British born Gary Cairns has been living in Beijing for three years and is currently the head of English at the British School of Beijing Shunyi. Cairns was based in Thailand for five years before heading to the capital. “Seeing The Forbidden City, The Great Wall and The Summer Palace will stay with me forever,” says Cairns. He talks more about his childhood favorites and teaching style.
What’s was your favorite subject when you were a student? Why?
Despite being an English teacher, my favorite subject at school was actually History. I still love learning about history today and read lots of historical fiction and non-fiction. When I was at school, I had a really inspirational history teacher called Mr Bailey and that was probably why I engaged with the subject so much. He had a great enthusiasm for the subject as well as a great sense of humor. He was a big influence on me and there are probably elements of his teaching style in my teaching style.
What did you want to be when you were a kid? What other career options did you explore before teaching?
When I was at school, I wanted to be a lawyer. I studied Law at college but when applying for university, I decided that I wanted to study English Literature instead. I don’t have any regrets about my choices though. Studying literature put me on the path to where I am today and I love being an English teacher.
How would you (or your students) describe your teaching style?
I enjoy what I do and I hope the students see that when I teach. If you want students to be passionate about your lessons, you have to be passionate as well. I think that I am creative as a teacher. I try to vary my lessons and come up with new ways to engage the students.
What was your favorite book growing up? What are you currently reading?
My favorite book growing up was Children of the New Forest by Captain Marryat. I very much doubt that it is taught in schools now. However, we read it in Primary School and I loved it. It is about a group of children during the English Civil War. Their father is a Royalist and the children have to leave their home and hide in the New Forest to avoid capture by the Roundheads.
I am currently reading a book called Stonemouth by Iain Banks. It was recommended to me and I’ve only just started to read it so I will reserve judgement for now.
How do you like to relax on the weekends?
At weekends, I like to watch football with my friends. I try to watch as many Premier League games as I can. As an English teacher, I read a lot. I also have a PlayStation 4 and I spend quite a bit of time on that as well.
Where do you like to go on holiday?
Thailand is a beautiful place and, as my wife is Thai, I tend to visit often. I like to go to the beach, eat seafood, and generally just relax. I visited Tokyo recently and I loved it there. The shops were great, the food was amazing, and there was a lot to do.
What’s something most people don’t know about you?
I can’t say that I have any hidden talent that people don’t know about. I used to sing in a band when I was younger. My friends and I used to play in pubs when we were teenagers. It was really good fun.
I also used to work in a psychiatric hospital while I was at sixth form college and university. Mostly, I used to nurse the elderly who suffered from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. That will probably surprise a few people!
What’s currently on your playlist?
I am a big fan of indie music. At the moment, I listen to Arcade Fire quite a lot. I went to see them at Hyde Park a couple of summers ago and I really like their last album. Anybody who knows me will also know that The Smiths are always on my playlist.
What’s do you find most rewarding about teaching?
As a secondary school teacher, whenever you get exam results, and you see how well students have performed, it is a great feeling. Preparing students for exams is a long process and to know you have made an impact on a student and helped them reach or exceed their potential is a great feeling. It doesn’t matter how many years you teach, it is still a nerve-wracking, exciting, rewarding experience.
Something that really stands out in memory is when I left my last job in Thailand. On my last day, many of the students who I had taught over the years and had left for University came back into school to say goodbye. That really meant a lot to me.
Photo: BSB Shunyi