A day in the life of...Christopher Manning

This Californian ex-pat negotiates packs of stray dogs, hangovers from Soviet-era teaching and finding a starting point with a multilingual class in Kyrgyzstan
25th August 2017, 12:00am
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A day in the life of...Christopher Manning

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/day-life-ofchristopher-manning

I was born and raised in Pasadena, California. One of my fondest childhood memories is waking up to the view of the San Gabriel Mountains. Luckily, I now live and work in Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan. Here, I wake up each morning to a view of the Chon Aryk Mountains. It’s a sight that makes me feel at home.

Our school is located on the outskirts of the city, and I walk to and from work each day. My walk is an adventure in itself, although it is only a five-minute journey. The neighbourhood children spot me as soon as I leave the yard and immediately race to practise their English by shouting out morning greetings, excitably awaiting my reply. Once I leave the neighbourhood children behind, the rest of my walk will be quiet unless I run into one of the packs of stray dogs that roam the city.

I arrive at school by 8am and head straight into a meeting with the academic leadership team to discuss any developments, after which I head to my office in the admin building. Most of my daily tasks include greeting new students and parents or meeting existing parents. These meetings are usually separated by a series of committee meetings, email responses, school walks, conversations with staff and classroom visits. I also regularly host visitors and guests of the school.

Our school is relatively new, meaning that, aside from our really young learners, most of our students have been transferred in from local schools. Initially, they are shocked by the stark contrast in the methods, materials and facilities that exists between our school and the other local schools - most of which are still employing methods used in the Soviet era.

Change in a young democracy

Kyrgyzstan is a very small, landlocked country, located right in the middle of Central Asia. It is progressing at its own pace towards modernisation. That said, there are not many system-level leaders in the local education administrations who feel that there is a need for change. The minister of education is very forward-leaning. However, it is very unlikely that her progressive views will be bought and sold by every school director. Though Bishkek is the epicentre of change for this nation, there is a known reality amongst educators who’ve braved the icy winters and scorching summers to teach here: the higher you are on the ladder, the more likely you are to get a taste of the rigid, albeit sluggish bureaucracy that governs education in this young democracy.

As with any school, ours is a microcosm of the community in which it is located. The hardest part of my job is balancing the many paradoxes that make up life in Bishkek. Though English is the language of instruction, many students come to us with their own repertoire of languages. When the class is full of students who usually communicate in either Kyrgyz, Russian, Hindi, Arabic, Mandarin or the Uyghur language, finding a starting point can prove very difficult. Most of our students are multilingual and can easily jump between one or two other languages, so it is quite a challenge for them to force themselves to only converse in English in the school day.

Nevertheless, we all come together for lunch at 12.35pm, when students and teachers eat together. There is always a choice between Western food and local food.

The day ends at 5pm, when I repeat my walk home, excited for the next day ahead.


Christopher Manning is school director of the Oxford International School, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

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