International Science teacher and Head of Science Dept
The American School of Kinshasa
This job has allowed me to live in Bahrain, Zambia, Madagascar, New jersey, Florida, Cameroon and currently the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Teaching is demanding but rewarding! When students learn and have a good time doing it, it is fantastic! Many teachers work very hard and are very creative in their instruction. They inspire students to greatness! However, there are quite a few (25-30%) who do none of these things, but earn the same money as the rest of us! This can be frustrating, especially when they are teaching your own kids!!! Teachers are anarchists and many prefer to lock themselves in their rooms and be left alone - they are very collaborative and share ideas and pedagogy. There is never enough time to cover all the things that need to be covered for students to fully understand a subject, so we are always struggling to be efficient and choose the most important topics. Each school day is exhausting if done right - you have to be an entertainer, mother, counselor, safety expert, science expert, fun-loving, strict, patient, creative, organized, flexible and able to work with people of all personality types. You have to answer to students, parents and administrators - trying to keep everyone happy. Lots of deadlines, lots of disorganized and overlapping events coming from all corners of the school. Lots of nice people!!! teaching people from as many as 30 countries each year is challenging - many different cultural attitudes toward education. Many parents do not know anything about the American idea of parent participation in education. There are many different standards for female vs male students, in dress code, participation in extracurricular events, sports and academic expectations. We try to prepare students for US as well as European Universities, which can be difficult. But you also get to laugh a lot and hang out with young people who have not learned to take life too seriously yet.
While doing my Master's and Doctorate, I was required to be a teaching assistant. I ended up loving it more than research. When I was short of funding, I took part time teaching jobs at community colleges. When I completed my PhD, I went to a job fair in San Francisco on a whim, got offered a job in Bahrain - took it and went!!!! My doctorate is highly interdisciplinary in all the sciences and math - my depth and breadth of knowledge has allowed me to teach many different science courses. Most people who teach high school need a teaching credential, but I was lucky that I had quite a lot of teaching experience before I got my first job and that combined with my PhD has allowed me to teach for 15 years without one. I have furthered my training by working with the International Baccalureate and Advanced Placement organizations. I have done quite a bit of research and been able to publish the research in journals as well as more local publications.
I get up at 6, read and respond to emails between 6 and 6:45. get ready for work (and get my kids ready for school). Walk the 300 yards to my classroom. Do final prep for the school day, talk to students if they are waiting and have questions. At 8 take attendance and begin teaching. Some days I teach straight through till 3 without a break. Other days, I have 1-3 hours of prep time where I can plan lesssons, grade papers, create assessments, get ready for labs. After school twice per week, I have an environmental club, with which we are creating a botanical garden and making field guides to Kinshasa as well as doing some recycling etc. On Wednesdays, school ends at 1:40 and we have teacher meetings and professional development activities until 4:30. At 4:30 I go home - usually in the evenings, I work for 1-3 hours preparing lessons, answering emails from students, parents or colleagues; or grading papers. A lot of the prep time is quite creative - I might be looking for resources like video clips, interactive labs or doing research on a particular topic. I also look for ideas for labs and write all my own assignments and rubrics to guide students to success in completing them. On weekends, I often travel about an hour to a primate sanctuary, with or without students to work with orphan bonobos, chimpanzees and gorillas. I sometimes get to go on field trips to other nature reserves or farms. Occasionally, I get to travel to Jo'burg or Nairobi for conferences during the school year and over the summer I do either on-line or in person workshops in the US.
Obtaining high quality science equipment and materials can be difficult. We can only place orders once per year and it often takes 18 months from ordering until materials arrive. Many chemicals cannot be shipped out of the US since 9/11 and many cannot be obtained locally. Most of my students are EAL - and have highly varying levels of English. Small class sizes are great but with only 12-15 students per grade it is not easy to differentiate enough to meet the needs of very low or very high achieving students. Scheduling can also be difficult. Some of the items I mentioned above are also challenging - lots of cultural differences. One important cultural difference is that many people still do not "believe" that their children may have learning difficulties and we do not have the means to assess them on-site. Watching children suffer who really need Special Ed makes me really sad - I do my best, but some differences are too big for mainstreaming without assistance.
Interacting with students and other primates!!! I teach biology in a rainforest! With trees and birds and insects and the ability to teach ecology year round!
That teachers only work 36 weeks per year! And that they are home by 3:30 with nothing to do in the evening!!! Good teachers are at work by 7 and rarely leave before 4:30 each day. They often bring 1-3 hours of work home with them. They spend 2-12 hours working each weekend. When students are not in class, teachers have a great deal of preparation and marking to do. They also work very hard to grow professionally - taking on-line and face to face classes or collaborating with colleagues. All teachers must participate in the administrative work of the school, working on committees to document their work and improve the school. There are lots of meetings!!! While it is true that we get longer stretches of time when classes are not in session, we do a lot of work during this time. And when we are teaching, it is exhausting! Teaching is performance art!
The TASOK campus is 45 acres. The central portion is where the school is located, housing areas are at each end. The classrooms are all single story and all have 2 doors that open to the outdoors. Covered walkways connect the classrooms. The grounds include a 25m pool, 2 soccer fields, covered basketball court and tennis court. There is a botanical garden as well as large patches of rainforest. Dress code is casual but neat. Crocs are the standard footwear and i usually wear insect repellant impregnated clothing when I work outdoors. It is hot here, we walk a lot, roads are unpaved and muddy, rocky; and the electricity is unreliable so the dress code is much more relaxed than it would be in other schools.
Go for it! If you love kids, love travel, have a sense of adventure and are not too concerned with material objects, malls, or fancy restaurants. I have actually had the honor of teaching several children of the Heads of State - so I feel like I have had the opportunity to influence some students who might really be able to make a difference in their country.......
Save money, no matter how hard it is! Don't waste time in your twenties. Spend as much time as possible exploring every opportunity that comes along and seek out others!!!! Don't be afraid to do work with no pay - it will help you in your career in the long run....
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