Jennifer’s teaching journey has been a true international experience–from teaching freelance English in the Czech Republic (where she met her German husband), to her first teaching job in Germany at Phorms Hamburg, to teaching at an international school in Shanghai. She has now returned to Hamburg with her husband where she teaches grade five (10-11 year olds) at the International School of Hamburg.
Teaching at an international school offers the opportunity to work with kids from a variety of different countries and to be immersed in an international environment, but it can also be challenging. As Jennifer explains, “I love the fact that our classes are a rich mixture of different cultures. So many different perspectives of the world and of learning are right in front of us, in the children that we teach. However, that can also be a challenge in that we have to become familiar with different cultures to understand where they are coming from. Sometimes conflict can arise from such rich mixtures and one of our jobs as teachers is also to be aware of their social environment. It can have such an impact on their learning.”
Jennifer considered teaching in the German public school system when she returned to Hamburg, but unfortunately her credentials (a teaching degree from Canada) and certification are not recognized in Germany, a problem faced by many foreigners both inside and outside the teaching profession. Even getting a job at an international school can require some bureaucratic hoops, but it is easier. Once Jennifer went through the regular online application and interview process, both Phorms and ISH dealt with the paperwork and visa for her. She recommends getting a teaching degree and then two to three years of teaching experience beforehand. “If you love teaching, be patient because once the paper work and bureaucracy is out of the way, it’s totally worth it.”
She also talked about how for her, teaching children felt much more comfortable than teaching adults. “I did freelance in Czech Republic, as well as teach full time but I found working with adults more of a challenge. Children learn in a much more organic way and I enjoy being part of the process that guides them towards their knowledge. Adults ask many questions and get frustrated more easily. I’ve seen it in myself as I learn German!”
Jennifer gave a slight warning about how working at an international school can isolate you culturally from the country where you are teaching when the main language is English and most of the people you meet are not from the country. “Make sure to do something outside of school otherwise you can become isolated from the city and the country. You can easily never learn the language or meet anyone from Germany once you become part of an international school community.”
On the plus side, both the teachers and students are in a constant micro-United Nations of sorts, which can be an incredibly stimulating environment. Jennifer explained that one of the themes at the school is the “meaning of internationalism,” a topic that is present in her working life every single day. She told a story of an experience at the international school in Shanghai which displayed the unique cultural perspective in the schools.
“I had an interesting experience in Shanghai when a guest speaker came to my class. She asked the children where they were from. I knew that almost all of my students held French passports and were considered French citizens and that a few were considered Chinese citizens but the majority of my class did not say they were French or Chinese. From all around the class came voices declaring: “I’m from Japan!”, “I’m from Singapore!”, “I’m from Mexico”, “I’m from the United States!” It really made me think about their sense of identity. I grew up in Canada, therefore I am Canadian and traveling and working in different countries has really made me understand the distinct features that make me so but these children have lived in different countries and they tend to identify to where they have been the longest. They adopt cultural traits from these different countries and most of them learn the fundamentals of their home country through their parents.”
Teaching at an international school is as much about teaching as it is about cross-cultural understanding and linguistic navigation. Many “third culture” kids speak multiple languages and feel connected to multiple cultures and so the teaching experience is extremely unique. Teachers like Jennifer also have the opportunity to teach a variety of subjects and to lead clubs. Jennifer runs the drama club outside of work hours on Wednesdays. A normal day begins at 08:10 and ends at 15:30, but there is also prep time and correction time, as well as meetings and any other special events. In general however, it is a much more regular schedule than that of a freelance English teacher.
Some of the other perks of working at an international school are the non-traditional events and activities that may not be found as often in the regular school system. Jennifer gave a couple of examples of some of the highlights from the past years:
“We studied chocolate last year and to finish our unit, I invited the parents to the classroom, and we turned our classroom into a chocolate café. The children and I made treats made of chocolate and the students prepared games and quizzes for the parents. It was really rewarding to watch the children teach their parents what they had learned. Also, I put together mental math teams every year and we do mental math every day. The teams gather points and the class also has the chance to gather their points to win the chance of having a math party (pretty much learning disguised as a party ;) When they make their target, the cries of jubilation in the classroom always make me smile.”
At the end of the day, though, a teacher must simply love to teach and love the kids in order to find the most amount of fulfillment. “I can honestly say I feel passionate about teaching. I love my job and the best part is being with the kids, giving them a safe environment to learn and to grow. I like giving them control of their education so they feel independent in their learning and understand they can make a difference.”
Author Kristi Fuoco is a social media buff, English teacher, writer, marketer, traveler, music afficianado. West Coast Canadian gal living and working in Germany and traveling Europe. Current city: Hamburg. Twitter @kristifuoco Email: [email protected]