Learning Support, or teaching students with Special Education Needs is consistently referred to as one of the most difficult jobs in teaching. And with good reason. Typically, we work with the most challenged students. This can mean anything from a simple learning disability to severe mental health disorders or life-threatening issues. Often it includes complicated family situations with parents who are struggling to accept their child’s challenges. I have even worked with students who were recovering from traumatic brain injuries and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders. Parents have broken down into tears at meetings, and students have flung chairs across the room in frustration.
But working with students is not the hardest part of my job. It’s the best.
No matter what challenges they face, they always rise to the occasion. Even when they fail to reach their own expectations, they often surpass mine. I am continually awed, inspired, and warmed by their perseverance and grit.
Ironically, the hardest part is working with the non-challenged. Teachers, by nature, tend to be highly intelligent people. For many of them, learning was easy and pleasurable. This makes it harder for them to empathize with students who don’t like school. For the most challenged students to be successful, they need everyone on their team. On the same page, in most cases, it’s easy to get everyone to agree that a child needs support. However, rarely will everyone agree on the best way to do it. This part is the most challenging. For a slightly hyperbolic metaphor, think of America’s response to mass shootings. Everyone agrees something needs to be done. Nobody agrees on how to do it.
The truth is, many international schools lag behind most public schools in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia when it comes to dealing with students with special needs. There are many reasons for this; the most obvious being the strict laws governing rights of the disabled in those countries. Most international schools exist in gray areas when it comes to disability rights and education, thereby allowing them to bypass laws protecting people with learning disabilities.
My current school, for example, has a special education department with a staff of five trained educators. However, for a public school of our size, our department would be woefully insufficient. We lack therapists, specialized counselors, psychologists, and other professionals that would otherwise be provided by a public school district. We do have IEPs and 504 plans, but as recent as five years ago we did not. Still, we are generally considered a well-equipped school.
Sadly, this is not the case in most international schools. Many do not have special education departments at all, and teachers are not equipped with the right kinds of training or support to deal with special needs. You might be lucky to find a school that acknowledges the existence of learning disabilities and has basic protocols in place.
When looking to work as an international school special education teacher it’s important that you talk to people other than the administrator. Ideally, you should talk to other teachers and ask how they support students with learning disabilities. Be sure to ask your prospective school about local rules and regulations governing learning disabilities. Also be cautious of administrators that want to grow their programs, as you may be signing on for more than you bargained for. Unless you have a burning desire to single-handedly create and manage a special education department, you should also be careful around these kinds of offers.
Special education is experiencing tremendous growth in international schools now, offering many unique opportunities. But with it, comes heavy responsibility. If you’re a special education teacher looking to work abroad, preparing yourself for a rewarding, yet challenging time.
This article was submitted to us by an International School Community member.
Using our unique Comment Search feature on our website (premium membership access needed), we found 29 comments that have the keyword “Learning Support” in them, and 20 comments that had the word “Special Needs” in them.
Here are some comments that shown a positive light on Learning Support programs at international schools:
“The St. Petersburg campus has recently added a learning support component to support teachers, parents and students.” – Anglo-American School of St. Petersburg (38 Total Comments)
“There are also student assistants. Student assistants are assigned to certain students or groups of students to offer them learning support. They move with these learning support students as they move classes and/or grade. Currently there are three student assistants at TIS one in Primary School and two in Middle School.” – Tokyo International School (63 Total Comments)
“The students are very delightful and respectful. It is a mixed ability school and there is a good number of students who need some support. Learning support has improved over the last few years, but it is still not adequate for all those who need it. The students are truly delightful and polite.” – Somersfield Academy (44 Total Comments)
“There are co-teachers in primary and learning support teachers throughout the school (in most subjects), depending on the specific needs of students in the group. This is an inclusive school that requires quite a high teacher/student ratio.” – Hong Kong Academy (67 Total Comments)
“We are in our sixth year of becoming an inclusive school, with about 2.5% of our population being special needs children–including Down Syndrome and Autistic students. There are three RTI teams and a “transitions” classroom to support learners with challenges (and our classroom teachers).” – International Community School Addis Ababa (80 Total Comments)
“The school offers a bilingual program for students in grades K to 12. DMS has a fully self-contained special needs Division within the main school.” – Dasman Model School (24 Total Comments)continue reading
Let’s daydream for moment, shall we?
A successful international school library is the center of the school, both physically and metaphorically. It is the hub of student learning, active and buzzing with the newest technologies, inquiry-driven investigations, maker space or STEM stations, and thousands of books available on any and all topics that could occur to members of the school community. The Teacher Librarian is an active part of the teaching community, integrating information literacy skills into the curriculum and supporting the teachers and staff in using best practices. He or she is passionate about all things literary and encourages a love of reading in students, matching reluctant readers with the perfect book to awaken their inner bookworm.
Hey – a girl can dream, can’t she?
Because sometimes the library isn’t at the center of the school, and instead it’s in the basement. (Albeit the basement of an old mansion house.) And sometimes it’s a ‘Learning Commons’ or a “Media Center’ or it’s called-something-else-other-than-a-library. As is the case with most international schools, all international school libraries are not created equal.
I’ve been working as an International School Teacher Librarian for nine years now, and the more colleagues I meet and Facebook groups I join and listservs I read, that idea is drilled home. All libraries are not created equal. Some librarians have multiple assistants, healthy budgets, abundant resources and administrative support. A lot of librarians don’t have any or all of those things. Some libraries are full of amazing resources for their school community, and some are full of dusty old books that are older than I am.
Every library seems to have its issues. Here are a few examples from my own international career:
But – each of these libraries has given me opportunities that I didn’t have as a librarian in the USA. I have always had the autonomy and support to make the library a central part of the school and of student learning. I’ve been able to collaborate with amazing teachers, had opportunities to win over reluctant teachers, and been involved with planning exciting interdisciplinary units. The Teacher Librarian role has been a leadership role, seated at the table with other leaders making decisions about what’s best for our students. And I’ve been supported to take leadership roles in the librarian community – to attend great PD, present at international conferences, join professional organizations, and to serve on the ECIS Librarian Special Interest Committee.
When schools in the US are getting rid of librarians, closing libraries, moving away from the written word – these have been blessings that make the rest of the issues worth it.
If you’re thinking about working in an International School library, do your homework. We are research specialists, after all! Find out about staffing, budgets, PD opportunities, leadership roles, curriculum, attitudes toward the library and the challenges the current librarian faces. You know which of things these are most important to you, what you can handle and what’s a deal breaker. Automating an entire collection was not how I wanted to spend my time as a Teacher Librarian, but perhaps the thought excites you. Find the right fit for what you are looking for in your international experience, where you are in your career, and what fits your strengths.
The International School Community website has great resources to help you do this! See below for specifics on how to use the comment search to find information about libraries.
My last bit of advice – find a network! Librarians are often the lone librarian in a school or part of a small team. It’s important to find the connections and support of other librarians. Because most international schools are in big cities, there are often other international school librarians nearby to connect with. There are also regional associations – your school should be able to point you towards the ones they participate in.
There are always other librarians who have dealt with the same issues, solved the same problems, created the same resources, etc. And I’ve found the librarian community to be great at sharing, commiserating with and supporting one another. Some personal favorites are the Int’l School Library Connection Facebook group and the ECIS iSkoodle listserv. AND – most excitingly – the ECIS Triennial Librarian Conference is in February 2018 in Chennai, India. International school librarians from all over the world will come together to learn from each other, get inspired by each other, and learn how we can continue to be Leaders in our school communities. Please join us!
This article was submitted to us by an International School Community member.
Using our unique Comment Search feature on our website (premium membership access needed), we found 61 comments that have the keyword “library” in them, and 20 comments that had the word “libraries” in them.
Here are some comments that shown a positive light on the library and their international schools:
“The library department recently got a lot of money to do some renovations which were done this past summer. It is almost complete and looks very nice.” International School of Tanganyika
“The SIS library supports the school curriculum, promotes the appreciation of literature, and guides all its patrons in information problem-solving with over 28,000 print and electronic resources.” – Surabaya Intercultural School
“The library also is great because we have 25,000 books for such a small sized school, in English and Italian.” – The Bilingual School of Monza
“The library has a new video viewing room that is useful for a small class of IB Film Making, or webinars, or our face to faith programme.” – Sekolah Victory Plus
and here are a few comments that stated their school library was in need of updating or some tender-loving care:
“The school’s library was very small and I was given no materials to use to teach language arts and social studies. Picture books were essential for my young learners and if you can, bring them from the states.” – Antigua International School Guatemala
“There are text books for main subjects but the media library resources are next to nil and specialists have zero to bare basics.” – Jeddah Knowledge International School
“No library for middle of high school!” – Canadian International School (Tokyo)
“There are more computers in the library but some are so old they still run Windows XP!” – EtonHouse International Schools, Wuxicontinue reading