David Siddall, A-level Coordinator and Economics teacher at the High School Affiliated to Renmin University (RDFZ) in Beijing, has seen his education career advance in leaps and bounds since he joined the school in 2014.
Here David describes his journey to RDFZ, and what it’s like to teach some of the best and brightest students in China.
1.What was your journey to RDFZ?
In 2009, I completed my MBA in the UK. I wasn’t teaching at the time, but that was in the midst of the financial crisis. A lot of places in the UK had a hiring freeze, particularly for recently graduated MBAs. Nobody was hiring, basically.
Since then I have added a PGCE to my resume, as well as a master’s degree, and I’ve made education my career. RDFZ has really been instrumental in all this. They gave me the opportunity to be Head of Department, and now A -level Coordinator. It’s good to work in a place that has such belief in the people that work for them.
2.When did you first come to China, and how has it changed over the years for you?
I first came to Shanghai in 2007. There was great deal of excitement about the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The whole country seemed to be gearing up for that.
It really felt like China had arrived on the world stage but, at the same time, it was still a noticeably developing country. I think Shanghai and Beijing have become a lot more mature places since then.
3.How does RDFZ stand out from other schools you’ve worked at?
One big difference is that we offer A-level, AP and IB, the three major programs. This provides a variety of offerings for students, but it also gives teachers the chance to broaden their curriculum experience. I’ve had the opportunity to enrich my resume in a way that I may not really have done if I had just joined an A-level or IB center.
Another big difference is that, more than anywhere else I have worked, there is a really high expectation every day from the students and the parents. I enjoy that, because it pushes me to be a better teacher. Working with students of this caliber will make you a better teacher.
Some schools might say, well, it would be nice to get somebody into Oxford or Cambridge this year. AT RDFZ the students aim to get into the world’s best universities, and many of them get there. Last year, we had five into Oxford, three into Cambridge, and 26 into Imperial College. Those were just our UK applications. That’s not even discussing the US.
Our students expect to get into those universities, and they deserve to. Every day you feel you need to rise to that challenge. These are some of the brightest students that you could ever work with.
4.How does it feel when you learn that one of your students has gotten into a top university?
There is an immense amount of satisfaction, while there is also an awareness that they have done a lot of it themselves. We are here to guide and support their ambitions. So I don’t take a huge amount of personal credit for their achievements.
When you spend so much time with your students, you can’t help but feel an immense amount of satisfaction when they are admitted to these top institutions.
5. What would you say to someone to encourage them to join the team at RDFZ?
RDFZ students not only want to master the syllabus for any subject, they want to go beyond it. As teachers, we help them to explore their areas of interest through things like the Cambridge International Project Qualification (IPQ). This is a standalone research project where students are appointed a teacher as supervisor.
This means, as a teacher, you have opportunity to work on really interesting pieces of research beyond the scope of the syllabus, with the students. Over 50% of our students get an A* or an A in the IPQ. That’s a testament to the student’s engagement, but also to the highly qualified staff, many of whom have postgraduate qualifications.
In some ways, the atmosphere is almost a bit more like an undergraduate program, because students pursue these research interests. If you are the kind of teacher who has an interest beyond just teaching the standard curriculum, then RDFZ would be a great place to come and work.