Although Catherine O’Regan, preschool teacher at Beijing Collegiate Academy International School (BCAIS), can be considered fresh in our eyes after only having spent a year in Beijing, when it comes to knowledge of diversity, she is no spring chicken. O’Regan, who is proud of her Irish heritage, had not only taught back home, but also worked at an asylum center, which taught her there is a wider world of diversity she had yet to explore. Realizing she needed a change, O’Regan looked to China, a country that had always interested her, and ended up in Beijing.
What was your favorite subject when you were a student? Why?
Irish (or Gaeilge) had always been my favorite subject because I loved learning the language, history, and culture of my country. I attended an all Irish speaking primary and secondary school, with teachers who have always been very passionate about the Irish language, telling us some of the folklore and piseogs to keep us engaged.
What did you want to be when you were a kid? What other career options did you explore before teaching?
I have always had big dreams of being in a girl band! Spice Girls, B*witched, and Cleopatra were my idols but, unfortunately, I realized I couldn’t sing or dance so I put an end to those fantasies. Before teaching, I spent some years as a nanny and working in retail in small stores and at stadiums for hurling and football matches.
How would you (or your students) describe your teaching style?
I focus mainly on a play-based/child-centered approach, which incorporates inquiry-based and cooperative learning. This means that I lead some activities and lessons, giving the children guidance and direction in specific areas, such as introducing a new topic, physical health, early literacy, and numeracy. They also participate actively in their own learning as individuals and with their peers in the classroom, exploring and expressing their learning in their own unique ways to become competent, independent, and capable learners.
What are some of the topics you cover?
As part of the curriculum, there are thematic units that help children develop in four main strands: independence and interdependence; communication; enquiry; and physical health and well-being. I also supplement the curriculum with addition lessons or activities in literacy and math. Our current unit is This is Me, helping children transition from home into the preschool environment through lessons and activities about their homes, families, looking after themselves and others, and how they are the same or different to others.
What topic was the most challenging to cover with children? Why?
Learning about different countries was challenging. We used images, globes, and maps to show children where China and Ireland are, as a starting point. The children found it difficult to understand that there was more to where they live than just their homes and the school. It is a topic that we’re still working on as part of our unit.
What topic was the most interesting to your students? Why?
Feelings and emotions was a topic that really interested the children. They loved learning about each emotion and getting time to express themselves. They were given time to create emotion puppets, use role-play, song, and dance to express their feelings. The children were very engaged and creative throughout the emotions topic.
How do you encourage your students to be passionate about learning?
I use resources and materials that children can relate to as part of my lessons. For feelings and emotions, I used images and video clips from Inside Out, to introduce each emotion and to help the children understand how each feeling is conveyed. After the initial introduction, children can explore and express the topic in their own ways, which encourages them to be passionate about any topic.
What class project in your teaching career was the most meaningful to you?
In Ireland, I spent time in a center for asylum seekers. One of our main topics was helping the children learn and understand diversity. Each child was able to speak about the differences they saw in the town and its people compared to their hometowns, how the houses and people looked different, and how people dressed, spoke, and acted differently. It made me realize that these children knew more about diversity than I did, and that it’s not enough to understand diversity but to also be more open and accepting of people’s differences.
This article originally appeared on page 37 of the October 2016 Issue of beijingkids magazine. Click here for your free online copy. To find out how you can obtain a hard copy, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
PHOTOS: COURTESY OF BEIJING COLLEGIATE ACADEMY INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL (BCAIS)