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.
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.