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Education Supplement: School Achievers


Mark Tyas 

Michael Johnson decided to be a teacher at the age of 16. After specializing in drama and linguistics, he started his first post at a government migrant refuge school in Australia. The student population was made up of disadvantaged former child soldiers and he set about helping them learn to read and write. The experience was an edifying one and helped prepare Johnson for his move to Shanghai. In 2005, he arrived at Yew Chung International School of Shanghai and quickly became known on campus for his enthusiasm as well as his wealth of experience and interests.

“Many of the students came from nothing,” Johnson recalls about his first teaching position. He felt empowered to help these children who often carried a great responsibility on their shoulders. Many of Johnson’s students in Australia were the eldest child of the family and were expected to learn English quickly so that they could be the translator not only for their family, but often for a group of families. Although some of the children could speak up to five languages, many came to the school completely illiterate. “They were always happy, really hard working kids.” Johnson recalls. “Many were simply happy not to be holding a gun anymore.”

It was during his time at the refugee school that Johnson’s interest in teaching learning support really came about, and his newfound interest inspired his move to Shanghai. “I saw that there was a need there and it was a natural progression from what I had been doing,” Johnson recalls.

At YCIS Shanghai, Johnson provides one-on-one assistance to students with special educational needs (SEN), including learning disabilities like dyslexia. He also leads staff professional development by raising awareness and understanding of SEN children and provides English as a Second Language training to help teachers work more effectively with non-native English speaking students.

For SEN teachers such as Johnson, the key to helping children catch up and excel in class is parental involvement. Many parents are particularly eager to see their children fit in well with peers to minimize the impact of leaving a home country, so learning difficulties are simply ignored. “One of our biggest challenges is to try and change their opinions,” he says. “Thanks to our team’s work, parents understand the importance of addressing their children’s needs and see that we are here to help make the transition as smooth as possible.”


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