International School Community Member Spotlight #29: Melissa Pritchard (A teacher who has most recently taught at Benjamin Franklin International School)
November 1, 2013
Tell us about your background. Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Eugene, Oregon in the Pacific Northwest. I am one of five siblings and therefore always had an active childhood being outside, playing sports, and being social. It has definitely influenced the adult I am today. My parents decided to send us to a public school with a Spanish immersion program when we were young, and so from 1st to 12th grade, I did half my day in Spanish and also went to an IB diploma high school.
Learning a different language influenced my idea to travel abroad in college, and studied in both England and Spain during my Junior year. I loved my experience so much I wanted to go back overseas, but also grow professionally. I had studied art and design at Alfred University in New York, and wanted to continue with this. I was awarded a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship and was able to continue studying art and design in Barcelona. My one year scholarship, turned into living abroad in Barcelona for 10 years. I like to say that the novelty of living abroad never wore off. There is so much to do and see living in Barcelona. I started road cycling, running more competitively, and doing all sorts of outdoor activities in this beautiful and sunny region of Spain. I also learned Catalan, and enjoyed being immersed in the culture.
I miss my family, but visit often and I still love Oregon. It is an outdoor mecca, despite the rainy weather and we have a lot of great hiking, biking, and skiing. I wanted to get out of Oregon as soon as I could and went to Western, New York for college, and never really returned to Oregon, except to do my Master’s in bilingual education at Oregon State University in 2007.
For the last seven years, I was teaching at The Benjamin Franklin International School (BFIS) in Barcelona. I taught elementary art, second and fifth grade.
How did you get started in the international teaching community?
I was studying contemporary jewelry design in Barcelona and doing private English classes in Barcelona. I was interested in more stable work and noticed a lot of American English speaking kids on my bus ride to university in the morning. I went and explored where they all were going one morning and stumbled across the school. I started subbing there in all classrooms until a part time art position opened. After working there for two years teaching art, I decided teaching was really for me and I went back to get my Master’s in bilingual education, but returned after completing my studies to be a homeroom elementary teacher.
I’ve really only worked at one international school and that was BFIS. I have grown a lot professionally there and enjoyed collaborating with different grade level teams. You have a lot of freedom to try out different teaching approaches at BFIS and colleagues are supportive and excited to collaborate. The school is relatively small so the community is close and supportive. In fact for a lot of the sport competitions I did, students and teachers came to support and cheer me on. There is a great mix of ex-pat’s and locals and a diverse population.
Recently on my bike trip, I’ve seen a dozen different schools and I love seeing the way they work, their curriculum, and approach to learning. It has been a unique experience to be a guest speaker and visitor at different international schools around the world.
Where are you currently teaching?
On August 23, I embarked on a bike journey to follow my dreams of cycling around the world. I’m pedaling from Barcelona, Spain (my current home), to Oregon (my native home), on bike—the loong way. I will pass through 4 continents, about 20 countries, and cycle approximately 30,000 kilometers during the next year.
My project, The Loong Way Home combines my passion to cycle, travel, and teach. I believe there are a lot of other ways to contribute positively to a community without attaching a monetary value. Rather than raise money for a charity, I have decided to work and talk with students as I go cycling around the world as the “Teacher on 2 Wheels”. This will be the first year that I don’t have my own classroom since I started teaching and the thought is daunting. As much as I want to carry out my adventure, teaching fulfills me and it’s part of my identity. Therefore, my adventure wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t include some element of teaching.
During my trip, I will be posting my biking statistics, sharing data from my trip, and travel experiences. Part of my website, www.theloongwayhome.com will be dedicated to documenting these school visits and interacting with the children using data I collect along my route and the bike as a topic of conversation. My hope is that this section of my website can be used by teachers in their classroom in different subject areas to make more meaningful connections with learning in our everyday life.
Describe your latest cultural encounter (or reverse cultural encounter) in your current placement, one that put a smile on your face.
On my bike, traveling alone as a female tour cyclist, I feel like I have cultural encounters every day. For instance, most people wouldn’t dare cycle on a toll road, right? In developed countries, cyclists aren’t even allowed on these roads. I tried to avoid them when I entered Albania, thinking they worked the same way as in other European countries. I tried to avoid them at first and looked for an alternate route. However, their road system is so poorly developed that it isn’t worth taking a less main highway because they aren’t cared for in the least. As I found myself merging onto the highway in Albania, there was a caution sign there for drivers to watch out for walkers, horse-drawn carriages, and of course cyclists, and although it had the toll road symbol, there weren’t any booths, nor were there painted road markers, and I saw everything from chickens and sheep, to donkeys, fishermen, and horse-drawn buggies. Yet you look at the map of Albania, and it looks like an autobahn in Germany, it intimidates cyclists!
What are some important things that you look for when you are searching for a new position at an international school?
I feel like I’m at a point in my career where I am really excited to try a new teaching approach. I’ve been doing a lot of research and incorporating inquiry-based learning into my teaching, and it will be important for me to seek out a school with this similar approach, whether or not it be an IB school with a PYP program. Location is also key for me as I am such an active outdoorsy person. I love being able to leave my front doorstep and access all sorts of running trails, paths, and city parks and quiet streets in Barcelona. I need to be close to the mountains for hiking and winter sports, but also enjoy having sunny weather, regardless if it’s cold. I prefer smaller schools, but I’m open-minded about this as well. I could go back to Barcelona, it feels like home, but, now more than ever, I realize there are so many different schools out there and places to explore, that I am open to the idea of changing location.
In exactly 5 words, how would you describe the international school teaching experience?
The novelty never wears off!
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Want to work for an international school in Spain like Melissa? Currently, we have 26 international schools listed in Spain on International School Community. Here are a few that have had comments and information submitted on their profiles:
• American School of Barcelona (110 Comments)
• Benjamin Franklin Int’l School (49 Comments)
American School Madrid (20 Comments)
Sotogrande International School (6 Comments)
American School Valencia (21 Comments)
El Plantio International School Valencia (4 Comments)