This week, our Professional Portrait series turns the spotlight on our Junior School Assistant Teachers!
We’ve had the pleasure to meet five enthusiastic assistant teachers and learn more about their role, their challenges and what they find most rewarding in their role. Come along and meet Qiqi Wang, Tracy Zhang, Amy Zhang, Amy Zhao, Catherine Zheng!
Cumulating 15 years of experience at Dulwich College Beijing after a decade of teaching at Montessori School of Beijing, Tracy Zhang, English Support, and Amy Zhang, Learning Support, have evolved from Early Years to Junior School. Equally qualified after 11 years at DCB, Amy Zhao has also transitioned from Early Years to Junior School. Qiqi Wang and Catherine Zheng bring in a vast teaching experience before joining DCB respectively 5 and 2 years ago. They all expressed the same passion and energy when telling us about their responsibilities, challenges and joys in their role.
Q: How are the Assistant Teachers are organised in Junior School!
A: There are twenty-four Assistant Teachers (ATs) in total, divided into three main groups:
- Fifteen class ATs support individual classes or year groups. Year 3 and Year 4 students have one dedicated AT per class, like Qiqi, to help them develop their independence, emotional skills and some basic technology skills. Year 5 and Year 6 are progressively getting ready for Senior School, so three ATs like Catherine take care of all Year 5 students, and two ATs like Amy Zhao are in charge of all Year 6 as they are more independent and learn to make responsible choices on their own.
- Alongside these class ATs, the Students Services Support is shared between four English support ATs like Tracy, and three Additional Education Support ATs like Amy Zhang who focus on students requiring more emotional and behavioural support
- Finally, two Art and Music Specialists complete the AT team.
Q: According to you, what is the main role of the ATs?
Unanimous answer: Assistant Teachers are here to support students in their learning journey. We help them in English and the different subjects, but also to develop their social skills, emotional and cultural awareness or to settle into their daily schedule. “We know the school, its culture, the curriculum, the parents and the teachers, so we try to help as much as possible” says Tracy. “We can facilitate communication between school and parents, but also between the teacher and the students.” Over the years, our role has been extended with more involvement in class planning and teaching, in closer collaboration with the class teachers. This culminated during the pandemic last year as we supported parents in many ways throughout the students’ unprecedented online learning experience.
Q: What are your main challenge(s)?
Unanimous Answer: Multitasking! We supervise and help their students during their daily activities, prepare classes, manage parents’ requests, collaborate with the teachers and even occasionally put on an IT hat! This is what makes our life interesting, but it indeed requires us to be rather organised and flexible.
Working in a diverse international environment is very enriching but it is also challenging because it requires high adaptability to adjust to new students every year and new teachers every few years, with each of them having their own personalities, teaching experience, expectations, or cultural background.
Q: What is the recipe to build a good AT-class teacher team?
A: We cannot emphasise enough how crucial it is for the class teacher and the assistant teacher to establish a robust communication process. This is how we can align our cultural understanding of each student, then adjust our expectations and behaviour accordingly.
For example, when new students join DCB from a public school, they face the English language challenge. However, we have also identified some subject-specific cultural differences. Sometimes in Maths, some students would very quickly provide the right answer to a problem, but find it challenging to explain the specific problem-solving thinking process they followed. This could sometimes be misinterpreted as a learning challenge while it actually only reflects a difference between two Maths learning curricula. This is why it is so important for class teachers to be aware of such differences.
Q: Could you describe a common challenge most new students encounter upon joining Junior School?
A: Other than English and independence, the other key challenge is to socialise. For younger students, making friends is of utmost priority, with individual expectations that can be discussed within the class. This is one of the many occasions when ATs become the person students feel comfortable to confide in, especially when doing so in Chinese or when reconnecting with a familiar AT from Early Years. An important part of our role is to provide emotional comfort during the school day, checking on every student in the morning, and monitoring them throughout the day.
Q: What do you find particularly rewarding here?
A: We love Junior School’s culture and atmosphere, but most importantly, we love working together as a team and collaborate with teachers, students and parents with a single and straightforward goal in mind: support each and every student to help them grow into happy students. As Catherine underlines, “DCB develops the students’ abilities more than their academics, and it’s very rewarding to have an impact on their life”. Students also show us their affection in different ways, and answering their sometimes naïve questions is also very enjoyable.
Everyone echoed Amy Zhang’s comment that “working with different year groups, different international teachers with different teaching styles really enriches my life, it’s a privilege.”
Q: How would you define a good AT?
A: Catherine summarised the ideal AT as someone who is “flexible and able to offer a suitable approach to each student, proactively cooperates with the class teacher while developing a wide range of teaching strategies to keep students engaged during their learning, and support them at different levels.” This requires some creativity in our teaching approach! We have to be considerate and supportive of teachers and parents, and of course, students expect us to be always cheerful!
In the fluctuating context of an expatriate teaching body, the ATs are the backbone of Junior School. They provide invaluable stability and offer expertise to teachers, students and parents. In addition, they provide a vitally important contextual link for students and teachers, including those who may be new to China and are adapting to working in an international school environment