Thursday, August 4, 2011

I get to make a difference, even when it feels like I’m not making a difference.

During my first year in my current school I reflected on how as an international teacher I had gone about searching for a new school.  I was discussing the criteria that good teachers use when considering where to move next with a friend last week who has just moved from Japan to another school in Switzerland.  Both of us concluded that we are ambitious:  not at all ambitious to move up the career ladder and take on extra responsibilities that take us out of the classroom and into offices, but very ambitious to work in great schools in fabulous locations.

  • Location - this was number 1 on my shopping list for a new school 3 years ago.  At that time location to me meant Europe as our son was moving to a university in the UK and it seemed an easier place for my husband to look for work than Asia.  Now I have to say I love Switzerland - it is absolutely gorgeous and right in the middle of Europe so easy to get anywhere, but we haven't really seen our son any more being here than if we'd stayed in Asia (he's actually spent the summer at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and is now holidaying in Thailand) and my husband hasn't found it at all easy to find work as a foreigner in Switzerland.
  • Curriculum - this was number 2 on my list as I wanted to work in an IB World School that did all 3 programmes.  In my last school I taught both PYP and DP.  Our daughter was coming up for her last year of MYP and wanted to go onto DP.  My current school does offer all 3 IB programmes and in my first year here I did teach PYP and some MYP, however the school wasn't authorized for MYP when we first arrived so in fact our daughter didn't end up with the MYP diploma, and last year was the first year students did the DP.  Because they are so new here, the MYP and DP programmes are not as well established as in my previous 2 schools and although this year's DP scores seem to be moving in the right direction I worry that next year she won't get as good grades as she would have done at either of her previous schools.  On the plus side, however, since being back in Europe I have trained as an IB Workshop Leader and did my first workshop in Paris this summer.  I'm also hoping to be able to do an in-school workshop in Spain later this year.  I'm grateful that I've been able to professionally develop myself in this way.
  • Welcoming to families with dependents - Although this was number 3 on my list I only looked at schools that offered free tuition as a benefit.  In this respect my current school is excellent  - there are over 100 staff children in the school and that's by far the biggest number of children with tuition benefit of any school where I've ever worked.  Not all of them are on 100% tuition benefit though - and I know that is a big issue for some of our teachers.
  • Job description - This was number 4 on my priority list.  I wanted a job description that allowed me to coach and mentor classroom teachers, to empower them to use IT to support student learning and their development of 21st century skills.  At the moment I still don't have a job description that I find useful.  This is the most understaffed IT department I've ever worked in and so I don't have the time to work with teachers on their skills (and they don't seem to have the time to work on these either).  Up to now my feeling is that I've been too much lab based.  Next year with the loss of a lab I will be forced to work more in the classrooms, though this role is more time consuming and laptops seem to need much more technical support.  Currently I'm also worrying about the increase in the number classes, but no extra increase in IT staffing - we will be stretched even thinner.  On the other hand I'm as delighted as I can be to be working in a Mac school again but sad that we're not buying any iPads for our students to use next year but purchasing more SMARTboards instead.
  • Salary and benefits - This was the last on my "shopping list" and I can truly say I have no problems with the salary here, only the placement on the salary scale which does not recognise my experience.
Times change, circumstances change.  The list I would write today would be in a different order.  I've decided that for me doing a job that I love is just as important as location.  I've decided that being in a good school where teachers are happy, supported and valued is probably the number 1 priority for me these days.  I'm no longer concerned about tuition benefit - by this time next year both our children will be in university.  Salary will of course continue to be important to pay for these university educations!  I'd like to stay in a PYP school, but I have also come to see that there are other great programmes being taught in international schools too.  I would say I'm more open to other possibilities including that of working with PCs again.  I'm even open to not working in a school at all.

Now I'm facing another school year.  In the past I've blogged about how dissatisfied I've been with my own performance as a teacher in the past couple of years.  I also know that the way I view my own performance is not the same as others see it.  I've had so much encouragement from my colleagues who have told me what a great support I've been to them and how I've helped move them forward on their learning journey.  So while I think I'm not doing great, others think I am, which is what this blog post is all about.  Next school year I'm giving some things up.  I cannot continue to work at the pace that I do and then be dissatisfied with the fact that I'm not achieving it all to the standards I am used to.  I need to keep reminding myself that in the past I had assistants to help me as well as more technical support staff and fewer classes.  I need to keep telling myself that I cannot do the jobs of three people, I just have to focus my own.  I need to tell myself over and over again until I believe it that I am making a difference, even though it doesn't feel like it to me.

The title of this post was based on a post on the Cooperative Catalyst blog.

Photo Credit:  Make love not war by Stelios (snick38) AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works 

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