Matthew Lambert completed the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme (DP) at CTC Kingshurst Academy. He moved on to read Astrophysics at the University of Cardiff and then completed a PGCE in Physics at University of Wales Institute and an MSc in Educational Leadership at the University of Leicester. Now, 18 years on, Matthew is an IB Diploma Programme coordinator and teacher of Physics at the British International School, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Why did you originally decide to pursue the IB Diploma Programme (DP)?
I was very fortunate to go to one of the few state schools at the time to offer the IB, so it was a natural progression for me to continue at my school. I was always interested in learning for the sake of learning, and enjoyed a wide variety of subjects. Though interested in science, I didn’t just want to study science subjects, I wanted to continue my history, literature and language studies too.
“DP students have a genuine enthusiasm for learning … by the end of the programme it is clear that most students realise the value of the knowledge and skills they have picked up during the DP.”
With the option to take some subjects at Higher Level and some at Standard Level, the IB offered me the opportunity to study all the subjects I enjoyed, meaning I didn’t have to leave anything behind. In hindsight, the DP also offered more flexibility when making choices for university as I wasn’t closed off to a certain subject area, such as science or humanities. I wouldn’t have had such flexibility studying A Levels.
What do you think is unique about the skills DP students gain through the programme?
DP students have a genuine enthusiasm for learning. Although we have a broad range of students, from different academic backgrounds and with different approaches to learning, by the end of the programme it is clear that most students realise the value of the knowledge and skills they have picked up during the DP. Very few see it as a stepping stone to university – a qualification that must be obtained to progress to university. The DP has more value than that.
The academic, writing, organisation, and time management skills which DP students gain make them great university learners. University tends to be much easier for them as they have already perfected these skills during their college course.
What skills from the DP do you think are important at the university level?
The DP is a very busy course and I think this went a long way in preparing me for the pressures of university. DP students need to develop good organisation skills in order to manage their workload, and this is something that is, of course, extremely valuable for university study.
The research skills you develop during the Extended Essay are also very useful. At school we visited universities to research the project, and having the opportunity to familiarise myself with university level texts was enormously valuable. By the time I got to university I had a refined approach to research which was so useful.
Why did your school in Vietnam choose to offer the DP?
We are a school that has ‘global citizens, learning together’ as our vision. With this in mind, the DP allows us to embed some of the principles that we value throughout the curriculum such as enquiry, reflection, and community and service learning.
As an international school, I think one reason we chose to offer the DP is because of the international status it holds. Its excellent preparation for university life and beyond, particularly the skills, mindset and knowledge it encourages in students. We also have an international make up of students and the DP offers opportunities to study anywhere in the world. On top of this, DP is recognised by the top universities, which offers fantastic opportunities for our students.
Which parts of the DP did you find most valuable as a student?
Theory of Knowledge (TOK) was very valuable as it teaches different ways of approaching knowledge. Understanding that the methods of knowing are different depending on the subject area was mind-blowing for a 17 year old. I learnt how to question the subjects I was learning and I think this had a big impact on my studies.
“As a programme coordinator, I can empathise with the students … I can communicate the importance of the different aspects of the programme, and how everything fits in together.”
What aspects about teaching the DP are you most passionate about?
I love physics, of course. And the way we teach it makes it really enjoyable. Instead of being tied in by the typical A-B-C line of teaching, I can weave different concepts into my teaching, which I think makes it closest to real-life physics, and is really satisfying. Supervising the extended essay is also very rewarding – we teach research, writing and accuracy in one package, and this gives me a good opportunity to guide students whilst letting them think on their own.
Was there a teacher that inspired you as an IB student?
Barry Reece was my ToK teacher at school – he was a real mad scientist and a true IB educator. He was not just a physicist; he had an enthusiasm for all subjects.
Another one of my physics teachers, Dr Williams, embodied the IB way of teaching and learning too. He wouldn’t just tell you something. Instead, through inquiry, he would guide the class to the correct answer. Just by using facial expressions and encouraging language, he would be able to subtly nudge you in the right direction. I was always overwhelmed by the conclusions we had come to by the time we finished a lesson.
“The IB learner profile qualities are all valuable lifelong skills which set you up well for your career – we’re inquirers, we’re communicators and we’re open-minded.”
How does being a DP alumnus yourself impact how you teach the programme?
It means that, as a programme coordinator, I can empathise with the students and what they go through. I understand the pressure they are under and as such can offer support where it’s needed. I can also help to remind them that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and that all of their hard work will pay off. As a DP alumnus I can communicate the importance of the different aspects of the programme, and how everything fits in together.
I started teaching A Levels in the UK and now teach IB in an international school in Vietnam. The IB learner profile qualities are all valuable lifelong skills which set you up well for your career – we’re inquirers, we’re communicators and we’re open-minded. Although I teach physics, the IB showed me that I also need to know the history around the topic in order to fully understand it and teach it effectively.
How did you become an IB teacher?
I hadn’t really ever planned on being a physics teacher. It is in many ways so different to how I saw myself when I was younger – I have quite an introverted personality so a career where I was in the spotlight wasn’t really on the agenda. But, the IB teaches us to be risk takers and communicators, so I draw on that a lot.
When I was at university, as part of my work experience, I went to a school in Whitchurch, Cardiff which offered the IB. I was tutoring the students and found I actually really enjoyed it. I saw a side of myself I had never seen before. Then I thought “this career gives me the opportunity to play with water rockets for a living”, and I was sold!
What advice do you have for current IB students that are thinking about a career like yours?
You have to try it. Some people might think they would hate teaching, but actually love it and have a real talent for it. Others may think teaching is exactly what they want to do, but in reality it’s not for them.
With teaching you have to love your subject and of course have the knowledge. It’s also really important to be able to appreciate the impact that learning can have on people’s lives. You need to love seeing the excitement on students’ faces as they grasp something, and have an enthusiasm for recreating this on a daily basis.
So, my advice would just be to enjoy it, and go for it.