The opportunity for teachers to ply their trade in the international school setting offers many unique experiences, both professional and personal. From the professional perspective, none is more rewarding than engaging culturally diverse groups of students in their learning on a day-to-day basis. Every student in the class brings their own unique language experiences, beliefs and values, along with their travel and unique third-culture experiences. In these settings, the opportunity exists for teachers to extend their repertoire of teaching practice, to ensure all students are engaged in the learning journey in their classes.
As a teacher, one quickly learns to see students in the class for what they can do, and what they bring to the table in terms of classroom discussions, group work and dynamics. Additionally, each student has a unique view of classroom behavioural ‘norms’ through their own cultural lens. Some cultures have very few teacher-student interactions in the classroom, whilst in others, this is a constant. The latter can be quite a shock for students from particular cultures, and take some time to adjust, extending the well-known ‘silent period’. Often these students become the most outspoken in the class!
Viewing curriculum outcomes through various cultural lenses represented in the class is key to a teacher effectively engaging the students in their international school classes. Valuing each and every student’s views or experiences, and positively acknowledging the political and economic systems from which they come is paramount to a positive and engaging classroom culture, based upon the saying “just because it is different, does not make it wrong”.
The practicalities in terms of ‘scaffolding up’ for students whose first language is not the language of instruction at the school is a vital aspect of teaching in the international school sector. As teachers know, schools have various approaches to catering to students whose first language is not the language of instruction, from fully-sheltered language schools, to partially sheltered programs, and most recently the much-espoused collaborative teaching (co-teaching) domain. Having been fortunate enough to experience all three of these approaches, a well-organised and data-driven co-teaching program is the most effective for these students, both in terms of the all-important student well-being, along with academic performance. In short, in an effective co-teaching program, students feel connected to their school as they are not being sheltered away from the mainstream cohort for language lessons. In turn, students whose first language is the language of instruction are always in awe of what their peers achieve on a daily and hourly basis, this in turn makes the students in question extremely proud of their achievements, and this pride is clearly validated as they are seeing the academic bar which is set in their mainstream classrooms each and every lesson. Students rarely linguistically fossilise in effective co-teaching programs.
An effective co-teaching program in this context requires staff who are truly willing to share, collaborate and build professional relationships, through co-planning, co-teaching, co-assessing and co-reflecting through regular meetings (See Cycle of Collaboration graphic below). Having co-taught in this context across Year 6-8 Science and Humanities classes for six years, rest assured that co-teaching is the best professional development a teacher will ever have, and it is daily! Subject teachers become excellent academic language teachers, and language co-teachers become quite confident subject teachers. Effective co-teaching programs are first and foremost relationship-based, and without positive and collaborative staff relationships much effectiveness for effective student learning is sadly lost.
A Cycle of Collaboration
Students’ academic language proficiency progression is accelerated exponentially in effective co-teaching programs in upper primary and middle school year levels (see data provided below – school name withheld), however, the catch is students who are in the beginning phase of their academic language acquisition journey can for various reasons become lost in the shuffle and may require sheltered instruction to accompany their mainstream class experiences. Experience and data demonstrate that intermediate and advanced academic language level students thrive in true co-teaching environments. This linguistic progression is doubled down in terms of acceleration through an effective mother tongue program at the school, ensuring additive bilingualism is occurring.
The role of the co-teacher is to flesh out the academic language embedded in each unit of work and explain to students the regular independent study habits required to learn the required tier two and tier three academic language needed for each unit of work, prior to and during the teaching of the unit in question. Furthermore, effective co-teachers provide resources such as comprehension, pre-reading/viewing activities and provide notetaking scaffolds, along with support resources for production tasks such as structural scaffolds (relevant to text type), sentence frames and writing samples as required. There is much more to co-teaching than this brief overview, however these are very sound pillars upon which to build, along with knowing each student’s current year-level appropriate academic language proficiency in the reading, writing, speaking and listening domains. The wonderful by-product is that all students benefit from these ‘scaffold up’ resources, not only the students whose first language is not the school’s language of instruction.
Next time you apply for an international school role, ask if the school has a co-teaching program, because it is one of the most satisfying teaching experiences a teacher can enjoy, and proudly watch your students fly.
This article was submitted by Tim Hudson, an academic language acquisition expert with 34 years of experience in teaching and leading EAL and other subject department teams at the secondary level in international school settings, including Shanghai American School and more recently the Australian International School in Singapore. Tim was also instrumental in building the very successful international student program at Fraser Coast Anglican College in Queensland, Australia.
He is currently on sabbatical, offering tutoring services for EAL learners and consultancy services for schools in the EAL domain.
His skills include curriculum design, assisting schools new to this domain in developing context-appropriate EAL programs, and enhancing existing EAL programs in schools. He has extensive experience providing professional development to subject-teaching teams across the curriculum in the realm of academic language acquisition and has a passion for EAL co-teaching. You can reach him at email@example.com
As an international teacher of color and proud TCK (Third Culture Kid), I often find myself being the only one or part of a minority group of teachers who are not the ‘standard’ international teacher, who fits the profile as ‘native speaker, western, and light-skinned’. The question that often arose in my mind and like-minded people is, “What does native speaker mean?” Does this question often relate to language skill, ethnicity, skin color or background? However, the more I pondered, observed and discovered in my experiences, this means more to the latter; which brings us back to the question of which became the result of skill vs ethnicity. Let’s begin to really unpack and dig deeper into this.
Many researches have shown that diversity in schools are beneficial to our society. With the growing migration and international job opportunities around the world, the demand for international education follows suit which created different schools of thoughts, philosophies, curriculums and practices; all driven to provide a holistic, enriching and global-minded education to children. However, the reality is that educators who are hired to be the ‘instructors’ and ‘role-models’ of these great elements of education are often lacking in diversity. Considering the fact that most international schools have a diverse population of students from all over the world, shouldn’t educators be represented by the same amount of diversity too? Where is the standard of being ‘internationally-minded’ and ‘multicultural’ represented in any given school? How do we rectify this and should we?
From my experiences teaching internationally, I have been blessed and also cursed at the same time. Some experiences really made me feel like I am a contributor and part of something great in education; trying to make a difference in this world by doing small acts and making changes as an educator who believes that education is a right for all children, regardless of wealth, background and geographical location. However, there were some experiences which made me feel small, insignificant, rejected and unwanted because of how I look like, speaking with an accent and my multi-cultural background. It became a chore trying to explain my background, identity and who I am as a person which affected my job as an educator as I felt victimized and paralyzed. I kept questioning myself, “Is this for real? Do all good educators have to be western, white and of certain look or speak a certain accent?” It made me insecure and unsure about my decision to continue pursuing a career as an international educator.
Fortunately, travelling and a passion for education helped me to continue my career as an educator which also sparked a fighting spirit and determination to change the way education should look, sound and feel like. It made me realize that there are many factors contributing to the lack in diversity of educators in international schools. These factors range from cultural expectations, norms, economic prosperity, societal needs, income levels, status and background, and even unfamiliarity with change or others outside the group. All these add to the definition on what makes a good international teacher which often relates back to the specification of ‘native speaker, western and light-skinned’ profile.
A few questions to extend and ask ourselves are, “How can we empower all educators to become the best teachers today?” and “Are we being fair to our children in giving them equal opportunities and knowing their identities through education?” Hence, diversity is KEY to develop global-minded citizens who will lead and run the world as our future. Start embracing, accepting and promoting diversity and equality today if we want a better tomorrow!continue reading
Living abroad for over 25 years has been an exciting and fulfilling experience marked by the many rewarding opportunities to meet new people. When we meet new people, our natural curiosity takes over and we quickly begin to ask questions. The answers help us find commonalities and develop bonds, which make us feel connected. One question I have always struggled to answer is the one I hear most often: where are you from? This seemingly simple question is packed with many expectations and assumptions. I never know which answer I should provide. Several questions of my own flash through my head in the seconds before I answer; Should I answer with my country of birth, my passport, my ethnicity? For me, and many others today, the answer is no longer singular.
Often times we are expected to provide a standard answer to a question that is no longer standard. In the recent era of multicultural and multilingual families, these answers are not as simple anymore. As a Asian-American expat living abroad, whenever I get asked this question, I find myself having an inner dialogue. Do I give this person the expected answer that falls in line with their expectations based on my Asian appearance, or do I give a different answer that I know will lead to the next question; yes, but where were you born? Or where are your parents from? Recognizing that people have good intentions and are genuinely curious, I most commonly share this response; I was raised in the States, but my parents are from South Korea.
This complexity manifests in schools as well. I remember walking into a classroom one day; the children were sitting in front of a world map and the teacher asked each child to place a pin on the map to answer the question ‘where are you from?’ One child asked the teacher for two additional pins. When the teacher asked why, the child explained he needed a pin for each country his family represented. His father was Swiss-Canadian, and his mother was German. To my delight, rather than making the child choose, the surprised teacher simply gave the child additional pins. This story demonstrates that we often expect a single answer to a single question. Whether we identify as a global nomad, third cultural/cross cultural citizen, multiplicity in our identities in now the new norm, and our questions and conversations should begin to reflect this.
One day, as I was sharing my frustration at being asked this general question, my friend asked me, ‘What would you ask instead?’ After thinking about it, I responded that it depended on what I really wanted to know about that person. I have found that an additional moment of consideration when choosing which question I pose has often led to more sincere and meaningful interactions. Examples of questions I now ask include:
Although each question may still not have a simple answer, go against your urge to ask the easy question and challenge yourself to go deeper and more personal. You can try one of my questions or come up with ones of your own. Demonstrating curiosity and sharing our personal histories are gifts we have as humans. Asking more mindful and thoughtful questions may lead to more robust interactions and certainly more engaging conversations. So next time you meet someone new, consider asking them a different question that uncovers a deeper level beyond nationality, passport or ethnic background. Each question is a gateway to the possibility of a new connection, a fascinating dialogue, and maybe even a new friendship along the way.
This article was submitted to us by guest author, Ji Han. Over the past 28 years, Ji’s professional journey has included positions as Principal, Curriculum Coordinator, classroom teacher and educational consultant in many schools and countries around the world. She remains active in promoting collaboration and sharing mutual best practice through her involvement as a workshop facilitator, conference presenter, accreditation leader and a member of various committee groups.