James Williams is a familiar face to many. An AIS Primary EAL teacher for the past two years, he knows the school, and many of its students, well. This year though, James will be making an even greater impact on our AIS community, in his new role as Head of Boarding.
Pastoral care, top priority
Primarily a pastoral role, James’s top priority is the wellbeing of students – it’s his job to ensure all AIS boarders enjoy a safe and caring environment during their stay.
“I’m looking forward to getting to know the students and building on the community that has already been established here,” says James. “I love teaching Primary but I do miss working with older students and this is a great way to do that again. I welcome the opportunity to develop closer relationships and have a greater impact on students through boarding.”
And as someone who lived away from home at a similar age (and had to learn a foreign language to go to school), James is ideally equipped for the role.
“I grew up on a farm in rural NSW, Australia. After completing Year 10 I was offered the chance to take an exchange year to Germany, where I went to a selective school and alternated between staying with families and boarding. I’m quite excited about working with students of a similar age to myself at the time, knowing how much that experience shaped the person I am today.”
Fun and games
In addition to managing all the boarding services (such as meals and maintenance) and regularly communicating with students, parents and teachers, James will be on-hand to offer study guidance and will work with staff and students to provide an enriching line up of weekend and mid-week activities.
“My wife Ha and I are looking forward to running some evening projects with the boarders. We have designs on a wall which they can turn into a mural, we’re going to help them create some of their own decorations and we’ll also be providing opportunities for regular social events in the evening. So far we’ve been looking at game nights, communal dinners, trips to escape rooms, water parks, climbing halls, the ballet and the cinema – but we also want to be guided by the preferences of our boarders.”
James plans to join in with as many of the activities as he can.
“Not only do they sound exciting, but they provide another opportunity for me to spend time with the students.”
James describes the AIS boarding experience as immersive – in the best possible way. With just 12 boarders currently enrolled, bonds created are tight and lifelong.
“This is a place that will become a home. It’s filled with all the delights of a close-knit family and, of course, the conflict that arises when people live in close proximity. Experiencing the first is valuable for students looking to find connections, acceptance and family away from their first home. Learning to navigate the second is an essential skill for life and elevates the experiences of the first.”
Both teacher and student
Boarding isn’t the only aspect of student life that resonates with James. As a lifelong student himself, he is no stranger to the rigours and pressures of academic study.
“After completing my Bachelor of Arts (Archaeology/German Language Majors) in Canberra I took a gap year to teach English in rural Thailand. I loved the experience so much that instead of returning to Australia I moved to Hanoi.”
He spent six years in Hanoi working as a primary teacher by day and a secondary school IELTS teacher by night, while also studying to complete his CELTA and PGCE qualifications. Two years ago, he and his wife moved to HCMC.
“Since then I’ve been working at AIS as a Primary EAL teacher, helping students to reach the necessary level of English to make the most of their experiences here. In that time, I’ve continued to study and will be finishing my M.Ed. in Teaching Multi-lingual Learners in December this year.”
The good life
Juggling work and study makes for a busy life, but James wouldn’t have it any other way – and he always finds time to do what he loves.
“For the last three or four years my weekends have been prime studying time for me but after I finish my master’s I hope to revitalise my weekends again.”
So, what do those weekends entail?
“I usually go for a run or to the gym, meet friends for juice or coffee, and sometimes I join art workshops. I also enjoy reading - and writing my novel if I’m in the mood!”