Saturday, March 5, 2016

How to Teach Abroad

I've been getting requests from friends of friends asking for info about teaching abroad, so figured I'd just post what I know so you can pass it on. (Note, if any fellow international teachers want to chime in, feel free in the comments. I can only write based on personal experience, which is obviously limited):
First thing to know is the hiring season: The best schools start searching for candidates in November and hire by February for the following school year. The second tier schools are January to April. Third tier anywhere from early spring until well after school starts next year. Notices about these openings can be found on everything from forums to recruiting agencies. The best situation one can have is to be registered with an established recruiting agency, like Search Associates, who tell you exactly which school is looking (vs. general position and country) and their pay scale. However, these agencies require an investment on your part in the form of everything from time and effort (resume posting to online referrals from specific people in your school) to annual fees, depending on where you are in the world at the time of application. TIE ( has many openings, but their background info isn't quite as comprehensive. There are a ton more online agencies, but most just list job postings vs having your information on file for potential employers.
The basic scale from lowest tier to top tier schools is South America---> Middle East ---> East Asia ---> Europe. South America pays the least, and demands the least from its teachers. Middle East and East Asia have the best ratios of pay to cost of living for savings potential. In the Middle East you'll deal with schools that often don't know what they're doing and often, rather undisciplined students. In the Far East you'll often have high functioning schools and disciplined students, but very demanding admin and parents. Europe has lovely social life and great schools, but costs are high and benefits (housing, plane tix home, etc) are low. You don't teach in Europe to make money. You don't live in the Middle East for the social life. In the Middle East, best bets for a happy social life in order of best to worst (arguable, I'm sure) are Bahrain---> Dubai ---> Abu Dhabi ---> Oman ---> Qatar ---> Kuwait ----> Saudi Arabia. Families can handle Saudi because they provide great compound living to make up for the terrible social landscape outside (no movies, music, dancing, alcohol, exposed skin), but not great for singles. Kuwait costs as much as Doha, but is much more repressive. Thus, reverse the order for best pay. The best part is there are no taxes in the Middle East. I don't have personal experience in the far east, but have been told that China is hit or miss (often miss, for treatment of teachers), Japan and South Korea have high living costs, tiger moms, and xenophobic inhabitants, but good positions can be found. I heard Taiwan is the easiest for westerners, but happiness greatly depends on the school. Personally, I wouldn't join any school abroad that didn't pay for housing, private health insurance, yearly trips home, and some form of moving allowance. 
Before launching into applications to anyone, these items need to be prepared:
-Scans of education documents (degrees, transcripts)
-Scan of teaching license
-A passport style headshot (except smiling and looking teachery)
-A criminal background check from the FBI (not needed until ready to leave the country but good to have ready)
Extras that could help you get hired:
-A video about you on YouTube
-A teaching philosophy statement (sometimes this is mandatory)
Be aware that in some countries, the red tape is ridiculous. For example, in Qatar, you need to get your original diploma scanned, certified by notary that it's real, which is then signed by a representative at your alma mater, which is then forwarded to a state agency for signature, which is then forwarded to the US agency for verification, which is then forwarded to the Qatar embassy in the US, who then forwards approval to the country of Qatar. A good school will give you lots of information and help. I ended up using an agency in Virginia and forking over the $400 to get it all done. You can get a head start and save cash by getting your diploma verified early on while still in the states.
If hired, you'll be expected to do a health check. Sometimes they demand it be done in your home country, but usually in the new country. Sometimes, they'll ask for a US check up, then ignore that one and demand a new on in the new country. Usually the school pays for this as part of your work residency process. Note: Even if they draw blood, they're generally only looking for TB and HIV, not drugs. 
My personal process is the check out the notices I get from Search Associates, check the savings potential (listed right on the notice), check reviews of the school online, check photos of the place in Google, check average temps and social life of the area, and most importantly, check the political situation in that area. For example, there are ton of good paying jobs around Nigeria and Kenya right now, but it's not exactly a great place to be an expat/Christian right now. A few years ago there were a ton of jobs in Japan, but most were near the nuclear/tsunami sites. Note: no atheists do not officially exist in the Middle East; if you are western, you are Christian. And even if you are Christian, don't talk about it (though churches are available). 
To compare schools, the small annual fee for this review site is well worth it (like worth it in gold bars):
Re: tax free living. If you're a US citizen, you can earn up to $99K abroad and not have to pay taxes. HOWEVER, you DO have to file, along with a form that states you're living abroad and not subject to taxes. The form needs be submitted by April. Note that stepping out of the tax game also means you give up Social Security benefits. However, I saved more in the first two years abroad than my total benefits for my lifetime of work at the time I chose to give them up.

Monday, November 10, 2014

We're Doing It Wrong

I've been teaching in Bahrain for a wealthy children of royals.  It ironically turns out that this level of wealth has the exact same results as being poor.  The student apathy about homework and attendance.  The same attitude towards authority. The same immaturity. So I've been working with difficult students that are just as challenging as an inner-city urban school in the U.S.  However, though one set of students is unhappy because they only get parental attention from their nannies, the other is helping feed the family while trying to study. So after working with problem students, I've decided that a good class size should be around eight students. Six, if they're difficult. 
With that small of a group, everyone is focused, but the group is big enough to feel enough intellectual diversity to allow students to find their comfort zone and to get stimulation from their peers (no pun intended - that's a whole n'other set of discussions). However, the size of the class also allows the teacher enough time with each student that they really understand how each student learns and have the space to do that. 

So, and this is the important part:

It would eliminate many of the SPED, administration, and consulting jobs in school systems, freeing up funds to hire more teachers. And the teachers would feel less stressed because not only would there be more of them, creating a stronger support network and less hours, but the paperwork loss alone would allow for more hours a week to do their jobs of planning, grading, and teaching. And teachers would be better at their jobs because they'd have more classroom and creative energy to offer their schools. Which means less accreditation stress and homework for the staff. And student's scores would improve, so the school would get more funding from the government. Allowing them to hire more teachers. 
I think we're doing it wrong.

Sunday, January 19, 2014


So tonight at dinner, a Navy guy shared a Facebook post by an 18-year-old girl who suggested that military men should "put down the guns and pick up the medical bags, heal instead of kill."  Apparently, this is part of a series of posts by this girl.  I thought she made her points well.  

He wondered what she had against military men.

It was conjectured that she'd been dumped by one, and her continual anti-military posting was payback. In coded and loaded speech, another man upped the stakes with a comment about being raped by one.  Which was topped with the absolutely hilarious suggestion that she'd been gang raped by a whole ship on leave.

And the women said nothing.

Including me.

I wondered if I was the only one who understood what had just been said, or if all the women were so used to rape "jokes" that they started to believe they actually were jokes, albeit unfunny ones... but, you know, guy's jokes.

Or maybe they were like me... intimidated by history and the repeated societal refrain that the only good women are polite women.  Women who don't say, "Hey, jokes about gang rape aren't funny," or "Making jokes about a woman getting gang raped just because she doesn't like what you do for a living seems a bit over the top," or "Wow, you must really question what you do with the military, considering that some comments from an 18-year girl wishing for peace would elicit such  animosity that'd you suggest it is the equivalent to gang rape."

I thought a lot about my lack of response on the way home.  I'm usually the first to speak up in such situations.  In fact, I'd already called one guy on making both a racist and a sexist joke in the span of five minutes by joking that he must be in the military.  He said he resented that comment.  I said he resembled it.  

I was angry.

I was angry at these guys.  I was mad at military guys, military culture, rape culture, military rape culture, men in general... and me.

I was angry that I didn't speak up. Every time I allow rape culture to happen in my presence when I have the verbal control to stop it, I am culpable.  Every woman at the table was culpable for not doing what they could to prevent even one more woman in these guys' future from getting harassed, infantilized, objectified, and used.

And the one guy who didn't laugh and just looked down, he's culpable too.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

28 Hours in Bahrain

While it may have appeared that I disappeared from the planet with my lack of postings, I actually just moved to the middle east to not make a name for myself, teaching in a place most Americans have never heard of, i.e. Bahrain.  I've decided to post some articles about this location that continually melds the West and the East.

This first entry is after having a long day/night a few weekends ago that I realized could only happen in Bahrain, so I'm sharing it with you.  Hopefully, you'll get a feel for the place...

It is 12:45 in the afternoon and about 88 degrees F on this early November day.  As I am about to get into the cool water to snorkel, a large boat filled with bikinis and vodka race a mere ten feet from shore, laughing at their wake disturbing bathers, who make rude gestures as they regain footing.  The boat's path was directly over the coral reef I was about to snorkel, which caused me to reflect on how loud boats sound underwater.   Even from across the bay, their volume makes me jerk my head above the water line to make sure I’m not about to get brained by an unobservant partier.  I can’t imagine how horrible the sound is for fish.      

It is 1:00 in the afternoon.  I am snorkeling what’s left of a small coral reef at the beach near my apartment. While there isn’t much variety of underwater life today, I love floating in the middle of the school of fish, silver circling me with one hundred shimmering bodies. On previous days, when the tide is high, I've seen blue and yellow fish darting among the oysters, small (2-ft) sand sharks, crabs with appendages long enough to wrap around me, and large, brown-striped jellyfish that lie upside down on the ocean to capture their prey. The school is on it’s own island, but they don’t have a beach so much as mushy sand pit filled with millions of snails. the product of sand reclamation.  Across the bay however, is the Miami Beach of Amwaj, complete with cigarette butts.  It is guarded by Filipinos in matching blue uniforms who question sun bathers about their residence as the beach is private for residents of Amwaj.  They do this scrupulously, but ignore the boys doing tricks on their wave runners next to signs that indicate no jet skis or boats with gas motors are to be used on the lagoon.

It's 5:30pm and the sunset is turning every wisp of cloud into a fiery glow against a purple sky. Clouds are so rare here, that even the kids in school feel the need to point them out when they've drifted across the island.  The balcony that comes with the school-provided apartment is attached to my bedroom and overlooks the bay, with the city lights of Manama just beginning to differentiate themselves in the darkening distance.

It’s 8:30 in the evening.  I’m sitting across an enameled table from a fellow teacher and friend.  We’re in an American chain restaurant, the newest addition to a collection of eateries lining the water of the man-made lagoon on this man-made island, discussing life and swapping teaching stories of the week over meat burgers with beef bacon.  Beef bacon just doesn’t taste the same, but the room filled with black, synthetic abayas and white cotton thobes directs the menu choices.  Some restaurants here specialize in the fact that they serve pork, and you’ll see Arabs there, too.  But not as many as you’ll see in Chili’s or Johnny Rockets.  We’re greeted by several students from our school and we’re glad they can’t hear our conversation.

It’s 10:30 in the evening.  Under the full moon in a hotel courtyard next to a pool, I am dancing with a girl wearing a full face mask.  It is white and has flowers outlining the eye holes.  She isn’t the only one.  Her two friends have also traded their hijabs for this eerie masquerade. She says they know people here, which is code for Saudi women who have escaped their families to drink, dance, and pick up lovers.  It took me much too long to understand that two of the girls were a couple, and the skinny one with the peach bra strap slipping down her shoulder was actually trying to seduce me.  Then a red headed Russian woman, most of whom are usually prostitutes brought in by the Bahraini government to service Saudi weekenders, began to dance in front of me, looking intently into my eyes.  Then behind her a small, muscled woman with her blonde hair tied into a ponytail – trademark elements of a navy girl from the U.S. Fifth Fleet – stared at us dancing.  I knew that hungry, silent look from the gay bar back home.  As the night progressed, and I saw men beginning to dance with other men, I realized I had accidentally found myself at the gay circuit party of Bahrain. 

It’s 1:00 in the morning.  I’ve decided to attend the after party at a new bar on the top floor of a hotel downtown.  The bar has no roof since it rains so rarely, which provides a good view from 20 stories up.  There are lounging sofas at various levels with hot tubs tucked into a few recesses.  The hot tubs can only be entered for about a quarter of my monthly salary (champagne included) and so remain empty.  Everything is white.  Grape-mint shisha smoke (the Bahraini’s favorite flavor) drifts over groups chatting about everything from work to observations about the women hanging out with the DJ who was imported from Spain for the circuit party.  No one talks about the protests happening five miles away or the faint scent of tear gas you can smell at ground level.

It’s 3:30 in the morning.  I was going to go home, but my friends, expats from Turkey and Palestine, have texted that they’re at a new after-hours club. It takes 15 minutes to get inside due to the wait for the elevators.  Typical of Bahrain, access and egress has been poorly, if at all, planned out for this public venue.  The single men have to wait the longest since the ratio of men to women in this country is 5:1; as a woman I get escorted in quickly and free of charge.  The club throbs with dancing and laughter, but it isn’t a scene to be seen, but a place for people who like good music after the clubs have closed.  There are many Bahraini, including friends that I dance salsa with occasionally.  It is the first time I’ve danced anything besides Latin around them and it is pure joy.  Despite the tall security guards attentively manning every 20 feet of club space, it almost feels like a club back home.  The relief from raging techno makes my soul sigh.  Like everywhere in Bahrain, including restaurants, the bar fills with cigarette smoke.  Between the lax health laws and the ridiculously cheap cigarette prices (Marlboros are 900 fils/$2.50 a pack), ex-smokers rarely stay that way.

It’s 4:30 in the morning.  Sports cars zoom past me in a highway drag race.  Boys on sports bikes without helmets ride on the back wheel for minutes at a time, aching for attention.  Cars running on exuberance and Arabic pop are filled with young men breaking the Muslim rules.  This is Friday night, after all, the last weekend night before Sunday morning work. And, of course, at this late hour there are no local women in a single passing car.

It is 4:40 in the morning.  You can tell a city by the cargo traveling the highways in the wee hours.  In the northeast it’s logging trucks.  In the southwest, it’s modular homes.  Here in Bahrain it’s boulders, construction materials, and workers.  The boulders are the size Scottish men would hurl and are off-white, like salt for giants.  The construction materials feed the animal of progress - a cityscape of skeletons with ants crawling over them once the sun has risen.  The workers, the ants, come from Pakistan and live in huts near the construction sites. They swaddle their extremities, leaving nothing but essential eyes to the sun, every bit of melanin taking them one step farther away from being the ideal pallor they believe should accompany their meager savings, a kingly sum in their home country.

It is 5am.  The  morning prayers are calling in their usual monotone when suddenly the voices from the two nearest mosques stop competing and come into harmony.  The voices that usually sound of nothing but lamentation become, for a moment, a harmonic praise. I take one look at the the pinking skyline from my balcony overlooking yet another man made oceanic bay and put Bahrain temporarily to rest. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

X-Men and Sexual Violence

The new X Men movie is pretty entertaining... much better than the last, but when they used female mannequins for target practice, repeatedly, I had to wonder why. And they weren't just female torsos, like the standard targets, usually men or bodies without sex markers. These were full body mannequins, with one knee bent to throw the hips into a standard flirtatious posture. And they were lined up, repeatedly, to be sliced and burned. And just to make sure you don't miss the point of the mannequins being female, they are sexualized by a caress across one of their plastic breasts by the man setting up the targets. Once again, violence as a response to women's sexuality is reinforced as the norm.

Now I understand that because these characters are mutants, they have issues with society accepting them. But when one of the main characters spends the entire film worrying that she isn't pretty, to the point of joining forces with the one man that tells her she's beautiful without artifice, despite his being morally corrupt, I had to wonder what lesson was I supposed to be learning. I recognize part of the repetition of this fear is to facilitate another character's development, but it is repeated to the point of tedium. A male character also expresses his frustration with hiding from society, but he never says that he feels unattractive... just that society at large would not accept him without his faking it. But I am still disappointed that it is always the woman who worries the most about being pretty.* If a man stressed about his physical attractiveness throughout an entire movie, especially if he was already quite good looking, it would be deemed utterly gay, i.e. feminine... a terrible, terrible gender transgressor.

*Granted, the scene in which her obsession about her looks is called out as a detractor to her ability to focus is a wonderful metaphor for women's energy being put into image over content to the point of utter distraction today.

Watching myself portrayed as a being that should expect violence as part of her sexuality does not feel very comfortable. And it doesn't fit me, anymore than watching myself sell mops and laundry detergent, or worry about my hair color, or act like men are incapable of anything but tolerant loathing towards their partners and anything that interests their female minds. But with every commercial I see like this, I think of North Korea and all the explicit methods they use to keep the people submissive: Radios in every house that cannot be turned off (only louder and quieter) that run government propaganda 24-7, a la Fahrenheit 451. And posters with pro-government slogans and images of the great leader with the only television available being government produced. I wonder what percentage of the populace embraces the lies out of mere exhaustion from such a media pummeling. Then I wonder how fair it is to judge the women who buy the bullshit, simply because it comes in the form of a barrage. Subtle and pernicious, but a barrage nonetheless.

And one more comment about the movie... why is the one black man in the script always the first to be killed?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Prayer for Secularization

I hope you're praying today because it's the law! After repeated appeals throughout history, from John Adams ("a day of solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer") to reverend Billy Graham, the U.S. finally relented and in 1952 made the first Thursday in May the official day when people are asked "to turn to God in prayer and meditation". C'mon, everyone's doing it.

Growing up as a conservative christian (a.k.a. Jehovah's Witness), I was raised to believe prayer is a private matter between you and your god. If people want to pray on a particular day or sitting on the toilet, that's their business. But to be commissioned by the government? I could have sworn there was some statement about a separation of church and state at one point.... like with the founding of this country... some guy named Jefferson? Even Benjamin Franklin's suggestions for a prayer at the Congressional Convention was met with polite embarrassment and (according to his own notes), “except for three or four persons, [they] thought prayers unnecessary.”

The news is constantly referring to Muslim countries as being religious-based nations. Is this in contrast to the U.S? Well, clearly! It's not like we have God printed on our currency, or have federally recognized Christian holidays, or rules about what can be bought, sold, and consumed on Sundays (the Christian bible's God's day of rest), or have God in the pledge of allegiance to this country, or have public policies (like abortion or gay rights) be based on biblical teachings, or give public funds to private religious (but only Christian) schools, or pray to God at baseball games (the nation's official past-time), or ever give credit to God for war victories. And you can certainly be a non-christian and get elected to public office. Indeed, the U.S. is clearly the most secular nation on earth! So why not add a day of prayer?

Granted, the official decree is that the prayer can be addressed to any god of your choosing, but then what about all those folks who don't believe in God? What about the agnostics who might acknowledge the possibility of the divine, but aren't convinced enough to actually direct prayer towards it? Prayer is just another type of meditative activity instilled in ritual practice that is a part of every religion. You bow to Mecca five times a day, you pray to God at least once a day (of if in a sticky spot... like a foxhole), you walk around the Peace Pagoda three times in each direction; these are all just ways to encourage the individual to reflect. I wish more people did cerebrate on the world at large and their place in it. If people did this more more often, there might be less violence and more compassion for fellow man. But to have it mandated by the government in a specified form on a specified day isn't exactly what our (government defined) religion (and tax) escaping founding fathers had in mind.

I do pray for humanity. But generally it's a direct appeal.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Leave Them Their Dignity

When watching The Fog of War, I tried to listen to Robert McNamara's insights on what he learned from his experiences - from remembering the end of WWI when he was two (yes, he swears he remembers) to his participation in Vietnam under Johnson's administration - with an ear for learning versus criticism. Of everything he described, there was one idea that struck me as utterly useful in everyday life, i.e. let them keep their dignity. Basically, when engaging an enemy, give them a chance to do it your way, but be sure to keep their dignity upheld in the process. This method makes for a more likely scenario in your favor. I thought, this is some basic, but very valuable advice.

I'm taking night classes at the community college which has the typical student body of parents, young workers, and a few older folks. Since this is western MA, most of the students are white. In my class, there is only one racial minority... a black man who looks to be in his late 50's to early 60's. And that man loves to hear himself talk. He often starts out as though he's asking a question, but really it's just a lead-in for him to take the floor... for as long as he can spin his tongue. The professor has pulled him aside several times, but it clearly made no impact. Then one day he didn't show up and the whole class murmured their relief. Then 45 minutes into class, he showed up and there was actually an audible, "Dammit" from the back row. I was sitting near the door, so he ended up standing in front of my desk searching the room for a seat. I pointed out that there were several empty ones in the far corner which resulted in his snapping at me that he'd "find [his] own damn seat!" Within minutes of his taking a seat, his mouth started going. It was unbelievable. Even the instructor showed her exasperation. I remembered that he usually went outside at the break (it's a 3-hour class) to smoke and decided that on this break he was going to have some company.

I followed him outside and told him that when I gestured towards the seats, I was trying to help him out. He immediately apologized, but only by getting about 2 inches from my body, requiring me to step back to maintain the usual social body space thinking, "So he's like that." So I took another step back said thanks before moving on to topic two.

"Why are you taking this class?" I asked. "Oh, it's just a diversion to get away from my girls." Since this is a Development Psychology course, we'd all heard many stories about his part in raising his four daughters. I felt pretty sure that he didn't think he needed education on children's development because he already had so much real world learning under his belt, that he could, in fact, teach the teacher a thing or two. So when I heard his answer, I knew my in... "Well, I'm not taking this for a diversion. I need this class and you're taking that away from me." When he asked how, I explained that the time he was speaking was time the teacher couldn't teach. I did everything right... the compliment sandwich ("you ask great questions, I just wish you'd talk less after them, it's cool you're taking this class") and I kept my hands in my pockets. But he got upset. He got in my face. So I explained that I'd been averaging the time he speaks vs. everyone else and had accounted that he took up about 20% of class time just on his needs.

"What are you doing that for? What are you watching me and calculating me like that for?" I explained that he had given me ample time due to all his talking. Then he got really mad and started yelling that if he wanted to take up 50% of the class time, that was his business. I told him, "No, I paid for this class, too, and I didn't pay to hear you. I paid to hear the teacher. So it is my business. Just like it's everyone in the classes business." I saw he was getting excited so I made sure to dig my hands deeper in my pockets. But he started yelling again, so I pulled out the big guns and said, "Do you realize that when you didn't come to class on time today, everyone in the class was grateful. And when you showed up, there was collective sigh."
"What do you mean?"
"No one likes you coming to class because you usurp their learning time."
"Well then I'll just quit the class!" I'll admit, a small part of me leapt with joy at this idea, but knew this was wrong... it was the behavior not the man that needed to go. So I said, "That's not what I'm asking for..." and I got no further because he started ranting about me daring to talk to him like that and telling me how important this class was to him at which point I reminded him that his first response to me was that this was "just a diversion." To which he pointed at my chest and yelled, "You're a liar." And proceeded to rant about how I'm making up words, etc.

I know when to walk away. I raised my hands in the classic surrender position and backed up only to realize that a couple guys from another class had come out to smoke and were watching the scene. One of the kids said, "I have to admit man, class is more about listening than talking." Then he turned to me and said, "I don't think you're going to get anywhere with him." Which was perfect because now it wasn't just me observing his bad behavior. He called to me as I walked away, "Hey, hey. Wait a minute. What. Do. You. Want. From. Me?"
"I just want you to talk less in class. That's it."
He stuck out his hand in a handshake gesture and said, "Ok then."
When I went to shake his hand, he pulled it back and said, "You have to promise me something though."
"What's that?"
"You have to promise to stop being so sassy."
Everything in me wanted smack him upside the head and give him a rundown on patriarchy. But in that same instant, I remembered McNamara's tale and thought, "Give him his dignity. He just had a young, white woman tell him that he's acting socially inappropriate. Let him win this one so you can get what you want." So I smiled, shook his hand and said, "You bet."

I admit, I mumbled under my breath, "Whatever, asshole" as I walked back into the building. But he didn't hear it and we spent the second half in class in educational meditation. The only words he spoke were valid questions that added to the class content. I was getting on my coat by the door as the class was leaving and I stopped him, shook his hand, and said, "Thank you, sir." He nodded solemnly and has blessed us with his silence (except for the occasional question for clarification) ever since.

Always let them keep their dignity.