International School Design Teachers: An Insider’s Story
February 22, 2020
How it all started…
I was in middle school in the 1980s. At this time ‘shop’ or ‘industrial arts’ was still being taught with wood, bandsaws, glue and sandpaper. During my high school years things began to change in the ‘vocational’ teaching world. Computers were growing in popularity and had become more affordable. I distinctly remember sitting in front of the green tinted screens typing in measurements and coordinates to create 2 dimensional drawings on an early version of AutoCAD. Wow! How far we have come in 30 years! In high school I did the minimum to get by. I didn’t push or challenge myself very much. It just wasn’t that interesting to me. The only exception to this rule was during my “Tech Ed” classes. My teacher, Coach Vander Velde, challenged me to inquire and question traditional ways of thinking.
After graduation, I pursued a B.F.A. degree in TV and Radio Production. After college I was hired to work at a local TV studio. I started working the ‘graveyard’ shift which involved taping satellite feeds, organizing broadcast files and so on. I was making a bit more than the minimum wage. I asked myself, “Did I really go to college to just make a bit more than minimum wage?” An opportunity presented itself to me in the form of a Masters degree in Technological Studies. This degree gave me the skills I needed to teach ‘vocational’ classes in middle and high school. I completed my student teaching and started a job in an urban high school near Atlanta, Georgia.
I enjoyed teaching during my first year of teaching, but one afternoon, during my drive home, I heard an advertisement on the public radio station for teaching English in China. Being that this was over 20 years ago, China was in the process of opening up to the rest of the world. I contacted the company and the following August I was headed to China for the first of many times since! I taught at a university in Beijing for one year. That year I traveled all over China and caught the ‘travel bug’. After a two year stint back in the USA, I returned to China where I eventually landed in an international school and was introduced to the International Baccalaureate curriculum. I taught ESL and ‘MYP Technology’. I realized then that teaching IB was a natural complement to the ‘inquiry-based’ teaching approach of vocational education.
I have taught in several IB schools since then. In all of these schools I have been involved in ‘Design’ teaching and planning. One thing that I have noticed about young people is that whether I am teaching woodworking or 3D printing, students love to be hands-on! Additionally, careers have changed so much over the past 20 years that teaching student ‘technology-related’ content is outdated. As teachers we all need to be teaching inquiry-based critical thinking and problem-solving skills. The subject of “Design” is the perfect crossroads for all of these things to be taught, practiced and mastered. In the school where I currently work, the students are able to experience robotics, podcasting, filmmaking, 3D printing, digital photography, graphics design, digital illustration, architectural design, fashion design, laser cutting/engraving, website design, coding and programming, drone operation, electronic music production and so on! All of this is within the Design curriculum.
An average day…
On any given day I will teach between 20-50 students depending on the schedule. Students will be in various stages of development working towards a completed design project. All of our projects start with an investigation or inquiry into some sort of issue, situation or problem. This should include an account of some sort of interaction with the client or target audience for the project. The students will continue to follow the Design Cycle and provide evidence of their work throughout. Most of my day involves checking on equipment, supplies, and so on. I have informal conversations with the other members of the department to see if everyone has the materials and access to the spaces that they need. Currently, the members of the Design department are content experts in programming, podcasting, filmmaking, photography, materials processing, Computer Aided Design (CAD), and textiles, just to name a few.
How to get involved…
If a teacher has some experience with similar disciplines and wants to get involved in an international school teaching ‘Design’, then I would highly suggest doing it! Make a list of your priorities, regions you would like to live and work in, salary range, among other things. It is ok to target schools that you are interested in as Design teachers are often difficult to find. Whether the school uses IB, AP, Cambridge, or something else, there is always a ‘design’ equivalent course that can be taught!
Giving back to the professional community…
Since 2008, I have been part of the IB Educator Network or IBEN. This means that I have conducted school visits, served as a consultant to candidate schools, lead subject-specific workshops, and other various IB related events. This involvement outside of school has been a key part in my professional development. I have met hundreds of like-minded educators that I am in regular contact with and we share best practices/project ideas with each other. This keeps my own teaching exciting and relevant to my students.
Jason Reagin is currently the IB Career-related Programme Coordinator and Department Chair of Design & Visual Arts at Chadwick International School in Incheon, South Korea. He taught in the US, Bermuda and China prior to coming to South Korea. Jason’s passions include being a live-long learner, coffee drinker and a cinephile. He has experience in curriculum leadership and development in several different school ecosystems. Connect with him on Twitter @diskon4no