How it all started…
I was in middle school in the 1980s. At this time ‘shop’ or ‘industrial arts’ was still being taught with wood, bandsaws, glue and sandpaper. During my high school years things began to change in the ‘vocational’ teaching world. Computers were growing in popularity and had become more affordable. I distinctly remember sitting in front of the green tinted screens typing in measurements and coordinates to create 2 dimensional drawings on an early version of AutoCAD. Wow! How far we have come in 30 years! In high school I did the minimum to get by. I didn’t push or challenge myself very much. It just wasn’t that interesting to me. The only exception to this rule was during my “Tech Ed” classes. My teacher, Coach Vander Velde, challenged me to inquire and question traditional ways of thinking.
After graduation, I pursued a B.F.A. degree in TV and Radio Production. After college I was hired to work at a local TV studio. I started working the ‘graveyard’ shift which involved taping satellite feeds, organizing broadcast files and so on. I was making a bit more than the minimum wage. I asked myself, “Did I really go to college to just make a bit more than minimum wage?” An opportunity presented itself to me in the form of a Masters degree in Technological Studies. This degree gave me the skills I needed to teach ‘vocational’ classes in middle and high school. I completed my student teaching and started a job in an urban high school near Atlanta, Georgia.
I enjoyed teaching during my first year of teaching, but one afternoon, during my drive home, I heard an advertisement on the public radio station for teaching English in China. Being that this was over 20 years ago, China was in the process of opening up to the rest of the world. I contacted the company and the following August I was headed to China for the first of many times since! I taught at a university in Beijing for one year. That year I traveled all over China and caught the ‘travel bug’. After a two year stint back in the USA, I returned to China where I eventually landed in an international school and was introduced to the International Baccalaureate curriculum. I taught ESL and ‘MYP Technology’. I realized then that teaching IB was a natural complement to the ‘inquiry-based’ teaching approach of vocational education.
I have taught in several IB schools since then. In all of these schools I have been involved in ‘Design’ teaching and planning. One thing that I have noticed about young people is that whether I am teaching woodworking or 3D printing, students love to be hands-on! Additionally, careers have changed so much over the past 20 years that teaching student ‘technology-related’ content is outdated. As teachers we all need to be teaching inquiry-based critical thinking and problem-solving skills. The subject of “Design” is the perfect crossroads for all of these things to be taught, practiced and mastered. In the school where I currently work, the students are able to experience robotics, podcasting, filmmaking, 3D printing, digital photography, graphics design, digital illustration, architectural design, fashion design, laser cutting/engraving, website design, coding and programming, drone operation, electronic music production and so on! All of this is within the Design curriculum.
An average day…
On any given day I will teach between 20-50 students depending on the schedule. Students will be in various stages of development working towards a completed design project. All of our projects start with an investigation or inquiry into some sort of issue, situation or problem. This should include an account of some sort of interaction with the client or target audience for the project. The students will continue to follow the Design Cycle and provide evidence of their work throughout. Most of my day involves checking on equipment, supplies, and so on. I have informal conversations with the other members of the department to see if everyone has the materials and access to the spaces that they need. Currently, the members of the Design department are content experts in programming, podcasting, filmmaking, photography, materials processing, Computer Aided Design (CAD), and textiles, just to name a few.
How to get involved…
If a teacher has some experience with similar disciplines and wants to get involved in an international school teaching ‘Design’, then I would highly suggest doing it! Make a list of your priorities, regions you would like to live and work in, salary range, among other things. It is ok to target schools that you are interested in as Design teachers are often difficult to find. Whether the school uses IB, AP, Cambridge, or something else, there is always a ‘design’ equivalent course that can be taught!
Giving back to the professional community…
Since 2008, I have been part of the IB Educator Network or IBEN. This means that I have conducted school visits, served as a consultant to candidate schools, lead subject-specific workshops, and other various IB related events. This involvement outside of school has been a key part in my professional development. I have met hundreds of like-minded educators that I am in regular contact with and we share best practices/project ideas with each other. This keeps my own teaching exciting and relevant to my students.
Jason Reagin is currently the IB Career-related Programme Coordinator and Department Chair of Design & Visual Arts at Chadwick International School in Incheon, South Korea. He taught in the US, Bermuda and China prior to coming to South Korea. Jason’s passions include being a live-long learner, coffee drinker and a cinephile. He has experience in curriculum leadership and development in several different school ecosystems. Connect with him on Twitter @diskon4nocontinue reading
In my earlier career in public schools in Alberta, Canada I was a Drama teacher. The arts always seemed to be under threat in the public education system, and in my experience Music, Art and Drama teachers always seemed to be fighting for their survival. We had thriving Drama classes and a popular extra-curricular programme at my school where students in Junior High and Senior High competed in Zone and Provincial Drama Festivals, but when I went to teach in Australia on a year-long exchange they cancelled the Drama programme to save money, and only the Art classes and the Band programme survived the arts cuts that year.
Teaching in Queensland, Australia for a year was an eye-opener as far as the arts went. Programmes seemed to be very well supported with excellent facilities and had far more to offer students such as many workshops in specialities like mime, street theatre and dance for example than the much more basic curriculums I was used to in Canada. The arts curriculums seemed to be very extensive and arts taken for granted as a part of an Australian school. After a huge well supported musical “Annie Get Your Gun” I returned to my school in Canada where we had no theatre and I taught Drama in a regular classroom, pushing aside the desks as needed.
I had to return to Canada and teach as an English teacher even though I wanted to teach Drama. For many students in my experience, the arts are vital to balance out academics and sports. All students need an opportunity to excel and be successful in something, and for many that is not their regular exam classes or a sports team. So the art teacher and I collaborated and kept the school productions going, a total of 25 Junior and Senior High shows over the years where students could act, sing and dance or work backstage, or designing the set. Students loved the opportunity to be creative, and often it was the behaviourally challenged students or those who didn’t quite ‘fit in’ in other classes that loved Drama the most. We continued to participate in the Zone Festivals winning many times, and what a treat it was to be in a real theatre! The highlight was going to the Provincial Drama Festival and winning Best Ensemble and raft of other awards for our huge production of “The Canterbury Tales.’
Before I left Canada I was chosen for a Commonwealth Teacher Exchange to the United Kingdom. I went to teach in beautiful Norwich, Norfolk and became familiar with the British National Curriculum at KS3 and KS4 in particular. In England I was exposed to the rigour of a Drama programme shaped around students completing exams for their GCSE’s. I liked in particular how Drama, Music and Art were all exam subjects with strict, demanding curriculums and the disciplines were treated the same as academic subjects. In Alberta, Canada the arts are not exam subjects and the curriculum is very much left up to the teacher. I left England after our huge whole-school production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” with much to think about.
The thinking led me to the Search Associates Recruiting Fair in London, England and a decision to work in International Schools. I accepted an offer to teach GCSE Drama and IBDP Theatre at one of the top British Curriculum schools in China. The school was expanding from the Junior School to a brand-new Senior School. Before I became a teacher I had done a degree in Technical Theatre and so I had a lot of input into the building of the brand new Black Box classroom I would be working in and the incredible state-of the-art Theatre. What a treat it was to work in such amazing facilities with such keen students and such small classes after public education! I was familiar with the GCSE Drama curriculum and put students through both the EdExcel and the Cambridge exam board. My top tip for teachers wanting to work in British curriculum schools is don’t apply unless you already know the British National Curriculum, and the requirements of at least one GCSE exam board. It’s a very steep (I would say almost impossible) learning curve if you don’t already come in with that knowledge. It was no problem that I had no IBDP Theatre experience. The school had an unlimited budget and was quick to send me for training for my Category 1 IBDP Theatre course and countless other IBDP workshops. It’s easy to do well and get good results working in this kind of environment. Don’t kid yourself though-the results and marks really matter to the students, the parents and the school and if you don’t deliver you’ll be out. My love of Theatre and the performing arts in particular was well supported here with productions of “Aladdin,” “Macbeth,” “Blood Brothers,” “Cinderella” and “Marriage Proposal” amongst many other class and exam productions.
In my current school in Singapore I’m in a different role. I am Head of Arts for the Secondary school. I supervise the Music, Visual Arts, Drama and Theatre programmes. I have six teachers working in the Arts Department. We are an IB World School and run PYP, MYP and IBDP curriculum. It’s important as HOD Arts to make sure we offer a balanced programme, no one art discipline can take precedence over another. Our students in Years 7, 8 and 9 all take all three arts classes. In Years 10 and 11 they choose one of the Arts disciplines to specialize in for two years and complete their exam ePortfolio of four assignments in Year 11. At the school we also offer IBDP Visual Arts and Theatre for two years. I teach some Drama classes and Theatre, but I am also given a lot of HOD time to manage staff, take care of the budget, ensure curriculum is being taught well, arrange standardisation and moderation of marks and a myriad of other responsibilities. I have my IBDP Cat 2 now and am an Examiner for the IBDP Theatre curriculum.
We run Arts Nights for the performing arts in each semester, as well as a school Talent Show. The Visual Arts puts up displays of art at these times as well as participating in the huge IN Exhibition of Visual Art from fifteen International Schools in Singapore as well as the IBDP Visual Arts Exhibition in the Spring. We run extensive co-curricular and extra-curricular activities for the students in the arts like bands, singing groups, drumming lessons and arts workshops. We are an International School Theatre Association School and run a lot of workshops through them e.g bringing the theatre company ‘Frantic Assembly’ in from the UK or Marco Luly- a Commedia dell’ Arte expert in from Italy. We run two Musicals a year, the Secondary Musical for Years 9-13 and the Primary/Middle School Musical for Years 3-8. The last four years we have done “Urbs, Urbis,” “Arlecchino and the City of Love,” “Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, “ “A Christmas Carol” and currently with a team of ten teachers and over 75 students “Cinderella, Rockerfella.” All of our shows are performed in professional theatre facilities we rent in Singapore. All of this is such a pleasant change from fighting for the arts survival in a Canadian public school, and having to fight for every cent we wanted to spend. I wish I had gone to work in International Schools much earlier in my career, but better late than never!
This article was submitted to us by International School Community member, Sara Lynn Burrough. Sara Lynn Burrough has worked as a Drama/Theatre teacher for the past 38 years in Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, China and Singapore. She has a BEd, an MEd, was a professional stage manager at the Banff Centre for the Arts and studied Technical Theatre at McGill University in Montreal. In Canada as a teacher she worked for many years for Northern Gateway Schools in Alberta, and during that time was selected for two teacher exchange programmes. Her first exchange to Australia was with Alberta Education and the Queensland Department of Education where she taught at Costessey High School, in Coolum Beach on the Sunshine Coast. Her second exchange was with the prestigious ‘League for the Exchange of Commonwealth Teachers’ (LECT) where she was one of two Canadian teachers selected to go to the United Kingdom for the millennial year to the United Kingdom. The Queen Mother was the patron of LECT and as she was celebrating her 100th birthday that year Sara Lynn was privileged to attend the celebrations in London as an invitee. In 2013 Sara Lynn decided to teach in International Schools and attended the Search Associates recruiting fair in London, England. From there she went to Dulwich College in Suzhou, China to teach GCSE Drama and IBDP Theatre in the Senior School. After China Sara Lynn went to Singapore for almost five years as Head of Arts (Music, Visual Arts, Drama) at Chatsworth International School where she taught MYP Drama and IBDP Theatre.
Using our unique Comment Search feature on our website (premium membership access needed), we found 96 comments that have the keyword “Drama” in them, and 14 comments that had the word “The Arts” in them.
Here are some comments that shown a positive light on Learning Support programs at international schools:
“The school just celebrated its 50th anniversary and there are many banners around the school. The school in involved with the SITS programme which is a quality drama and arts programme for kids.” – Oslo International School (17 Total Comments)
“Stoke City FC just started this school year and there are several other “big” initiatives as well, mostly in music and drama departments.” – Western International School of Shanghai (312 Total Comments)
“It is limited. In primary there is futsal, while secondary usually has volleyball and basketball. Baseball is popular but it is not offered in any organised way. The school usually participates at the MUN conference in Kobe in February each year. Drama and arts offerings have increased in recent years.” – Hiroshima International School (64 Total Comments)
“The school offers no sports programs, and occasionally offers a drama Club to students, depending on teacher interest.” – Alexandria International Academy (78 Total Comments)
“Piloting the iPad initiative this year and also looking to expand the arts program with the addition of the multi-purpose hall that houses a mini-theater.” – Universal American School in Dubai (57 Total Comments)
“There are opportunities in the arts (dance, voice, musical instrumental, drama), a good number of sports offerings (climbing, competitive sports, etc.). Lots!” – American School of Dubai (98 Total Comments)continue reading
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