Why I Love International Teaching and ASM

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.—Charles Dickens

The best thing in my life is my family and friends. The worst? School is kind of stressful. I still don’t know what I will major in.

I love how the older I get the more freedom I get. The only problem I have is that I want to do lots of activities outside of school but I don’t have the time for them.

The best? Friends, learning, freedom. The worst? The fact that we are getting closer to the end of high school and I feel I don’t have enough time to prepare.

The best is growing, maturing, learning, focusing on my future. The worst is stress over AP classes.

The best of times is having as much fun as possible my last year in high school; the worst of times is all the college applications and SAT exam.

The best is knowing in order to be happy, you have to accept change and the fact that if you do not make yourself happy, nobody will. I always keep in mind that if I am not happy with what I have now then I will not be happy with what I want to have. The worst of times? I wish I could change this cruel world we live in and create a world that welcomes people and doesn’t despise them. Anyways, I can say that I am positive 99% of the time but to the other 1% I am not because I know I cannot change the world by myself and make it better.

Neutral.

The best is I am on good terms with nearly everyone and I know my nails are always on point. The bad? Nothing.

These were my students’ responses last fall on the first day of school to Dickens’ quote. I had taught all but one class the previous year, so after hugs hello as we filed in from summer break, they wrote how they were feeling about the 2015-16 school year.   I taught an American college preparatory English curriculum so we read, discussed, and wrote about nonfiction, poetry, and classic protagonists from Oedipus to Oscar Wao. We discussed the connection between literature and their own life stories.

Unlike the students I’d taught in the US, they were all fluent in Arabic, French, and English and all would greet me with a “Hello, Miss! How was your weekend?” and most leave with a “Thank you, Miss. Have a nice day!” The majority came to class discussing the latest news in world politics. At the beginning of the US Presidential race they knew more about the candidates than I did and when one candidate said all Muslims should be banned from entering the US, they asked why he hated them so. Since our school prepares them for acceptance into US, Canadian, and European universities, they wondered how this would affect them in the future—how they’d be treated if they attended school in the US.   But overall, they were like all teens I had taught.  Their concerns shared with me most often involved relationships with friends and family and the desire to do well in school.

Student life in Marrakesh represents a tale of two cities. The disparity between opulence and poverty is immense. My students were incredibly privileged compared to most of Morocco where over 60% of females don’t attend school past primary grades and many children of both genders don’t finish school. My students had drivers and maids who got them to class and parents who expect them to attend the best universities as is the tradition of our school. Many plan to bring the education they receive outside Morocco home to improve conditions in their country for all. Their clothes, movie, and music choices are influenced by western culture but they observe the practices and holidays of their country’s religious and historical culture. They are tolerant of and respectful toward the beliefs of foreigners.

Morocco is known for its tolerance of other religions and in Marrakesh, Muslims live and worship beside Jews, Catholics, and Protestants. Likewise, the King and his forces are determined to protect the country from terrorists and subjects work together in a way Neighborhood Watch function in the US. They look out for one another and in Marrakesh areas where tourists frequent are under high security. And just as schools in the US have emergency drills, we prepared our students should intruders ever get past our guarded gates.

Our students enjoyed showcasing their art, music, and acting. They competed in Model UN conferences collaborating over global problems, did community service, and hosted soccer tournaments. The end of the year included senior skip day, water fights, outdoor games and an assembly where those of us leaving were sat on stage to be roasted about our quirks and classes. Their personal, public thank yous made me sob. We laughed about stories of them as well—such as the shark that kept eating my AP students (those who went MIA with senioritis) or the Alice in Wonderland Mad Tea Party scene my drama students performed for the kindergarten kids. Though very talented they became a mad tea party since up until the day of the performance only one student showed up for rehearsals in proper costumes (though the March Hare said he had one but had washed it and it was still wet.) When it was showtime, the White Rabbit (out two months with a knee injury) taped paper ears to his hair, the Mad Hatter borrowed a wool, tasseled cap, and our original Alice ended played the Caterpillar while the original Queen of Hearts played Alice. Their audience loved the performance and I loved working with them.

At the end of the year, I asked my students grades 9-11 (the seniors had already graduated) what they wanted the world to know about Moroccans. Most had lived in Morocco their entire lives, but a few had moved there from other countries, such as Italy, Spain, the US, Russia, France, and Canada.

We don’t ride camels.

We are Muslims but we are not terrorists. We are very peaceful and friendly.

Most Moroccans are kind and caring.

Moroccans give a lot of importance to family.

We are very fun and energetic. We like to go out with friends all the time. We enjoy company.

Moroccans are very grateful for what they have and always thank God.

Moroccans always help people from other countries even if they can’t speak the language.

Moroccan ladies cook very well and usually cook a lot even if there are only a few people eating.

Our food is amazing. We eat cous cous every Friday.

Moroccans are very generous when it comes to sharing stuff with others.

Not all Moroccan women wear Hijabs.

There are a lot of people who are poor and need help.

People always give you a warm welcome and help each other.

We tend to love larger women and having kids is a blessing for us.

It is not always hot here. We have snow on the Atlas Mountains.

Men love cafes.

We accept people for who they are regardless of their religion.

We tend to be late.

I want people to know that not all Moroccans are late.

Answers like the last two are reminders that not all students or people from the same country—any country–see everything the same way. It’s natural, I suppose, to try to quickly assess a place—“get a read” on the culture when moving abroad in an attempt to assimilate. I did. And I was often wrong. Many of my students were bursting with energy and highly social—too talkative in class I felt at first. But as is always the case in the classroom, a closer look and listen led to relationship that always brings a deeper understanding. As teachers we are often so busy with the more vocal students we miss those who are silent. Two of my quiet students wrote of their fears for a new year, reminder again that when we say “All teenagers are …” or “All Americans or Moroccans or People are…” or when we assume speaking up is easy for everyone we are sadly mistaken.

Anxiety is something you can’t really control.  I am a very shy and anxious person.  I don’t like being put on the spot, presenting, or talking to a crowd of people.  When I do I get flustered, my heart rate rises, I turn tomato-red, and I can feel the blood run through my face.  I try to do things to reduce my anxiety but I still feel the same way.

Being a teenager in a a world where you get judged by the slightest mistake you make doesn’t make my life easy and then comes the part of having to impress everyone which makes me have anxiety and panic attacks.  My anxiety is starting to take over my life by making me cancel plans and not do things because there will be people that I don’t know.  I’m happy for my friends. They get me through the bad times.  They are my family. The other thing I’m happy for is the fact that I can go to school and I’m healthy.

When asked what they’ve learned by attending ASM , my ninth graders, a gregarious bunch said…

I’ve learned multiple languages and about the history of the world.

I’ve learned about other students’ cultures outside of Morocco–how they live, what they wear, what they eat.

No racism or bullying allowed.

Accept people for who they are and work hard.

I think that if I grew up in another school I would not be as open as I am today and by open I mean to new ideas.

Being in an international school is fun and interesting. You get to learn about other cultures.

And they made suggestions for tourists in Marrakesh—a must-see list and safety tips on which they generally agreed:

Visit Djemma El Fna and Sidi Youseff Bin Ali.

Eat as locals do at Bejgueni and Cafe Extrablatt.

Relax at Aqua Water Park.

Shop at Menara Mall, Carrie Eden Mall, Almazar.

Splurge at El Mamounia or stay in a riad in the medina.

Visit orphanages.

Do excursions to Terres d’Amanar , the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara. Visit more cities if possible because each has its own story and character.

Mind your purse and don’t walk and talk on your phone.

Taxi drivers and some salesman in souks will try to charge tourists more.

Mint tea and Argan oil make nice gifts to take home.

As I was writing this my daughter read all their responses and asked me to express gratitude to my students for the kind treatment I received. To them I say again, thanks for the memories!

IMG_1668 (1)
Anissa, AP student for two years–a dancer and one of the hardest workers and  sweetest spirits I’ve ever known.

ASM Mission Statement
The American School of Marrakesh is a multicultural community of learners.
We offer an American-style education with a thorough grounding in the Liberal Arts, Sciences and Technology, and a highly competitive preparation for university acceptance around the world, especially American universities. Our students strive for mastery of English and fluency in Arabic and French. Our mission is to foster excellence through critical thinking and creativity; build resilience and character; promote responsible, global citizenship; and encourage lifelong learning.

For Those Interested in Becoming an International Educator Abroad…

If you want to make a difference/ be changed as an international teacher at ASM, go here and here. For more on life for teachers at ASM, go here.  For how this journey began at a Search Associates Job Fair in Boston, go here.

Amazing Resources for Finding Your Fit at an International School

Professional Services

SEARCH ASSOCIATES represents most of the best international schools in the world.  In the last twenty-five years they have placed over 32,000  primary and secondary administrators, teachers, counselors, librarians, and interns in schools abroad.  Their school profiles list demographics of student and faculty population, teacher-student ratio, core curriculum, extracurricular activities, salary, benefits, living accommodations and moving allowances, estimated savings, and VISA information. Each candidate is assigned a representative to advise him/her on what to consider when seeking a school abroad and how to navigate interviews, job fairs, and contract negotiations.

Very similar to SEARCH, International School Services is another great option for seeking work abroad.  Several friends and colleagues have used and recommend this service.

For my upcoming international assignment in the Dominican Republic I used TIE Online, another good resource for finding international schools around the globe and staying on top of issues and trends in global education.

School Services/Networking

Some schools, like ASM, provide candidates an online guide for new teachers on visas, cultural norms/history, shopping, medical services, gyms, social life, etc. Schools should offer personal email/Skype information for connecting with teachers at the schools to which you are applying. Talking to someone on the ground about cost of living, the quality of community among teachers outside of school, safety issues, whatever questions you have is invaluable.  I was relieved to learn other than the FBI background check done beforehand the school would handle medical exams/residency card procedures, but remember every school is different and expats have different requirements according to their countries of origin.

Most international teachers sign two-year contracts.  While some may want to stay in a school/location longer if offered another contract, many chose international education to see more of the world. Regardless, from the first international assignment, you will have a network of colleagues and supervisors who can put you in touch with schools where they have previously worked or where friends currently are employed.  Because many teachers lead students on athletic or academic competitions abroad (as I did when I chaperoned the Model United Nations delegates in Russia) as well as attend professional training/conferences, connections are made at other schools/events as well.  My main reason for taking the job in the Dominican Republic was its close proximity to family in Nashville, but I was tempted to accept an offer from a school where a former colleague teaches in Brazil.  Once you make the move, you discover a world–literally–of job opportunities.

Cindy McCain

A Southern Girl Gone Global, I flew from my empty Nashville nest in 2014 to land in Africa where I lived two years in magical Marrakesh, Morocco. Now I live in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and continue sharing my journey--so far across 27 countries on 4 continents and the Caribbean. This travel/lifestyle blog is about letting go of fear, clinging to faith, and following your heart's desires. It's a celebration of beauty, adventure, relationship...roots and wings.

2 comments

  • Today, after another stream of disappointing headlines, I found hope in Morrocco via a teacher who taught me to love all people unconditionally. Ms. McCain always said she knew she was destined for greatness, and in my opinion, she has achieved greatness by spreading love in a broken world.

    • Sara– hey! My grandmother told me God would use me in a big way. When a kid I wanted to dance on Broadway, in high school I longed to be an actress, for many years I wanted to write The Great American Novel as you know. 🙂 Still working on a book but now it will include what I took for granted– teaching– and more importantly, learning from students from around the world. I know you liked the Dominican Republic so excited about teaching there next. Thanks for being you old friend. 🙂

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