Signs You Teach at an International School
All of these are specific anecdotes from my own school and classroom. Some more specific than others. Add some in the comments!
There’s a library policy stating that “Books may be checked out over break, but may not leave the country.”
When you ask your elementary children to name other countries, they can name quite a few, though some sound a bit off because they’re approximations of English from another language. Then the guest speaker – the South African high school principal sharing how the government in her country negotiated and compromised to solve problems – mentions that when governments don’t do this, it creates bigger problems. The students respond with “Libya. Somalia.” (cue my jaw dropping and my love for my job soaring.) Another year when she mentioned types of government, students started trying to explain the difference between mainland China and Taiwan’s government and the history behind it.
Your guest speaker mentions Republicans and Democrats and not one child shows any sign of recognition. (Did I mention I love my job?)
You choose from Chinese, Korean, and International menus at lunch each day (as well as pizza and salad bar). The quality varies as it’s all prepared by local cafeteria workers at the domestic school you share a campus with.
When the secondary students go on Spring Trips, the school has to deal with issues such as students missing the one-minute mad-rush train stop and winding up stuck on the train until the next city; students with residence permits that just expired who have to stay behind (with a chaperone) to get a new visa so they can come back from the trip; and a student with a long name whose mother/country didn’t bother to try to fit it all on his passport – but the air ticket booked by the school has his full name. No match, no fly, big problem (no kidding)!
You say goodbye to students yearly; they’re moving to Shanghai, Beijing, or other countries. And your school has a routine in place to help these students transition well, such as classmates and former teachers writing pages in a “Goodbye Book.”
You have to skip or modify portions of the Social Studies curriculum, and hope none of the students minds as much as you do when they read aloud passages that contain the phrase “our country” (referring to the US).
International Day is one day among many to share your heritage, rather than a single day of the year to consider the oddities the rest of the world contains.
When you make class timelines, it’s easy to include the year each child’s family moved to this country!
Each time you celebrate a birthday, you sing “Happy Birthday” in three languages.
You have your newsletter translated into a language that is neither the language of the country in which you reside nor the language of the school in which you teach.
Your room mom needs a translator to talk to you, as does the president of the PTO to speak to the audience at the spring concert.
On the same note, Parent-Teacher Conferences switch off between Korean, Chinese, and English depending on how long the non-English-speaking parents have lived here (perhaps 1/4 of them can speak enough Chinese for my local teaching assistant to translate for us; maybe 1/3 bring a Korean-to-English translator. For the record, though, some non-native-English-speaking parents do speak superb English!)
All of your students know how to travel by airplane.
Birthday cakes, while pretty to look at, tend to taste more like cake-textured bread, with not-very-sweet fake whipped cream for frosting, fruit between the layers and on top for decoration – and cherry tomatoes are considered a fruit.
During an activity where kids get up and go around the room writing answers on papers on the walls, you give out a different colored marker to each student and ask them to first write their name on one paper so you can keep track of whose answers are whose. The last student happily takes a color he doesn’t like because the only other choice is red. (Dead people’s names are written in red in Korean culture.)
On International Day and Teacher Appreciation Day, most of the food is Korean; mothers teach you how to make vegetable pancakes and kimbob.