Discussion Topics

Why is there not enough diversity of educators in international schools today?

July 3, 2020


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!

Adika Cremet is living in Shanghai, China and teaching at an international school. She has been teaching for the past 16 years in New Zealand, Scandinavia, Europe and Asia and travelled around the world. Adika is a passionate advocate for TCKs (Third Culture Kid), inquiry-based learning, early childhood education, diversity and inclusion in schools. She hopes for a better understanding on being a global citizen and international education for the community of learners around her as she makes these her goals wherever she goes.
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Highlighted Articles

A Seemingly Simple Question: Where are you From?

August 22, 2018


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.

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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.

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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:

  • Where did you grow up?
  • Where does your family live?
  • Where were you born?
  • Where did you go to school?
  • Where did you live before moving here?  
  • Where have you lived the longest?
  • Where is home for you?

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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.

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