Back in early 1998 I did my student teaching in order to earn my California teaching certificate. I was placed in a town near where I was living, and ended up getting hired there for the fall of 1998. And there I taught, at the same elementary school, for 18 years. I wish I could say I was passionate about it for all of those 18 years, but that was not always the case. In general I try to be an optimistic person, and I carried on even during those times when I was struggling to put on my happy face. I felt that the kids deserved it, and I always did my best, even when my best wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be.
Those 18 years were spent teaching in a low socio-economic area, at a school in which kids entered kindergarten very unprepared and we were playing catch-up with them from day one. Many of the parents there are not high school graduates, many are first or second generation Mexican or Arabic families. Or children of teenage pregnancies. Drug babies. Over 80% on free and reduced price lunch and maybe no dinner at home at night. As a Christian, I felt it was my mission to teach these kiddos, to try my best to bring them up academically and provide them with a safe and stable place to be for those 6 hours a day (many came from families of gangs, and drug and alcohol abuse, families who never leave the area – no trips to the beach or to the snow, even though it can be done in 2 hours) Each year I had kids whose stories would break my heart. And so I felt so guilty a couple years ago when I felt I was beginning to burn out; like I had no more to give in that environment.
I have had good to great experiences with all my administrators over the years. I have usually held leadership roles on campus and at the district level, and have enjoyed the challenges those roles provided, and appreciate the faith my superiors and colleagues have had in me. But, oh the negativity that runs rampant in that school district! And I was guilty of contributing to the whining and complaining year before last; but last year I put that in check. But it was difficult, as the district and our teachers’ union were stalled in negotiations for a long overdue pay raise (that would still only barely catch us up to surrounding districts).
The changes that happened in my heart over the last 2 to 3 years, along with the external happenings in relation to our family business – it all contributed to my desire to seek a change. But I will save that for another post. This post is about the stark contrast between where I taught for nearly 2 decades and where I teach now. There are many differences; I will just highlight a few.
My school now is an international school in southeast Asia. It is a Christian school, although not all the families who choose to send their children there are Christian. It is a top-notch school offering an excellent K-12 education, so even strict Buddhists send their kids there to receive an American-style English-speaking education. The school is a private school, it is not free. Most of the students are from well-to-do families. The kids are blessed to take music lessons, play sports, take language classes, get parent support and parent help on homework, travel around the world – all things my students back home did not have an opportunity to do. Oh, and that list was just the after-school activities the kids are in. During the school day they have an art class, a music class, a computer class, and a p.e. class – I only have to teach the core subjects! These kids need challenging, they are at and above grade level.
I love how teacher-driven things are here. It’s awesome how grade teams work together, because they WANT to, because they know it’s good for the kids, not because someone is making them. So they all have buy-in and no one is complaining about being forced to adopt some new policy or procedure or curriculum that they didn’t choose or have a true say in. Decisions are made with contributions from everyone. And it isn’t a tiny staff; it’s just that they are constantly returning to the reason they came here:
I needed a change. Yes, it was exciting that we were finally getting a new reading program. It was great that we had a new math program. My principal was supportive in as many ways as she could be. I had even moved classrooms (actually, to one I did not like as well though). I dearly love and miss many of my colleagues from my school in America; I have some special friends from my time there. They are counting on me coming back! My district gave me a leave of absence, which I appreciate. I needed a change! I needed to feel passionate about teaching again!
The passion needed to be reignited! I am feeling it return! I have 18 adorable students from many cultures in my classroom – Thai nationals, Koreans, Americans from many states other than California, an Italian/Thai, and an Indian. And the teachers on staff are from varied and amazing backgrounds as well. To teach at my school, you have to be a native English speaker, so that means we have Americans, Australians, and people from other places as well, like Canada and South Africa. Many of them have taught around the world in places like Indonesia, Cambodia, Africa, China…the list goes on. Well, if you read this far, you must be close family or a close friend! Hope you got a little peek into some contrasts from my previous teaching experience and my current one. Stay tuned for more updates as the year progresses!