An international school director discusses passionate teachers and the choice architecture behind QSI classrooms.
Teacher: Jocely Aebischer
School: QSI International School
Tell us about your experience as an international student growing up.
I actually grew up in Europe, and my father worked for the NATO schools. It was a very international community, and I really loved that. That’s what led me to explore international teaching. [Growing up,] there were only four students my age in my school. I remember we did everything together. My school had special events and we would go skiing. We lived in the Alps and so we’d go skiing every week. It was just a really happy childhood. And I always thought I would love to go and teach at that school because I had such a great time attending there.
Do you think international students in China have a better chance in their future lives because how they grow up and their education here?
There’s actually a lot of research right now on the third culture child. There’s a lot of things families can do to foster their child’s growth while living in a third culture. So really, they can get the best of both worlds. They get the best of your home culture and the culture they’re [living] in. I think it enriches a student’s life.
In your opinion, what is the difference in the education system or method between international education and Chinese education?
A lot of times, when I give tours here, families comment on how different our classrooms look. I think if you look in a Chinese classroom, there are desks set up in rows, and everyone is facing forward. The teacher is an authority. Everybody is learning from the teacher, whereas in international schools you’ll see that our classrooms are set up with tables. We really believe that group work fosters students to explore knowledge. Understanding is really a focus—applying what you learn, working together. The teacher is not the only authority in the classroom. We want students to learn and discover together; we want them to really love learning and exploring and gaining new knowledge.
How do you deal with non-native English speakers? What challenges does it bring to the classrooms?
In an international school, we have IEs in terms of English teacher because you will have students in your classroom that are still developing English skills. We also have specialized classes called IE classes. During literacy time, students are pulled out and they’re put in very small groups—maybe five students—and they work with a teacher to develop their English until it gets to what we call the mainstream level. Then they will enter the regular literacy class. We really focus on developing their skills in small group settings to get to the mainstream level quickly.
What are the qualifications that you look for in recruiting new teachers?
At the headquarters, there is a team of recruiters, and they travel to fairs all around the world… in the United States, in Asia. These are fairs for educators. They’re looking for positions, and so [the team of recruiters] do the hiring. There are qualifications that are the same in all of our [QSI] schools around the world in terms of teaching credentials, education and experience.
What are the important qualities you look for in a new teacher?
I think one of our questions is: are you a caring teacher? [Your response] explains how students perceive you. You want that teacher that feels almost like home. Not only do they know their subject area and how to teach their subject area, but they also make the students feel comfortable and able to really explore in their learning space. Also, teachers do so much more than just what’s in the classroom. Our teachers are coaches, club leaders, and they lead community service. We want a teacher with passion that wants to pass that passion onto the student.
How do you make sure that new teachers are comfortable working in a foreign country?
We have a program set up when teachers arrive. Some teachers are new to QSI, and some teachers are transferring from other QSI schools. [New teachers] have to learn about our school culture. What is QSI Dongguan about? What is our approach to education? What are our expectations? And then there’s also the living. Living in China, getting used to the food here, what their apartment is like… We do a lot of different activities for connecting [new] teachers with [current] teachers. We have a pretty intensive two weeks when teachers arrive, ensuring they know about everything in the school and their home life.
How do parents pick the right schools for their children?
My opinion is that the teacher is the most important thing in quality education. A school can have a lot of bells and whistles, but if you don’t have knowledgeable, inspiring educators, students don’t learn as much. I think making sure the school has quality teachers who are caring and really go above and beyond is one of the things I would look for in schools.
What do you think about foreign parents in China sending their kids to Chinese schools?
I think some of the apprehension of foreign parents sending their children to Chinese schools is similar to Chinese parents sending their children to international schools. We don’t have experience with it. It’s not our cultural background, so it leads to a degree of hesitancy. I think one of the big challenges I’ve heard from friends is the homework. Foreigners think the amount of homework that is given in Chinese schools is very, very high. We want our students to be able to come home and enjoy time with their families.
Why are international schools in China so expensive?
QSI is actually non-profit. Our school is expensive because it costs a lot of money to run and operate an international school. Our largest costs are our facilities and our beautiful campus. Then obviously hiring those quality teachers that make the school really what it is and we keep the students-teacher ratio quite small.