Reflections After Teaching Abroad for a Year

Now that I have completed my first year of international teaching I want to share some input about the experience. A year ago when we were getting ready to leave for Albania, I remember thinking, what if I don’t like this?, what if it is not what I had expected?, what if Randy is unhappy with our choice? A year later, I can say that overall this was a wonderful experience that I am glad we took a risk on. There were ups and downs throughout the year but Randy and I are happy that we took on this challenge.

I was scheduled to have 15 grade one students but only 11 of them showed up. Half of my students spoke no English at the beginning of the year and the rest of them spoke English in various degrees from a few words or phrases to being able to have a simple conversation. My Albanian Assistant, Edlira, was assigned to me on a full time basis. She was wonderful not only because of her help with translating but also because she did so much to help me understand the culture of Albania.

I have never taught children whose first language was not English so I was not sure how to go about it. Our Deputy Head of Primary and PYP Coordinator, Joe, did an excellent job talking us through the opening of school and answering our questions. One of my first questions was to ask if when I said something in English, was Edlira then to translate it all into Albanian. I was told that this was not how it was to be done. Joe explained that Albanian College is an English immersion school so teaching should be done in English. He said that I would know when the children needed to have something translated and I could then ask Edlira to translate. At the beginning of the year I had Edlira translate fairly frequently but by the end of the year I only had her translate if I was teaching a concept with more complex vocabulary. Also, I had her translate if the children were having behavior issues and I wanted to make sure they understood the expectations. My students who started the year with no English were very quiet at the beginning of the school year. I remember wondering what their voices sounded like since they could not yet talk to me. Joe had told us that by the middle to end of October the children would start talking.  It takes the children about that long to develop their receptive language to a degree where they can express themselves using language. Joe was right, the kids did start talking by the end of October. It was so exciting to witness! By the end of the school year all the children were not only speaking English but they also were doing well with reading and writing in English.

After this year of teaching, I really do believe that kids are kids no matter where they live. For the most part, I taught these children using many of the same methods as I do in the States. As many of you know, I have many years of teaching special education so my teaching includes structure, repetition, multi-sensory experiences with clear expectations. This may have helped when teaching children for whom English is their second language but overall I think the kids picked up the language so quickly because they are young and young children are the perfect age to be taught a second language. I have been asked a few times about the behavior of these children. I do not think there were any more or less behavior problems than what I had in the States. Once again, kids are kids.

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Some people have asked what a typical day’s schedule was in my classroom. This picture shows the schedule I had posted in my classroom for the children. Every day the schedule changed slightly depending on what single subject classes we had. Here are a few more details:

  • 7:45 children arrive in my classroom
  • 8:00 read aloud and morning meeting including reading the daily message, looking at the calendar and discussing the day ahead
  • 8:20 all children go to the canteen for a breakfast provided by the school
  • 8:40 math instruction
  • 9:20 writing instuction
  • 10:00 recess
  • 10:20 literacy centers- this was the time of the day where I met with the children in small groups to provide differentiated reading instruction
  • 11:00 Albanian class taught by an Albanian teacher (this was a planning time for me)
  • 11:40 all children go to the canteen for a lunch provided by the school
  • 12:00 recess
  • 12:20 more literacy center time
  • 1:00 performing arts- a combination of music and drama (this was planning time for me)
  • 1:40 recess
  • 2:00 snack provided by the school
  • 2:10 inquiry time which was time spent focusing on the current transdisciplinary unit to go with the international baccalaureate program
  • 3:20 children go to their buses or are picked up

This school day is an hour longer than my school day in the States but I also have more release time than I had in the States.

Did you notice that the children have three 20 minute recesses? In the States my students only had one 20 minute recess a day. In the States I was constantly providing extra movement time with activities like Go Noodle but I found that this was unneeded at Albanian College. By providing adequate recess time the children could focus better in the classroom.

I was required to supervise one lunch, two breakfasts and four recesses each week.

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This is the inquiry board from my classroom. It changed every 6 to 8 weeks throughout the school year. This was always my challenge. I feel very confident teaching children math, reading and writing but when asked to incorporate that into an international baccalaureate (IB) curriculum I felt overwhelmed at times. I knew that with an IB curriculum the children are given much more choice. Usually when I start the school year I have assigned seating for my children at tables, in their cubbies and on the rug. Since IB meant more choice I decided to do away with all these assignments. After the first day or two of school I felt like things seemed out of control too much of the time. I talked with our PYP Coordinator again, Joe, and he explained that IB means more choice but not less structure. The next day I had the children in assigned spaces and it all went much better. That was my first lesson about teaching IB.

Going back to the picture above you can see that I have posted the most current:

  • Transdisciplinary Theme: How We Organize Ourselves
  • Central Idea: Public spaces give people opportunities to make connections and establish community
  • Lines of Inquiry:
    • the characteristics and purposes of public spaces
    • the reasons people use public spaces
    • people’s responsibilities when using public spaces

The above was the structure I used to teach that unit. All of our activities and lessons came from this. Every 6 to 8 weeks the theme would change.

As the year progressed I became more and more comfortable with teaching in an IB curriculum. Joe was helpful but also I was assigned a buddy teacher, Kelly, who was fabulous! She had graduated from an IB high school and then previously taught at an IB school in another country. She really stretched my thinking and helped me use a more inquiry based style when I taught. I learned how to give children a choice on how they learned new things. I learned to give the children a choice on what type of field trip they wanted to go on to learn about a topic. I learned to let the children lead discussions while I simply facilitated those conversations when needed. The best part about teaching this way was watching the children’s excitement. They really were taking ownership with their learning and it was exhilarating to be a part of it. My IB teaching was not perfect but I definitely think I learned a whole new way to think about how children learn and am blending that new knowledge with how I have taught in the past.

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Here is a serious and silly picture of my students near the end of the school year. They are getting ready to perform in a talent show that was their idea as part of our unit about public spaces. I thoroughly enjoyed being their teacher. As with many teachers the end of the year is bittersweet. I am happy to have time off for a few weeks but sad that I will not have these children as my students next year.

I feel like I have done a lot of blog posting over the last month. If you are still reading, thank you! Right now I am in the States for about three weeks, enjoying time to get caught up with family and friends.

I signed a two year contract with Albanian College so am headed back for my second year. My school district in the States very kindly granted me time to pursue this dream of international teaching. After this next school year I will definitely be headed back to Fairport to finish my teaching career there. On August 9th Randy and I fly back to Albania. I do not need to report to the school until August 26th but we we are going back early so we can do some traveling before school starts.

Now my only hope is that the upcoming year goes as well as the past year…

 

14 thoughts on “Reflections After Teaching Abroad for a Year

  1. Hi Sarah!

    I have SO enjoyed living vicariously through your blogs and particularly enjoyed hearing your recent reflection of your school year in Albania. We miss you dearly here in Fairport, but are learning so much from your experiences…both about teaching in a foreign country, traveling abroad, and following your dreams wherever they may lead you. You are SUCH an inspiration and I can’t wait until you return to catch up! Enjoy your time together with Randy before starting back up again! You and your family look like your having SO much fun!

    Kathy Johnson

    On Thu, Aug 1, 2019 at 4:49 PM Teaching in Albania wrote:

    > Sarah Williams posted: “Now that I have completed my first year of > international teaching I want to share some input about the experience. A > year ago when we were getting ready to leave for Albania, I remember > thinking, what if I don’t like this?, what if it is not what I had ex” >

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Kathy, Sorry to be so slow to respond to your kind comments. I am glad you are enjoying reading my blog. Thanks for doing so. Although it is time consuming I really enjoy taking the time to think back over our experiences with pictures and words. I hope you and your family are doing well. Although I am liking the opportunity to teach abroad, I often miss my Dudley family. Looking forward to seeing you next summer!

      Like

  2. My first reaction to your schedule was- Wow! They get several recess breaks during the day!! How wonderful for keeping the kids focused. We should not be expecting little ones to sit for hours at at time!!
    My second reaction was Wow! Food is being provided by the school ! Here in the US, kids are being lunchroom shamed with peanut butter sandwiches when their parents don’t pay their lunch tab. It makes me furious!
    I am incredibly happy that 30 ?? years into your career, you are being inspired to do things differently.
    I cannot wait to visit!
    Sarah

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love reading about your experiences! My “teaching” these days is with my precious grand daughters. I bet some of those IB techniques would be great with them. I’ll google it! Thanks for sharing with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Love this reflection of your first year in Albania. What an opportunity for you as a teacher to grow. Thanks for the run down of a typical day. Wow. So glad you did this. It’s an inspiration !i love the darling pictures of your students.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a fascinating post, Sarah! I loved the comparison and contrast between how things are done there and here. Those students were so fortunate to have you as their teacher. I am really looking forward to hearing about your second year of teaching in Abania!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Of course I’m still reading! I look forward to your posts and get excited when I see a new one. I love hearing about this new world that you’re exploring, and how you’ve grown and changed from it. I agree with others … you’re an inspiration! Thank you so much for blogging.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I love this post Sarah! It is so inspiring, and it is amazing how much can be learned and tried in one year! So glad I was able to visit (hoping to come over again!), and see this new place that you are enjoying so much! I’m hoping for another amazing year for you!

    Liked by 1 person

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