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A Journey Up and a Journey Forward

June, 2009
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   Phil 2Initially wanting to be a marine engineer on the ships, Phil Clark became a teacher instead.

  "My idea changed when I grew older,” said Clark. “I enjoyed working with other people, so I wanted to be more involved with teaching people about engineering and technology.” 

  He started teaching in the UK, and it has now been his career for 20 years. Through these years, Clark has taught in elementary and middle schools from Istanbul in Turkey as his first international experience, to a British-style international school in Kuwait. He joined the Western Academy of Beijing (WAB) seven years ago. Clark is the middle school assistant principal at WAB.

  Soon this September, Clark will join Beijing City International School (BCIS) as the Middle School (MS) principal as the school is expanding its middle school section. “I am very much looking forward to it,” said the new MS principal. “All the experiences I have gained as an assistant principal at WAB, I can take with me to a similar size school to what WAB was when we first arrived.”

  Clark has witnessed and been involved in the drastic growth of the MS section at WAB. When he arrived at the school seven years ago, they had three grade 6 students, three grade 7 students and two grade 8 students. Now, there are 300 students at grade 6, 7 and 8 at WAB, with five classes at each grade level.

  “I am going there as an administrator to help the school grow,” said Clark. “The world has moved on a lot in the past 7 years and technology in the classroom has moved on incredibly quickly in the past 7 years, so I can look at my experience here, but then I have to project where BCIS is going to be in five years. We have got a great opportunity because BCIS is still quite a new school and everyone is so enthusiastic.” 

 Currently, Clark is gathering information from parents, students and teachers to find out what they think are the strengths of the school and what areas they think the school needs to develop a little bit more. Although BCIS already has the middle school and high school together in an upper school, he feels it is very much needed to make clear where the school is right now and how to move forward from there.

  Two of the most important pieces on his agenda are: transition and new families. For students who are transitioning from elementary school into middle school, or from PYP to MYP, there is a lot of stuff that is going to be new. They really need a good transition. Similarly, new families arriving at the school need a good transition because they need to see what’s special about BCIS and its programs so that they can have a great start to the year.

  With his background in both elementary and middle school, Clark admits his favorite is middle school. The reason he likes middle school is because every day the kids are different.

  “What do I like in students? I like middle school students because they are unpredictable,” he said. “They are no longer elementary kids, so they are becoming a little bit independent. They are trying to work out who they are. They are starting to grow to adults, trying to work out who they are as a person. But at the same time, they are going through all this emotional turmoil. So you have a kid in a very happy mood in the morning and then a really grumpy mood in the afternoon. You never know what it is that’s going to change their mood. It could be something really small, it could be something big.”

  He also likes them being idealistic and passionate about changing the world. Middle schoolers are passionate about the environment and global warming, with a strong sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. Moreover, they believe they can make a difference and are committed to doing so.

  "That kind of passion, the unpredictability, the fun, middle school students are what I like. And that’s why I like middle school.” He is confident he has the chance to do a better job than his teachers did when he was in middle school.

  “Science is giving us a lot of answers. There is a lot research coming up showing why middle school kids are different, showing how their brains are developing. With that kind of information, then we can teach them a lot better when we understand how and why their brains work. We’ve got to make sure as teachers that we recognize and understand the changes in their bodies and minds that the kids are going through.”

  Although the new school year does not start until September, the new principal is already looking at the month of October, because internationally October is known as the month of the young adolescent. It initially started in the US with the National Middle Schools Association, and now focuses on young adolescent, middle school age children. “It’s a chance to celebrate what’s great about being a middle-schooler, and also to educate everyone else on what it’s like to be a middle school aged child. This can help to educate parents because parents often wonder how I am able to deal with teenagers who are not primary kids any more because they are in a strange area that we call adolescence. October is going to be a good time to really educate a lot of people what is like to be a young adolescent.”

  Besides, the teacher believes his expertise in the IB MYP program will be helpful as BCIS has been only offering the IB MYP for a short time.

  "For me, I don’t know another program that is better than MYP. I believe very strongly in it as an academic program,” said Clark, who is also a trainer for the IB MYP, and has led science workshops for other teachers in the Asia-Pacific region. He has also been involved with curriculum writing for the IB.

  BCIS has already started with a laptop program and Clark is a strong advocate of that, because he believes it can be a very important learning tool. There is a lot of research now showing that individual laptops do have a positive impact on student’s learning.

  This summer is surely going to be a short one for Phil Clark, as he gets ready to start an exciting new school year.

By Xing Yangjian

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