Enjoy being new

The start of the school year finds me wondering what will engage my students as I also get used to a new building, school philosophy, city and culture. Towards the end of summer, my family and I said our goodbyes to the Pacific Northwest and hopped on a plane, but our destination was a new one: Beijing. New faces are everywhere and the school is simply massive. Surely I walk the long way each time I need to go somewhere.

Enjoy the exploration!

Enjoy the exploration!

Several days ago during one of the many orientation sessions, the head of school made a presentation of the theme enjoy being new. Slow down and savor the newness. As teachers, the start of the year often equates to hectic days and long nights as we race around trying to complete the mile-long to-do list. Can this be avoided? Maybe not, but at the same time savor the newness. New relationships are being made – don’t just squirrel away in a room but make the time to smile and meet coworkers and other people in and out of the building. Explore. What hidden treasures lie on the campus that can be useful later in the year? Observe. What parts of the school culture are deeply embedded in the way things work? Question. How in the world do things get done or where are the magic doors that create shortcuts to the cross-campus jaunts? And, when the students arrive, savor every minute of it. They walk in as a group of excited beings fresh off a school break. What is it that they want to talk about? What have they been up to? What hidden talents lie beneath the surface of each boy or girl?

So, I’m pretty pumped up for the new year! If anyone out there has other nuggets of advice for extra appreciation of new starts or views on the upcoming year, pleas share!

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International Teaching: a Transition Summer

Summer is around the corner and many international teachers look forward to returning to that place called home. Personally, I eagerly await my summer visit to the Pacific Northwest.

Punchbowl Falls on Eagle Creek, Columbia River Gorge

As an engineer, I moved to Los Angeles; Huntington, WV; Raleigh, NC; and Portland, OR to start new jobs. Each time, an orientation was followed by a slowly ramping up of responsibilities. Learn the processes, the work flow, the people and begin contributing. Meanwhile, I found it easy to get my home life up and running. Bank accounts transferred and language barriers did not exist as I obtained a phone, places to live, utilities, groceries and almost anything else.

Teaching is different. On the first day of school, students are nervous yet ready to begin. The fact that my life may be in a crazy state of turmoil is low on their radar. I’m the new teacher and I have to hit the ground running. There is no slow ramp up with students. A sweet spot exists at the beginning of the year. Who is the new guy? What is he like? Is he up for us? International teaching adds an additional twist. Not only is there a new batch of students, a new grade level, new coworkers, new procedures but life outside of school must be established. This can be difficult with language barriers and process that are different from the States. For example, in Taiwan little can be accomplished without the Alien Resident Card, which takes several weeks to obtain. As we move to China, our belongings must wait for us to clear customs before they can arrive. This means that our household summers in Taiwan longer than we do and will arrive in Beijing weeks after us.

So far, the transition to China seems to be moving along smoothly. Our new school is doing a fantastic job communicating with us and making us feel part of the community. I’m curious as to how people transition to new jobs and cultures. What do you do? A retired US ambassador recently talked at my school and when he was finished his wife gave a few words. She said her goal was to establish “home” as soon as possible. Once home was set and the family felt stable everything else could continue. This is our first big move with children. Advice? Thoughts?

Cross-posted on travel blog

A Teaching Team

The past several months have been an absolute whirlwind that reached its peak over the winter break. Krista and I decided that it was time for us to move on from our current school and get back on the roller-coaster of international recruiting. The goal of this post is to reflect back on the process we went through to land us our future position.

loop-de-loop in our future city

We are a teaching team, which means that a school needs to have positions that fit both of our skill sets. By chance, we’ve both taught almost all subjects at the middle school level but I currently teach math/science where she teaches humanities. (For some reason current work defines us the most.) OK, so we needed to find a school with two middle school openings that also met our own criteria. A few key points:

  • Chinese program / culture (It’s absolutely important for us that our girls keep learning Chinese so our ideal location was China)
  • A large school with lots of teaming opportunities – we’ve dipped our toes into the waters of being the lone rangers and are just not keen on closing our doors and running the show. We want to plan curriculum with others, talk about learning, discuss students and be energized by the ideas of others.
  • A focus on project based learning and integrated curriculum.

I know that part of the “adventure” of being an international teacher is winding up in unfamiliar places, but this time we wanted more direction. We researched schools and began reaching out. Skype was the vehicle for conversations as we talked to principals though there were some bloopers along the way. The connection is not always that good and video can really bog down a conversation. More than once, we had to cut off the video and talk to the computer. Talk about being thrown off of your game! I was surprised as to the extra challenge posed when you cannot see the person you are talking with. The “best” Skype discussion happened while we were on vacation. (Side note: vacation with two 1-year olds does not count as vacation. Where is the break for Mom and Dad?) The first question we were asked in this interview was, “Are you in the bathroom?”

“Umm, no. We’re on the patio.” Well, our hotel space – located in southern Thailand – consisted of a room with an outside, open-air bathroom/patio type area. So, I guess we were in the bathroom.

As the conversation continued, one of our girls who was quite sick began having sleep issues. She screamed. We soothed – one at a time so the interview could continue. Then, our other daughter fell off of a mattress and was rescued, screaming loudly of course, with her feet dangling in the air and her head on the ground. Yikes! To top it off, a thunder storm started rolling in. In the end, the conversation was still a good one.

I enjoyed the overwhelming majority of the “interviews” that took place. For the most part, the interviews were rich conversations about education that were quite enjoyable. How do you define success for yourself? For your students? I’ll continue working on this one for a while. Assessment also appeared to be a hot topic as we were queried regarding our practices in assessing students throughout a unit, reporting results and using the assessment as a means to improve lessons. The schools we talked with are at a 1:1 technology platform and we had lots of discussions about the integration of technology and how students are actually using it in our classes.

One of the best things that I did was the creation of this blog – and I didn’t do it for recruiting. Krista also has an online presence and we found that recruiters wound up spending time looking over the materials we’ve laid out. Conversations were prefaced with references to our ideas presented here and I believe allowed for better discussions. (Thanks again to all those who encouraged blogging – it’s paid off in yet another way!)

We’ve heard from many that being a teaching team is helpful  as many schools look to save costs by hiring a couple and there is (maybe?) more potential for longevity. I don’t know…but we found ourselves encouraged by possible openings to find out that there was only one position. Recruiters are faced with a puzzle of filling openings with candidates that they think are the best match while also having to juggle what is available. At one point, we were told that strong candidates have been passed over if a hard-to-get position such as a school psychologist has a teaching partner that needs to fill a position that we want.

Where are we? Absolutely excited, energized, ecstatic (all the e’s!) and exhausted. At the end of this school year, we will pack our bags and more to Beijing to begin work at the International School of Beijing. Did I say we are excited?