The Journey to School

The Journey to School: Harrow Haikou International School (Haikou, Hainan, China)

July 18, 2022


The journey to work is indeed an important one.  The journey though is not so clear for international school teachers when they are looking for jobs at schools in cities/countries to which they have never been.  So let’s share what we know!

One of our members, who works at the Harrow Haikou International School (Haikou, Hainan, China), described the way she gets to work as follows:

The road to Harrow Haikou International School in China

Haikou is the capital city of the smallest province in China, Hainan island. It is located in the South of China and has a comfortable tropical wet and dry climate. Haikou is also known as the “Coconut City”, displaying its charm with lots of little cafes and restaurants, lush green parks and vibrant life. With the sea on three sides, beaches, seaside resorts, wetlands and tropical wildlife, the city is the main port of Hainan.

“Harrow Haikou” school is a pertinent project for the Hainan government as they transform Haikou into an international education hub. The school is in the Jiandong New area, a major zone in Hainan Free Trade Port with new infrastructure in high-speed development. This area will be home to a new international trading hub for energy, shipping, commodities and financial instruments.

Harrow Teachers can rent apartments at the Kaiwei compound close to the school and a 6-km-long beach.

The teachers could also choose to live in the city, making their travel much longer yet more accessible to shopping malls, entertainment venues, bars and dining options.

I live in Kaiwei because it is convenient to commute to school. We have a little store here, and Guilinyang village with fruit & vegetables market is not so far away. There’s a children’s playground, a swimming pool and a beautiful golf course with walking paths around it.

As you get closer to school, it becomes less developed. The school is surrounded by a protected forest area which is quite pretty.

Many teachers who live in Kaiwei purchase an e-bike for the morning ride to school, which would take no longer than 7-8 minutes. Walking from Kaiwei to school or the local beach would take approximately 15-20 minutes. Three school buses take staff from different parts of the city to school and back, and one stops at Kaiwei.

In the morning, I wake up to this view, overlooking the city street from one side and the quad within the compound from the other.

I generally leave between 7:10 and 7:20 am to arrive at school before 7:30 am.

The traffic is usually smooth, with just a few vehicles and no rush. I feel safe as I use bike lanes. Only in case of heavy rain, it is more convenient for me to take the school bus. In the school’s underground parking, I can charge my e-bike for just 0,30 RMB, which will last me a week.

I love my morning e-bike ride to school because I can get there quickly, feeling the refreshing breeze and enjoying the beautiful greenery on the way.

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This Journey to School article was submitted to us by an ISC member, Aleksandra Grbic. She is currently the Head of Music and Performance at Harrow Haikou International School. Aleksandra has been working in international schools for 15 years in Thailand, the UAE and China. You can find her on Linkedin.

What to know more about what it is like to visit and live in China?  Out of a total of 216 international schools that we have listed in China, 151 have had comments submitted on them. Here are a few of them:

Access International Academy (Ningbo) (48 total comments)
Beanstalk International Bilingual School (Beijing) (59 total Comments)
Beijing BISS International School (79 total Comments)
Beijing International Bilingual Academy (118 total Comments)
Changchun American International School (157 total comments)
Concordia International School (Shanghai) (180 total Comments)
Guangdong Country Garden School (71 total Comments)
International School of Nanshan Shenzhen (88 total Comments)

So what is your journey to the international school you work at?  Earn one year free of premium membership to our website if you participate in this blog series – ‘The Journey to School’.  Email us here if you are interested.

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Highlighted Articles

Coronovirus Outbreak: How an International School in Beijing Was Prepared for this Crisis

February 27, 2020


As an educator in China this is a crazy time! I am an Elementary School teacher at a well established international school in Beijing. I couldn’t be more pleased with how well this crisis has been handled by our school board and administrators!

We were all leaving for CNY when the Novel Coronavirus outbreak was occurring. At that time I was relieved to be staying in Beijing with my kids, and not traveling.

Four days into holiday we were informed that we would not be returning to school until Feb 17, and that learning would commence On-line at the end of CNY on Feb 3.

Quickly many teachers that were traveling cancelled their return flights and chose to stay where they were or travel home. Those of us in Beijing made quick decisions about wether to stay put or go somewhere else. In Beijing many public venues had closed, all tourist locations closed, ski areas, movie theaters and hotels began to close. As a mother with children, I did not want to stay in my apartment for weeks with nothing to do, so made a quick decision and flew back home the next day.

Our school uses a lot if on-line platforms for learning and sharing student learning, such as blogs, and moodle for older students. We already had an on-line teaching policy and tips document in case of school closures due to weather or pollution. This gave us a platform to begin on-line learning right away.

Most teachers quickly shifted from vacation mode to teaching mood well before Monday’s start date. Our IT support was in contact with reminders for guidelines and assistance to access. Our Media specialists quickly redistributed our subscription to online resources and shared out what could or could not be utilized for online learning. The lists of don’ts was daunting at first, as we are limited to things all families can access in China.

The school conducted a community survey, in part due to government requirements and in part to know more about the access for our students. From this, we were informed that approximately 50% of those who responded were still in Beijing and 50% were spread around the world in all time zones imaginable. The original policy was that teachers needed to be available during school hours in Beijing regardless of where they were, but thus just was not realistic or doable. Some teachers in the States and Canada were battling a 13-16 hour lag. This policy soon changed to holding some hours during school hours and offering our available hours to students, so they can access us when needed and according to times suitable in different time zones.

As a teacher in the elementary, we have been successful in connecting with some of our students with FlipGrid for morning greetings and provocations to our units. FlipGrid has been helpful for mini lessons and individual support to students with specific learning needs. Almost all teachers have been meeting with groups of students via Zoom, where teachers offer 2-4 time options so students can participate with one in their time zone. Epic Books has been a great resource, as we can send links to specific sets of book related to our UOI or learning topic. RAZ kids has given students access to reading practice at their level and teachers can track which students are accessing this as a resource. Older ES students are using IXL and our younger students are accessing Mathletics. We are trying out some additional on-line learning tools, to see what works best. We have also taken advantage of our school’s subscription to Brain Pop and Brain Pop Jr.

We have also used Zoom as a platform for all of our collaborative and planning meetings. All groups of teachers: grade level, single subject, leadership, and support services have been required to touch base and meet on a weekly basis. This week the school is setting up online Teachers Teaching Teachers meetings on Zoom, so we can learn additional tips about different tech and online teaching tools and resources.

Our school is known for being a highly collaborative school, and this experience has highlighted this aspect in a new way. Teachers are really working in teams, not in isolation to support our learners.

The school has recently informed us that we will be given a 3 week notice of the commencement of school, to be determined by the Chinese Ministry of Education. As the Chinese government is requiring all individuals to undergo a self quarantine for 14 days following travel, week 1 of these 3 weeks will be for returning to Beijing. They are replacing our spring break with this week 1 of return and there will be no online learning during that week. The following two weeks, while in quarantine, we will continue on-line learning.

Most of us are missing our students and the routine of our daily lives, so eager to have this date announced by the Ministry if Education, though appreciate their need to stop the spread of the virus and their desire to not put students in any harm!

This article was submitted by an ISC member currently working at an international school in Beijing, China.

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Highlighted Articles

Shut Down Due to Health Emergency: Four Stories from International Schools in China and Vietnam

February 9, 2020


We all seem to know somebody in the international school community that is being affected by the health scare in Asia connected to the Coronavirus.

But how are those international schools coping with this situation? What are the teachers’ responsibilities? Where are the teachers doing the online teaching? Which technologies are they using? What is the overall feeling of the situation from all stakeholders? How was the organization of it all?

Here are four stories from four different teachers at international schools in China and Vietnam:

International School of Tianjin

In the days leading up to the Chinese New Year break, there was awareness and increasing concern about the new virus in China. A lot of masks were being worn at school and some students were talking about it with a degree of concern. The virus quickly became a national issue and by the third day of the break, on January 28, we were told that school would be closed until at least February 17. During the holiday week our school let us know that we would be implementing an online learning structure. Leadership teams met and outlined what this would look like in order to continue to provide a rigorous curriculum but not overwhelm the students and parents. In elementary school our primary platform is Seesaw, which the students had already been using all year. We are maintaining the daily schedule as much as possible (i.e. if your class has PE on Monday, the PE teacher would send an assignment on Seesaw that day). Homeroom teachers are expected to send out a morning message with daily assignments by 9:00 each day and be available for the entire work day providing feedback to students. The secondary school is following a similar model using Microsoft Teams and Managebac to share content and assignments.

It has been more work than everyone anticipated, but it has also been nice to be able to connect with students. As parents we are also working with our own children and it has been good to create some structure in their day as the time away from school stretches on. The situation is ongoing. We are far from Wuhan, but there have been a number of cases reported in our city. There is not a formal quarantine but movement is very limited and we are under a lot of pressure to stay indoors at all times. The police are outside taking temperatures and collecting information. As of right now it is likely that the school will stay closed for several more weeks and there is a lot of uncertainty. We are hoping for a resolution of some kind to this crisis and we look forward to getting back to the familiar routines of a normal school day.

American International School in Shanghai, China

I work at an American International School in Shanghai, China. We received an email about starting E-learning lesson on Feb. 3rd and to contact our administrators if we had questions. The email stated to follow our daily class schedule and post a mini lesson video of no less than 15 minutes for each subject taught. As an EAL teacher in primary for different grades, I’ve had to make reading, writing, phonics, and handwriting videos. The email also had a long list of expectations for teachers such as assignments with deadlines to be uploaded on our grading website, students must work for 30 minutes and give feedback. However, little to no support has been given on the IT side of e-lessons, other than contact your supervisor for questions. Edmodo was the only platform suggested to use where someone could support you with it, but we were told to use any platform we preferred which led to parents getting bombarded with messages to sign up to Edmodo, Seesaw and others. I only chose Seesaw because my collaborating teachers were using it, and I wanted to make it easier for my students’ parents.

The two biggest problems we are facing with our E-lessons is not being allowed to use Google technology due to its restrictions in China and most parents not having a VPN. Second one was how to upload videos of 15 minutes in Wechat when it has a five-minute limit. Our school’s official Wechat group went blasting with messages about condensing videos using different websites, different APPs, and etc. Nothing concrete on these APPs with specific tutorials on how to get set it up in a few days to start running e-learning. These links were all helpful however we needed time for E-training, which we haven’t receive in 3 years that I’ve been working there. Luckily for me, I had received classes on using technology in grad school.

I think my school’s expectations are unrealistic due to parents and teachers being stranded all over the world due to CNY holidays and not having access to reliable internet. I was vacationing in Boracay, so I did my lessons with an IPad and my IPhone. Yes, I am without a laptop making this a headache for me. I also have limited or unreliable internet access. Also, you can’t expect the same teaching as the classroom when not everyone has internet, web knowledge or skills, nor the time to sit through a regular day schedule of videos, which include videos for math, science, reading, writing, Specials subject (art, P.E., etc), and foreign language for K-5. Parents spent a long time setting up accounts, learning how to navigate one, two or three APPs. In all honesty, it was hell for teachers, parents and students. I’ve been working around the clock answering questions from parents.

One parent said it best when he voiced his frustrations “Parents can’t teach children. We are not native speakers nor teachers.” Think about the difficulties one of my student’s parent is facing having to login to different APPS and instructions from all teachers for her three children. Can you imagine the series of videos they have to watch daily for each kid? She is beyond frustrated because she’s in the pharmaceutical industry, so she’s still working during the day and has to come home to help her children.

You see I’m happy to learn as I’m doing e-lessons, but I wish my school was more realistic and practical with their expectations. Although I think handwriting is important, I don’t think under these circumstances we need to have e-lesson. I’ve only been focusing on reading and writing and that’s all I can do for now. That’s all more than enough for parents to handle. They are not trained teachers to assist their kids specially in grades K to 3 where children have a shorter attention span and are not yet independent learners. I can teach in a video, but can students be expect to sit through six videos of 10-15 minutes from all their teachers? 

An International School in Ho Chi Minh City

On the Saturday before the school was supposed to open after the Tet (Lunar New Year) holiday, the school sent an email to staff and parents saying they intended to keep the school open during the Coronavirus outbreak, outlining the enhanced health and safety measures the school would implement. Less than an hour later, the Vietnamese government announced that the virus was an epidemic and all the local and international schools decided to close soon after. Such is life when you live in a country where the government is less than transparent – executive decisions seem to come at short notice, and all schools and administrators can do is adapt as best they can.

As teachers, we all know that death, taxes, and faculty meetings are the unchanging staples of life. As such, even though the students are away, we have faculty meetings three days a week. We enter the campus one at a time, as a guard checks our temperature and directs us to a giant bottle of hand sanitizer we must use before entering. We are updated on the situation on the ground and how it affects school. We meet about students of concern – who’s not doing their remote work, who didn’t bother to check their email until Tuesday, etc. We also discuss strategies for remote work. Everyone uses various online platforms and is happy to share success stories and advice. This is the silver lining of the whole situation: while remote learning is a bit dull if you actually enjoy engaging with students as individual human beings, it’s a great opportunity to experiment with different types of learning platforms. I’m using Edpuzzle and Flipgrid for the first time – I’m not sure if I would have the time or inclination to test them in normal circumstances, but I’m happy to test them out in hopes that I can use them again when everything returns to normal.

United World College Changshu China

When I accepted an offer to work in China I was never to expect that something like the outbreak of Corona virus would happen. However, I consider myself to be the virus free, being in self quarantine for the last 12 days without showing any symptom of infection.

As for the next week, I am required to start teaching online. What does it mean in terms of my effectiveness to share knowledge with students in few classes (different subjects, years and levels)? To be honest, the difference in comparison to my usual days when in school is not so significant (in theoretical terms). As since the beginning of this school year, we have been required to explore and use opportunities of digital learning. My usual working day (for the last few days) starts around 9am and I work, both with teachers and students for the next few hours (read, until I start getting that feeling that my brain will explode). I am relying on Microsoft Teams as the school follows the official Chinese politics and does not welcome Google classrooms. The initial stage of working with Microsoft Teams (this is not an advertisement!) may seems confusing as you can create as many Teams (groups and classes) as you want but soon you may realize that you may be overwhelmed with the amount of messages which keep on getting higher. Students are being required to learn about services of Microsoft Teams on their own while teachers have received some support in that. This basically means that in theory I can use any teaching platform which fits to my current needs, but in reality I have to communicate lessons and instructions on Teams and Manage back only. I am also using Wechat for a quick communication with students.

What I am also currently surviving is the feeling of panic as I have students from six different continents in my classroom and I must reach all of them. I am currently planning our virtual timetable and that seems to be the biggest challenge that we are currently facing (as I must offer face to face instructions). For the last 24 hours I was trying to reach students across the globe, to determine their time zones and assure them that they will have enough knowledge and skills to take the final exams.

In terms of strategy, what to do, how to deliver lessons, I can no longer rely on lesson plans being planned for our classroom space as they emphasize the value of activities much. Now I am trying to find text and create written assignments which would force them to read, think, analyze and construct their responses. In terms of what to do for summative assessment, well, as for now, that is science fiction. I am counting on their honesty when doing formative assessment (though I still aim to use Turnitin).

All in all, the sense of panic is still being strong as I don’t fixed timetable and I am rushing to plan lessons for five different teaching programs,. There is a feeling of fear in me too as some of my students are in cities which were locked down more than two weeks ago and their chance for survival depends only on their willingness not to leave their apartments.

To finish this story, I am still learning how to deliver completely effective virtual classes but I have delivered my first teaching instructions already (in the virtual space which reminds to those of countless forums). I am spending much of my time in calling students wherever they are, to assure them that we can go through this situation and that no one of them will be damaged in terms of their knowledge acquisition.

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Blogs of International Teachers

International School Teacher Blogs: “Education Rickshaw” (Two teachers that work in China)

December 11, 2019


Are you inspired to start-up a blog about your adventures living abroad and working at an international school?

Our 49th blog that we would like to highlight is called Education Rickshaw Check out the blog entries of these two international school educators that work in China:

A few entries that we would like to highlight:

Taking the Plunge: Should America’s Teachers Consider Moving to Teach Overseas?

“Followers of this website will know that Education Rickshaw is a blog on teaching and living overseas. My wife Stephanie and myself, both raised attending public schools Tacoma, Washington, were teachers at a Native American school before “taking the plunge” and moving to teach at an international school in Vietnam. Since then, we’ve taught in Khartoum, Sudan, and are now teaching in an international school in China.

There are a lot of benefits to moving to teach in international schools overseas. While not all international schools are created equal, for the most part international school jobs come with decent salaries and savings potential (See our previous post, 5 Luxuries Bestowed Upon Thee As An International Teacher). Teachers can expect to receive flight allowances to and from their home countries and have their housing paid for. In my experience, students at international schools are often quite clever and well-behaved, and parents are generally quite respectful and involved in their kids’ learning. Many international schools, due to how they are funded, are at the cutting edge in education compared to their stateside counterparts, providing students with opportunities to learn in tech- and information-rich environments and express themselves through the arts, makerED, and robust athletics and extracurricular programs. Because international schools invest in their teachers by paying for professional development, both in-house and by sending their teachers to conferences abroad, international school teachers have the chance to really grow as professionals and improve their craft…”

There is a comment topic related to Professional Development on our website called “Professional development allowance details.” There are 540 total comments that have been submitted in this comment topic on 100s of schools. 

Here is an example comment that was submitted about The English Modern School (Doha): “Professional development subsidaries are connected to the type of PD you are applying for. If you are taking the Suny Masters PD subsidary then other PD will not be subsidised. If you use your subsidy for a Cambrsdge PDQ you will also not get small PD courses for free. Smaller PD courses from Seraj the sister company at EMS usually amount to 3 free a year per teacher. You can also aply for other PD outside school and a judgement will be made on how much the school will support you in the cost.”

5 Luxuries Bestowed Upon Thee As An International Teacher

“The typical American teacher is afforded few luxuries. A coffee at Starbucks is seen as a rare treat. A PB&J for lunch is the norm. When I was teaching in a U.S. public school I remember clearly the time when the conversation at the faculty lounge centered around counting how many in the room had a tarp covering some part of their car (to protect from the rain in Washington State) to raise their hands. I’m not even playing, in a room full of 30 educators there were five hands that raised that day admitting to having a tarp on their cars.

While, in my opinion, most international educators are still underpaid for what we do, the cost of living in many of our host countries allows for some pretty sweet perks. That coupled with the built-in savings potential that comes with many international teaching contracts (free housing, free flights, etc) makes it so that many international teachers find the benefits of international teaching to be too lucrative to ever want to return to teaching public school back home.

Compared to teachers back home, we have it good. We have teaching assistants. Our classrooms are well resourced. The class sizes are smaller. There is money for PD. These are all things that we experience in the international school classroom. But on this educationrickshaw.com post, we will be looking at 5 luxuries that most international teachers enjoy* that teachers back home just can’t afford…”

There is a comment topic related to comparing international schools to schools back in our home countries on our website called “How is this school different or the same when compared to schools in your home country?” There are 167 total comments that have been submitted in this comment topic on 100s of schools. 

Here is an example comment that was submitted about American School Foundation of Monterrey: “The school is much better equipped than schools in my home country and the students have the financial means to supply their own high-quality MacBooks and smartphones, so the school doesn’t have to worry about providing computers (except some emergency checkout Chromebooks for students who forgot their Mac or it breaks down).”d

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Want to work for an international school in China like this blogger?  Currently, we have 523 international school teachers that have listed that they currently live in this country. Check them out here. We also have 44 members that are from this country.

* If you are an international school teacher and would like your blog highlighted on International School Community contact us here.

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Traveling Around

Traveling Around: Zhouzhuang, China (The life of an international school teacher is good!)

June 11, 2018


Traveling Around: Zhouzhuang, China

Can you relate?

  • If you visit Shanghai take a day or two side trip to an ancient water town, there are many.
  • Take a canal cruise and have the boatswain sing to you.
  • Use a driver from Zhouzhuang 600RMB (Tom 150-5166 5990, lives in Zhouzhang and has a family), a driver from Shanghai 2000RMB.

  • Zhouzhuang makes it’s own beer and has a local distillery!
  • This town is difficult to find a C-Trip hotel. Anyplace to stay in the city is listed as a Historical Site. After we booked a hotel under construction the Mayor came to our rescue!
  • The lady in charge of tourism found a room for us with an older couple in the center of the preserved district for about 75RMB per night (including hot tea morning and night!)

  • Remember, no parking in this ancient city. This place was not designed for cars! Commercial hotels are outside the ancient boundaries.
  • Many artists with high quality artwork on sale on the streets of town. We got a great calligraphy by a struggling artist.
  • Fishermen use cormorants to fish in Lake Taishi thus the reason so many boathouses as boats and birds come to roost.
  • Zhouzhaung is known for the “double bridges”.

  • Chinese Opera House on the “Ancient Platform” rebuilt in the year 2000.
  • Many great silk shops, ties three for 60RMB
  • Shops that spin their own cotton and make clothing of all sizes!
  • Fantastic teapots made from stone!

  • Shen Wansan, the first millionaire in the Lower Yangtze is from Zhouzhuang!
  • Lot’s of walking around, many bridges, shops everywhere!
  • Many places to eat, traditional Chinese food with reasonable prices.

Currently, we have 197 international schools listed in China on International School Community. 132 of them have had comments submitted on them. Here are a few of those schools:

Access International Academy (Ningbo) 48 Comments
Beijing BISS International School67 Comments
Beijing International Bilingual Academy53 Comments
Canadian International School (Hong Kong)134 Comments
Changchun American International School 111 Comments
Concordia International School (Shanghai) 166 Comments
Guangzhou Nanfang International School – 163 Comments
Hong Kong International School – 127 Comments
Kang Chiao International School (Kunshan) – 81 Comments
Keystone Academy – 94 Comments
QSI International School of Dongguan – 64 Comments

If you are on a trip right now, away from your host country, write to us here with your “Can you relate?” traveling experiences.  Tell us where you are traveling in the world, what you are seeing and how you are coping with any culture shock.  Once your Traveling Around experience is posted on our blog, International School Community will give you 1 free year of premium membership!

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