students. Primary classes may be as large as 16, but the school provides teacher assistants. International School teachers have more time to work with students in small groups or individually and provide instruction and feedback in various formats. Smaller class sizes make classroom management easier and project learning more effective.
Quality Technology by a longer wait for supples
Second, they tend to be well supported both financially and politically by parents and professionals who have interests in them. Students and teachers at the International School have the technology and supplies they need to maximize learning. Obtaining supplies in China can be a challenge however. The linear procedures of management often create extra paperwork and can increase the turn-around time in ordering supplies. Additionally, familiar supplies in one part of the world can be difficult to find in China and importing them can be quite expensive. I have learned to be patient and creative in my classroom but my students do not worry about going without the essential and typical supplies and materials.
Diversity at International Schools in China
One advantage of an international schools is diversity. Both the staff and student body tend to be from diverse backgrounds. Hanova International School has teachers from every corner of the world and while English is the language of instruction I have been able to improve my Spanish, French and learn Chinese during my time here. Our students are predominantly Korean in upper grades due to the businesses here in Xi’an, but we have students from Columbia, France, Germany, the US, Italy, the UK and more. This increases global awareness and allows students to learn about many cultures.
In-depth Exploration of Concepts
Another advantage is the academic rigor. The curriculum at international schools tends to emphasize critical thinking and analysis. At Hanova we use the IB program from PYP through Diploma Program (DP). The key focus is to allow students to learn by doing in depth exploration of concepts, such as communication and creativity, through different types of content. Teachers use scaffolding to enable students to inquire, research, summarize, and analyze. There is a great deal of freedom in the IB system which can be an excellent opportunity or a challenge for individual teachers. It takes a skilled instructor to create an environment where students ask in depth questions and become self-motivated learners.
Teachers in the US are Overworked and Underpaid
These are just some of the things that first attracted me to Hanova International School. As a professional educator in the United States for the past 8 years, I was searching for a teaching experience that would allow me to refine my curriculum building skills, expand my experience with diverse learners and challenge my problem solving skills. US public schools are underfunded, over-crowded and focus too heavily on standardized tests. There is a growing achievement gap which creates situations where teachers must choose between assisting learners who meet or exceed the standard and those who are below the standard. I was overworked and underpaid. Making a change would not only renew my spirit of teaching but provide increased financial benefits as well.
Teaching the IB System in China Isn’t Easy
One of the challenges I have experienced is that many students are not skilled inquirers. Asian students tend to be very quiet and often choose not to participate in class for fear of being wrong. Fear of failure is a big inhibitor of inquiry-based thinking, and teaching in the IB system in China is not always easy. It takes time to create a classroom environment that encourages these learners to participate and inquire. Students do not tend to take risks in their research or learning and that too makes the process slow. Patience and teaching by example are my best tools in these circumstances. Once students feel confident in their learning they will open up and your classroom will flourish.
Great Friendships Working at Hanova International School Xi’an
One final unique aspect of teaching at an international school in China is the close friendships I’ve made. The environment of having a group of people away from their homes coming together in a new place is almost magical. My colleagues have become my family and my close friends. While I had wonderful relationships with the teachers I worked with at my last school, I never had the kind of friendships I have made here. We support one another, socialize together, raise our kids together, and struggle together.
Moving from small town USA to Xi’an city China has been an awesome and challenging experience. I’m learning every day that I’m experiencing more city shock than I am culture shock but I’m glad I have friends and colleagues in the same boat to help me along. The language is hard and the food is unusual but that is just one more thing that makes this experience so wonderful. It’s full of challenges and opportunities and a chance to get out of your comfort zone and do something different.
By Melissa Cortes
Melissa Cortes is a professional educator who has been teaching since 2007. She taught in US public schools for eight years and is now teaching IB programs at Hanova International School in Xi'an, China.