I woke up one morning late last week and, for the first time in over one hundred days, my first thought was, “What are you doing here?” I laid there blankly staring up at the ceiling fans whirling above my head, attempting to suppress the stagnant morning humidity, and began to justify my being in Malaysia.
I had never begun my day with a cerebral wrestling match like this.
Horrifying. (Clearly, I needed coffee.)
Once the emotionally radical part of my brain settled into the daily routine thanks to the rich and robust aroma of Nescafe, I began to process why I was subconsciously battling with these thoughts in my sleep. “Why was I suddenly having second thoughts? How was today any different from yesterday? Or the day before? Why now?“
What I came to realize was that my experience was nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, it was just the opposite. Wrestling with one’s self purpose is a ongoing struggle that many people face quite often. I just happened to be confronting these thoughts before the sun had peeked over the horizon.
These past hundred plus days in Malaysia have been some of the happiest of my life. There is no denying that. However, there have also been moments of intense struggle sprinkled throughout. I’m living in a beautiful country, am frequently awarded opportunities to travel both domestically and internationally, and I’m working in an educational setting. How could I possibly have any reason to be upset?
Nevertheless, I believe that it is because of these exceptional circumstances that I find myself on one of the two ends of the happiness spectrum on any given day. Either I’m absolutely ecstatic, or, I’m essentially miserable. As a wise man once said, “I go zero to one hundred real quick.”
But again, there is nothing wrong with that.
As a licensed educator, I hope to spend the initial portion of my career working within an international school setting. However, prior to Fulbright, I had yet to work abroad and so this goal was based merely in idealized dreams. It was not grounded in actual experience. I chose to accept my Fulbright grant because I knew that it would provide me with the chance to challenge my teaching practice while simultaneously answering some important life questions. Without this opportunity, I would not be able to accurately process thoughts pertaining to my purpose as an educator in the international arena.
As much as I am enjoying my time teaching English to my secondary students at SMK Badak, there is no denying that my heart lies within the primary setting. While I am enjoying my time living and teaching internationally, I hope that the next chapter in my life occurs within the walls of an international primary classroom. This past Monday, I finally had a chance to live my future life for a day when I visited Regents International School in Pattaya, Thailand. The school works with both primary and secondary students and is part of the Nord Anglia network of international schools meaning it is well-respected globally. Finally, after a patchwork of mini successes, I had found my happy place.
I spent my day working with Year 2 and Year 3 students, the equivalent of Grades 1 and 2 in the United States. The class sizes were tiny, no more than fifteen students in a class. Each teacher had a constant flow of support staff in and out of their classroom. Some staff provided pullout learning support services while others were responsible for push-in support as needed. Every classroom was equipped with a SmartBoard and this technology was seamlessly integrated into every lesson I observed, be it literacy, maths, or topic.
Although all of these factors were truly refreshing to see, the overall culture of the school was what impressed me the most. From very early on in my visit, it was very apparent that Regents emphasized student, teacher, and staff empowerment. The school grounds were vast and secondary students were able to spend time outdoors during their free periods or class breaks. There were a handful of cafes and food stalls on the grounds that students and staff alike frequented for lunch or a quick snack.
Teachers, although they were still responsible for conveying the school’s curriculum-based learning objectives, were encouraged to incorporate and utilize any outside resources they felt could help students access the content. I observed lessons where teachers featured YouTube videos, eBooks, and teacher-made worksheets, word lists, and other materials. All of these resources were used in an attempt to provide students with additional opportunities to hook their attention and provide different access points to new learning concepts. It was uplifting to witness such a powerful learning environment.
In addition to noticing the school’s focus on empowerment, I was also able to sense the importance of collaboration. Students across all year levels engaged in learning activities with partners or in small groups. These conversation partners were an integral part of each activity. It did not matter if they were analyzing a storybook during literature, placing two-digit numbers on a number line during maths, or arranging soldiers from different eras in chronological order during a topical study of Ancient Egypt. They were talking, process, and collaborating with one another.
As a visiting teacher, I was able to walk around and work with different partnerships throughout each lesson. It was very apparent that the students enjoyed processing their learning with one another. Once the teacher dismissed the students from the whole-class introduction, groups were quick to assemble and begin the learning task. The students’ eagerness was noticeable. It was also clear that these students had a lot of practice working in collaborative groups. Ideas were presented, analyzed, and built upon. If there was a disagreement amongst the group, they were quick to address the issue and move on. It was powerful to watch.
Even though I only spent one day at Regents International School Pattaya, I am inspired. The learning environments I witnessed and experienced firsthand were the kind that I want to be a part of as a classroom teacher. The school’s focus on empowerment and collaboration align with the central pillars of my teaching philosophy. I would be a very happy educator if I was given the opportunity to teach at Regents.
However, despite the fact that Regents International School Pattaya was an inspiring educational environment, it is also important for me to remember that my experience was merely a taste of life at one international school. Nord Anglia operates 35 international schools in 14 countries worldwide. In all likelihood then, there are thousands of international schools worldwide that are similar in many ways. While I was fortunate enough to have Regents serve as my initial international school experience, it would be foolish to think that there are not alternatives as well.
If this past weekend taught me anything it is that I still know my purpose in life. Even though I may have been wrestling with questions of doubt more frequently than I would have liked, my time in Thailand solidified what I knew deep down all the while: I was born to be an educator.