Member Spotlights

International School Community Member Spotlight #30: Kathleen Ralf (A teacher at Frankfurt International School & Wiesbaden)

March 2, 2014


Every 1-2 months International School Community will highlight one of our members in our Member Spotlight feature.  This month we interviewed Kathleen Ralf:

Tell us about your background.  Where are you from?

IMG_0401My name is Kathleen Ralf and I work at Frankfurt International School & Wiesbaden as a Humanities and English Teacher.

I was born and raised in the Seattle area.  After I received my degree I moved east to the wild desert side of Washington State.  I taught English and History in a public school in Wenatchee, Washington for 12 years before deciding to make my move overseas.

How did you get started in the international teaching community?

One day on my way to work I thought to myself… “Is this all there is?  Am I just going to keep driving the same road, teaching the same old stuff to the same community, for the rest of my life?!!!”  This realization really troubled me.  So I started applying directly to schools that were linked to the website of the Association of German International Schools.  My husband’s family is in Germany, his mother tongue is German, so it made sense that this would be the place to go.

Which international schools have you worked at?  Please share some aspects of the schools that made them unique and fun places in which to work.

I started my international career at the International School of Stuttgart.   The school was in its first years of major transition.  They had a head of school that was dynamic and excited about the changes ahead.  I started that year in a cohort of about 12 new to Stuttgart teachers.  The community of teachers in Stuttgart is wonderful and supportive.   Class trips were definitely a highlight to the school year.   These were the moments when I really saw the best in my students and in my colleagues.  Dragging 60 students through the crowded streets of Salzburg is a life skill.

I am in my first year at Frankfurt International School & Wiesbaden.  This school is one of the oldest International Schools in Europe and has a great academic and athletic reputation.  The school is much bigger than Stuttgart, but I find this exciting.  The kids are from a greater mix of countries and teachers come here stay.   There are so many projects and activities for kids and teachers to involve themselves in here.  My favorite so far has been in caring for our adopted Roman watchtowers.

Describe your latest cultural encounter (or reverse cultural encounter) in your current placement, one that put a smile on your face.

DSCN0102Recently I had some time to kill with my 6th graders.  We had finished up a unit, and I really didn’t want to start the next thing on a Friday before a holiday.  One of my students jumped up and said, “Let’s play hangman!”  Ok, I thought.  I went up to the white board and drew the gallows and began placing the short lines below for my word.    The Europeans in the crowd started yelling at me.  “Mrs. Ralf!  That is not how you play Hangman!”

I stepped back and let them take over.  You see in Western Europe you don’t make a gallows.  You just draw the lines for the letters of your word.  With each guess, you then draw the gallows and eventually hang your man.  I asked the question why, but the 6th graders had no answers.  I figured that German and Dutch words could be quite long; therefore they need more chances for guessing.  Or are these cultures just much more peaceful?  No one wants his or her hangman to die.

What are some important things that you look for when you are searching for a new position at an international school?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI made my most recent move to Frankfurt from Stuttgart because of workload.   I had 6 preps in Stuttgart and at one point traveled to 3 different rooms.  My office was nowhere near any of the rooms in which I taught.   It was a harried race for 4 years.  I loved my colleagues and students, but I loved my health, family, and sanity more.

When looking for a new school, I ask a lot of questions.  How many preps will I have?  How many classes a day?  What is the meeting/collaboration schedule like?  Do you meet with teams/departments after school or within the school day?  What are the expectations on teachers for duties beyond the classroom? (i.e. covering classes, hallway duty, clubs, etc.) When do most teachers go home after work? Not when are contracted hours, find out about the work culture of the school.  Do teachers bust out the minute the bell rings?  Or do they hang around to plan, collaborate, and work with students?  What is the change-over rate of the teachers?  Does the school value hiring families?

In exactly 5 words, how would you describe the international school teaching experience?

Rejuvenating, Creative, Innovative, Culturally Rich

Thanks Kathleen!  You can check our more about Kathleen at her blog.

If you are a member of International School Community and would like to be our next member spotlight, contact us here.  If we choose to highlight you, you will get a coupon code to receive 6 months free of premium access to our website!

Want to work for an international school in the Germany like Kathleen?  Currently, we have 39 international schools listed in Germany on International School Community. Here are a few that have had comments and information submitted on their profiles:

• Berlin Brandenburg International School (11 Comments)

• Berlin British School (13 Comments)

Galileo Gymnasium (Germany) (11 Comments)

John F. Kennedy School Berlin (11 Comments)

Bonn International School (17 Comments)

International School Braunschweig (Wolfsburg) (19 Comments)

Dresden International School (15 Comments)

International School of Dusseldorf (22 Comments)

• Franconian International School (Erlangen) (13 Comments)

• Strothoff International School (27 Comments)

• Bavarian International School (30 Comments)

• International School Hamburg (14 Comments)

• International School of Stuttgart (24 Comments)

continue reading

Member Spotlights

International School Community Member Spotlight #29: Melissa Pritchard (A teacher who has most recently taught at Benjamin Franklin International School)

November 1, 2013


Every 1-2 months International School Community will highlight one of our members in our Member Spotlight feature.  This month we interviewed Melissa Pritchard:

Tell us about your background.  Where are you from?

1368634_10152010004753623_331690204_nI 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.1381001_10152010004763623_1816178198_n

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?

1387928_10152010004758623_1594569286_nGreat question.  I had reached a point in Barcelona where I was itching for a bit of change, and there were still some things I wanted to do out there in the world.

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!1278343_10152010004768623_664840940_n

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!

Thanks Melissa!

If you are a member of International School Community and would like to be our next member spotlight, contact us here.  If we choose to highlight you, you will get a coupon code to receive 6 months free of premium access to our website!

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)

continue reading

Member Spotlights

International School Community Member Spotlight #28: Denes Tilistyak (An international school educator currently working at Western International School of Shanghai)

October 1, 2013


Every 1-2 months International School Community will highlight one of our members in our Member Spotlight feature.  This month we interviewed Denes Tilistyak:

  Denes Tilistyak and sonsTell us about your background.  Where are you from?

I was born, grew up, and graduated from college (BA in Mathematics and English Language and Literature) in Hungary. During my third year of college I found a flyer by the college entrance showing “Teach in New York” and I immediately got interested. As a result, I got in touch with AAECA (Austrian American Educational Cooperation Association) that was recruiting teachers to the Big Apple from all over Europe. I traveled to Vienna for an interview and, after I was accepted, for a weekend workshop. From then on it all worked out quite smoothly and just about a month after being handed my college diploma I found myself on a plane heading for New York City. After the initial chaos in NYC I was placed in Walton High School to teach 9th-10th grade Mathematics. After one year I was reassigned to teach at Bronx High School for Law and Community Service and remained there for the following two years. During this time I met and married a Filipina and then we decided to move to the Philippines.

After teaching three years in the NYC public school system I got a position as Secondary Mathematics teacher at Cebu International School. There I got familiar with international teaching and the IB Diploma Programme. After my initial two-year contract with CIS I moved on to teach Upper School Mathematics at Xiamen International School in China, where I taught in both the Middle Years Programme (MYP) and the Diploma Programme (DP). During my 2nd and 3rd year at XIS I was appointed the Head of the Mathematics Department and for my final two years I held the position of the Diploma Programme coordinator as well as Pamoja Education’s Site-Based Coordinator.

After my five years in Xiamen I recently moved to Shanghai to continue teaching Secondary Mathematics at Western International School of Shanghai (WISS).

How did you get started in the international teaching community?

My first international school experience was in the Philippines, in Cebu city at Cebu International School. Through them I got introduced to International Baccalaureate’s Diploma Programme and became a DP Mathematics teacher, teaching Mathematical Studies SL and Mathematics SL. From here on living the life of an international school teacher came naturally and I very much enjoy what I do.

Which international schools have you worked at?  Please share some aspects of the schools that made them unique and fun places in which to work.

In SY2006-2008 I worked in Cebu International School. After teaching three years in the NYC public school system this place felt like paradise to me. The students were attentive, kind, and genuinely fun to work with. Being in a small school such as CIS helped me make friends and rediscover what teaching was really all about. Being part of a small but genuinely kind and helpful community was an amazing way to start working in Asia, so far from my roots.

In SY2008-2013 I worked at Xiamen International School. After my first year at XIS I gained the respect of both the Upper School principal, Dr. David Freeman, and the Headmaster, John Godwin, who entrusted me with the position of the Head of the Mathematics Department. I held this position for two years before I was given the opportunity to be the Diploma Programme Coordinator for SY2011-2013. During these five years at XIS I also became MYP Mathematics Moderator and DP Mathematics Examiner, as well as Site-Based Coordinator for Pamoja Education. As the school is about a 40-minute bus ride from the island, where most faculty and families live, I started to regularly cycle to school to the point when it became routine to pedal to and from work every day.

Now, in SY2013-14, I am at Western International School of Shanghai (WISS) as a secondary Mathematics teacher and I immensely enjoy the start of this new chapter in my life in this fantastic school with such an amazing staff. Although the school is only a 5-minute bus ride from my home now, keeping my passion for cycling will be much easier as there are plenty expat cyclists who organize regular rides around Shanghai.

Describe your latest cultural encounter (or reverse cultural encounter) in your current placement, one that put a smile on your face.

Having “cultural encounters” in China is really a daily experience. Moving around the city and observing the local customs and habits really became natural by now, after having spent five years in China. One of the many habits of the Chinese that still put a smile on my face is to see them walk backwards as a form of exercise in the pajamas. This morning as I ventured out for my morning jog, I discovered a running track nearby my home. (We just moved to Shanghai a few days ago and I’m still discovering my area.) On the track, at 6am, I found at least 15 people of all ages walking backwards in their pajamas to perform their (I guess regular) morning exercise. Yes, I smiled.

What are some important things that you look for when you are searching for a new position at an international school?

Having a non-teaching spouse and two school-aged boys my very first criterion is whether the school accepts two children as dependents. Once that’s given I check the school’s location, the programs they offer (which is crucial for me being an experienced MYP/DP teacher), and the salary and benefits. The size of school becomes important only when seriously considering an offer simply because I have experience with both large and smaller size schools.

In exactly 5 words, how would you describe the international school teaching experience?

Living life full of energy.

Thanks Denes!

If you are a member of International School Community and would like to be our next member spotlight, contact us here.  If we choose to highlight you, you will get a coupon code to receive 6 months free of premium access to our website!

Want to work for an international school in the China like Denes?  Currently, we have 22 international schools listed in Shanghai on International School Community. Here are a few that have had comments and information submitted on their profiles:

• 

• 

continue reading

Member Spotlights

International School Community Member Spotlight #27: Sudha Sunder (An international school educator currently working in UAE)

August 31, 2013


Every 1-2 months International School Community will highlight one of our members in our Member Spotlight feature.  This month we interviewed Sudha Sunder:

SSunderTell us about your background.  Where are you from?

I am originally from India, living and working in Dubai, UAE, for the last 19 years. So UAE is sort of ‘home’ to me.

How did you get started in the international teaching community?

I took a career break from an Indian school at which I worked for 6 years in the UAE. I left the school because I wanted to pursue further education and hence applied for part-time positions in various schools in Dubai and was offered a part-time position in an international school in Dubai (Universal American School in Dubai). I have remained in this school for 7 years now and moved from being a part-time teacher to full time teacher, to Department Head to ICT and Curriculum Coordinator; and currently holding the position of the Staff Development Coordinator. It has been a steep learning curve professionally and personally for me. I am currently a certified curriculum consultant in concept-based teaching (Lynn Erickson) and offer curriculum consultancy workshops in many international schools in the region and hence get to meet and work with a diverse range of international teaching staff.

Having said all of that, moving from a national system of education where students are “disciplined” from questioning the teacher in the name of “respect” ( at least when I was a teacher in the 90s – and agree that much has changed now) an international school environment was very challenging for me and my initial days were very draining.  Often times, in the early days of my international teaching career I have drawn solace on the fact that I was not a ‘permanent’ teaching staff and that my tenure was part-time. But I somehow wanted to make it work even for the short time. I turned to reading literature on international education and read avidly. During this time my admissions into the doctoral program at the University of Bath came through. My first assignment was about “teachers as reflective practitioners” that looked at my transition from teaching in a national system of school to an international school.

I give below some excerpts from the study:

What is my concern?

The classroom atmosphere and student interaction in my newly inducted environment in an international school concerned me. I was experiencing myself as a living contradiction (Whitehead 2006), because as a teacher I felt it was my primary responsibility to create a positive learning environment in the classroom and yet I was denying them the opportunity to do so (or at least that is what I thought).  Little did I realize the classroom management techniques in a multi-cultural environment are so different from schools where students are from the same nationality, particularly in the Indian system.

Why am I concerned?

I am concerned because as a teacher, it is essential for me to sustain and derive my joy in teaching. Students’ apathy bothered me.  A deep sense of dissatisfaction as well as a strong conviction that it was possible to make a positive change inspired me to become a reflective practitioner.

What kind of evidence can I produce to show why I am concerned?

I narrate below one classroom incident that raised my awareness of how my values were being denied in my practice, whereby I was experiencing myself as a “living contradiction” (Whitehead and McNiff, 2006).

Situation 1:

Date: Sunday, October 7, 2006.

(In the Middle East, Sunday happens to be the first day of the working week)

A project assigned to the students is explained with the help of a Power point. During this explanation, most students are talking to each other, some are painting their nails, and others detached and disengaged.  This overall atmosphere makes it difficult and de-motivating for the few students who are trying to focus attention.  At the end of the ten minutes of introducing what students are supposed to do, I ask them if they have any questions.

(Response) Student A: “So miss, what are we supposed to do?”

(Reaction): The whole class breaks into laughter, chaos and commotion follows. Some students slyly glance at me to comprehend my reaction.

The above scenario is common in most classes, perhaps with different questions at the end: highly non-contextual or insignificant such as:

Me (at the end of explanations): “Any questions?”

B: “Miss, may I go to the washroom?”

Or

C: “Nice dress, miss!”

In my previous teaching experience in the national system of education, students could be addressed easily as a single class or a group and the student-teacher relationship was highly disciplined with the teacher holding a lot of ‘power’. Students were often well behaved and  wanted to learn more from teachers and the interaction with teachers was highly respectful.  The current situation puzzled me. Where was I going wrong? I was not a “new” teacher. I had been teaching for 7 years! Before dismissing the current situation as “student apathy”, “indiscipline” and “disinterested in learning”, I realized this situation demanded a deeper understanding through critical analysis and reflection.

Turning into a “reflective practitioner” helped me realize that teaching in international school setting need to go beyond “Power Points” and that Power Points are often “Power Pointless” unless they can engage the students and provoke their thinking. Teaching in international schools demand paying significant attention to the fact that students are from various cultural backgrounds, and teaching and learning require differentiation strategies and project based learning wherein every student is engaged and challenged. I am not saying these are not applicable to national system of schools. But in my experience, I do think in national system of schools much of the learning is “controlled” in the name of “discipline”. This does not happen in international schools. Teachers have to move from being “sage on stage” to a “knowledge facilitator” at all times. “Respect for the teacher” is something that cannot be demanded and has to be earned in an international school setting. And if that happens, trust me, the students are the most adorable and fun to work with and more importantly they help you grow, as each day, each hour, they will challenge you. Flexibility and being a “life-long learner” is the key to success. Again, I am not saying these are not essential in national system of schools – of course they are- just that they are highly imperative in international  school settings due to the diverse multi-cultural student body found in such schools.

Which international schools have you worked at?  Please share some aspects of the schools that made them unique and fun places in which to work.

This is my first and only international school experience (but a valuable and enriching one indeed!) [at Universal American School in Dubai]. Having been in this school for seven years and it has been a very rewarding experience and a huge learning curve for me. It has helped me grow as an individual and as a professional. I have drawn on experiences in the school for every single of my doctoral assignments and currently working on my dissertation which again in a Case Study at the school.

The school I work at is a very warm and friendly place where individuals who are willing to go the extra mile are truly valued and the relationship amongst staff very collegial. With over 75 different nationalities being represented in the teacher and student body combined, one can imagine that each day is a new cultural learning experience, that shows we are so very diverse culturally, yet the same as human beings.

Describe your latest cultural encounter (or reverse cultural encounter) in your current placement, one that put a smile on your face.

1. A Korean student of mine (Grade 8) came to me very upset one day. She was upset because she sat in her History class for weeks together learning about this “new Greek philosopher – a name she had never heard of before” until that morning when she had realized that her teacher had been talking about none other than the Greek Philosopher, Socrates. The way in which her teacher from Australia was pronouncing the name “Socrates” was entirely different from how she had heard it being pronounced in her school back home in Korea, and it took her weeks to realize this!!

2. We have a board that hangs on the door of our English Department that says: “ENGLISH DOES NOT BELONG TO ANYBODY- it is a medium of communication and it belongs to anyone who wishes to use it!”

What are some important things that you look for when you are searching for a new position at an international school?

I think most international schools call themselves “international” without any depth to the meaning of the term. I specifically say this in schools that call themselves “international” yet have a significant and sometimes 95% of staff from the western world. I truly question the notion of “internationalism” is such schools and would certainly not want to work in such a school as I am not convinced that the learning experiences there would be of ‘international’ dimensions. There is some very interesting literature published on this (see Canterford 2003). So the first think I would look for is how “international” is the school in terms of its multi-cultural population. On the same lines, I would also want the school to respect every nationality equally as I truly believe that unless there is strong “nationalism” in each one of us the “internationalism” we pose will be empty and shallow.

In exactly 5 words, how would you describe the international school teaching experience?

Culturally enriching, questioning true internationalism.

Thanks Sudha!

If you are a member of International School Community and would like to be our next member spotlight, contact us here.  If we choose to highlight you, you will get a coupon code to receive 6 months free of premium access to our website!

Want to work for an international school in the United Arab Emirates like Sudha?  Currently, we have 29 international schools listed in Dubai on International School Community. Here are a few that have had comments and information submitted on their profiles:

• 

• 

continue reading

Member Spotlights

International School Community Member Spotlight #26: Usha Iyer (An international school educator/director currently working in India)

July 25, 2013


Every 1-2 months International School Community will highlight one of our members in our Member Spotlight feature.  This month we interviewed Usha Iyer:

Screen Shot 2013-07-24 at 11.05.45 PMTell us about your background.  Where are you from?

I hail from Tamil Nadu (India). I am from Chennai but brought up in Dehradun, Uttranchal. The serene valley and the beauty of the hill culture exist here. It’s a small place but known for its best of the residential and day schools. I studied in a residential school but I was a day scholar. Mine was not an international school but we had a multi cultural environment as other nationality kids did study here. We had Anglo Indian teachers who taught us good discipline and grammar. I did my college also in Dehradun as my mother refused to send me to Delhi (Capital Of India) for my studies as she felt the city life could spoil me.

Teaching happened as it had to happen. I was a self made woman and felt that I should stand on my own legs .My father had instructed my mother to enroll me in the hotel management course in PUSA institute in Delhi .As he was working in Indonesia and communication was not that easy those days , I not doing hotel management and opting for teaching was not known to him. I wanted to earn and I felt I must pay for my post graduation. As I was obstinate in pursuing my goal my mother gave in. My father was very upset as there was no need to work; he felt it that way as he was making good money.

There was no look back after that. I got an opportunity to work in the same day and residential school. I was just 19 years and handling the 5th graders very efficiently. I finished my post graduation and procured the teaching degree while still teaching.

How did you get started in the international teaching community?

I got opportunity to work in a metropolitan city after marriage. It made a big difference in terms of interacting with different people. In fact after a very short span of 4 years of working in the city schools, I left for Saudi Arabia. That was my first opportunity working outside India in the International school of India. I could see a lot of Indian Muslim kids but we did have a lot of Muslim kids from Indonesia and other countries and a lot of kids from Pakistan. It was a wonderful experience as I got to learn Arabic. I lived in an international community where I was interacting with Egyptian, Lebanese and women from Philippines. I did make a few Lebanese friends.

It was a great experience for me as I learnt the prayers from Quran. I coming from a Hindu background I found it a cultural difference as the kids were allowed to do Namaz three times in school hours. There were separate prayer rooms for them to render prayer.

Which international schools have you worked at?  Please share some aspects of the schools that made them unique and fun places in which to work.

1993-1997 – It was a great experience for me at the International Indian School Jeddah at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia  as I learnt the prayers from Quran. I found them very cooperative and we used to have fun days too where in we cooked our nationality food and have a good get together. What I liked about the school is it was very impartial .Although I was not a Muslim but I was chosen to represent Jeddah, Saudi Arabia along with an Indian colleague of mine to attend the two week workshop at Dubai. There were 52 delegates all over from the Gulf who attended the workshop. It was an icing on the cake for me. I got an opportunity to interact with people from Bahrain, Kuwait, U.A.E, Sharjah, Qatar etc. This kind of exposure opened my vistas for me to evolve a better English teacher as we could exchange notes on best practices. I came back to Saudi Arabia and the principal gave me an opportunity to establish the unique English lab which I dreamt of.

1997-2000 – It was another opportunity which God had given me to work in Nigeria. I was very keen in working in an international school but destiny had decided it differently for me. I was walking on the roads of Ikoyi, Nigeria. I just felt like walking with my resume into a Black school, called Kemsons School. The director seemed to be of a pleasant disposition. I told her that I want to head the school. She just looked at me and said yes, go ahead. It was fun setting up the school. I constructed a classroom made of glass instead of the regular walls for the play group kids and the kids loved it.

The best part for which I was applauded was when I conducted the FUNFEST for the school and raised 7 million Nairas The director was very happy with me. The most interesting thing about Nigeria is when I approached companies for sponsorship ,there was such a good response, especially from Lufthansa, the German airlines. They sponsored air ticket to go to London and back. That was the first prize in the raffle ticket .I was instrumental in telling the fun world Nigeria to bring down the toy train to our school.Oh! everyone enjoyed it.

The parents trusted me so much. My director met with an accident and I had to run the school without her. That’s the phase when I took the decision of sending my students to London on an educational trip and a cultural exchange programme. It was a great success. The best part was when we went to get their visas. The U.K embassy refused to give visa to my teacher as her passport had no stamping as it was totally empty as she has not  travelled to any country. It was a herculean task convincing those officers.

Describe your latest cultural encounter (or reverse cultural encounter) in your current placement, one that put a smile on your face.

I was back in India in 2000. After having traveled to Malasia, U.K., Saudi Arabia, U.A.E, Nigeria, U.S., France either for professional development courses or to work, it was very difficult to compromise with quality and standards. I was very happy when I got an opportunity to set up an International school from scratch in Bangalore, India. It was named India International school. I became the founder principal of that school. I always wanted to have a student cultural exchange programme and wanted to enroll students from different races and community. I established the school in 2002 but it was achieved in 2009 and we had 1000 children. I travelled to Bangkok for several presentations. We had Thai kids enrolled in our school, followed by Chinese, Children from Hong Kong and Korea. It was very satisfying. What really made me happy was the school was created by me. The infrastructure, curriculum, the cross cultural environment everything was created by me.

What are some important things that you look for when you are searching for a new position at an international school?

I have been so far running school for others. Now, I look at establishing an I.B. school. I have started my preschool in 2012. It has been rated as the best 20 preschools in Bangalore. Slowly it will have its elementary and high school wings and what I intend to do is to give the young children very strong roots and the wings to fly so that they can discover far more new horizons.

In exactly 5 words, how would you describe the international school teaching experience?

Beautiful, soul satisfying, enriching, enlightening and delightful.

Thanks Usha!

If you are a member of International School Community and would like to be our next member spotlight, contact us here.  If we choose to highlight you, you will get a coupon code to receive 6 months free of premium access to our website!

Want to work for an international school in Saudi Arabia like Usha?  Currently, we have 5 international schools listed in Jeddah on International School Community. Here are a few that have had comments and information submitted on their profiles:

• • 

continue reading