Friday, January 11, 2008

The Amazing Race: 4 Survival Items for International Teachers

We are back in Cairo after a long winter break in the States. It was almost a month long this year because of the long sequence of Muslim and Christian holidays, and we were able to have great visits with friends and family from Virginia to California. Now as I iron my clothes and write my semester exam, I find myself wondering if there will be any AWOL teachers. Last year, three teachers went on winter break and didn’t return.

Sometimes the difference between who we are and what we want and the situations we find ourselves in chafes and pinches and raises blisters until something has to go. Sometimes it’s the quality of life. Sometimes it’s the quality of professional life in the school. In the worst cases, it’s both. Administrators shrug and say, “It wasn’t a good fit.”

This may be a stretch, but in some ways international teaching is like The Amazing Race. It's set on the global stage. The goal is to finish. There are physical, mental, and emotional challenges.

And obviously in many ways international teaching is nothing like The Amazing Race. "Teams" can be solo as well as pairs. The pay off is not big bucks or fame, but opportunities for travel and friendship. There are not really winners and losers, only people who move on to more adventures.

So who will finish the year? Barring health considerations, the teachers who finish the year develop and use a set of resources that help them through the year. Here are four survival items international teachers need to put in their backpacks.

Content knowledge. This seems obvious, but you have plenty to learn about the place in which you are living and the students you are teaching. The better you know your content area, the easier your race will be. Subscribe to your content area’s online website to get fresh ideas for your curriculum.

Good classroom management skills. Each school and its population is different. Wherever you go, it’s your first year of teaching. Your best strategy is to develop a good set of expectations, rules, and procedures to support your teaching practice. A helpful on-line resource is Harry Wong’s

The ability to work in teams and build positive alliances. The winners in The Amazing Race work well with their partners, and they build alliances and support networks. Don’t hang out with the whiners and complainers, the backstabbers and manipulators. Your best strategy is to build positive alliances with upbeat, energetic people.

A yogi attitude. Yoga builds flexibility, strength, and balance. I won’t push this analogy too far, but remember that in real life, we improve balance by falling. You will fall a time or two. If you expect it and consider it to be part of your growth as a teacher, it won’t hurt so much. Yoga Journal is a good portable resource.

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