In the tenth of our regular series of interviews with staff at Dulwich International High School Suzhou, we are delighted to present the highlights of an interview with Mike Gates Biology Teacher, Lead Community Service and Charity Coordinator and Lead Teacher for Educational Technology at our school.
1 Where are you from and where did you grow up?
I am from a seaside town in the South of England, called Bournemouth. It is a very popular tourist destination in England. It is renowned for its gorgeous sandy beaches, English language schools and University courses related to media, communication and innovation.
2 Tell us about your Educational background + teaching experience
I went to the University of York where I completed my degree in Biochemistry. The course was very stimulating and the time living in the city and making friends from all over the world was a particular highlight. Indeed, my most memorable friendships were from my Chinese course mates, who impressed me with their dedication to their studies and ideas related to scientific research.
Upon graduating, I completed my CELTA course so that I was qualified to teach overseas. I had the aim to come to Beijing to coincide with the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics and work as an English teacher. However, in 2008, I also met Hannah (who is now my wife - married in 2010), so my plans had to be delayed.
3 When did you realize you wanted to become a teacher?
After gaining my CELTA certificate, I taught English to refugee teenagers from the Middle East (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria mainly) in my hometown, Bournemouth, for 2 years. During this time, my love of teaching grew, but I also wanted to take advantage of my passion for Biology and so I joined a Graduate Teaching Program (GTP) in 2010 and qualified as a Secondary Science Teacher in 2011.
I then spent 6 more years teaching as a qualified teacher, mainly at a co-educational independent school, which was also a boarding school, with about 33% of the students from places outside of England. My favourite part of this position was working with students from all over the world.
I then arrived at Dulwich International High School in August 2017.
4 Who is your biggest role model?
Eric Liddell. His biography was made famous from the film 'Chariots of Fire'. In short, he is known as a very accomplished sportsman, but also a man who held tightly to his principles. Not only did he grow up playing rugby for Scotland, but he also participated in the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris. He is well known to have refused to run in the 100-yard dash, even though he was favourite to win the race because running on a Sunday conflicted with his beliefs. Instead, he won gold a few days later in the 400-yard race, despite not being expected to win and people were shocked. He demonstrates integrity, perseverance and service.
He actually was born and died in China. I am still hoping to visit his home and burial ground in Tianjin.
5 What are your hobbies and what do you enjoy most about them?
You may have guessed from my previous answers, but I am a real sports enthusiast. Football, cycling, skiing, but especially running.
I founded the local running community 'Suzhou Striders', which aims to help locals and expats better intermingle. Through this running community, I have made many friends from different parts of China and this has helped my language development and understanding of Chinese culture.
Also through this running community, I have discovered the 'mountains' on Suzhou New District and Taihu, and I love engaging with nature to explore places like Shushan Ecological Village, Qionglong Shan (Sun Wu Cultural Park), Piaomiao Feng in Xishan etc.
6 What is most rewarding about your job?
Having worked here for two years, I have loved observing students becoming more 'University-ready' and also preparing to 'graduate worldwise'.
One way I have experienced this is observing students develop their innovation/ 21st Century Skills - for example, with my 13 Y11 students who have constructed and maintained an agricultural robot: 'FarmBot'.
Another way in preparing for a Western University is developing communication and confidence, but also at the same time empathy and self-awareness. As the Community Service Coordinator for the school, I have students organize many fundraising events, but then also use those funds to make a difference and an impact in others' lives - such as impoverished students in Guizhou province.
In summary, Dulwich International High School provides a rigorous and holistic education for each individual, and there are so many opportunities for our students to develop outside of academia. Being involved in this character development is the most rewarding aspect of my job.
7 If you could be in any musical or movie or a book character what would it be? Why?
Difficult question. My first thought was Jungle Book - especially from the eyes of 'Mowgli'. Someone who experienced such an adventure and has such a great story to tell!
8 What food is like a guilty pleasure to you?
72% cocoa chocolate from Senz chocolate. Extra guilty because the chocolate manufacturer is only 500m away from the school!!
9 Describe yourself in 3 words.
Optimistic, reflective, team-player
10 Tell us about your experiences living in China and Suzhou
The longer my family and I stay in Suzhou, the more settled we feel. I find the culture so rich and deep, it is taking me a long time to explore, and I feel like there is so much more to uncover.
I particularly enjoy living in Suzhou because for me it is a city of contrasts. The ultra-modernity of SIP, juxtaposed with the cultural and historical Old Town and the naturally idyllic New District hills and Taihu peninsulas.
I am grateful that it is a comfortable place to live so that my young children feel very safe, but I also the dynamism of the city and the effect that it is constantly evolving, so for me personally, there is so much to explore.
11 How do you find teaching Chinese students/or students?
I have been teaching Year 10 and Year 13 during my first 2 years in school.
I find it fascinating to teach Year 10, who are transitioning to Dulwich's style of education, and I enjoy being part of that process. The STEAM project, in particular, is a delight to teach as it is so hands-on.
By Year 13, students are much more confident, and I hugely value their insights and feedback, as I constantly try to adapt my teaching to benefit them more so that they can secure the best Universities.
Overall, the students in this school are a pleasure to teach, and I have never been happier in the teaching profession than during my time at this school.
12 Any advice to students at Dulwich international High School Suzhou?
FAIL = First Attempt In Learning.
Failing, making mistakes, getting things wrong is part of the learning process. Although it is uncomfortable, celebrate failing, and you will undergo deeper and more productive learning. This mindset will also help you undertake more risks.
13 What are your plans for the next 5 years
As mentioned previously, I love living in Suzhou and Dulwich is an excellent school to work at. I want to continue to serve the school as best as I can in the next 5 years, in whatever roles and responsibilities that I have. I hope that I can have a positive impact on the whole school culture/community - staff colleagues (support staff and teachers), students, parents… everyone!
Also, I want to see my family continue to flourish here - especially in language development and the feeling that this is now our 'hometown'.