#68 Suzanne Vert – Long-serving educator attains cultural acuity at SMIC Private School
Originally from California, Suzanne has been living in China for the past nine years. She is a preschool teacher at SMIC Private Kindergarten and she is joined by her husband, Jeff, and their two young daughters. In this episode, Suzanne shares insight into what it’s like working at a Chinese private school as an international educator and the benefits it brings to teachers and families looking for a fantastic opportunity for integration into China.
SMIC a great school for international educators who are interested in a genuine opportunity to immerse themselves into the local Chinese culture.
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How did you get to China
Suzanne originally came as a break between undergrad and grad school for a year of youth work. While here, she met her husband and they’ve been in Shanghai ever since.
What’s it like in the classroom
Suzanne’s students are primarily learning English for the first time in her classroom. She has a Chinese co-teacher who is fluent in both English and Chinese as well as an ‘ayi’ (literally ‘aunt’ but more like helper/nanny) in the classroom. After the first couple of weeks of school, Suzanne and her co-teach faze Chinese out of classroom teaching and replace it fully with English. Parents send their children to the English track at SMIC to give them a head start on English – it’s not intended to be a bi-lingual program and Suzanne has to work hard to make sure students aren’t falling back on their native language.
Biggest challenge professionally
One of the most difficult things for Suzanne has been adjusting to the managing style of working for a Chinese company. Suzanne shares that “business is run very differently here than in the States and it’s hard to wrap your head around it.” There are decisions that are made that aren’t really focused on long term goals or five year plans, but more what’s the best way right now. The mindset of planning ahead and planning for now are very different. Sometimes she’ll get a call the morning of saying that they’re having a government observation and they need to completely rearrange the classroom and teach a different lesson that day. A lot of these times, Suzanne just has to remind herself that she’s in China and this is just how they do it. Through this experience, she has learned to be much more flexible in her schedule and to have a couple backup plans ready to go.
One of Suzanne’s greatest victories has been learning effective communication skills. It seems simple enough but trust me, working for a Chinese company, be it a school or otherwise, this is a hard-won skill for sure! After years of butting heads with her superiors, Suzanne has learned that the way you present things can significantly alter the outcome. “Whether it’s with your bosses, ayis, colleagues, or parents, you need to make sure you communicate specifically what you want,” she says.
Two key tips:
- Present ideas is a way that benefits your superiors, and benefits you
- Be mindful of who you’re speaking with – respect for position goes a long way in China
Because SMIC school is a private Chinese school it is very affordable. They offer a great education for about half the cost in tuition than most of the international schools in Shanghai. As more and more expat packages are including less and less education packages, SMIC fills that niche of great education at a lower cost. Also, SMIC grads are beginning to get accepted into Ivy League and competitive colleges around the world, which speaks volumes about the caliber of teaching and student talent at the school.
What sort of teacher would be a good fit
SMIC a great school for international educators who are interested in a genuine opportunity to immerse themselves into the local Chinese culture and not just the expat community. The best fit educators and admin are super flexible. Like she said before, being a Chinese school, there are always tons of surprises. They go through a lot of changes each year with the new teachers and admin, so the right person really has to be able to just go with the flow.
Pros & cons to family life as a SMIC teacher
China can be extremely difficult and can sometimes leave you wondering why you chose to come here. Even after 9 years, Suzanne still has frustrating days. Through it all though, she shares that,
“It is so great living and working in Shanghai and there are so many advantages to being here. I think when you can’t find those good things about why you’re here, that may be the time to re-evaluate why you’re here. Jeff and I tend to do this annually and each time the pros outweigh the cons”
Connect with Suzanne
Email her at email@example.com