How This Educator Bridges Creativity And Teaching Through Project-Based Learning
This is our 9th interview in our thought-leadership series with 51Talk. Our featured teacher today is Catherine Smith. Catherine is a creative and highly-passionate teacher. As you will see below, her love of teaching, personalized education and connecting to students to the real-world shines through.
1. Catherine, please tell us about your education background.
I started my career as a business major. After selling a very successful business, I decided in 2009 to pursue my passion by earning another degree in Elementary Education, with an emphasis in English. I have a dual certification in elementary and middle school ages. I am also a certified teacher in gifted and talented programs. I also specialized in project-based learning and technology in the classroom. My training in project-based learning is with leading American educators like Ron Clark and Geoffrey Canada. I have also done extensive tutoring in PSAT and SAT writing. This training has enabled me to work students of diverse cultures and backgrounds.
I left full-time teaching in the traditional classroom so that I could be a part of what I believe is an evolution in the way children will learn through middle school. I love to help students find their intrinsic motivation through their personal learning style. I believe that successful students must be able to articulate their thoughts and expressions through vivid and clear writing.
2. Catherine, your enthusiasm for this role is contagious. Please tell us how this job has made a difference in your life and why it means so much to you.
I am so passionate about the 51Talk platform because it has enabled me to stay at home and explore a new educational journey. I believe this is the future of education with my entire being. I am so excited every single day because my classroom is my classroom.
The truth is that most classrooms are still happening the way they occurred in Benjamin Franklin’s day. The students sit in a classroom while the teacher lectures.
I love this role for many reasons: I am reaching many personal goals, I can form a connection with my students, and I can teach concepts with hands-on activities. I believe that technology is amazing and ensures that children in China are getting an authentic English speaking education. The children and adults that I have been able to forge a relationship with have been an experience that has taught me that relationships can be meaningful and grow even if thousands of miles separate the student and teacher.
3. How did you land the role at 51Talk and what advice would you give potential teachers who may be interested, too?
I prepared very carefully for my interview. I worked very hard to get the job at 51Talk. I researched a lot of videos that showed classes and interviews online. It is a different experience because you must articulate without having the person right in front of you. I would advise that you make sure you are prepared for everything. The interview process is very competitive because many people want to be able to have the opportunities that working from home and your own schedule provides you.
My advice to other applicants is to do your research, reach out to the veterans for support and realize that this job requires top tier professionalism.
4. Can you tell us what it’s like teaching across cultures from your home in the states? What are two things all new teachers should know about working with students in China?
As a candidate or employee, it is your responsibility to research China and its citizens so you can be a great teacher. It requires lots of patience and kindness to establish a connection despite the communication barrier. My education philosophy focuses on student experience, the words, and concept that I am teaching. The biggest challenge for me as an educator is making sure that I have a method of showing every child in China what concept I am teaching in the lesson. It requires the proper use of props and activities.
For example, when I am teaching a lesson about dance, I have learned to get the student up off the couch and participating in the “Hokey Pokey.” When we discuss Valentine’s I make sure the student and parent understand they must have paper and scissors so that we can cut out a heart and make a Valentine.
You must understand that the English education approach of using creativity is not a staple in Chinese education.Click to tweet
Chinese education involves a lot of rote memorization, and as an English educator, you will see that often reading by your Chinese students is very robotic. It is our mission as American Academy educators to show the children that we can learn and be creative at the same time. It takes some time to establish trust with students but once you do you realize you can slowly implement the rote memorization with activities that allow your student to be more creative.
One of the most amazing things that you should be aware of is the population of China. With over a billion people living in one country the amount of competition is something that is near impossible for American’s to understand.
However, the longer you work with your students, the more you realize that even though American culture and Chinese culture are vastly different, we all share more commonalities than differences.
6. What is the most enjoyable part of your day working at 51Talk?
The most enjoyable part of my day working at 51Talk is meeting and working with students. Every student I have met has taught me something. It has enhanced my skills as a teacher because it forces me to be pliable and stretch myself to experiment with what works and what does not work constantly.
Whether it is a new student or a student I have met 100 times they often have something exciting to share about their lives or their experiences. It is amazing to help children pass an English exam or see their excitement when we create their first story together.
Seeing young ones make a connection to the English language is supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
You may also find these interviews interesting:
How this Teacher is Finding True Joy in Her Profession: A Chat with Ariel from 51Talk
How This Teacher Took A Risk And Found Happiness In Her Work
Passionate About Second Language Acquisition: Meet Inkeri, English Teacher at 51Talk
If you’d like to apply for a teaching role at 51Talk, you can do so at this link.