In the news recently, you may have seen the advertisement for a company looking for four couples to make a one-way trip to Mars. There were over 10,000 people who applied. It´s not clear what their motivations were, but perhaps some of those adventurous genes can be found in international teachers. You can rest comfortably, though, in the assurance that an international teaching assignment is not, necessarily, a one-way trip. Whether you are a new or veteran teacher or administrator, the exciting world of international education is both challenging and rewarding. This article is the first in a series that will help you decide if it is for you and how to prepare for success in the endeavor.
The first thing considerations are: Do I have what it takes, and what are my motivations? Part of our psychological makeup as creatures of habit, mean that change is very difficult. Don´t believe me? When was the last time you changed your hairstyle or wardrobe? On the other hand, change, can bring invigoration and excitement which leads to greater motivation and focus. So let´s look at some of the characteristics of a successful international educator. Stamina is vital. Think of your first year of teaching. International education is definitely not a “kick back and relax at the beach,” kind of job. In short, cannot be viewed as “just a job.” It is an adventure requires a energy and and a state of mind that thrives on seeing the opportunities in the daily challenges. Our Mars-bound friends will no doubt discover that in their three year training and conditioning program, their success is as dependent on this mindset as is that of an international educator. Creativity and a proactive approach will let you get ahead of the next curve ball thrown your way.
Another characteristic of success is flexibility—not the yoga kind, although many find that helps too. As creatures of habit, change is difficult for everyone. As an international educator, you may find that you are on the receiving end, instead of the giving end of “we’ve always done it that way.” You will almost certainly be asked to step out of your comfort zone, whether it is in the classroom, or with foods and customs. In preparation for the Mars trip, these lucky souls will be learning everything from gardening to medicine. It is unlikely that you will need those skills, but a broad tool chest of skills and interests will definitely make life more interesting and effective. Bear in mind that every educator and every school have different perspectives on how to do things, and no one has a monopoly on “the best.” No one enters or should enter international education on a crusade to change the world. As shocking as it may be, our way — or my way — or your way, is not always the best. A successful international educator will be open to alternative ideas. Ultimately, that is what makes us all better at what we do. Above all, flexibility and curiosity which will be discussed further in an article on dealing with culture shock, will provide a much richer experience.
Effective and happy international educators also possess stick-to-itiveness—that perseverance that allows one to shake off the frustrations and challenges and keep an eye on the goal. Jumping into international education successfully, is not something done on a whim. Rather, it is for the long haul. Challenges are everywhere, from home country to the farthest reaches of society. Those challenges are amplified by a multitude of other issues, which will be addressed in later articles, but the bottom line is that even when things seem overwhelming, a successful international educator will grab hold and keep pushing ahead. So, whether your motivation for entering international education is a career move, an adventure or a chance to discover the world, you are there to teach children. But just as importantly, if you are open to it, you will learn much more than you teach.
The life of an international educator is a wonderful one, full of adventure and boredom, excitement and frustration, challenge and reward. But without a doubt, it is a remarkable opportunity that will provide an amazing insight into the world in which we live. A friend of mine, and long time international educator, said it best, we “do an ordinary job in extraordinary places.” Life is not about the destinations, it´s about the journey.
In the next article, we will look at the nuts and bolts of getting started—specific steps to prepare you for opening the doors.
This article was submitted by guest author and International School Community member: John Brown.
(John has held both administrative and teaching positions for over 20 years, with the last five being in international education. He is a well respected presenter at regional, national and international education and technology conferences as well as a consultant, who has helped set standards in teacher training and assessment, use of technology in the classroom, curriculum development and effective management practices. A graduate of Tarleton State University in Texas, USA, with graduate studies at North Texas State University and Texas Wesleyan School of Law, he is currently teaching IB Psychology and Spanish at an international school in Portugal. His current projects include development of an online tutoring system for Spanish, consulting on development of a National Language Policy for the United States, and research into the effects of early language learning on brain development. You can contact John at email@example.com.)