As much as teachers college can attempt to prepare you for teaching we all know that the most valuable lessons and experiences we gain as teachers are on the job. In this first post about teaching overseas, I want to discuss an extremely valuable phrase I heard when I was teaching in Kuwait. In fact this was my first official teaching position coming out of teachers college. Anyone’s initial thoughts about teaching in Kuwait coming from a Western country could certainly spark a lot of different thoughts, however that is a topic for another day.
Thinking about Kuwait the differences are obvious, culture, religion, the desert, values and the list goes on. In some ways theses differences combined with a teacher having never taught in a foreign country and having very little real life experience with an Arabic culture might sound like a recipe for disaster. T0 be honest it can be. You do have to be careful what you talk about and say — freedom of speech is much different.
With these considerations out of the way for the time being and focusing purely from a teaching standpoint the phrase presented to me by the principal of the school at the time, an American that had been in Kuwait for ten plus years, was: “Kids are kids are kids”. As simple of a statement as that was, it had brought a tremendous amount of clarity for me and something I have continued to carry with me since I first heard it 8 years ago. Since that time I have had different teaching positions at schools with extremely different teaching philosophies, as well as having being employed in teaching related programs. What can be said is that the saying “Kids are kids are kids” could not be any truer. Simply put it is the notion that Kids are cross-cultural and despite the many cultural differences and values two grown adults can have, kids are kids, period. They want to have fun, cause trouble, explore, challenge, question, be a leader, and can be easily influenced. I have not met a younger aged child who has not thrown a temper tantrum at some point and likewise I have not met a teenager who will talk back and challenge an adult. No matter where you are in the world these basic character traits of all students kids and teenagers exist.
The question then remains why should you teach overseas if it seems like I already told you the secret to kids? Well the answer is to experience it for yourself. There were many more takeaways for me besides this one phrase. There were many other valuable lessons I had learned along the way and experiences otherwise I would not have had. In this regard then what I am trying to convey is that to a culture and country that had many competing and different values than the place where I came from, I have been able to compare, evaluate and test the the idea that Kids are Kids are Kids. Ultimately without having gone overseas, I would have never learned this very valuable lesson about kids and put it to the test.
Teaching is all about growth, and improving oneself. In my opinion it is a dangerous game to play as a teacher to stay static, become set in your ways and not adapt to your environment. By going overseas I forced myself to do quite the opposite, I had to be dynamic. I couldn’t just use my set ways of what I thought teaching was all about and what I was taught; I had to adapt to my environment. In many ways this sounds the same as a new classroom at the beginning of each year. No two classes are ever the same and if we become hardened in our ways this could have an extremely negative outcome for both the teacher and the students.
Now I am not suggesting you need to go to a country like Kuwait to gain this type of experience. From my experience alone I saw many people who should not have been there or should have taken advantage of their three month probation free flight back home period because the country did certainly take a toll on them. All I can say in the end is if you ever have the opportunity to teach abroad take it. The experiences you will gain are invaluable and only help to shape you as a teacher. After eight years of having first heard the phrases kids, are kids are kids, it still remains true as ever.