After working in South Korea for five years, Canadian native Colin Donelle was looking for a new opportunity in another country. His fiancée at the time (now wife) had lived in Beijing while attending university and Donelle himself had always been interested in China’s rich history and culture. After receiving a number of job offers in Beijing, Donelle accepted a teaching position at Beijing International Bilingual Academy (BIBA) where he’s taught the past two years. The third grade teacher and team leader shares more about himself with beijingkids.
What’s was your favorite subject when you were a student?
My favorite subject is school was language arts, particularly reading and writing. An avid reader from a very young age, I loved immersing myself in the worlds created by various authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Richard Adams, and Roald Dahl. Throughout school I loved to write, whether that involved keeping a journal of my summer adventures in Canada, writing fictional stories that were quite similar to many of my favorite authors, or writing informational texts about my latest animal obsession. It has been an immense pleasure sharing my love for writing and reading with the students that I have the opportunity to teach and care for year after year.
What did you want to be when you were a kid? What other career options did you explore before teaching?
When I was growing up I had a number of dreams. I wanted to be an ice hockey goalie in the NHL, a famous author, and even an engineer. After high school I initially pursued a career in journalism, but after a year decided that being a lawyer would be much more financially beneficial. After completing my bachelor’s degree, and having been accepted into law school, I decided to instead take a job as an ESL teacher in South Korea, a country and job that I knew very little about. But once I started teaching, I was addicted to the pivotal role you can play in the lives of the students that you can mentor and help develop. Now, after seven years, I could never imagine being anything but a teacher for its spiritual, emotional, and social benefits.
How would you (or your students) describe your teaching style?
My students would describe me as a serious teacher who really works to not just teach them the material, but to build stronger relationships and sense of community within my class and across the grade. For example, one of the classes unique to Grade 3 at BIBA is our weekly community class, an opportunity for all the Grade 3 classes to join together and work on various team-building activities that work to improve their modeling of the 4Rs (Respect, Responsibility, Relationships, and Rigor). I firmly believe this focus not only improves the quality of their lives while at school, but helps guide them towards becoming internationally-minded ambassadors to the world.
What was your favorite book growing up? What are you currently reading?
My favorite book growing up was likely J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, a great tale of adventure and risk-taking, especially considering I am now an international teacher. Although the recent movies failed to capture the spirit of this novel, I always felt that the 1977 animation was quite successful and true to the author’s original intentions. Lately I have been reading a number of books by Phillip K. Dick, most recently Scanner Darkly. Although his books tend to be quite dark, I believe that many of the major themes that he explored in the 1960s and 70s are just as relevant and important today, perhaps even more so.
How do you like to relax on the weekends?
On the weekends I love to curl up with my wife, my cat, and listen to some nice jazz music while reading a book. I also really enjoy playing board or card games with my friends, seeing some of the great live music acts around Beijing, and of course taking the time to learn more about the history and culture of the country that I now call home.
Where do you like to go on holiday?
It really depends on the holiday and the expectations. When I was living in South Korea I spent most of my holidays either travelling back to Canada to spend time with my family or travelling around the country side to explore many of the smaller cities and villages. Over this past summer my wife and I went to Vietnam for our honeymoon, exploring the sights and sounds of Hoi Chi Minh, Mui Ne, Nha Trang, and Da Lat. This was an amazing adventure filled with countless memorable, fantastic experiences, and some great pictures. Currently, my wife and I are planning on possibly travelling around Russia during the upcoming winter holidays, a country neither of us has travelled to before.
What’s something most people don’t know about you?
Most people likely do not know that I love to collect vinyl, having amassed quite a collection of classic rock and jazz vinyl in my home in Canada. I have even carefully transported a few of my personal favorites from over 10,000 kilometers away. Although I am still searching for a record player here in Beijing, I’m sure that soon enough I will be able to listen to many of my favorites, especially on those upcoming chilly winter days. What’s currently on your playlist? Lately I have been listening to a lot of instrumental, low vocal music such as Porcupine Tree, Explosions in the Sky, and Fleet Foxes. I also really enjoy acoustical music such as José González, Kathleen Edwards, and Rodriquez. Anything that seems like it was made for rainy days, warm sweaters, and curling up in a blanket.
What’s do you find most rewarding about teaching?
Teaching, although one of the most demanding jobs in the world, is rewarding like nothing else in the world– spiritually and emotionally. Although I have been extremely fortunate to teach well over a thousand students at this point in my career, each student with their own story and memory that I will always cherish, the one that stands out is a group of five students that I taught a debate class to in South Korea. These students, on the cusp of entering high school, were well developed in their oral, written, and test-taking abilities, but largely quiet and unmotivated without a lot of prodding. Over the course of six months I was able to introduce them to the debate system, inquiring about various strategies and techniques for effective deliberation, and watched them truly flourish in their confidence and attitude. It even reached such a height that they started their own debate team outside of the school, quickly winning numerous awards despite competing against some of the best debaters in Seoul. That attitude, and that ability to inspire students to take what they have learned and apply it outside of the classroom, is definitely one of the most rewarding aspects of this profession. Is there anything else you would like to share? I would just like to say thank you for this opportunity to share my experiences with all the readers and to the community at BIBA, in Beijing, and across China for opening their doors and hearts to both myself and my wife.谢谢