Rebecca Vasconcelos is a Primary Years Programme (PYP) teacher currently teaching in an international school in Brazil. She completed the Middle Years Programme (MYP) at Shanghai Singapore International School in Shanghai, China and continued her studies in US and Brazilian high schools.
What inspired you to become an educator?
So many different experiences led me to choose education as a career path. As a senior in a local Brazilian high school, having finished the Middle Years Programme (MYP) at a prestigious international school in China and right after having lived through junior year in a public US high school, I came to understand that I had many amazing teachers. I knew with certainty I wanted to work with human relations, though more than that, I wanted others to also have the opportunities I was given—to experience what a quality education should be all about. Overall, not only did I want to have an impact on people’s lives but I also wanted to live a life full of new discoveries, constant personal and professional development, fresh insights on a daily basis—every year and every day is different when you are an educator.
How did an IB education shape your future career interests?
Perhaps without even knowing it, I now think my current teaching profession and interests really stemmed from my MYP personal project. I designed a book of short stories for children, each story containing a valuable lesson. I had a hard copy delivered to all PYP classes and moments with each class in which I had the opportunity to read and discuss the stories with the children. I remember the book being co-constructed by me and volunteer kids and that means so much more now from a teacher’s perspective. I was also very involved with Community Service throughout all of my studies.
As an educator, my biggest obstacle at the moment is inspiring students to be more self-directed. Sometimes it seems they still wish for “off the shelf” lessons and prompt answers. I have been using a variety of strategies to overcome this a step at a time, for instance, relating concepts to real life situations as this makes learning far more interesting, intelligible and propense for further wonderings. Other great strategies have been ensuring that lessons revolve around inquiries—having students seek out meaningful curiosities and purposeful challenges, question the significance of things and monitor their own learning process.
Since you’ve had the opportunity to try different types of educational curriculums (IGCSE and IB), what about each program appealed to you?
My experience with the IGCSE was much shorter than with the IB. The MYP offered a more solid experience of the inquiry-based learning with a significant focus on the learner. I felt both programmes provided international mindedness and were equipped with preparing students for further international studies. I believe what differed the most was the focus of the institutions I was part of. During my IGCSE experience, the focus was mostly on content learning, what was learned and absorbed which led me to be more autodidactic and to feel better prepared for examinations. Now, although my IB experience was also very conceptual, it revolved around the development of the learner—with quality profile attributes and with learner-centered instructions. I feel I had a better view of teachers as co-learners in the IB as I had a broader picture of myself not only as a student but also as a human being in the process of continual self-enhancement.
Which of your IB teachers or mentors inspired you most?
To the teachers who inspired me (I am lucky to have not only one but a few), I remember you very clearly. These teachers simply had different approaches to learning. Their classes would revolve around significant discussions that led students to always question more. I remember at one point, I couldn’t stand not researching a topic further as questions wouldn’t cease to appear and that was because they truly taught us how to question, inquire, wonder and eventually search for answers (which were rarely given promptly). According to one of these teachers: “When I think I already know something, I fail to learn something new!” and I still live by that—sometimes I think I already know something when actually I could know it even deeper or even from other perspectives. Furthermore, these teachers were always innovating on how to test our learning process while interconnecting it to real life situations. Dear teachers, thank you for going the extra mile!
What advice do you have for current IB students that are also pursuing a career in education?
Keep going! Maybe you’ve had friends, parents or even colleagues that have painted teaching as an unfit profession. Remember every profession has its ups and downs. Put the naysayers to rest if your heart resonates with making others feel better; if you are constantly looking for new learning opportunities; if living a different day every day excites you; if any part of you is eager to leave a positive footprint in this world—then keep going! Also, keep in mind that teaching is a vast field, being an early childhood educator in your hometown may not appeal to you, but dig a little deeper—have you ever considered teaching abroad? Being a high school teacher? A university teacher? A researcher? Inquire into it and follow your heart.