Jaimie Bin Li successfully completed the Professional Qualification Program (PQP) in 2010. Jaimie is currently working as a Grade 1 teacher at Forest Grove Elementary School in Burnaby, BC.
I came from Fujian, China, where I was teaching Chinese language and literature to high school and university students. I became interested in the western educational system when I saw a foreign teacher teaching a lesson outdoor on a grass field! I was shocked, since Chinese students never sat on the ground for lessons. Looking at how engaged and happy the kids were, I decided to come to Canada and learn to teach in the western way.
I arrived Vancouver in 2008. The reality wasn’t as promising as I expected it to be. My teaching qualification wasn't recognized here, and in order to survive I applied to hundreds of jobs. I went door to door to hand out my resume and finally got a job at McDonald's. However, the income was barely enough for rent, so I got a second job at a Chinese owned immigration company answering phone calls. I also tutored ESL kids at night, making $12 an hour. That was the highest pay among all the jobs I had during that time.
I remember days when I sat in SFU Harbour Centre library, looking at students coming in and out, and hoping that one day I could become one of them. I sneaked into some big classes and sat at the back of the lecture room, trying to understand what the teacher was saying. It was depressing. But good things do happen! I learned about PQP through a random conversation with a new friend and I looked into it right away. Luckily I was in time to attend an information session on Surrey campus. It was the first critical move I’d made. The information session gave me a clear direction of what I needed to do to become a certified teacher in BC. I didn’t waste a minute! Following the steps, I collected all the required documents for Teacher Regulation Branch (TRB) waited for them to get back to me. About 6 weeks later I got the evaluation letter and acted on their advice right away.
One requirement of applying to the PQP is having volunteer work in a BC classroom. I started my volunteering in 6 different Mandarin classes in a secondary school as I was hoping to be certified to teach Mandarin in the public school system. However after volunteering there for two and a half months, the teacher told me that there was no hope for me to get a job teaching Mandarin in high schools. He suggested that I move to elementary school level. I was disappointed and also worried that I wouldn’t have enough time before the deadline. I quit all my daytime jobs and volunteered 5 hours every day at an elementary school for 6 weeks. And there I learned the most valuable lesson before I started my teacher training at SFU. I met a wonderful teacher named Bettie Marchiori who allowed me to practice my English with her students, gave me chances to teach, and discussed critical aspects of teaching with me before and after school. She never judged how bad my English was. Instead she saw something in me that I did not see in myself. It was also from her that I learned the difference between knowledge learning and conceptual learning. She was the first person who taught me that as educators our true vocation was to teach not subjects but children.
After all the hard work, I finally made it to the interview with the SFU Admission Committee. I remember my body was shaking when I tried to answer their questions. I tried to give the best answers I could but was worried that I might not get an offer. The Committee members smiled at me and calmed me down by acknowledging what I said. They were so soft spoken, kind, and professional which really helped me articulate myself. I did well at the interview. I waited for about 2 months and finally got my offer of admission. I was so happy and couldn’t help crying when I talked to my mom on the phone.
My instructors accepted my limits and made me feel that I could learn. And when I could scarcely see for myself any future at all, they told me that the future was mine.
Teaching is never easy! Learning never stops. With open hearts, we will embrace more possibilities, more fortune and more happiness, and not for us alone.
January 2010 I finally became a student at SFU. I was so proud that I finally made it but didn’t think too much that there was a hard journey ahead. The first semester in the PQP was fun but intense. My Faculty Associates (instructors), Paula Rosehart and Jas Uppal, planned many fun and collaborative activities. It was eye opening for me to learn that we could make learning meaningful through dance, drama, movement, art, and other creative means. At the same time, there were a lot of reading, a lot of reflective writing, and presentational assignments. I was an extremely shy, quiet and sensitive student. Most of the people in my class were good at English but not me, which made me question how big the chance was for me to teach native English speakers in BC. However, my FAs accepted my limits and made me feel that I could learn. And when I could scarcely see for myself any future at all, they told me that the future was mine.
Life was busy! It got crazy sometimes. However, the seeds of possibilities planted with hopefulness make way for new life. My practicum experience was the season of surprise, abundance and harvest. During my practicum, I met one of the most amazing educators in my life who now I hold closely to my heart. Her name is Georgia Nieken and she was the principal at my practicum school. She modeled ethics of care by checking in with me every day, asking me what she could do to support me, providing me resources, answering my questions, and taking me to workshops to learn how to teach. She said to me, ”I know as a student teacher, you don’t have money, but if you are open to learning, you can come with me to those workshops, and they would be free”. Each time when I said thank you to her, she always said, “I know you will pass it on to your students in the future. I am just doing what I am supposed to do.”
Parker J. Palmer wrote, “[W]hen we drop that pretense and acknowledge how much remains unfulfilled in us, good things can happen, and not for us alone” (2003). In the second semester, PQP students take methodology courses. I took Designs for Learning: Elementary Language Arts where I met another incredibly caring educator Kellie Buis. It all started with a question “what did you learn today?” I lined up at the end of the line because I was overwhelmed by all the children’s books that I had never read. Kellie looked at me and asked, “can you come an hour early before class starts?” I said yes. And she said, “I am going to help you.” For the entire 4 months, she came to class an hour early with a bucket full of books and guided me word by word through the books before every single class. Later when I showed my gratitude, she simply said, “you were the one willing to come early!”
There were times when I felt burned out and hopeless. When I almost failed my long practicum, it was Paula who told me that she had faith in me. She helped me understand that whatever may feel dead in me, there was always something invisible growing underground and awaiting a time of renewal and rebirth. She encouraged me to recall the passion that led me into teaching, reclaim it inwardly and break through the hard days. And I did it. We did it.
I successfully completed my teacher training in December 2010 and got hired by Burnaby school district right after Christmas break. I worked every day as a TOC (Teacher On Call) and got a temporary contract in March, just 3 months after graduation. I started my permanent position in September, 2011 at Forest Grove Elementary School.
I am very thankful for the PQP and all the wonderful mentors I met during the program. I learned what it truly means to say “the unexamined life is not worth living” and understood that “if you choose to live an unexamined life, for God’s sake do not take a job that allows you to impose it on other people!” (Socrates). Teaching is never easy! Learning never stops. With open hearts, we will embrace more possibilities, more fortune and more happiness, and not for us alone.