As another school year draws to a close and children look forward to the summer holidays, it’s time for teachers to reflect on the months that have passed and all they have achieved.
With this in mind, we asked Shanghai teachers to tell us a story about a standout moment from their year that left them inspired. Whether it was witnessing pure acts of kindness, embracing technology for higher efficiency, developing students into confident writers or taking a step back to see how far the class had matured, Shanghai teachers have spent the year learning themselves.
What a memorable way to finish off the year – a reminder that their dedication and passion has resulted in their students possessing a desire to excel, and that all who enter a classroom can learn and grow.
So, let's take a look at what left a lasting impression on the teachers of Shanghai this year. This week, we talk with John Heintz, who teaches English at Shanghai United International School (Gubei).
I recently set cover work for one of my classes as I had received a last-minute request to write a reference letter to the University of Pennsylvania for one of my students. The cover teacher was instructed to simply tell the students, "Mr Heintz will arrive towards the end of the class, so get on with your work."
After finishing the letter, I dashed down the hall only to make it to class with three minutes remaining. No one came to get me, and no one made a big deal that I wasn’t there — including my students. As background, for the two weeks prior, the Grade 9 students had been reading the first half of To Kill A Mockingbird. It's still my favorite book with those melancholy musings about American racism, the Great Depression and the challenges of being a kid with a perfect dad. We had an unusual approach to studying it, involving many roles and responsibilities.
Selected students took on the role of 'conversationalists,' and it was their job to engage in 'great' conversations about the topic we were covering. We had previously agreed this included their levels of engagement, conversational flow, hitting important subjects and connecting story elements to their lives. Each conversationalist had a 'coach' who provided feedback and encouragement to keep the conversation moving. The remaining group of students took notes, drafted questions, recorded videos and reflected on the process. The discussions were lively, fast-moving and fun.
Long story short, each day required initial organization, but once running, I could sit back and enjoy the conversation. As I raced down the hall preparing myself to salvage the class, I grumbled to myself, "Of all days to miss, this was the worst." It was day we were supposed to discuss the climactic chapter; when Boo Radley kills Bob Ewell, Bob Evil as I called him. I'd made such a big deal insisting the class be ready for the conversation, I was a total hypocrite missing it.
Opening the door to the room, my jaw dropped. I came in the room and saw two circles of students, a student at the board, a student video recording, students coaching and others conversing. All the students were absorbed in their books. Nonplussed, almost annoyed at the disruption as I entered, my students looked up from their books and asked with a combination of happiness and mild concern, "Where were you?"
I'm a big advocate of failure; only when we fail do we learn. In this instance and many more at SUIS Gubei, I think this to myself: "How do I, as a 27-year veteran educator, explain how unique it is to teach in a school where the students literally never fail, where these brilliant students continually rise to success?"
I borrowed a motto from my partner's former principal in Chicago: 'Assume Positive Intent.' Learning improves when we assume each of us is doing our best. If I ever had doubts, that class put them to rest. I teach a Grade 9 class of superheroes.
John Heintz teaches English at Shanghai United International School on their Gubei Campus. His influences include Barbara Kingsolver, Tony Kushner, Eudora Welty, Tony Judt, Annie Proulx and Voltaire.