One of the first things people asked me when they learned that I was moving abroad to teach school was “Why would you leave the comforts of the United States to teach in a third world country?”
The answer is simple: America doesn’t pay its teachers enough for what we do, and many foreign countries do.
Let me preface this entire post by making it clear that I teach in a prestigious private school, not a public school. (I heard a rumor that tuition is $1000 a month.) The school has 2,000 students, grades K-12.
This is a picture of my 6-period day, here. First period is always Homeroom and I have been blessed with Seniors. This is the class where I check dress code, l deliver and collect important paperwork, we do the morning informative stuff and I bond socially with and mentor a very tight-knit group of college-bound kids. This is also the class where, on most days, half the kids are gone somewhere to prepare for special events, like any SGA or NHS club would. They do not get to enjoy these kinds of extra-curriculars as actual classes.
The remaining 5 periods of the day are all academic. I teach 5 classes, but no more than 4 on the same day. During my off-periods, I might be the substitute-on-call for teachers who are out and if that ever happens, I am expected to execute the day’s plans for that class, or at a minimum, keep the period as productive as possible. There is no pool of substitute babysitters.
Once every two weeks during one of my off-periods, I meet with my Department Head and* my Principal, to discuss whatever needs discussing.
I also serve a 20-minute duty during the daily breaks, but I don’t have to do this more than three times a week, and sometimes it’s just 2.
Any time not spent subbing-in or on duty, I am allowed to spend planning, and it is a refreshingly adequate amount of time, as you can see by all the blank spots, especially since the school provides every teacher with a laptop to carry.
My classroom is not “mine” in the familiar sense because there is a Classical Arabic Class whose teachers rotate into other classrooms who have an off-period. When Arabic is being taught in my classroom, I spend my planning in the library usually, but sometimes I go to the teacher break room and spend time with the other teachers on break during that period. Even when this happens, we are all busy working. (Indeed, I prefer the library.)
The school sends a bus around to our houses each day, all over the city, to gather up all the teachers who don’t or can’t drive, so I am never, ever late to school, and I never stay too late either.
We all come in through the front entrance of the school each day and sign in with an electronic name badge. If this doesn’t happen, five different people will be looking for you within the hour. If you lose your magnetic name badge, you can get a replacement but it will cost you a $2.75 donation to charity.
During the two daily 20-minute breaks, there are a few “yards” I can visit, which sell smoothies and ala carte items. A smoothie costs me 80 cents.
Like I said, my classroom is not nested and homey like I am used to. We are not provided boxes full of office supplies and I haven’t seen a DVD player since I left America. There’s no TV and my classroom furniture leaves me aching for the luxuries of Room 54. There is no carpet in this entire country I don’t think, which makes for a loud day, especially with 9th graders. Did I mention I teach two classes of 9th graders? It’s a first in my career. They’re adorable but, like I said, they are loud.
Anyway, the creature comforts are in short supply here, even at a prestigious school. When I come home for Christmas I will stock up on Whiteout, jumbo paperclips, Expo markers, good pens, and the notepads my department head back home always got for me. I was living in office supplies heaven back home and totally took it for granted.
But we have 8 copy machines. Some are color.
We stay an hour late every Monday for staff meetings. We have two Planning Days every semester, a week off in October, 2 1/2 weeks at Christmas and lots of random holidays (4 this semester, including Thanksgiving. THANKSGIVING! In Egypt!)
I have four bosses, in a highly enforced chain of command. My Department Head handles 99% of my problems, and he was the one who first made it a priority to enable me to call home and talk to Ben for the first time in two weeks after I first arrived, after my emotional breakdown in his classroom one day. The higher ups make sure the DHs are caring for their underlings. He moved planets around for me, much like my old Department Heads would’ve done.
Then there is the Head of Seniors, so I answer to her in matters relevant to that area. She knows them all and knows their families, so she usually has answers to my bizarre questions about the kids in my class. She’s like a guidance counselor I guess you could say, but she also teaches classes, just like I do.
My American School Principal is just that, and she handles parents. And handles them well, I might add.
Fridays and Saturdays are my weekend, so I work every Sunday. Yes, it’s weird.
The Boss, the woman who owns the school, is a highly respected icon of education in international school circles. Quick story about her. She makes it a point to provide Christian events and mark Christian holidays at this Egyptian school in the middle of a mostly-Muslim nation, because a small percentage of the students are Christian and a large portion of the teachers are as well. An example: “The Christmas Story” will be performed by the drama program at Christmas…. Baby Jesus and Silent Night and the whole shebang. Here, in Egypt! One year, a parent complained about this and her reaction was to encourage them to find another school if they didn’t like the way she did things at hers. My kind of woman. And my kind of boss.
For every foreigner she employs, she also gives a job to 9 Egyptians. This place is crawling with worker bees.
A Christmas Story… in school. In a Muslim country. Get your head around that. I will be beside myself with emotion after five months of being here, two weeks before I come home to enjoy Christmas with my family, in my country, I cry just writing about it. Why is this so hard in America?
We are discouraged from talking about our salaries publicly, because there are sometimes huge discrepancies in this system, for various reasons. I make much more than I made back home in the US, so you can figure out what ‘much’ probably is. All tax free.
75% is sent back to our US bank account and 25% is given to us to keep, in Egyptian pounds, which is more than enough to live on here. My rent is $8000 LE (Egyptian pounds) and its roughly $450 USD. Cable is $6 USD, Wifi is $83 USD for 100GB, Power is $27 USD, and I give the bawab (Houseman) $250 LE ($14 USD) to pay for water, maintain the grounds, take out my garbage and to be a handyman. (He even waters my plants. I came home last week with indoor trees that were not indoor trees at all and he scolded me in Arabic like husbands all over the world do when we’ve wasted our money, so he went back later that night and bartered for me to get the right trees. Then he repotted them all and brought them inside for me. A man around the house. Ahhhh.)
The other 75% comes back home and into an account I opened with Ben, to make college expenses convenient. We are about to see how responsible he is with money, aren’t we?
I do not have health insurance. What is offered at the school is through BUPA, which is international health insurance. It is honored everywhere in the world except for the United States. How about that? The good news is that an X-ray is $10 and a teeth cleaning is less than that. As such, I will continue to go without coverage, but will have to sell my soul to BCBS once again when Ben starts college at FAU. (Botox is $75 over here, ladies)
I miss driving. I miss Publix. And I miss Walgreens. I miss PegLegs oysters and Paradise American cheeseburgers. I miss my parents and my kid, so much. But taking all the good with all the bad, when I get home from work everyday, I’m not beat down like a dog and I don’t hate my job or the people running my school district, which is a new and refreshing feeling. I hope this information gives you the answers to some of your questions about my decision to come here. I think I did the right thing, and I am very happy, all things considered.
Miss you all!