International School Community Member Spotlight #28: Denes Tilistyak (An international school educator currently working at Western International School of Shanghai)
October 1, 2013
I was born, grew up, and graduated from college (BA in Mathematics and English Language and Literature) in Hungary. During my third year of college I found a flyer by the college entrance showing “Teach in New York” and I immediately got interested. As a result, I got in touch with AAECA (Austrian American Educational Cooperation Association) that was recruiting teachers to the Big Apple from all over Europe. I traveled to Vienna for an interview and, after I was accepted, for a weekend workshop. From then on it all worked out quite smoothly and just about a month after being handed my college diploma I found myself on a plane heading for New York City. After the initial chaos in NYC I was placed in Walton High School to teach 9th-10th grade Mathematics. After one year I was reassigned to teach at Bronx High School for Law and Community Service and remained there for the following two years. During this time I met and married a Filipina and then we decided to move to the Philippines.
After teaching three years in the NYC public school system I got a position as Secondary Mathematics teacher at Cebu International School. There I got familiar with international teaching and the IB Diploma Programme. After my initial two-year contract with CIS I moved on to teach Upper School Mathematics at Xiamen International School in China, where I taught in both the Middle Years Programme (MYP) and the Diploma Programme (DP). During my 2nd and 3rd year at XIS I was appointed the Head of the Mathematics Department and for my final two years I held the position of the Diploma Programme coordinator as well as Pamoja Education’s Site-Based Coordinator.
After my five years in Xiamen I recently moved to Shanghai to continue teaching Secondary Mathematics at Western International School of Shanghai (WISS).
How did you get started in the international teaching community?
My first international school experience was in the Philippines, in Cebu city at Cebu International School. Through them I got introduced to International Baccalaureate’s Diploma Programme and became a DP Mathematics teacher, teaching Mathematical Studies SL and Mathematics SL. From here on living the life of an international school teacher came naturally and I very much enjoy what I do.
Which international schools have you worked at? Please share some aspects of the schools that made them unique and fun places in which to work.
In SY2006-2008 I worked in Cebu International School. After teaching three years in the NYC public school system this place felt like paradise to me. The students were attentive, kind, and genuinely fun to work with. Being in a small school such as CIS helped me make friends and rediscover what teaching was really all about. Being part of a small but genuinely kind and helpful community was an amazing way to start working in Asia, so far from my roots.
In SY2008-2013 I worked at Xiamen International School. After my first year at XIS I gained the respect of both the Upper School principal, Dr. David Freeman, and the Headmaster, John Godwin, who entrusted me with the position of the Head of the Mathematics Department. I held this position for two years before I was given the opportunity to be the Diploma Programme Coordinator for SY2011-2013. During these five years at XIS I also became MYP Mathematics Moderator and DP Mathematics Examiner, as well as Site-Based Coordinator for Pamoja Education. As the school is about a 40-minute bus ride from the island, where most faculty and families live, I started to regularly cycle to school to the point when it became routine to pedal to and from work every day.
Now, in SY2013-14, I am at Western International School of Shanghai (WISS) as a secondary Mathematics teacher and I immensely enjoy the start of this new chapter in my life in this fantastic school with such an amazing staff. Although the school is only a 5-minute bus ride from my home now, keeping my passion for cycling will be much easier as there are plenty expat cyclists who organize regular rides around Shanghai.
Describe your latest cultural encounter (or reverse cultural encounter) in your current placement, one that put a smile on your face.
Having “cultural encounters” in China is really a daily experience. Moving around the city and observing the local customs and habits really became natural by now, after having spent five years in China. One of the many habits of the Chinese that still put a smile on my face is to see them walk backwards as a form of exercise in the pajamas. This morning as I ventured out for my morning jog, I discovered a running track nearby my home. (We just moved to Shanghai a few days ago and I’m still discovering my area.) On the track, at 6am, I found at least 15 people of all ages walking backwards in their pajamas to perform their (I guess regular) morning exercise. Yes, I smiled.
What are some important things that you look for when you are searching for a new position at an international school?
Having a non-teaching spouse and two school-aged boys my very first criterion is whether the school accepts two children as dependents. Once that’s given I check the school’s location, the programs they offer (which is crucial for me being an experienced MYP/DP teacher), and the salary and benefits. The size of school becomes important only when seriously considering an offer simply because I have experience with both large and smaller size schools.
In exactly 5 words, how would you describe the international school teaching experience?
Living life full of energy.
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Want to work for an international school in the China like Denes? Currently, we have 22 international schools listed in Shanghai on International School Community. Here are a few that have had comments and information submitted on their profiles: