Followers of this website will know that Education Rickshaw is a blog on teaching and living overseas. My wife Stephanie and myself, both raised attending public schools Tacoma, Washington, were teachers at a Native American school before “taking the plunge” and moving to teach at an international school in Vietnam. Since then, we’ve taught in Khartoum, Sudan, and are now teaching in an international school in China.
There are a lot of benefits to moving to teach in international schools overseas. While not all international schools are created equal, for the most part international school jobs come with decent salaries and savings potential (See our previous post, 5 Luxuries Bestowed Upon Thee As An International Teacher). Teachers can expect to receive flight allowances to and from their home countries and have their housing paid for. In my experience, students at international schools are often quite clever and well-behaved, and parents are generally quite respectful and involved in their kids’ learning. Many international schools, due to how they are funded, are at the cutting edge in education compared to their stateside counterparts, providing students with opportunities to learn in tech- and information-rich environments and express themselves through the arts, makerED, and robust athletics and extracurricular programs. Because international schools invest in their teachers by paying for professional development, both in-house and by sending their teachers to conferences abroad, international school teachers have the chance to really grow as professionals and improve their craft.
Sometime this spring, right when I really started to feel at home here after my first year in China, my mom WeChat messaged me a link to an article in my local newspaper titled Two of Tacoma’s top educators are leaving. The reasons why should serve as a warning, which described teaching couple Hope Teague-Bowling and Nate Bowling’s decision to leave Tacoma’s Lincoln High School to teach in an international school in Abu Dhabi. Shortly after, my Twitter feed started to go abuzz with a USA Today article titled, These teachers’ jobs give fair salary, housing, respect. All they had to do was leave U.S., which again featured Hope and Nate’s intriguing story.
Hearing Hope and Nate’s story initially got me really excited, and not just because these folks were also from Tacoma. Every time we tell people what we do at home, we always struggle to explain why we left and why we’re not even sure we’re ever coming back. Seeing this story get passed around between our families and friends made us feel validated in some way because their words echoed some of the same the reasons why Stephanie and I made the change towards international teaching. But their words also made me feel a bit sad – I mean, here were two of the best teachers from my hometown leaving behind a place with undeniable need.
Well, I just had to reach out to Hope and Nate, and they were kind enough to give me some answers about their decision to leave – at least for the time being – public education for international teaching. My e-mails mainly corresponded with Hope, but you can see Nate’s excellent blog post on the matter, right here. Let’s dive into the interview, shall we?
Hi guys, thank you so much for the opportunity to interview you. I’m curious: What has the reaction been among your friends, family, and colleagues since you announced you were leaving and your story was first published?
Hi! Thanks for reaching out.
Our immediate family was an integral part of this process. We are both close to our parents and consider their guidance and advice in all our major decisions. They’ve always supported our decisions. Throughout this process they encouraged us to apply to a range of schools and interview with each school that responded.
Most of our close friends are not surprised by our decision but maybe in disbelief that we are actually taking the plunge. The general attitude is both excitement and a sense of loss. We are both deeply embedded and invested in our school (the Lincoln family) and our city. A few folks have said things like “if you’re gone, who’s going to ____” In many ways this is actually a reason to leave at this time. The level of civic engagement in Tacoma is steadily increasing and more folks are getting involved in local elections, community organizations, and anti-racist work at an increased level. While Nate and I lead some of this work, we think it’s time to make space for others to step into leadership roles.
When I got my first international school job I didn’t even really know what it was. I guess I thought most places were looking for English teachers and I was stunned at the whole world that exists of international schools. What exactly drew you to international teaching?
I (Hope) grew up in the Philippines & Hong Kong. I had many friends who attended boarding, missionary, and international schools so I had early exposure to the circuit. Before deciding to pursue a Master’s I also looked at the possibility of teaching overseas with just a BA in English but realized I needed a certificate of some sort (TESOL or a teaching cert). Nate’s mentor teacher from student teaching moved abroad to Korea. She’s now taught abroad for the last eleven years.
We were both drawn into international teaching for different reasons, but mainly the fact that this merges two of our loves: teaching and travel. In the classroom here at home, we adopt an approach to curriculum and instruction that centers on global citizenship. For me this is through the types of texts we read and our constant exploration of diverse voices and through questioning like “what’s another side of the story.” For Nate, it’s more through the lens of understanding the ways in which we make meaning of history and geography. One of his favorite classes to teach is AP Human Geography. It’s the study of why things are, instead of where things are.
The heading of the TNT article implied that we better be careful or more teachers are going to start teaching overseas. Do you feel that there is a growing dissatisfaction among teachers at home and could this be the start of a trend?
Yes, there is a growing dissatisfaction among teachers in the United States; however, I’m not sure I want to call teaching abroad a trend. High-emotional labor, lack of diversity, and stagnation are all factors that many of our colleagues (especially in high-needs schools) feel. So, unless that stuff is dealt with on a policy level, teachers will likely burn out or jump out of the profession. Our policy advocacy organization Teachers United has some research on teacher retention, supporting beginning educators, and such that touches on these issues. The data is very clear that teachers continue to leave the profession at high rates, especially if you are an educator of color. Nate was interviewed for this piece by the Aspen Institute which probably answers your question more directly.
Ideally, we need system-wide change to keep effective teachers in the classroom in US schools. That said, neither of us believe that teaching overseas is a magic solution to anything. We also don’t want to give the impression that we’re burned out or running away or anything either. Instead, we want to learn more about other ways of being, expand our own perspectives of the world, and learn from other cultures (religions, traditions, etc).
Hong Kong Supermarket. Trung Nguyen pool hall. Viet Dong. Jubilee. Mrs. Frisby’s bakery. These are just a few of the places my mind conjures up when I look back at my childhood growing up on Tacoma’s East Side. I also think about the kids I hung out with, the schools I went to, and the teachers that taught me. Tell me more about the community you taught in. What are you leaving behind?
We absolutely love Tacoma. Nate was born and raised on the Hilltop. He went to Jason Lee Middle School and Foss HS. His parents are the heartbeat of their neighborhood and raised him to care deeply about his community. I am a Tacoma transplant, arriving in 2005 when I student taught at Wilson HS & later at Lincoln HS (where I just finished the last 7 years of teaching).
We often tell people that Tacoma is a medium size, with a small town feel. Some of Nate’s favorite places include: Wright Park, Doyle’s Pub, Top of Tacoma, 38th St. Tacoma truck.
It’s strange to think about what we’re “leaving behind.” One of the difficult things we’ve had to do was to say goodbye to our school community. Our principal has cultivated a teaching staff that cares deeply about teaching and learning. We put everything into our school and students. Our students are some of the most talented, thoughtful, hopeful, pragmatic, and genuine adolescents you will ever meet. We know our new school will be filled with amazing educators and students but it’s very hard to say goodbye to so many of the families we’ve worked with for all these years. In Nate’s case (having taught at Lincoln for 10 years), he is leaving behind multiple generations.
As for the greater community–we are heavily involved in local politics. We do not intend to engage with politics in the same way abroad as we do here at home. As I mentioned above, we’ve done our best with what we can to make our city more equitable, just, and anti-racist. We feel good about the work we’ve done. In a few years we hope to return to a community that continues to grow and evolve in these areas.
Lastly, we both write and create podcasts. We’ll continue doing that from overseas!
Well, this was great! Thanks so much again for chatting with me and letting me feature your story on this blog. I wish you the best on your first year at your new school and I know you’ll benefit from this experience. Congrats on “Taking the Plunge”!
Be sure to follow Hope (@EspiOnFire) and Nate (@nate_bowling) on Twitter and check out some of the links that we’ve embedded in this post. I also recommend you check out Hope’s website, www.hopeteague.com. Thank you to all who have been following this blog faithfully – Keep coming back!
– Zach Groshell @mrzachg