Humans of ISB – Learning never stops, even as a Teacher

As the school year nears to an end, we will unfortunately be saying goodbye to many of our beloved teachers. One of them is the pillar of the English department and an avid Literature fanatic, Ms. Heming. She has taught DP English literature at the ISB for 13 [clarification] years, TOK for 7 [clarification needed] and enjoyed a prominent career in education for over 20 years as a whole. In this article, she recounts her experiences with teaching, how being a teacher changed her as a person over the last 20 years along the changes within students themselves and how moving between education systems allowed her to gain new perspectives on her career as a whole.

“I come from a family of teachers actually. My mother taught reception class, my father was a driving instructor, my grandma was a teacher, my grandfather was a teacher. I went to university, I did an English and American Literature degree, and I didn’t do a teaching qualification to begin with. But I was always drawn to the classroom, and I decided I’d do my teaching qualification at the end of my degree because it seemed like I could go off and actually talk about books all day which sounded wonderful. And then when I set foot in a classroom for the very first time to do my very first teaching lesson with secondary school students, I just felt like I was in the right place, I just felt like I’ve come home. And I’ve enjoyed it ever since then. I’ve said this before to people; the one thing about teaching is that you’re never bored. You’re never ever bored. It’s such an interesting, exciting, diverse job. You feel all kinds of emotions but boredom is not one of them.”

“When I taught in the UK, my first teaching job was in a very large comprehensive school. I was a young new teacher and I recall walking in to cover a math class and it was a tall building, and the class took place on the 6th floor. The very first thing I had to do was to coax a child whom I never met before from hanging someone he disliked out of the window by their feet. That is probably the most terrifying and extraordinary experience I’ve ever had in teaching. But it was good because I loved that school, the kids were great as they are in all schools everywhere. It  really taught me how to be a good teacher in terms of negotiating; not expecting people to do what I say just because I’m a teacher, because you have that whole authority figure thing. But actually, you just need to talk to people like they’re human beings and not see it as being you on one side of the desk and them on the other. How to build relationships with students and talk to them and get to know them, was a very important lesson that I learned when I worked there.”

“This is the only international school I’ve ever worked at. And I think that nothing prepared me from that experience of being here and realising that my view was not the only or the right way of doing things. When I turned up here, I had such a “British school” mindset. Then I was in a department with people who were Australian, Canadian, Irish, American; I was in the minority being British. I realised that there were multiple different ways of doing things and I didn’t even know I had this set of biases. Honestly, for the first year I didn’t really speak, I just sat in the English office and I listened to all of these teachers with all of this international school experience and I learned so much from them. It’s really interesting to listen to the educational philosophies from other teachers from other schools. And not necessarily to take them on board wholesale but to take from them the things that kind of align or interest or slightly alter the way you approach the way you teach.I think that’s very important in teaching as well, not to think that you know it all just because you’re a teacher; you’re still learning. I’m still learning; I’ve been teaching for 20 years and I’m still learning, and I’ve learned so much being here.”

“Technology is of course one great thing that’s changed over time whilst I’ve been teaching. When I started back in 1998, I was in a classroom that had a chalkboard; we didn’t have computers or technology of any kind, and it wasn’t until I came here that I had an interactive whiteboard. I think that you kind of take it into the way you teach and you make it part of what you do. It doesn’t necessarily replace what you do, anyone who’s been taught by me knows I still love writing on the board with different colored pens just as I did back in 1998 with colored chalk. I think you do have some core things that you still do as a teacher.”

“When I started teaching TOK I immediately noticed the stark contrast from teaching English, which was so familiar to me, it’s like a comfort. It’s just really kind of soft and warm and lovely. And then TOK came along and it was spiky and exciting but a really terrifying subject to teach at first. I can only equate it to learning a foreign language. When I was learning German, I had to switch my brain into German, and switch out of English. When I was doing TOK, I remember in the early stages, I had to consciously switch my brain to think in this kind of logical, rational TOK style. I think I have brought that back across into the teaching of English, that now when I’m looking at how arguments are constructed in literary essays, I’m more focused on clarity of analysis and the ability to support these ideas with evidence; in a more conscious way perhaps, than I did before I taught TOK. Teaching ToK made me love teaching for new and different reasons. It gave me a different focus which I’ve really enjoyed, and I never thought I’d be able to teach something like that. I didn’t overtly see myself as a logical, rational human being. So it brought that side out of me which I find good.”

“I’d only worked directly with English teachers before, and in ToK I was working with people who normally teach -say –  science or maths; it was very refreshing to be in a domain with people who didn’t teach the same subject as me, and to hear how they approached different topics. For example, I didn’t know that maths could be so interesting and exciting until I heard Ms. Wyss talking about it to the entire grade, introducing maths as the area of knowledge. Suddenly, I was like: “I get why maths is beautiful now”, in a way that I couldn’t ever have done if I’d never heard her enthuse about it. For me that was exciting as well, just to see a different perspective on all these other subjects. So for that, I am eternally grateful for international teaching. I think TOK is such a wonderful course.”

“I think that teaching is a very interesting and enjoyable profession – it’s the best job in the world. There are times when it’s the most frustrating job too and the perception of education can sometimes feel a little bit demoralising. I think education is something everyone has an opinion on because everyone’s been to school. That can sometimes lead to teachers feeling undervalued. But I think it is just such a valuable job and it is one that I just love so much. I’m so glad that I get to do this and get to hang out with interesting people everyday. I have a lot of admiration for people who go into teaching and want to become administrators because that is a very difficult job, but I feel like for me the classroom is where it’s at. It’s the joy of having  interesting conversations with students year on year, and the students I teach now; their outlook is not quite the same as the one’s I taught back in 1998 and it’s still as interesting and as vibrant. I still enjoy it just as much. I think it’s great after 20 years to still feel that joy and that passion for your job and I’m very pleased that I do.”