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April 17, 2024

The Traveling Teacher

WORLD TRAVELERS — Above, Alexander County native Alyson Brookshire Goldby is shown with her husband, Alex, and their three-year-old son, Henry. Alyson is currently a teacher in a school in Hong Kong. She has also taught in Timor Leste and Thailand.

Native of Alexander now in Hong Kong

By ANGELA FARR KING

Alyson Brookshire Goldby always wanted to travel. She grew up in Taylorsville and attended Ellendale Elementary and West Alexander Middle School. She graduated from Alexander Central High School in 2003. She is a hometown girl who always had big dreams.

Alyson knew she wanted to work with children and she credits an internship at ACHS with their childcare program and a special teacher named Mrs. Spainhour at Ellendale for helping to spark that interest. She decided to take a “six month gap” period after college to travel the world with her best friend, Kate. Together, they backpacked in Greece, and stayed in hostels in Spain and India.

Alyson said they rode in rickshaws, on trains, and in cars to various exotic and exciting destinations. They also visited Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and Vietnam. Many of these trips involved scuba diving. It was on one of these scuba diving adventures, that Alyson’s inner ear drum burst. That meant that she couldn’t travel home for a while. It also meant that her friend Kate dove with their friend, Ashe, which eventually led to a courtship and marriage between the two of them.

It was at Kate and Ashe’s wedding in Raleigh, NC, that Alyson met her future husband, Alex, who was the best man. When Alyson began dating Alex, who was from England, she had already signed to teach abroad. They had to maintain a long distance relationship in the beginning.

Alyson had spent 10 months in Istanbul as an Au Pair for five-year-old twins, but she didn’t have years of consecutive teaching experience, which made gaining employment in an international school challenging at first.

She interviewed with Quality Schools International Co. at an International Job Fair in Atlanta, GA. This is a company with schools organized in hardship countries. She first applied for a position in Benin, Africa, but was told that it was too dangerous for her as a young, single woman.

Alyson then sought a position in Timor Leste, which was the newest country in the world at the time. This new nation had just gained independence from Indonesia. It is an island country to the north of Australia. Alyson described the country as “very third world,” with limited communication. There was an opening for a Kindergarten teacher, with 7 kinders enrolled. She said she had to “fight for the job” because those interviewing her didn’t think she was tough enough.

Once she was hired, she lived in a fenced compound with gates and guards in Timor Leste. It was not considered safe for women to be out after dark and Alyson only had a bicycle for travel in the beginning. She was once late getting home on her bike and arrived back at the compound after dark and her boss was not happy. It was then that she decided to buy a car for safer and faster travel.
The school where she taught was in another compound and was made up of metal buildings. There was a mixture of countries represented in the school, including Timor Leste, Germany, and Australia. Some students spoke English and others learned quickly.

Families of the students were either working at the Embassy or were with Catholic relief organizations who were teaching hygiene, nutrition, or farming crops and mud crabs, all in efforts to teach citizens how to self sustain. There were also military personnel there to help keep the peace after a recent war that resulted in genocide, leaving the country with very few elderly people. Alyson said she could still see cuts and scars on many people who had survived.

Alyson stayed in Timor Leste for two years and then moved to Bangkok, Thailand, to teach at The Early Learning Center. This center was founded on the Reggio Emilia Approach, which originated in Italy. According to reggiochildren.it, “The Reggio Emilia Approach is an educational philosophy based on the image of a child with strong potential, who learns through the hundred languages belonging to all human beings, and grows in relation with others.” According to Alyson, following this teaching style means allowing “the environment to be the teacher,” and “teachers and students co-construct learning together.” She said it is inquiry driven learning and is designed for teachers to continually ask students “What do you think?”

Alyson explained that children in this instructional design were assessed routinely, but with written narratives about “the whole child,” not like American early childhood assessments, which focus on checklists of mastered skills.

During this time, Alyson taught based on the Ontario, Canada, Curriculum, which is project-based. She said she “loved the Canadian Curriculum,” so when the school owner began to change things mid-year, she knew she needed to leave.

When it was time for a change, Alyson began looking at teaching in South America, but she was approached by a school in Hong Kong. She had married Alex in 2017 in Thailand, which she now considered her second home. She was interviewed by the principal of the school and offered the job, but she needed a week to think about making this step.

Many of her colleagues had heard of this school and knew it was an elite place to work, with a wonderful reputation. With their encouragement and the support of her husband, she began teaching in Hong Kong in 2018. The leaders of the school wanted her expertise in the Reggio Emilia Approach to learning, as they were renovating their early childhood space.

Alyson explained that she helped to design the new space that housed several learning stations, including a block area, a garden, and a sand play area. During Covid, three classes of preschoolers had to rotate using the space in smaller groups. There were children from ages 3 to 5 in Alyson’s class and her job was to guide, support, and co-construct their learning. This is an International Baccalaureate (IB) school that also follows the Ontario, Canada, Curriculum, which Alyson was growing more and more familiar with. According to ibo.org, IB is a “global leader in international education-developing inquiring, knowledgeable, confident, caring young people.”

Alyson said that some Hong Kong parents were not quite ready for these innovative instructional practices and she had to lead professional development (PD) for parents on how to allow their children to learn from play. She has learned that young children learn best without using rote memorization and that play is an important learning avenue for them. She and her team worked to help parents understand this.

She and her fellow teachers plan under the umbrella of four units of inquiry yearly that have overarching themes. They meet consistently to assess the children in their classes and to ask, “What stood out to you?”

Alyson’s contract with her current school will be completed in 2024 and she isn’t sure of her next step, but she is looking to continue teaching in Hong Kong. Her husband, Alex, is from Surrey in the United Kingdom. His parents have moved to Ireland. He is a Senior Operations Manager at an IT company. They have a three-year-old son named Henry. They all enjoy spending at least five weeks of their summer visiting family from different parts of the world and Alyson was even able to have an informal reunion with her classmates from ACHS.

Alyson was able to recently visit family, including her brother, Jonathan, her mother, Carmen Brookshire, and close friend of the family, Randy Bumgarner. They were happy to see Alyson and her family. Carmen spoke of her thankfulness for technology that helps to keep them close. Her Aunt Nora Poulter, who was originally from Taylorsville but now lives in California, flew in to visit with them as well.

Alyson has learned so much about early childhood education and how it is taught around the world. It is certainly different from what is happening in many American schools. The idea of play and student-directed learning in the preschool and kindergarten years has been somewhat lost in this country, but listening and learning from someone who has global teaching experience may just motivate some in the early childhood profession to reexamine these strategies.

3 Comments

  1. Sharon Pennell on August 2, 2023 at 8:28 pm

    Alyson is a very special person in my life ,was so glad I got to see her when she was home.I was her nanny from the time she was born have been in her life for many years as a child she would say I am going to travel whenI go up.I never thought she would but she showed me.I am so proud of her and her accomplishments,she has a wonderful husband that supports her and a beautiful boy Henry.I am so thankful I have been apart of her life so proud of her.

  2. William and Suzy Porter on August 4, 2023 at 3:23 pm

    We are very proud of all your accomplishments. Your Grandpa would be very proud of you as I’m sure your whole family is as well. You have a gorgeous family.

  3. Dawn on August 6, 2023 at 10:32 pm

    Alyson, is such a lovely person and wonderful teacher. She was my daughter’s kindergarten and first grade teacher in Timor-Leste. My daughter will soon be a sophomore in high school yet, she stills says Ms. Alyson was her best teacher. Thank you Alyson for all you do as you helped shape our daughter into a responsible global citizen.

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