Tag Archives: Yokohama International School

Noticing Poetry with Naomi Shihab Nye


Poet and joyful person Naomi Shihab Nye visited our school this week and asked students two questions that I can’t stop thinking about:
*Do you ever feel like you are living inside a poem?
*Do you have access to the poetry channel in your mind?

Yes. Yes I do.


Love, Yokohama: Alec Whiting

Love, Yokohama is my photographic love letter to the city we have called home for the past three years. The concept is a simple one. Each week I’ll ask a student, colleague or friend to meet me at their favourite place in Yokohama… and I’ll take their photograph. These visual love letters will be posted each Friday.

Photographed on Friday 29 August 2014
at the Auditorium of Yokohama International School, Yokohama

Alec 1


We had originally chosen a spot near the harbour front but the day came and counseling duties took over so we needed to rebook. I thought the place I’d really like to photograph Alec was in our Auditorium on his very last day at our school. He agreed.

“Bring your mandolin, Alec.”

The boys had opened the shutters in the Auditorium and the light poured in through the windows and bounced off the wooden floors creating a golden glow. Our shoot became an impropmtu concert for an audience of one woman with an iPhone as Alec played the mandolin and his friend Anton Bryan, played guitar.

In this Auditorium, on the second floor of the school’s Early Learning Centre, YIS hosts assemblies, art exhibitions, plays and student-led concerts. Alec and Anton and many of our students have come of age on this well-waxed floor and on temporary stages built by students. Singing, rapping, dancing their dreams into reality.

After the shoot, Alec performs in his final Back to School concert, an event he has organized. Alec and a group of seven other students play Wake Up by Arcade Fire. The number is epic. The Auditorium shines.


Alec Whiting
Musician singer composer ground-breaker,
he may not have been born
with a mandolin in his hand
but it seems that way now.
Fierce and fearless
in his pursuit
of amazing
there is
not a thing
he cannot do.

California godspeed, Alec.

You can see more photographs of Alec on my Instagram feed here.

International Teaching: Should I stay or should I go?

Should I stay or should I go?

It’s early February and conversations in the teachers’ lounge at my international school are punctuated with questions such as, “Did you hear who is leaving?” and “Have you decided to stay?” Often these questions are whispered as it’s difficult to know which teachers have gone public with their plans and who is still mulling things over.

This is true at international schools the world over as Directors and Principals ask staff members to declare their intentions for the following school year… and teachers squirm with discomfort at having to make this decision (yet) again.

Should I stay or should I go?

This is my third international placement over a period of 15 years so I have been down this road before. I have made dates with my international teaching destiny and then cancelled them, shaken by the mythic struggle with my unseen future. I remember only too well the lists of pros and cons I have generated… the lists that never seemed to add up to a satisfying answer.

In the end, regardless of how difficult this decision may prove, one must answer the question. While it’s true that doing nothing is a decision, a kind of crazily passive action, it’s not one I feel very comfortable with. Here are the questions I ask of myself:


  • If you are at the beginning of your career, have you had at least two years of experience in the role that you will be applying for?
  • In your current job, are you learning an enormous amount about teaching in your subject area, classroom management etc.? Are you, in short, becoming a better teacher at this school?
  • Do you have a mentor (Department Head, Team Leader or colleague) who is helping you learn and grow?
  • Would you like to have a year in which you simply live and teach in your current location? (This is impossible if you stay only 2 years because you are either arriving or leaving)
  • Is your administrative team supportive of you professionally and personally?
  • Do you have great opportunities for professional development? (Workshops and conferences, access to a Masters program, and in-house PD)
  • Is the school environment a positive and healthy one where staff members are encouraged to provide constructive criticism about the school?
  • Are other staff members and administration open to change that is good for kids?
  • Are there opportunities for you to take on new roles (such as Team Leader, Department Head, or administration) at this school?
  • Do you feel that you make a difference in the lives of students and staff at your current school?
  • Do people express their appreciation for your work and contribution?
  • Are you in favour of the direction in which your school is headed in terms of curriculum, scheduling, technology integration and professional development?


  • Are you happy with the quality of life in your current city? Quality of life considerations vary considerably from person to person but may include factors such as: climate, pollution, violent crime, economy (including factors such as taxation rate and local currency in relation to your home currency), and political stability
  • Do you have access to the activities that are central to your happiness and well-being (for example, cultural events or outdoor activities)?
  • Do you have a circle of close friends that are the same quality of kindred-spirits you would have chosen if you were still living in your home country?
  • In terms of your financial package, are you able to live well, travel and meet financial obligations?
  • Is your financial package keeping up with local cost of living increases?
  • Is housing included in your package? If not, have rental prices increased?
  • Have you been able to save for goals such as retirement or buying a home?
  • Does the financial crisis make staying a better option for you? (Changing schools can be quite costly.)
  • If you have a partner, is this person fulfilled in his/her work? (Ditto for your children. Is this a good place for them to grow up and study?)
  • How much time do you spend commuting to and from your school? Is this an acceptable amount of time?
  • Are you tired of moving countries? (Packing up apartments, changing health insurance, learning a new language) or does the thought of this continue to excite you?
  • Do you have enough money saved for a move to a new gig?
  • Do you have ageing parents or situations at home that demand your presence in your home country/city?
  • Can you imagine yourself living in this city permanently? Could this be “home”?
  • If you decide to leave the school, what are the things that you would miss most? Make a list.
  • Is it time for a change? Is it time for a new culture/language?
  • Do you miss your home culture enough that it is simply time to move “home” regardless of how good this school/city are?


  • Is it possible to find a new job without attending a recruitment fair?
  • How much would attending a fair cost? Is that an acceptable amount?
  • Have I fulfilled my teaching contract?

International educators, please add your guiding questions in the comments section.

And what did I decide? Stay tuned!

Addition: 29th October 2017
If I wrote this article today I would add a couple of things:

  • One item on your Pro list may be worth 10 on your Con list.
  • Pay attention to how your body feels.
  • Sometimes money is really important and sometimes it’s not.
  • Life has seasons. What season are you in now and what would suit you best?
  • Life is short. If it’s time to move on or move “home” or go to a place where you can meet a romantic partner, get going.

Best wishes with your decision.