Chatteris’ own Elly Witham reflects on her teaching experiences that span England, Nepal, and now Hong Kong…
I sit at peace, on my sunlit balcony, a feature so rare to find in this city, onward looking as the sensational warmth from the springtime sun sinks below the towering ICC building on the grid locked streets of Hong Kong.
In a time when working from home is at an all time global high, it can be difficult for educators, who rely on face-to-face contact, to adapt. With uncertainties for what the next month will hold for education around the world, I instead focus on reflecting upon past experiences that have shaped my identity and beliefs as a teacher.
This word – ‘belief’; always changing based on the things in our lives. Teaching offers the most awe-inspiring opportunity of personal development if a person is willing enough to be proven wrong, to keep an open-mind, to become the learner.
And so, without further ado, let me reflect upon where my teaching journey began, in my native Sussex, England, which was possibly the most intense and life altering time in my life so far.
Teaching in England revealed to me that there simply are not enough hours in the teaching day. This realisation hit me like a hammer to a nail and I quickly had to shed my perhaps sensitive and naively inexperienced skin for a thicker, priority focused harder shell.
I had dreams of inspiring creativity and social well-being amongst the next generation. But, time is limited, so those occasions where I experienced a breakthrough I had been longing to see are when I realised why I teach! I loved seeing students experiencing the moments that clicked, the growing confidence in that subject they hated, or watching friendships blossom that I helped build. These are all the moments that pushed me through the long hours.
Being a teacher in England is a hard job; it is not just a career but a decision on how to live your life. It took up every nook and cranny in my mind.
For example, when I was painting, I found myself pondering, ‘I wonder if I could use these thick paint brushes in class. Perhaps I could even utilise them for an equation in a maths lesson? Do I teach enough art? Have I made enough time for the children to explore creatively?’ There were not enough hours in the day for all of my never-ending thoughts!
But, the students are a true reflection of teaching and this is the biggest reward you can ask for. I learned the importance of prioritising time; to safeguard both the key developments of the students as well as my own well-being. This is a journey I am still on today.
Nepal was the carving in the woodwork for me as a fresh teacher and gave me my first flavors of travel. It is because of Nepal that I am here, in my luxuriously tiny flat in Hong Kong, writing this post… it gave me the thirst!
Not only were my eyes opened to diverse teaching strategies, but I had the privilege of exploring a new culture, speaking a foreign tongue, and living with a new family. For the first time in my life I was utterly surrounded by difference so glaringly obvious it not only pushed me out of my comfort zone, but rather threw me into a pool of immense discovery. And I loved it!
Teaching in Nepal taught me to be resourceful – to think on the spot. I reflect back to a particular moment, where the bare concrete classroom became an auditorium with nothing but the noise of students beating their steel desk drums to accompany my rather surprisingly confident rendition of ‘We Will Rock You’.
As the weeks continued, I learned the importance of learning through play. In a country where rote learning is practised, these children were crying out for action, for investigation. Even the older children became fascinated by bubbles! I learned the importance of peeling children away from endless lessons driven by didactic teaching methods and instead supplying inquiry based lessons full of mystery and wonder where we could really connect through human interaction and curiosity.
The extreme lack of resources and the focus on doing was the hardest challenge but overall it taught me to teach beyond the plan, to be flexible, to be innovative. Those students will always hold a special place in my heart.
Now to teaching in Hong Kong; unexpectedly similar to that of the UK, with a little more competition and pressure thrown into the mix. I was surprised at first, thinking it might require recycling certain skills from my time in Nepal.
The students are driven. They are participants of a modern world and revolving education. They are members of an online community and are energized by the latest tech.
Perhaps the biggest lesson I have learned from my time here is resilience. For both educators and students, it is a certain lifestyle, crafted by small crowded classrooms, the lack of open space substituted for high rise blocks.
If that wasn’t enough to contend with, add a dash of competition, lack of university placements, political instability, and now coronavirus. Yet these students push on. They are the core foundation of resilience.
Hong Kong has humbled me. I have developed a deep admiration for these students and the hardships they have faced, especially when compared to the undeniable ease I had throughout my education. Chatteris reaches out to those students who are most in need, and this opportunity has allowed me to build trusting relationships with students. This is what I have loved most about this organisation.
Chatteris has been an experience that has built my resilience and altered not only my understanding of global education, but also my perspectives on life. It has helped me grow in ways I didn’t ever imagine.
Eager to inspire students in Hong Kong like Elly? Click here to find out how to become a tutor with Chatteris!