Thank-you (Guest Post)

View from the author's classroom in Valencia, Venezuela The following piece is a guest post written by the author of the blog (Im)Migrating with a Purpose. Due to the sensitive nature of her assignment, she wishes for me not to disclose her name.


“Thank-you.” I looked up from my desk. I had already dismissed the class and was beginning to work through the twenty minute break that is scheduled into every school day. “For what, sweetie?” I said to my student. A girl of no more than twelve with thick, brown hair stood before my desk clutching her books. Book bags were not allowed in the classrooms. “For the lesson today.” My heart melted. The lesson wasn’t anything extraordinary. To be honest, I can’t even remember what I taught that day. Yet to have a student genuinely thank me put a needed crack in a wall that I had built up between my professional persona and my actual personality. Since mid-August I have been teaching at an English-speaking private school in Valencia, Venezuela. I decided to finally pull up the roots I’d nourished for five years in New York City and move abroad. Although there were beautiful moments when teaching in the city that never sleeps, I often found that I was the one losing sleep trying to grade, lesson plan, contact parents, and keep up with the ever-growing pile of paper work. Thus, in the midst of the February, 2013 snowstorm that temporarily paralyzed the Northeast, I inked a contract to teach for a year in South America. In so doing, I began to cross another item off of my life goals list: to live in a Spanish-speaking country. One thing I quickly realized when teaching at an international school is how the school functions as a parent to the foreign hire teacher. The school pays for housing, provides transportation, and heavily subsidizes utility costs. It is easy to feel powerless and child-like when needing the school to help with basics such as setting up doctor’s appointments--especially if moving to a non-English speaking country. I, for one, never thought a co-worker would be translating my bodily functions to a doctor when I got sick. Yet, it’s all a part of the experience. If anything, it pushes me to continue to improve my Spanish. Rather than feel infantilized, I feel as if the school is doing all it can to support me so that I can do all that I can to successfully teach the students at a high level.

It is the unspoken contract. An example of the school’s support came as soon as I landed in Venezuela. I was already shaken because I had been stopped in Customs (which included a man taking my passport to check its validity and my Spanish completely shutting down), but my nervous energy evaporated when I walked outside to see the school superintendent, its two principals, and some current teachers waiting to welcome the new teachers to the country. Throughout the two weeks of summer professional development, the school took us to the grocery store, a hardware store, and a beautiful beach so that we could get our bearings in a new locale. It also gave us some foreign currency until we were able to exchange money on our own. As the academic year unfolded, the foundation that the school set only strengthened. On the first day of school the students cheered for all of the new teachers. Moreover, I had more access to technology, materials, and the ever-precious Planning Time (at least 1.5 hour a day, sometimes 3 hours a day!) than I ever did when teaching in New York City. Before meeting the students, I did struggle with choosing to leave a high-poverty, 95%+ African-American public school for a wealthy, elite private school. Teaching a wealthy community was not aligned with the educational philosophy that I crafted five plus years ago. What I realized though is that if I was going to keep teaching anywhere, I needed room to grow professionally somewhere. At my previous school my skill set was atrophying. We were working for The Ever Important Test Scores and no longer for knowledge and community building. I wanted more and I wanted out. Now, I feel as if I am growing again as a professional. The pressure cooker that is standardized testing simply does not exist at my school, though students do take AP exams and the Iowa exam to track their progress. Despite the horror stories of wealthy students with too much time and money on their hands that I’ve heard, or crafted in my own head, I find that classroom management is not an issue. Students are respectful and participatory while parents are engaged and encouraging.

A parent surprised all of the teachers with a handmade Christmas gift of thanks delivered to each mailbox.

My largest class has twenty students, which is considered huge at my school. Reduced class size, consistent materials, and a positive community allow me to experiment with teaching strategies I have only read about but did not believe I could implement. For instance, students created podcasts complete with sound effects and a script to close a unit on Medieval Africa. Additionally, I am receiving consistent training on how to use an iPad in the classroom. Also, I will be presenting at educational conferences in Venezuela and Brazil. Back in February, I never imagined that I would be attending professional development in Brazil with a school footing the bill. A little over a year later, this humbling and affirming opportunity will be coming to fruition. Yes, there are long hours some weeks. Teachers are expected to attend a myriad of holiday and sporting events, for example, but the payoff is worth it. I may have cried nervous tears outside the Venezuelan Embassy just this past summer, but I do not regret this decision. I made the leap. Travelers such as Sojourner, who have lived and taught abroad, inspired me to move abroad too. So, I will return to Venezuela this winter and return to the student who hovered before my desk waiting to say two simple words. And this time, I will be telling her thank-you.


About (Im)Migrating with a Purpose: I’m a writer and educator interested in travel, schooling and education, cultural identities, and the places in between.