Tag Archives: Education

What’s an international educator?


{The cherry blossoms in Nakameguro, Tokyo, Japan}

There are thousands of international educators working around the world right now but many people in North America, including lots of teachers, don’t understand what that means. This post is meant to serve as a quick explanation of this particular way of life.

For the last 20 years, I’ve worked and played and taken Instagrams and paid my bills by working at high schools outside of Canada. I’ve made my way in, and through, the world as an international educator.

How it begins

Looking back, I see that I was very lucky. Because I did my teaching degree at Queen’s University in Kingston Ontario, and because Queen’s Faculty of Education hosts an overseas teaching fair each year, I learned about international teaching while I was still a student. When I was in Teacher’s College, the job prospects in my home province of Ontario were not good and rather than moving to a remote community in the far north of Ontario, I thought I’d try teaching in another country. Even though I didn’t attend the actual job fair, the Placement Officers kindly put me in touch with a school in Colombia that was looking for two English teachers. The Head of School traveled to Kingston to interview candidates and I was fortunate enough to be hired along with a woman I knew well from my Bachelor of Education program. We asked to be flatmates. Two months later I was living in a city called Cali in Colombia, South America. I was living in a city that, up until eight weeks earlier, I had never even heard of. Although I was at the school for just a year, during which there were some bumpy days, I can honestly say that the decision to “try” teaching outside Canada altered my life path. My year in Colombia marked the beginning of a truly interesting life and career.

After completing my Masters of Education back at Queen’s I returned to international teaching. Originally certified as an English and Social Studies teacher, I earned my qualification as a School Counselor and worked for the next 18 years at four different international schools located in Monterrey Mexico, Barcelona Spain, Bangkok Thailand, and Yokohama Japan.

Do I have to be an English teacher?
People often assume that all international teachers are teaching English (as a foreign language) but that’s not the case. International schools serve some combination of local and international students which means that teachers hired to work internationally teach all the subjects students study: Math, Science, Humanities, English Literature, Languages and many arts and elective courses. Although we teach in English, most of us are not English teachers. Those of us who are, teach literature in the same way we would teach English at home.

Adventurous?
When people hear the list of countries I’ve worked in, they often assume that I’m a very adventurous person but that’s not exactly accurate. I do love to travel, and I feel so fortunate to have lived internationally but I am a person with a VERY healthy need for structure, predictability and a big old safety net. I am living proof that it’s possible to teach internationally and still have a life that is safe and secure. A life that might even look a little bit boring on a day-to-day basis.

A (school) day in the life
At the school where I worked until June 2017, there are 650 students from approximately 50 countries. The teachers are from between 15 and 20 different countries. Most students travel to school on foot, or by train from Yokohama or Tokyo; in fact students as young as seven take the train on their own. (It IS that safe!) Other students are dropped off at school by their parents. Students at international schools come from many different educational backgrounds. There are students that have attended that school since they were in nursery school, students who’ve also attended local public schools and studied in Japanese, and Japanese students who have studied at international schools in Japan and/or other countries. There are also many students from other countries, each one with a different educational background which is shaped by the kind of work their parents do and the companies they work for. For high school students, the day begins at 9 o’clock in the morning and is finished at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Teachers arrive at 8:30 a.m. and finish their work day at 4:30 p.m. or later. Students have a 50 minute lunch hour and a break in the morning like North American schools. Before school, at lunch and after school, students participate in clubs, associations and sports. Students compete in activities like Model United Nations and Brain Bowl. University representatives visit the school. The places we teach are much more similar to North American schools than they are different.

Making a living
Some international schools are run as businesses while others are nonprofit schools. There are good and great schools in both categories. Although I’ve never worked at a for-profit school, that could change in the future. At some schools, teachers make just enough money to live comfortably and do some traveling while, at other schools, teachers are able to save a large percentage of their salary each year. Most of us started our international teaching careers at less well-known schools where the pay was not as good but there are certainly exceptions to that trend. International teachers are also responsible for planning for their own retirement as we won’t have a pension from a school board in our home country. Some teachers work internationally for just one posting and then return home while other educators spend their entire teaching career overseas. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, just the way that best suits the teacher or teaching couple. Many international schools provide free tuition to up to two dependents which means that the children of international educators receive an amazing private school education.

Why it’s worth it

The gorgeous thing about working internationally is that outside of our regular jobs, during the evenings, weekends and school holidays, we have access to amazing opportunities to experience, and learn more about, the cultures in which we live. For almost two decades, I’ve been immersed in cultures in a profound way. In my first international teaching gig in Colombia, I sometimes felt frustrated when Colombians didn’t behave like Canadians… didn’t line up like Canadians, didn’t show up on time like Canadians. This seems hilarious to me now now but it takes both time and effort to comprehend and appreciate how people’s deeply held beliefs and values shape the way they live their lives.

Living outside of Canada has helped me grow. I’m more empathetic, respectful and compassionate as a result of being a witness to so many other cultures and ways of being a person in the world.

Finally, as a person who lives outside my home country, I‘ve developed a better understanding of what it means to be Canadian and this, I believe, has made me a better citizen of the world.

Next week
In next week’s post, I’ll provide a series of questions that will help you engage the international educators in your life in the conversation they’ve been hoping to have since they first went overseas.

 

 

Art, vulnerability + purple flying cows

12

We’re having an art exhibit
at our school.

We display student art
all the time,
in classrooms
and in hallways,
but this show
is different.

The art in this exhibit
was made by adults.
Parents and staff.

DP printed three photos from Beijing.
Beautiful blurry-on-purpose photos
against the clay-red backdrop
of the Forbidden City.

I chose two shots
from a perfect Paris afternoon.
Seated outdoors at a Rue Cler cafe,
we saw the clouds roll in.
Waiters scurried to beat the rain.
Rolled down transparent plastic sheets
to protect the cafe-clan.
Pedestrians drifted by
in a rain-distorted
dream world.
Muted by droplets
and ripples of plastic.

Friday after school
our library
changed its bookish stripes.
The book worm spread
fragile
iridescent wings,
became an art gallery.
There was sparking juice
and crackers
and the vibe was buzzy.
“I didn’t know she was a painter.
Her work is gorgeous.”

Some of the artists were
very
shy
about their art.
Embarrassed.
Dismissive.
“It’s no big deal.”

I want to say that
ART
is
a
very
big
deal.

The younger kids
at our school
think of themselves
as artists.
(Also
Pirates.
Explorers.
Opera singers.)

The younger they are
the more fearlessly
Warhol
Picasso
O’Keefe.

Years pass.
Some lose our way
back
to Neverland.
Narnia.
Wonderland.
We relinquish our place
in those dreams of
imaginary gardens,
labyrinths and castles
floating on clouds.
We forget the names of fierce dragons
we fought as four-year-olds.
We grow too big for
art-dreams
of purple cows
flying through the air.

Years pass.
We become judgmental
about what makes good art.
We develop criteria
to discuss the ways
in which a piece
is flawed.

We grow fearful
that our own photos
and doodles
don’t meet those standards.

We quit.
Pack away our crayons
and paints
in faded shoe boxes
labelled
“Childish Things”.
Turn towards adult pursuits
that pay the rent.

On Friday afternoon
adults at our school
sent their inner critics
to detention
and let their artists out
to play.

Vulnerable,
we were,
with our purple flying cows
exposed
for all the school to see.

Shy
and also
happy
like little kids.

Isn’t this how school
should be…
where the
adults
also
take risks
and play
and grow?

How can I feel good about myself?: COETAIL 1.1

Preface:

Dear readers,
I have recently enrolled, through my new school, in a professional development course called COETAIL. The Certificate of Educational Technology and Information Literacy is designed to meet the professional development needs of exemplary International School educators including teachers and administrators. If you’d like to know more about COETAIL, here is a link to the website.

One of the components of the course is a weekly response to a post or article we have read and I must confess that the idea of starting a new blog for this purpose… of having yet one more password-protected place in the cloud… well, that makes my head explode. To prevent the head-explosion, I am going to use this space for my weekly posts.

If using technology in your profession is of special interest to you, dig in. I promise to keep it real. If this does not appeal to you, please skip it. I’ll understand.

Cheers,
Monna


In World Without Walls: Learning Well With Others, Will Richardson writes about an eleven year old community volunteer and blogger who was asked where she gets her great ideas.

“I ask my readers.” was her response.

I get that. I like that. I do that too.

Lat year, in my work as a Counselor in Bangkok, I became increasingly concerned about the self-esteem of the teenagers with whom I work… the girls in particular. Over a few weeks, in different words, several girls asked me the following question: “How can I feel better about myself?”

Do you know how hard that question is to answer?

During an episode of a reality television show called Finding Sarah, personal finance guru Suze Orman reveals to the Duchess of York that she (Suze) “has a crush on herself”. Sarah asks her how it is possible to feel such positive feelings about oneself. Suze, never one lost for words, is not able to answer the question in a way that satisfies Sarah – or me.

So how do we help teenage girls develop authentic self-esteem? Immediately, I thought of my own tribe of very wise women and men – with whom I am connected through Facebook. They range in age from 18 to 80 and they live, quite literally, all over the world.

I posted an update asking them for their advice and my tribe of wise ones rose to the occasion and helped me identify some of the obstacles to genuinely feeling good about oneself. This collaboration resulted in A Confidence Manifesto for Girls and a new TUMBLR blog called The Girls’ Guide to Happiness. (TUMBLR is a popular online space for girls; some of them call it their “thinspiration.”)

While neither the manifesto nor the blog offers easy solutions to the this emotional epidemic (I can assure you that easy-peasy-self-worth-fixes do not exist), TUMBLR has allowed me to share a message of care. Girls in my life and in blog-landia know that Counselors and teachers and parents all over the world understand that these are hard years; we care, we would like to listen and help, and we’d like to empower girls to develop crushes on themselves. True love and acceptance of self… the real deal.

So what would you say to a teenager who asked you how they can feel better about themselves. Please comment below… I am very interested!