Keeping students on their toes at the Australian International School of Beijing
As a Canadian teacher working at an Australian school giving instruction to international students in China, Jeff Eason doesn’t exactly have the most conventional working environment. But ever since his golfing buddy suggested three years ago that he try teaching in China, Jeff hasn’t looked back. The Toronto native was previously the PE, health and creative arts teacher at the Australian International School of Beijing, but since the start of the new school year, he has found himself in charge of a Grade 6 class. tbjkids cornered the globetrotter and got the nitty-gritty on his active – and often dramatic – teaching techniques.
What brought you to Beijing?
Chance. I had just finished doing my teaching certificate in Australia and I was back in Canada looking for a job in the public school system. While playing golf with a friend who had been to China, he said, “Why don’t you go and work in China?” So I thought, why not? It happened by chance really. It was supposed to be for a year, and now it’s been three.
How do you maintain the energy levels required to teach a class of sixth graders?
I have a background in playing a lot of recreational sports when I was growing up. When I went to university, I started getting into theater, and through that I learned how even if you don’t have a lot of energy, there are ways to fake it! But with the kids, it’s a lot of fun anyway.
For kids in Beijing, the simple things are best. If you have a local swimming pool – preferably indoors – or any other facilities, they are great for keeping fit, and it can be done all year round. Local parks, even though the air outside isn’t great, are fine for just walking around. A lot of the stuff we do with kids here is about getting them outside and enjoying themselves. As a teacher, I’ve built up a number of games that we can get them doing outside, and I think being outside is the best thing for them.
What is your perfect Beijing day?
To get outside of the CBD. This may sound like a cliché, but I love going for a walk in the park with my wife. She’s Chinese and she knows a lot about little places around town we can go and check out, even if it’s just for a little picnic in a park, but far enough away so you don’t have the hustle and bustle of downtown.
Who was your favorite teacher when you were a student?
I had a drama teacher in Grade 9 who was nuts; I think he was actually on medication to keep himself stable. Before I went into this class I was petrified of speaking in front of people. I had severe stage fright. Then, after taking a drama class with this guy, everything changed for me. Most kids in high school don’t really think their teachers are cool, and he was the only teacher I got to sign my yearbook, which was kind of a big thing in high school. He just showed me you don’t have to be the norm of society to have a good time or to learn or to have a successful life.
What do you miss most from Canada?
I miss humidity! I miss small simple gestures of politeness, things that they are trying to improve here now. It’s those small things of everyday living that I miss. I also miss being able to swim in a big lake. When I was growing up, I was able to swim in a lot of lakes back home, but when I came here people seemed to have pools. I miss swimming in lakes. When I first got here I went to Houhai and I thought, “Oh, this is fantastic!” And everyone was like, “No, don’t go swimming in there.” I see people in there all the time and I thought it would be fine, but my students and even my wife tell me, “What are you thinking?! Don’t try it.”
The constant performance. Every day you come in and it’s like a new show. I’m sort of a nerd when it comes to problem solving and puzzles. I find every day is a new situation for students. Whether you have 20 students or five students, every day presents a new problem, and it’s about coming in and dealing with it in a performance kind of way. My theater background is the way I’ve been able to rope that interest of mine into teaching.