The Snarky Schoolteacher’s “Teacher Feature” showcases outstanding educators and the work they do inside of their classrooms every other Thursday. If you’d like to be featured, please fill out our Google form here. All featured educators will receive a Snarky Swag Bag as a token of our appreciation for their time and contribution.
Welcome to this week's edition of Teacher Feature! We are going international this week — we are excited to introduce you to Caleb, a 5th grade science and social studies teacher at the American International School in Cairo, Egypt.
Caleb knew he wanted to be a teacher from a young age. He says, "For most of my childhood, my mom worked in the school district I attended. It was during this time that I began to love the idea of being a teacher. I got to see the casual demeanor of my teachers after school, and it dawned on me that these are just regular people like me!" He participated in a cadet teaching program his senior year of high school, and that experience confirmed his goals before he went on to major in Elementary Education at Bethel College in Indiana.
This is Caleb's sixth year teaching and his third in international education. After graduating from college, he moved to South Korea and taught English for a year and a half. He then returned to Charlottesville, Virginia (and married his college sweetheart, Becca) where he spent a half year teaching kindergarten, followed by two years teaching fourth grade science and social studies.
Caleb's passion for teaching is so evident, and we know you will enjoy getting to know him this week!
Called to an International Life
Caleb and his wife, Becca, knew even before they were married that they would eventually like to live abroad, and finding a life partner that was on board with that was of paramount importance for both of them. About six months after they were married, Caleb started seriously looking into teaching positions abroad. He says, "International School Services (ISS) is a great online resource for qualified teaches looking to take their career overseas." Using ISS, he applied to over 50 positions in 30+ countries; though he initially passed over applying for some positions in Egypt because of past political unrest there, he spoke to some contacts who were living and working in the school there about their experiences. He decided to apply, just to see what would happen. Shortly after, Caleb had two requests for interviews, and the director of the American International School (AIS) made him feel really comfortable about the school and country. A week later, he accepted the position, and 9 months later, he and Becca moved to Egypt!
Variety is the Spice of Life
Teaching in so many different schools has given Caleb a variety of experiences. He says:
I’ve loved each teaching experience I’ve had so far. From teaching kindergartners in Korea to 5th graders in Egypt, each group of students has had both its challenges and rewards! One stark contrast has not only been the ethnic differences between my students (Korean, American, Egyptian) but the socioeconomic status of the general student in each of those schools. In Virginia, I taught at a Title I school with several single parent homes. In Egypt, my students are among the top 1% and have personal drivers and nannies that take care of them. Parents in the states were often uninvolved or apathetic to their child’s education, while in both Korea and Egypt, parents are like hawks, hovering over their child’s performance in school like it’s the most important thing in the world. Finding how to best to relate to each student and their parents no matter what the setting is has always been very important to my success as a teacher as well as my students. Communication is key!
A Peek Inside Caleb's Classroom
One of Caleb's favorite projects he does with his students is a 3 week (or so) long project with his 5th graders entitled, “My Trip Around Europe!” Students do research about five different countries in Europe and then come up with a travel plan for a dream vacation to visit them all. They plan everything from how much things will cost to why they’re visiting the places they’re visiting. The project is hugely interdisciplinary, incorporating language arts, math, social studies, and the real world skill of travel planning!
After all the planning, the students actually “go” on their trip and write journal entries about the places they’re visiting, the foods they’re eating, and even what their hotel room looks like. It’s a huge creative writing activity. At the end of the project, students create a multimedia presentation using Prezi or iMovie to show everyone what their trip was like. Caleb says, "I don’t have to do anything to motivate the kids to work on this because who doesn’t want to plan their own trip through Europe?! Seriously educational and seriously fun!"
The World as a Classroom
One of the most awe-inspiring insights Caleb shared with us from his teaching was a field trip he planned and organized last year for the AIS fifth grade students to Istanbul, Turkey. They chose this location for its easily accessible location (Istanbul is a direct flight from Cairo), and they city's many amazing cultural, historical, and geographical teaching points.
Planning the trip, of course, was a tremendous undertaking. Caleb says,
It was like a part-time job for me. It was my first time planning a trip of this magnitude and the first time that AIS had sent any grade level to Turkey. So, I had a lot on my plate. But the challenge was very rewarding, too. I researched common tourist sites in the city and picked out what I thought fit well with our curriculum, which I was creating in tandem with the trip planning. In addition to the curriculum, it took weeks of communicating with our school’s trip coordinator, director of operations, and the travel agents we hired. In the end, our itinerary included a three-night, four-day trip covering everything from historical sites and cultural events to science museums and bartering lessons.
Before we tell you more, we'll let you check out the video Caleb created to recap their trip!
Overall, Caleb feels that the trip was a huge success. He says:
In many ways, the trip couldn’t have gone any better. Despite the logistical anomaly this trip proved to be, the students were well briefed about expectations and our travel agents did a nice job of having everything in place when we arrived. I was hoping that the students on this trip would not only gain an incredible educational insight to this fascinating culture, but would be afforded the opportunity to mature. A trip of this magnitude for a 5th grade is a huge step for not only the student, but also the parents. For many of them, this was the first time that had spent the night away from home, let alone three nights in a foreign country. The students were forced to become independent in a lot of ways (i.e. caring for their money, getting dressed, getting to bed on time, finishing their homework) and most of them did a wonderful job of that!
This year, Caleb is planning a field trip to Cyprus — even among security concerns in Istanbul. Despite this, he still expects it to be an incredible trip for those traveling. Last year’s success seems to have already made an impact on this year’s trip; last year they had 26 students go, this year, there are 59 signed up!
What is the best part about being a teacher?
The best part about my job is that I spend every day being my students' own personal rockstar. Kids look up to their teachers and see them as huge role models. It’s a big responsibility, but it’s tremendously rewarding to see the way that your influence impacts young minds. Some of my favorite moments are when I see a former student in the hall and they go out of their way to say hi with a big smile on their face. It’s a special bond students have with their teachers, and I consider myself blessed to nurture that relationship.
What is your biggest challenge as a teacher?
Always being “on.” Students can always tell when you’re having a not-so-great day. It’s tough to come 180 days a year and give your students 100%. But, I want to give them that version of me; the version that’s always excited to teach a new subject, or demonstrate a new concept, or positively and patiently deal with a behavior problem. It’s a daily commitment to juggle a hundred and one things with an attitude of serving and not self-serving.
Give us a feel-good teaching story.
I would say just about any time I’m gone for a day is a feel good moment with my kids. It’s amazing how much they show that they missed you when you return. It just means a lot that these kids learn to really depend on you and take notice when you’re not there. I remember being pumped when some of my teachers were absent growing up. In my mind it was like a “free day.” Well, my students react the opposite when I tell them that I’ll be out for a day. Those are moments when I feel very valued.
Other than your travels, how do you recharge your batteries during the school year?
As hard as it can be for us teachers to turn it off when we go home, you HAVE to turn it off! I let work be work and home be home — I do everything I can to not bring anything home with me. This means no grading papers at home, planning lessons, or reopening emotional baggage from the day’s frustrating moments. Of course, this isn’t always possible, but I try very hard to make it happen. Also, we live in a city of over 20 million people! So, finding a little nature or seawater during the weekend does wonders in recharging the batteries.
What advice would you give to other teachers who are interested in teaching abroad?
Take the leap! I feel like the whole concept of living and working abroad can be really daunting to someone with limited international experience. But, to be honest, life isn’t that much different than living anywhere else in the world. People are people. Sure the scenery changes, but no matter where you’re living in the world, you will find a lot of similarities between it and wherever you came from. Perhaps if you’re feeling an inkling to teach abroad you should start small. Visit a teacher friend abroad and stay with them for a week. See what life is really like for them. Often times, our biggest fears come from what we don’t understand, so educate yourself and try to understand. Through little experiences and interactions, confidence will build and eventually those scary propositions will become exciting opportunities!
Caleb, thank you so much for sharing your experiences and the great work you are doing in your classroom. Readers — if you would like to keep up with Caleb and Becca's adventures in Egypt and international travel, you can check out their blog!
As always, if you would like to be considered for a future Teacher Feature, please apply here!
The Snarky Schoolteacher is an education and lifestyle blog run by dedicated educational professionals. Our goal is to bring you relevant and fun educational content with a side of sass. Read more about our team here. Thanks for visiting, and we hope you will find these ideas and resources helpful in your classrooms and in your lives.