Notes of an International School IB Educator
In many ways the life of an educator is a journey down the winding path of life that is not so unlike anyone else’s, however, once an opportunity presents itself to enter the global international english school circuit everything changes.
The story of one such educator began in the Netherlands, as a newly graduated IT administrator, fresh out of IT College. He first formally entered the professional Information and Technology industry in 2006.
Arriving to Estonia
Little did I know back then, however, events that would occur in the following year would initiate a sequence of events that would lead to my first international adventure.
In 2007 an opportunity arose to visit Estonia for an extended period of time and so once the decision was made I packed some basic needs and set off on what was supposed to be a 3-6 month trip to Estonia and explore what life in another nation might be like.
The first weeks of holiday time passed fairly quickly and life as a tourist in Estonia was fascinating. A foreign country with two major spoken and written languages so completely alien to the languages that I had encountered and learned thus far, but with friends around me who were fluent in those languages, I was supported throughout the initial “honeymoon” period in Estonia.
After this initial period passed the vacation budget was beginning to dwindle, and since I had decided to stay longer than initially expected, the time had come to consider finding a job in this exciting new and foreign land to facilitate that extension.
Despite the fact that I had already learned several languages, and been in touch with what I had thought was quite a large amount of different cultures and people from many different nations from my formative years until adulthood, nothing could have prepared me for the initial challenges of being alone in a foreign nation where the primary languages were so very different. People did not freely converse in English, and greatly preferred to speak either the primary language: Estonian, or the often reluctantly spoken secondary language: Russian.
Some time was spent looking for a suitable job and exploring the Estonian job market, until one small IT firm offered me a position to liaise with their international clients.
After about a year had passed, this position had proven to be interesting, challenging and exciting, however, besides having been afforded the opportunity to explore Estonia and get a true taste of the culture and cuisine that the country had to offer, my dreams of becoming an educator had not been realized at all, until, an opportunity came across my path to work for the International School of Estonia.
First Contact – International Baccalaureate School
After a successful interview with them, I had the opportunity to align my affinity for IT, with my true passion for education. Starting as an IT administrator for the school, I had my first introduction to the International Baccalaureate Organization and its comprehensive international educational framework and began to explore the concepts and methodology behind it while facilitating teaching and learning for my colleagues and their students.
Growing into a position as the IT director over the three year tenure at this school I had also been afforded the opportunity to begin to pursue my dream profession as an educator and try my hand at teaching one-on-one world history and English lessons for a middle school pupil who needed the additional support and individually tailored IB curriculum, in addition to a shadow teaching role for another student.
This opened the door to the incredible and previously unknown (at least to me) world of international education.
The more I learned about the IB framework and its standards for education, the more thrilled I became to have been afforded an opportunity to become a part of it. In this school system, as opposed to the rigid public school system that I had come up in myself in the Netherlands seeks to educate children at a conceptual level and it greatly encourages the journey of enquiry, while cultivating a series of genuinely profound attributes in all of its students through the IB learner profile, ATL skills and extensive curricular frameworks.
The culture at this international school of Tallinn was much like that of an extended family of educators, who despite having arrived in the same nation under very unique personal and professional circumstances had four critical things in common: “Their passion for international education, an exceptional drive to deliver education at the highest curricular standard and the desire to continue growing and exploring the world through their own personal context.”
This first of introduction to the international english school circuit really opened the proverbial floodgates and set me onto an incredible path of discovery which led me to reach a new levels of understanding in areas related to education, private schools, the common variations between locally hired/sourced staff and staff that was hired and brought in from abroad and many more fascinating things related to this new educational frontier that I had come to discover.
In my double role at this international school I spent the three years of time there facilitating the amazing work done by my colleagues; the excellent teachers, fabulous administration staff and outstanding administrative support team, in addition to learning about the IB frameworks, planning, and developing my first IB curriculum and I got introduced to the concept of wearing many “hats” at an international english school and thus taking on any additional tasks we could as a staff to ensure the smooth operation of our school.
Teaching around the world
From here we were to make an international move to Saudi Arabia, to a new international school that was to become the greatest in the Arabian Kingdoms and I was afforded the unique opportunity to become a part of this and “get in at the ground floor”, as they say. Regrettably the opportunity meant that I had to say my farewells to the Estonian school and prepare my young family for their first truly international and intercontinental move as a family unit.
The opportunity unfortunately did not work out due to some unrest in the specific area that the school was being constructed in and the local government was unable to process visa requests for more than a year, which led to the necessity to seek alternative employment.
Having left the school and only having learned rudimentary Estonian, it was nearly impossible to find suitable employment in Estonia at the time and so we decided to move on and look for opportunities in the Netherlands. After a three year period of working there as an IT manager for a large multinational firm, I was offered an opportunity to return to the IB international school circuit to work for the International School of Basel in Switzerland.
The transition went smoothly, however, this time was the first time that we were offered an expat package that included some of the basic quality-of-life benefits that come with the expat lifestyle. As a school they have an amazing team of people that will show new members of staff where all of the basic necessities are, how to navigate the culture, language, local customs, what the school’s vision is, team spirit and they paired each employee up with a “buddy” to make sure that they are able to conform with the extremely high standards they set for their students, faculty, and support staff.
The “boutique” international school experience really permeated the entire school community and it has the tendency to make anyone who becomes a part of it feel like they are a part of a greater family, and a very closely knit team. It is this extremely caring and nurturing environment that made even the rather large community of roughly two thousand individuals across three campuses seem like a relatively small united team in which every member cared for the others.
The country also has many interesting, although some difficult aspects to it, from the enforced quiet times between 12:00 noon and 2 PM, to separating absolutely all types of waste in separate waste processing centers and having to drop off the waste there yourself, sharing a laundry room with the other residents of the building, to heavy and incredibly complicated taxation structures, overwhelmingly expensive cost of living, rather strict and sometimes abrasive locals who do not readily accept foreigners into their society and social circles, to the stunning sights, smells and tranquility of the mountains and valleys that make up Switzerland… All in all living there was a subset of experiences that we will always remember.
During my tenure at the school we had worked together with many schools in the region and around the world and one school in China stood out to me in particular, as a former colleague of mine from ISE had moved there and he reached out to me to ask for help in a project.
Through going on a brief (week long) trip to help out this former colleague, I had been afforded the opportunity to experience the international school spirit, language and culture of China, which had never really entered my mind as a real option before.
At the end of a two year period we were offered another exciting and unique opportunity to move to China and take up an IT director’s position in addition to my first full time IB MYP Design position, which meant that I would officially be able to transition into full time teaching for the first time.
After careful weighing and deliberation, my wife and our three children and I decided to seize the opportunity and pursue it.
This was the beginning of a completely new world for us. The sights, smells, culture, foods, mentality and overall living conditions in a country like China are enough to overwhelm any unsuspecting traveler who might be new to the international lifestyle.
The way that life has a way of flowing in China is so very different to how things are here in the Western world. From the absolutely mind blowing metropolises like Beijing with roughly 23 million inhabitants to the backwater villages that have only a few hundred, or thousand people living there, everyone speaks a variation of Mandarin Chinese (an astoundingly rich and fascinating language.), they all have cellular phones (even the oldest generation) and use it in combination with an application called WeChat to do anything from utilizing public transportation, to working, arranging meetings, paying for anything they might need, or ordering services.
Society in China is far more advanced than many people give the country credit for and despite the sometimes frustrating situations that come with international and intercontinental moves we found it surprisingly easy to conform to the way of life in China.
The people are kind, welcoming, patient and forgiving on average. The international school package is excellent for expats and like in most regions in the word it includes housing, gratuity, yearly flight allowance, baggage allowances, premium health insurance etc.
The way back to Estonia
The school that I worked for in China was the first place where I was given formal and official IB training, through official IB hosted face-to-face workshops and I was then given a “carte blanche” to take the old Design curriculum that was left behind by my predecessor and use the newly acquired IB training to completely rebuild, restructure and create the IB MYP and DP design program at the school.
It was through this process that I was afforded the opportunity to explore and fully deconstruct the IB curriculum framework, start an IB PYP Design Technology pilot program and truly immerse myself in all things Design and Design Technology.
When IST reached out to me and invited our family to come home to Estonia and help to construct their relatively young and new international school in Tallinn we decided to take the opportunity, join their young team of excellent educators and apply all of the knowledge that we have had the privilege to acquire in an effort to do our part in facilitating the authorization for MYP and DP in the nearest future.
Throughout the entire voyage of exploration described above, there have been many trials and tribulations, however, it is a profoundly educational experience and the global network of international schools and IB education is one that I have come to consider a critical part of our lives and it is my distinct pleasure and honor to be a part of it. It is a privilege and an honor to facilitate and participate in teaching and learning within the IB framework and to be a lifelong learner who has the opportunity to encourage and attempt to inspire students to reach for the highest levels of achievement and success in all areas of their lives.