High school science at the International School of Beijing
Janet Kinsella left her hometown in Newfoundland, Canada, at the tender age of 18 and has never looked back. Jumping from country to country for the past decade, she and her family now seem to have finally settled down in Beijing. After living and working in China’s capital city for just over five years, she takes a look back at how she came to teach science at ISB. Lisa Liang
How did you end up in Beijing?
I’ve been working overseas for 11 years now. I started off in Istanbul. I was teaching middle school science and then we went back to Canada for about five years, where I taught general high school science and biology at a public school. Then we went overseas again to Beirut, and from there we went to Manila in the Philippines, and then we came to Beijing. I’m just starting my fifth year here.
What is your favorite local Chinese food?
I like spicy food, so anything that’s really spicy, like sizzling beef with lots of peppers, kung pao chicken of course, and green beans with lots and lots of chilies. I like some of the soups, too, the really spicy ones.
How do you feel about Beijing?
It’s a pretty exciting city. It’s very dynamic. I think all the cities I’ve lived in have been like that. Asia in general is changing a lot, and because of the Olympics Beijing is really driving the growth. But even outside the Olympics, it’s really growing. I think we’re lucky to be here during this time.
How long do you plan on staying in Beijing?
Maybe a few more years. I’d like to stay until my daughter graduates – she’s in Grade 10 here at ISB – because the transition is more difficult, although she’s a lot like me and isn’t afraid of change. My husband is also here at ISB; he teaches high school physics.
What do you like about teaching?
I love working with the kids, and I particularly like this age group. They keep me young. I like teaching middle school too, they’re quite different, but I like high school kids. I learn a lot from the kids. They keep me thinking, always in a new way, and compared to other careers and jobs I’ve had, I find that it’s really stimulating, especially here because the kids are really motivated to learn.
What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
Working in a factory. I was 17, just graduated from high school, and I made capacitors for switchboards. That was in 1976. It was very monotonous. I went through every job in the plant. They only hired young women in the plant because the machines we worked on were quite small and women have smaller hands and so I got a job and I went through all the jobs pretty quickly. I ended up in one of the top jobs on the line. I worked there for almost a year until I just about went crazy because you go in and it’s the same thing every day. But the money was excellent. I made more money at that time than my dad.
What in your curriculum at ISB do you get most excited about teaching?
I really love molecular biology and biochemistry. I’ll tell you what I don’t like: ecology. It’s really difficult to teach ecology in Beijing because all the vegetation is so cultured and cultivated.
Do you ever get frustrated with students?
I get frustrated sometimes with the marking and the workload but no, not really.
Do you ever get really funny answers on tests?
Yeah, of course. I like to get the students to write songs, and one of my students wrote an X-rated version of a song. The topic was gene control in bacteria, and in the song that he wrote, the enzyme was the seducer. It was really brilliant, I thought – really funny. He actually wrote the music as well. I still have it, and I use it as a model.
If you weren’t a teacher, what would you be?
I’m not sure. I’ve tried different things, and I’m not afraid of change. I’ve spent my life moving around and doing different things. But I like working with people.