Ms Skillings' #teachereffect at St Mary's

Ms Skillings' #teachereffect at St Mary's

We want to spend this year celebrating some of our teaching staff who help make St Mary’s School, Cambridge such an inspiring place for girls to learn and flourish. We call it the #teachereffect.

Sadly, we can’t cover all our teaching staff; however, we will be showcasing several over this year in many diverse areas and from across the school, from our Junior School to our Sixth Form. We continue our series with Ms Ariel Skillings, our new Mandarin teacher at the Junior School.


When did you start at St Mary’s?

I started at St Mary’s in January 2020. 


What did you do before you joined?

I studied Business in my degree and Media in my Master’s. Before my children arrived I worked for China Central Television, Dorking Kindersley London and BBC Worldwide London, after which I retrained as a teacher and I have been in teaching since 2014. I have taught in various independent schools and private tutoring sessions with a focus in Maths and Mandarin Subjects. Along with St Mary’s, I also teach Mandarin as one of the after school clubs at Winchester House School. 


Were you always interested in teaching languages? What fuelled that interest and why that subject and area?

I have always been interested in creative learning/teaching and children’s development in relation to psychology, behaviour and attainment. Within those different careers, I have always been interested in how to make a project fun to learn or adapt for children, especially languages, which require a lot of repetition and could be very boring for young people. 

I love Mandarin. Not only it is my native language, but also it is an utmost piece of art from the speaking to writing, reading to communicating. I always enjoy teaching Mandarin, with a passion to explore and unravel the authentic oriental culture and art through the language itself.


What have been your highlights of working at St Mary’s?

Though I haven’t been in St Mary’s for long, the place already made me feel like home, thanks to all my wonderful colleagues. There have already been so many fun highlights! I really appreciated when Mr O’Reilly introduced the High Performance Learning to me, which opened my mind and has been beneficial to my teaching ever since. 

If I have to pick one highlight, I would say it is working with the girls in Junior School. For example, when we did the Cherry Blossom painting for the Chinese New Year theme. The girls across all year groups were amazingly talented in working on their water colour paintings. We used different painting skills and methods tailored to their age range and I have seen quite a few outstanding pieces of artwork. The Chinese character that we were learning that day was Spring (春), the girls were able to write it and remembered its meaning well. 


Why do you enjoy teaching?

A good question. When I did my teacher training, my tutor said to me that teaching was a “giving” job. I could say we give all we know to all pupils, helping them to learn. I am sure all teachers would agree with me that it is a wonderful reward to see how the children progress as time goes by. This is partially why I enjoy teaching. 

The other part, which is the best part for me: I see many smiley faces when I walk into a classroom and I hear many “thank yous” when finishing a lesson, for which I am grateful and felt very blessed. 


In your opinion what are the benefits of teaching languages in an all-girls environment?

I have been teaching in independent co-ed schools as well as girls schools. In terms of benefits of teaching languages, I would say it makes lesson plan slightly easier because I could just think of activities that girls like. For instance the painting of cherry blossoms, it was a tailored lesson plan which worked well in an all-girls environment whist it might need adjustments in a co-ed school. 


What do you like to do in your free time when you are not teaching?

When I am not teaching, I do a lot. Being a mother is my priority and I work my time around my children. 

  • I paint regularly during my spare time, sometimes I draw Manga stories and write children’s books (mainly my own children’s stories). I enjoy reading and writing poems in English and Chinese. 
  • I love running and try to run once a week.
  • I work in the film industry occasionally – I have actually been partially doubling Eve in series 2 and 3 of the BBC Series Killing Eve which was fun, although I’m afraid I can’t share too many details about that due to confidentiality.
  • I enjoy playing the piano, it relaxed me immediately after a busy day. I enjoy playing music with my children—we do a little orchestra together sometimes at home.


What advice do you have for all the students you have taught – past and present – to help them on their journey in life!

Never give up! All experiences are good experiences, though you might not be able to see it at the time. For everything you learn today, it will become useful tomorrow. Whatever you learn and do—learn it well; do your best; so that one day you look either forward or back, you smile to yourself always. Good luck!