How would you feel about walking into a room full of young children, all relying on you to teach them valuable skills that will prepare them for life? Excited? Scared? Nervous? How do you cope?
Wendy Yu from Kingston International School in Hong Kong knows the rollercoaster of emotions all too well. She has recently finished her first year of teaching the PYP, having only just completed teaching college. Yu had friends who had studied IB Diploma Programme courses, so she was attracted to the IB’s rigorous nature and was curious to see how the principles could be applied to younger students.
“I came into the teaching profession expecting to make mistakes,” she says. “Even so, the learning curve was steeper than I imagined. I’m in my second year now but I still don’t think I’m quite over the hump yet.”
Teaching an IB programme is a rewarding experience for every teacher, as they play a fundamental role in the creation of internationally minded, knowledgeable adults for the future. The PYP differs starkly from many national curriculums, which can come as a surprise to new teachers.
“I sometimes struggle with the IB because there’s not always a clear framework,” says Kat Underwood, teacher at St John’s International School, UK, who is in her first term of teaching the PYP. “But that does mean teachers can alter topics to fit their class’s specific needs.”
New teachers should not be disheartened if things do not go smoothly immediately. Adapting to the PYP’s methodologies can require a huge amount of work and commitment.
“The IB demands as much from its teachers as it does from students,” says Yu. “Your first year will be filled with questions and as many steps back as there are steps forward!”
“The PYP has a lot of language and concepts,” adds Stephanie Thompson, teacher at Nexus International School, Singapore. “Transdisciplinary themes, the learner profile, essential elements, approaches to learning – I’ve spent a lot of this year learning about how all those puzzle pieces fit together!”
The PYP’s terminology can be confusing to new teachers, but, “it will all begin making sense after the third month, I promise,” says Yu. “Besides, embracing the IB’s spirit is more important than the terminology and acronyms.
“I’ve learned teachers need to be living, breathing embodiments of the IB pedagogy,” she adds. “How can you teach inquiry if you don’t inquire yourself? How can you expect students to be open-minded if your own mind is closed?”
A little help from my friends
As a PYP teacher, you are never alone. Talking to others can help you through any moments of self-doubt.
“The PYP Coordinator at my school gave me some great advice and that was to share ideas with both other teachers and pupils,” says Underwood. “The better the communication within your teaching team, the more scope for ideas there is. I’m always keen to rack my superiors’ brains.”
Thanks to social media, that support network can now extend globally. Thompson says that her interest in the PYP was initially sparked by a blog by fellow teacher Edna Sackson. She also frequently joins in with the fortnightly #pypchat on Twitter.
“Online connections open up doors to incredible offline learning opportunities,” she says.
And, when the demands of being a new teacher get too much, Yu says, “Just breathe. Focus on finding one strong connection between the elements and teaching it well, rather than expecting to be able to do everything at once. Slowly, the pieces will begin clicking into place.”
Do you remember your first year teaching an IB programme? Share your experiences: send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org