Yew Chung International School of Beijing (YCIS Beijing) design technology and ICT teacher Thomas Burns has lived in Beijing more than five years. The UK native says he has always been interested in China, however he chose YCIS Beijing over positions in Shanghai and Hong Kong because of Beijing’s political climate as well as YCIS Beijing’s education philosophy, friendliness of staff, and reputation for academic excellence. Though learning Chinese was part of the initial draw to moving to the capital Burns jokes that his language progression has hit a brick wall. “Five years later I am still in Beijing and my Chinese vocabulary contains fewer words than my 1 year old son’s!” Burns tells more about himself in our Meet the Teacher series.
What was your favorite subject when you were a student?
Probably German, math, and technical drawing. I remember enjoying speaking German with my teacher and learning about German history and current affairs. I really enjoyed math and technical drawing – I’m quite technically minded and I enjoyed learning about a lot of mathematical concepts, especially when they were related to the career path that I wanted to follow.
What did you want to be when you were a kid? As a young child all I wanted to do was become a pilot. I used to live in a high rise apartment complex which was on the flight path into the Glasgow (the city that I’m from) airport. I would spend hours at my window watching the flights come in and check Teletext (British readers will know what this is) to find out where it was coming from. At age 12 I took my first flying lesson in a Cessna 150 and flew around the coast of Southern Scotland towards Ailsa Craig, a tiny island with an incredible history, and on to the east coast of Ireland before heading back to Prestwick airport. I planned on joining the Royal Air Force (RAF) but decided to go to university instead. By the time I finished university I was offered a job as a teacher, which paid more than the RAF and also gave me a better standard of living. I also flirted with the idea of joining the police force. I would eventually like to go into politics.
How would your students describe your teaching style?
I would hope that my students enjoy my teaching style and find my lessons challenging, engaging, and easy to follow. I like students to collaborate with each other, ask each other questions, and show each other pieces of their own work. This encourages them to take pride in their work and fosters a culture of accountability – students try harder when they know their work will be on public display.
What was your favorite book growing up? What are you currently reading?
Growing up, [it]was probably The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. It has been a very long time since I read it but I will pass a copy down to my own son as soon as he is able to read it.
I am just about to finish The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell, recommended to me by my brother. The book investigates the inequality experienced by large sections of the working class population and highlights the way in which some members of society remove their critical thinking capacities and blindly follow those whom they deem to be better than them. Both my brother and I are very politically minded, but at opposite ends of the spectrum.
How do you like to relax on the weekends?
It has been a long time since I had a full weekend to myself. I have a 1 year-old son and I’m currently working on a MSC so I don’t have a huge amount of spare time. My wife and I like to take our son to the park or one of the child-friendly restaurants in Beijing, such as Pete’s Tex Mex. I like to cycle, run, swim, and go to the gym. Just before my son was born, I cycled from Beijing to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall and back. It was a tough ride but a lot of fun.
Where do you like to go on holiday?
Anywhere near the ocean or somewhere with a lot of history, culture, or activities is usually a good choice. I would love to travel to Borneo and trek through the jungle or climb Mount Kilimanjaro and then spend a week on safari.
What’s something most people don’t know about you?
When I worked for Siemens in India, I won an award for being the best Tamil speaker. The competition was fixed; I won the award despite being surrounded by 50+ native Tamil speakers.
What do you find most rewarding about teaching?
One of the most rewarding things about teaching is being able to share in the life experiences of young people and held them develop into considerate, intelligent, and hard-working young adults. It’s great to watch students grow and to see their personalities develop.
I have worked with a number of students who have struggled with various elements of school due to a variety of factors, such as general disaffection with education, personality conflicts with other students, conflicts with their parents and/or teachers, inability to relate to the subject content, etc. I have seen, and hopefully played a part in, students overcoming these obstacles and watched as they slowly began to enjoy learning. Sadly, I have watched students go in the reverse as well.
Meet the Teacher is a beijingkids blog series designed to help the Beijing community learn more about international school teachers. If your school would like to participate in the series, please email the school editor at email@example.com
Photo: Courtesy of YCIS