Danielle Martin was one of the first BASIS.ed teachers in the United States to make the move to teach at the first school to bring the BASIS.ed academic program overseas — BASIS International School Shenzhen.
We wanted to hear how the whirlwind assignment was going, so we caught up with Mrs. Martin — who put together this piece for us.
The Winding Road: Becoming a Teacher
I never thought I would become a teacher growing up. I loved my teachers and going to school, but I didn’t feel that teachers were valued like they should be by students or schools. I ended up receiving my undergraduate degree in geosciences with a minor in anthropology.
After graduating, I thought I would go into environmental policy, but I wanted to try it out first. I volunteered with both an environmental policy group and a local Audubon center in its education department. I was immediately depressed with environmental policy — and totally fell in love with teaching. I knew after that I wanted to continue sharing my passion for science, nature, and ‘how the world around us works’.
I am really lucky to have ended up at a school and organization that I feel values its teachers, and trusts them.
Always Teaching Something!
If I wasn’t a teacher, I think I might be a health coach. I really love doing research for myself about healthy recipes/choices and experimenting with different forms of exercise. I became a yoga instructor back in 2011 and continue to teach yoga even here in Shenzhen. I love sharing that part of my life with other people.
My Average Day
Class starts at 8:00 every morning, so I usually try to get to the building by 7:30 or so to partake in the hot breakfast provided by the school. It can be hit or miss, but someone else cooking for me when I’m still half asleep? Yes, please!
I have 1st graders every morning for math and science class. They never fail to bring a smile to my face. It’s fascinating to share American cultural topics with them! During our Math Meeting, we count down the days until different holidays on the calendar — and that has given me the opportunity to talk about Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and even April Fools’ Day (yes, we definitely pranked them). They really love learning about all of it — and it’s so much fun to hear about, and clear up, their misconceptions. One child guessed that children leave out homework for Santa Claus — instead of milk and cookies!
Lunch is also provided by the school and is good, legitimate Chinese food including fried noodles, greens, sautéed pumpkin, a variety of meats, tofu, soup, and fruit.
After lunch, I teach 2nd and 3rd grade math and science. Then, the afternoons are filled with student hours, teaching yoga club/class, Chinese language lessons provided by some of the Chinese teachers free of charge, and lesson planning/grading. At night we usually go out to eat somewhere because the food can be super cheap and delicious.
Similarities to The States
One thing that is the same about teaching here as in The States is what my favorite part about the school is: the students. Every BASIS.ed school I’ve been to and taught at seems to both attract and help create truly amazing students.
Something else that’s the same is working with a wonderful set of people. I loved my fellow teachers at BASIS San Antonio Medical Center, and I can say the same for the people here. They truly love and are passionate about what they do — and you can tell.
One noteworthy item that is exactly as I expected is the cost of living. Even expecting how cheap things could be, it’s really incredible to go out, have a meal with 20 delicious dishes, and after you split the bill with friends, you’re paying $5 each. A bus ride costs 30 cents. I picked up a beautiful oil painting from the art village for $30. It’s going to be hard to go back to U.S. prices!
What’s different? Firstly, almost 100% of the students I teach have learned English as a second language and many are still in the process of learning it. This really changes how you think about and deliver material to your students.
Something else that’s different — and you’d never expect — is how difficult it is to get supplies. I never dreamed about craft stores until I moved to Shenzhen!
I was also surprised that so many people don’t speak any English in Shenzhen. I don’t see that as a negative thing, though, because part of why I wanted to come here was to develop my Chinese language skills — and the fewer people that speak to me in English, the more practice I get using Chinese. I think it’s also helped me to have a deeper appreciation for Chinese culture. All that said, the lack of English was surprising for such a large city that’s so close to Hong Kong.
Another thing that surprised me is that the city doesn’t feel like a big city; there are trees everywhere, and people are so incredibly nice. It actually reminds me a lot of my hometown, San Antonio, in that respect.
Mundane Things Can Be Special
I have windows! So many, floor to ceiling, beautiful windows; it’s truly amazing after spending two years in a windowless room. My classroom is also enormous! I’m not kidding when I say I have to jog from the front of the room to get to my desk to change something on my computer during a lesson. I have so much glorious extra space and it gives me so much more flexibility in how I can teach. We also have a full size, gorgeous gym for PE and sports.
Additionally, there is a yoga studio space for teachers and students, and a workout room that is just for teachers that has weights and cardio machines. Not to mention all the free delicious food we get—but I’ve already written about that!
Teaching Math and Science
I struggled with math when I was younger, but around 5th grade, it seemed to finally click and I loved it. I took every math class I could in high school. A love for science came a bit later; I started to really enjoy it in my later years in high school and then came to love it with the geosciences. I couldn’t believe there was a major where you got to go on field trips and spend all your time in nature.
I continue to love math because it’s really a universal language. This notion has become especially obvious during my time here in China. Science fits so well with math as they both provide a great way to explore what makes the world work. I love to tell my students that, at their core, scientists ask questions and try to find answers. I enjoy that mindset because it turns everyday thoughts and actions into experiments, and everyday answers into interesting conclusions. Life is so much more interesting with science.
The Ideal Day
In an ideal school day, I take a refreshing walk to work and it’s not too humid out. Breakfast has all my favorite local foods, including fried eggs and purple rice cakes. The children are awake, excited, and curious, without being crazy. I’ve planned a perfect lesson that is engaging and thought-provoking: one that also provides the opportunity for hands-on interaction with materials or peers. Checking for understanding shows that all students have gotten a great grasp of the new content. After school is finished, I do yoga or work out and then have Chinese class!
In five years, I’d like to be continuing my work in international schools. Two of my favorite things are teaching and traveling — and being a teacher at an international school really empowers me to do both. I love the idea of continuing to travel on the cheap by changing my school location every couple of years to get the opportunity to fully explore Asia and Europe—maybe I’ll even get some experiences in Africa and the Middle East, too!
In ten years, however, I would like to be back in my hometown, San Antonio. My whole family is there and ultimately that is the most important thing in my life. Plus, living in Texas gives me the opportunity to better explore Central and South America! I hope to always keep the adventures coming and my life interesting
About Mrs. Martin
Danielle Martin has been teaching math and science at BASIS International School Shenzhen since it opened in September, 2015. Mrs. Martin taught at BASIS San Antonio Medical Center from 2013 to 2015. She earned degrees in Earth Systems and Anthropology from Trinity University and a Masters of Science in Ecological Teaching and Learning from Lesley University. Mrs. Martin worked in environmental education at both Mitchell Lake Audubon Center and the San Antonio Zoo before starting with BASIS.ed. Mrs. Martin grew up in San Antonio, and when she’s not teaching she enjoys traveling, languages, eating delicious things, and the beach. Mrs. Martin loves to share her worldly and professional experiences in the classroom whenever possible. In San Antonio she enjoyed having an urban farm with her husband, including a goose (her favorite animal), chickens, and even alpacas! Mrs. Martin looks forward to returning to her pastoral paradise someday.