Guiding Question: Have you ever considered teaching abroad? What would it take for you to actually do it?
Teaching Abroad: A Lesson in Faith, Love, and Starting Anew
“Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” -Lauryn Hill
I sat at my desk at Dr. Freddie Thomas High School, cell phone in hand. It was the eve of the first day of school and nearly 5 o’clock in the afternoon. My classroom was coming together, but I still had a list of tasks to complete in order to feel “ready.”
But, I couldn’t move. I simply could not move to affix another poster, another inspiring visual, another anything. The phone in my hand had become a gun, the message it had just delivered, a bullet.
“I can’t do it anymore. You’ll understand later. I want a divorce.”
The words pierced my flesh and opened a wound that bled out for days to come. I sat till dark at my desk, stunned, until realizing that tomorrow would in fact come, and I would need to be ready whether I was or not. I pulled myself together, finished whatever tasks were necessary for the next day, and left campus in a cloud that would carry me through the coming 24 hours.
As a teacher, I have superpowers. One such power is the ability to “turn on” when I enter my classroom. No matter the emotional baggage or lack of sleep, I have the power to “turn up” with the energy of inspiration and instruction. And so, I relied on this power as my students filed into our safe space on the first day of school.
I do not remember the lesson. I do not recall how I maintained from one class period to the next. I do remember, however, that when the bell rang signaling the end of the day, I was among the throngs of folks moving swiftly out the front doors of 625 Scio Street. I held fast to the last bit of superpower at my disposal knowing that, at any moment, I could completely fall apart.
Without conscious thought, I was driving in traffic heading to my own safe space, Franklin High School. I made my way to the second floor, fighting back the flood of tears that had threatened to blind me at the wheel. My father, then the principal of the International Finance High School, was in his office, a space that was always so welcoming, so alive with books, pictures, tree-sized plants, and warm with the mingled scents of aged wood and my father’s aromatic oils.
I entered his office. My daddy greeted me with the best hug on earth, and I fell completely apart in his arms. He held me. I cried. We sat. I talked. I let it all out. I left it all on the table. Through tears, confusion, exhaustion, shame, relief, and even some laughter, I was able to find my footing, to regain my sight, if only for the moment. I remember getting up from our talk, preparing myself to head home, and in that instant, I knew I was going to teach in Abu Dhabi.
You see, the notion of teaching abroad had been planted nearly a year before. Sitting in my classroom at the very same desk, I had read all about the amazing opportunity for teachers to become part of a national education reform initiative in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Certified teachers could earn competitive, tax-free salaries accompanied with free housing and medical insurance, travel and furniture stipends, and a lifestyle of exotic luxury…if one would only apply!
I had, at the time, presented this idea to my then husband with excited possibility. However, with little consideration, it had been shelved for a later date due to more pressing objectives of small-business investments, advanced degree pursuits, and whatever else that was deemed more important. The opportunity was all but forgotten…until now. With his professed intentions made clear, I no longer had to adhere to those forgotten goals, to those so easily abandoned plans. I quickly set about the business of applying to teach 12thGrade English in a country more than 7,000 miles away, and which I had only heard of the year before.
I tell you though, much of that school year was a fog. Some months later, after an interview in NYC, I was hired on site. While I mourned the loss of my marriage, I kept busy teaching my students from my heart and soul, while amassing the substantial amount of paperwork and clearances required for the position in Abu Dhabi. Some days were a struggle; on those days I operated on auto-pilot because I was mentally and emotionally drained. Other days were pure joy as I anticipated the adventures to come. But mostly, I vacillated to and fro, somewhere in between, feeling a bit adrift.
By the end of the school year, I had resigned from the RCSD, and was hired and fully cleared to accept the position in the UAE. By August, I had packed up my place in Corn Hill and had sold or given away everything except a few boxes in storage. I sat at the ready, waiting on my plane ticket to arrive via e-mail with only the two suitcases of possessions I was permitted to check on my 14-hour flight.
In September of 2010, I boarded a plane headed east-bound to the UAE. On the flight, I met other sojourners who, like me, had set out on faith, unsure of what awaited us, but secure in our readiness to face it.
That was nearly seven years ago.
Today, I am a university Writing Instructor. I am a loving wife to my loving husband of three years and mother to our two baby boys. We live comfortably in the UAE, where our life together began.
Today, I recognize this memory as a most merciful hurt, a necessary pain. But for this advent, I may not have pursued this quest of teaching abroad and gotten on with my life.
“Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do…”
But surely, it is as You have willed.