I often tell my students that my passion for teaching languages gets me out of bed in the morning, but it’s the soothing chant of the bilal (the Muslim morning prayer) that wakes me up. It’s a gentle reminder that Kuala Lumpur, the beautiful city that I’ve called home for 10 years as head of French at the Garden International School (GISKL), is the capital of a predominantly Muslim country.
Although Islam is indeed the official religion of the main ethnic group here – the Malays – centuries of European colonisation have profoundly westernised the country. The result is a thriving melting pot of southeast Asian DNA: a kaleidoscope of religions and cultures co-existing relatively harmoniously.
Despite its affiliation to the British curriculum and exams, GISKL mirrors every facet of this mix. Our pupils cover 60 different nationalities; we have 200 teachers from around the world; Nepalese Gurkhas guarding our walls; and Burmese and Indonesian cleaners keeping our premises spotless. It’s so different from the insular inner-city areas and rural comprehensive schools that I used to teach at in England.
Although English is the common language at GISKL, you hear parents clad in Western, Oriental, Middle Eastern or African attire talking to their children in their mother tongues all the time: an inebriating experience for a language-lover like me.
My day starts at 7.40am and ends at 2.20pm – except for Fridays, when students leave at 12.40pm and teachers engage in professional learning activities until 3.15pm. These sessions give us a chance to discuss recent research and reflect on our teaching.
I usually arrive at school around 7am to have a bit of banter in the MFL workroom with my colleagues. I check emails, have a roti canai (one of my favourite local dishes) and ensure that all the high-tech equipment in my classroom is up and running. Every classroom has an Apple TV, all students and teachers are equipped with their own iPad and last year, we were awarded Apple Distinguished Program status.
As much as I now love integrating traditional teaching methods and digital educational tools, getting used to the technology that the school invested in was hard. However, skill comes with practice and I now feel like I couldn’t live without the technology. The secret is to use it only when it truly enhances learning. Indeed, our students often ask us to ditch the iPad or the interactive whiteboard for more traditional stuff.
From Monday to Thursday, we have three lessons before and one after lunch. I usually spend my lunchtimes with my tutor group, 9W, a hilarious and very talented bunch of (mostly Asian) teenage polyglots, who never fail to entertain me with their tales of playground dramas. They dream of changing the planet for the better and author a blog, theprojectw.com, through which they share their message of hope. In the run-up to the exams, though, I spend most lunchtimes with my GCSE and A-level students – practising.
Some people ask me why I have stayed at GISKL for such a long time. The answer that I always give is that I could not think of a better school to teach at. Great kids, great colleagues, great facilities, great opportunities to grow professionally and as an individual; and what better icing could there be on the cake than to have the sun smiling at me most days of the year?
Gianfranco Conti won the 2015 TES Bev Evans Resource Contributor of the Year Award. For information on how to enter the 2016 awards, go to tesawards.co.uk
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