Stephen Venema is an AYO alumnus and Middle School Orchestra Teacher at the Shanghai American School, Shanghai, China. Here he charts his transition from musician to teacher.
I was a violist. I say “was” because during my university days, studying for a Bachelor of Music majoring in performance, my back blew out (like so many neary athletes). I finished my degree on talent rather than practice, and just scraped through on 25 minutes practice per day, which was all my back allowed me to do.
What could I do? What was my backup plan? Like so many strings players, I taught violin and viola. I played electric violin (my back didn’t mind that, funnily enough) in rock, folk and Irish bands, and did a little of this, and a little of that.
One day, a good friend of mine stopped in from overseas and I asked her what she was doing, all that time away. She told me she was teaching in Hong Kong. Right, I thought, English teacher… Pass! “No” was the response. She was teaching in an International School; something I didn’t really know existed. Unbeknown to me, there were International Schools, or schools for expats, in almost every city in the world, some bad, but many good. Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Budapest, Vienna etc. Consulate workers, and business executives didn’t want to send their children to local schools, they wanted “American Style” education, or British Curriculum.
Anyway, fast forward a few years, and I am now teaching some very highly motivated, talented kids in Shanghai, China. I teach Middle School (grades 5-8) Orchestra. I have a very relaxed timetable by Australian standards. I have students who practice and treat strings like a competitive sport. I am able to easily save half my big salary, and still go away for a week to the Philippines or Thailand on holidays regularly. I tour with my students to Manila and Dusseldorf. I live in a five-star resort with a white sandy beach pool with a bar. I have never looked back. Last year, our school, which is one of the best performing, and highest regarded schools in Asia, were looking to recruit a new High School Orchestra teacher. Worldwide there were almost no qualified candidates, because teaching internationally is the best kept secret in teaching.
Maybe my next teaching post will be to Prague or Geneva, who knows!