Social Studies Education Alum Brian Lawless Embraces “the Unexpected” in China

by Myiesha Gordon


Brian Lawless and the skyline of Shanghai.

It’s 8:30am on a Friday morning in Ho Chi Minh City. Teachers College alum, Brian Lawless is on winter vacation for the Chinese New Year and has graciously agreed to speak with me via Skype.

Born and raised in San Diego, California, Lawless attended UCLA as an undergraduate student. His original interest was to pursue a degree in public health after graduating from UCLA, but his plans changed after a stint in Korea where he taught English. He enjoyed teaching so he decided to move to New York City to pursue a Master’s degree in Teaching at Teachers College in 2011.

As a product of public schools, Lawless was motivated by the disparities in education. He attended Morse High School, where he recalls lessons learned from his 10th grade World History teacher. He says “I learned to broaden my perspectives to see events from different narratives through her, as she was the first teacher to force me to question existing narratives. I also learned to take ownership of my actions because she accepted no excuses, which really kept me focused, motivated and responsible.”

Lawless graduated from the Social Studies Education program at TC in 2013 with a Master of Arts in Teaching. His goal was to teach in New York City for the Department of Education, but after a job search that lasted longer than expected, he was encouraged by a friend to explore an option to teach in China. He recalled once saying “I will never move to China.” He relented and decided to try it out.

He currently works in Shanghai, China at a public school where he teaches U.S. History, I.B. 20th Century History and Theory of Knowledge to the equivalent of 10th and 11th graders in the U.S. His school is in the process of developing an international division that uses the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IBDP). He has a few different responsibilities at the school including as coordinator to implement the Theory of Knowledge (an interdisciplinary course that is core in the IB curriculum) requirements by working with other teachers.

While moving to Shanghai was not part of Lawless’ original plan, he says he realizes in hindsight, working in Shanghai was one of the best decisions he has made in a long time and he plans to stay there for a while. For Lawless, his contingency plan was the better plan. When asked what advice he would give to TC students who are charting their next steps, he said “Be open to the unexpected. Be open to opportunities.”

Hear Brian speak about living in Shanghai:

Photos courtesy of Brian Lawless.


Myiesha Gordon


Myiesha Gordon was a Staff Writer with the Department of Arts and Humanities.