#65 Cathal Grimes – Irish primary educator embraces Yew Chung’s co-teaching model
Cathal is one of the many thousands of people who left Ireland shortly after the economic downturn in 2008. He has since lived in Canada, where he met his wife, and England before embarking on his journey to China two years ago. He is a Year 5 International Co-Teacher at Yew Chung International School in Shanghai. In his interview, he gives an insider’s perspective on Yew Chung’s unique co-teaching model and how it benefits the students in the classroom.
[on co-teaching] There’s no hierarchy in the classroom; you’re both teachers. Come in with an open mind and get ready to share responsibilities.
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Jobs were at a premium in Ireland after Cathal graduated from Teachers College in the middle of the recession. In fact, he counts himself lucky to get into any school in the first place and tells a story how he only got the job to replace a teacher who had gotten ill. It was uncertain times for sure, and after a few months of that he decided to move to Toronto. The original plan was 6 months but then he met Angela who is now his wife, and 6 months turned into 2 years and a whole boatload of creative jobs!
Eventually he decided to try to get into teaching in Canada because he sorely missed the day-to-day classroom life. After a bit of searching locally, it was clear that he was not going to have any luck in Toronto with the school boards so Cathal started looking at International jobs.
It was an interview with Early Childhood and Primary Principal, Damien Hehir, that had him setting his sights on YCIS. Cathal says, “He completely sold the school to me. It sounded exactly what I was looking for…but then I didn’t get the job… and I was gutted.” It wasn’t that YCIS didn’t want him – at that time, he only had one of the two required years of in-school experience to be granted a work visa to come to China.
Damien seemed to be interested, though, and he kept in touch with Cathal and ended up playing quite a large part in his decision to go to England to get the last year of experience he needed to be eligible for the visa. He and Ange got engaged in the July, and moved to London in the August. He got a job at a local school right away. It was amazing experience, but it was tough. Very tough. Soon after he got in touch with Damien, had an interview, and got the offer. With the two years under his belt, they were moving to China!
Initially the plan was 1 year in London, 2 in China, than back to Canada but plans have changed pretty quickly. After a few months here, they were both happy and decided that 4 years might be better. He signed a 2-year contract extension and they’re already considering turning 4 years into 6.
A typical day
Classes at YCIS start at 8:00AM and finish at 3:30PM and you’ll find Cathal arriving at school around 7AM to start prep. YCIS has a unique Co-Teaching model, meaning that he partners with a Chinese colleague to “Co-Teach” their students. We’ll get more into that later. YCIS has specialist teachers for ICT, PE, Music, and Art. This, along with Chinese language and Chinese studies class, means that Cathal is afforded time for marking and planning, which is much different to teaching in Ireland or England.
Cathal coaches soccer and that involves some before-school practices, practices during lunch time, games on school nights and weekends. He’s not alone of course – every teacher at YCIS is involved in something extra besides just their classroom teaching responsibilities.
Beginning in primary school to the end of Year 6, each classroom is co-taught by one international English-speaking teacher and a bi-lingual Chinese speaking teacher. What’s the goal of this classroom system? Cathal says it’s to, “give students the best possible education in both languages.” OK, but I still didn’t get it. How does it actually work…logistically? For most lessons, Cathal explained, it means that both teachers are standing at the front of the classroom basically taking turns walking through the lesson in their language. For the students it’s fantastic because they get the education in both languages yet the comfort of the language in which they’re more fluent. When it’s English or Chinese class, the one not taking the lead supports the other by walking around the classroom, making sure students are on task and ensuring each student has the materials they need.
An important note about co-teaching that Cathal adds is this: a co-teacher is not your assistant, and you’re not their boss. It’s a 50/50 partnership and your co-teacher is just as equally the students’ teacher as you are. That’s an important mindset to have when looking at being successful in a co-teaching classroom, and YCIS is great at fostering that professional environment.
What do you love about YCIS
YCIS’ unique, co-teaching, bi-lingual learning environment intrigued Cathal, and he jumped at the opportunity to get an insider’s view of the co-teaching environment. Add to that their international staff, curriculum, strong link to local culture and Chinese language and Cathal was sold. YCIS definitely caters to students of all English and Chinese levels as well. There’s the ‘mainstream’ classroom for students who are proficient enough in English to succeed, but there’s also an English as an Additional Language (EAL) program as well. For Chinese there are 5 different levels for both native speakers and Additional Language Learners. Sounds like YCIS has everyone covered!
Who would be a good fit
Working at YCIS is demanding, yet rewarding. Cathal says to be successful in their school environment, it’s best to have an open mind, a willingness to share responsibility in both teams and within your own classroom (remember, there’s a co-teacher that is equally the students’ teacher and not your assistant). If you’re willing to commit and go the extra mile for your kids, then you’ll succeed at YCIS.
Cathal reminds us of an important life skill. “Just be open minded. It is a cliche but it is true,” he says.
Connect with Cathal
Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org