Continuing Professional Development in the People’s Republic of China
Into month three of being at an international school, and it is evident that the focus is on quality teaching and learning, with staff actively encouraged to attend training events (wherever they may be) and engage in meaningful professional development to better support students. So, along with 3 colleagues, I boarded a plane and off we went to Malvern College in Qingdao, a three hour flight away, where we all furthered our knowledge of teaching our respective subjects (English, Art, Music, and Biology.) A far cry from the UK, where government cuts and squeezes to education mean that more often than not, continuing professional development comes way down on the list of priorities as schools juggle their budgets and expect teachers to perform miracles with the little resources they have.
The logistics of the trip were dealt with by the head of school, who organised flights, accommodation, and even transferred an allowance, over that great Chinese marvel WeChat, to each of us to cover expenses on our two day jaunt out of school. Thanks Sir!
With cover in place, we were picked up from the school at 13:30 and driven to Shenzhen international airport- a modern and somewhat futuristic looking structure with a mesh roof letting in an abundance of natural light. Amidst the vast expanse, freestanding speaker systems adorn the walkways, from certain angles, looking like the tails of huge whales protruding from the sea (although, to our eccentric and colourful art teacher, they struck her as the disembodied lower regions of the female form- legs akimbo!)
Sitting drinking a Starbucks to keep us going, we people watched for a short while before boarding the plane. Even on a short domestic flight of three hours we were treated to a lunch of sorts. Though the small packet given within the lunchbox, for me remained unopened. I was assured it was ginger. It it looked just a little too like insect legs for me to be convinced.
The main difference between Shenzhen and Qingdao has got to be the weather, and stepping off the plane was like being transported back to England. It was and is bloody cold. I was told I’d need a jumper so packed a fleece hoody in my little travel case. I wish I had been told to take three… and a scarf. It’s funny how your body can adapt to the heat so quickly, and you forget what it’s like to be so cold.
It remained cold throughout the night and into the morning, though the day proved to be fresh and bright. The DiDi (taxi) arrived at 09:10 and were were taken to Malvern College, a gated boarding school that is like a little city within itself. Although relatively new, (around 5 years old or so I’m told) the building is styled to look like a grand old stately home. If I had architectural knowledge I’d be able to tell you the period it was in the style of. Unfortunately – I don’t! For me it was just mock-old, impressive nonetheless.
Walking through the courtyard we surveyed the angels around the fountain. I compared it to… nothing in my old school back in Yorkshire. Our shoes negotiated the very pretty but very uneven cobblestones that paved the way and we entered the imposing doorway – the school had notions of grandeur. In fact, all the international schools that I’ve been to here have been very showy in very different ways. Admittedly I’ve only been to three, even so they have all wowed me. The other experience was of the Vanke Meisha Academy in the Yantian district of Shenzhen, where we took a group of sixth form students to a TedX event entitled Raw (which was by the way – great!) Of the three schools, the school I teach at is very modern, huge, and all glass and right angles. VMA had a space age feel to it and looked like a futuristic city supported on stilts, and Malvern, was a complete contrast to both of these with a more traditional English boarding school feel.
The course itself was engaging and it was great to work with teachers and teaching assistants from schools in China. It was also a revelation, seeing the amount of teaching assistants in the course. How refreshing to work in a country where teaching assistants are recognised and valued and trained along with the teachers.
Evening came, and we headed to a seafood restaurant 5 minutes away from the hotel. It reminded me of an English pub in the early nineties before the introduction of the smoking ban. Smoke molecules were embedded into the very fabric of the place. The air was not thick with fresh smoke, it was the air of a place that had carried countless conversations through the smoke. It was the air of people socialising over a cigarette before, during, and after their meal. It was the air we breathed as we too socialised (without cigarettes) over our meal. We feasted like kings on an array of seafood that we had to really work for! Even the sunflower seeds given as an appetiser had to be prised apart to claim the prize inside. Crabs, crab claws, crawfish and a huge piece of dried fish (on the house as a special gift) provided a workout for the fingers as well as the jaw muscles. The state of the table reflects the enjoyment we found in the food!
Walking back to Gloria (our hotel for the 2 nights we were there) hoodies were pulled tighter and the conversation turned to the various reasons we all found ourselves in China. Though of course, they are not my stories to tell.