Each morning, I start my day with NPR news on the car radio. Today, as if on a loop, the headlines all began with “Qatar.” Today, as I am driving down to Richmond, VA to visit the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia to finalize more papers for working abroad, I learn that there is “tension brewing from the countries surrounding Qatar” – the country I am headed for. Today, June 5, 2017, the same day all my authenticated paperwork arrives from the Qatar Consulate of New York…I am wondering if I will be needing all these papers at all….
My weekend started out great, thanks to Kennesha at American Teacher in Qatar. She gave me a lot of encouraging advice and tips on life as a teacher in Qatar. What stands out most? Don’t listen to what they say in the news. I have a great appreciation for the free press, however, true Journalism exposes truths; money and greed twist it.
Monday morning, I hit the road nice and early for a nearly 2 hour drive to Richmond. I enjoy 5 minutes of Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac. His soft voice and soothing poems usually prepare me for a day of English Teaching. After he bids farewell with, “Be well, do good work, and keep in touch,” I listen on to the news headlines. I feel like I can trust NPR as being a reliable, fair media source. My ears perk at the mention of “Qatar” and then my thoughts begin to race as I hear the words over and over: “Several countries cut diplomatic ties with Qatar… ” What does this mean?
It’s too early to tell, but am I looking at yet another dream deferred?
I’m in NYC finishing up some more papers for authentication. This process is painful.
Hubby took the bus here 3 weeks ago to get some papers authenticated. Unfortunately, we missed the part where you you need a new letter from your university that certifies that you’ve
Competed your degree in person and not online
Dates you attended
The university’s credentials
And a lot more that I can’t think of right now. Fortunately, Queens College came through in time for spring break so here I am! I’m grateful for being able to spend more time with my family and have the week off.
But this is no Bahamas vacation.
This is running up and down the steps of Queens County Clerk’s office on Sutphin Blvd,
Racing past the crowds with laundry carts to the J train,
And standing on the filthy train platforms on my way to 123 William Street.
I’m leaning into shops wafting with flavorful food
And dodging piles of stinking trash on the sidewalks.
I miss New York, but these streets really are mean.
It will all pay off. It has to!
All that running in around in NYC and paperwork is still not complete!!! I’ve still got to go back to New York because most of my papers are mostly New York State Documents, they must be authenticated by the Qatar Consulate in NEW YORK. I’m still waiting for the FBI Clearance on official paper rather than the digital copy that will show the same information!!!
Time is running out and I’ve got people in all directions asking,
Kagan Strategies: Get the kids moving and fully engaged.
A group of newer teachers went all the way to Texas to attend a conference on how to use timers, numbered seats, color coordinated seating charts, and spinners to randomly choose kids to participate. I love the refresher…but my, oh my, how I’ve wasted all this time teaching when I could instead package everything teachers have already been doing for centuries in a pretty little book.
I am grateful for this opportunity to teach outside of New York. It feels good to be treated like a human by administrators. The staff looks out for each other. It’s nice to have parents show their appreciation with books, candy and Starbucks. It’s been really nice having small comforts like a kitchen in the lounge, birthday lunches and Teacher Work from Home Days. The professional development opportunities have been meaningful and considerate of our time.
And kids are really kids. I’ve got tons of sweet ones, bright stars, goofy jokesters and a few who make the day feel long, What I am truly grateful for is this chance to see the stark difference between the haves and have-nots. The inequalities are simple, yet, vast.
1) The Copy Machine: After running off copies of a packet, I sat in the lounge stapling them together. One of the English teachers on my team walked in and asked, “What are you doing?”
“But the copy machine does that!”
She walked in another time while I was correlating copies and burst out laughing.
The next day before starting our Content Team meeting, she said, “We are starting today with a copy machine tutorial for Nancy.”
I explained how I made it through 14 years without a copy machine. In New York, the teachers pooled together money to buy a copy machine and maintain it. I didn’t think I could afford the “Copy Machine Membership” so I used a high-power printer and bought recycled ink to make copies when necessary. I got the printer and paper through a grant. The Ink cost about $50 per year.
2) Field Trips: We took the entire 7th grade on a trip to the Newseum in DC this past week. Over $5000 was spent on 8 luxury buses for a quick 30 minute ride. Students toured the museum with parent chaperones while I monitored the whole thing. We passed out vouchers for students to eat $13 of whatever they wanted from the cafe and then watched as they broke out $20’s for ice cream, coffee, and trinkets at the gift shop. Several teachers that came along spent the day relaxing in the cafeteria, reading magazines because we had more than enough chaperones. I spent the day running up and down 6 floors of exhibits checking on all 15 groups of 11. Ok, running down 6 flights and taking the elevator up…
In New York, transportation on trips is via yellow buses that sometimes cancelled at the last minute. There were never enough chaperones, so the morning of each trip was usually me begging an administrator to allow an aide to come along so we wouldn’t have to cancel.
Then there were the black plastic bags my students would show up with. They were usually full of junk food (chips, soda, and maybe a bagel). We would bring the free lunch they were entitled to on every trip, but no one ever wanted to eat it. So I’d have the buses drop us off at Burger King, 3 blocks away from school. They’d scrounge up all they could for dollar menu fries, burgers, and chicken nuggets.
Most of our trips were either free or under $12 or we wouldn’t get enough students who could afford to go. I miss their grateful little faces after every trip. Not a lot of teachers would do the work required to take them out.
3) Parent involvement: in Ozone Park, I remember sitting at my desk for hours on parent/teacher conference night, waiting for someone to stop in. But so many parents don’t speak English and many more don’t work 9-5 hours in the city that never sleeps.
Here, they don’t even schedule a parent/teacher conference night because parents are in the school all the time. I walk into picture day and there are parents all over the place. I walk into the book fair and there are parents all over the place. Our trips have both moms and dads volunteering. On Valentine’s Day, I had several “candy-grams” from kind families. For Christmas, I made a huge wishlist that parents and students kindly fulfilled. The community has an extremely positive relationship with the school.
Based on the number of parent emails and conferences requested because Timmy’s progress report was not favorable so let’s ask the teacher what she’s doing wrong…I’d say parent schedules are much more flexible around here.
I don’t miss the torture of standardized tests and data collection that pervades the school environment in New York. It exists in Virginia, but it’s way more relaxed and up to the teacher to design and use it.
If I could stay, I’d be very happy. I could teach another 15 years in this environment. But this principal is set to retire in a few more years. I’ve never met anyone like her. She sets the tone for success, kindness, and work-place happiness. And she’s from New York! Can we make more principals like this please?
I had every intention of marching today. But the kids need to have passports done within 2 weeks.
Long story short:
You can only walk in for passports at 2 locations in North Virginia: Duke Street Library and Merrifield Post Office.
You must have original birth certificates for children.
You must be prepared to wait at least 2 hours. Duke Street Library is a much nicer location to wait.
You should probably not have a major event to attend like The Women’s March on Washington.
By the time we made it out of there, the March was well underway but we were tired, hungry and a lot closer to being broke until payday. I am grateful for the fire this movement lit in my heart and millions of others. Life for women everywhere is tough because the weight of the world lies literally on our shoulders! As mothers, teachers, nurses and beyond! The Mayor of DC said it best, “The women will tell you that we are more harshly criticized. We are more frequently criticized. And we are more wrongly criticized at every single level – be it the school board, be it the statehouse, or candidate for the president of the United States.”
Why I March (Or would have)
Women’s March, January 21st.
I am marching because teaching, a female dominated profession, is constantly under attack, under valued and underpaid.
I am marching because mothers are torn away from their 6-week-old babies and forced to return to work or suffer loss of income due to insufficient maternity leave.
I am marching because without a cure for breast cancer, too many children have lost their mothers.
I am marching because too many mothers have seen their sons killed for nothing more than the color of their skin.
I am marching because there are families trying to survive in refugee camps while they wait for borders to open.
I am marching for students who want to go to college but can’t afford it because the Dream Act has never passed.
I am marching for my students who have been mocked for their Muslim faith, dress and modesty – all things that should be cherished here in America.
I am marching because I want my daughter to know the power of women who support each other and to believe she can accomplish ANYTTHING because she can.
I want my son to know every woman deserves respect, to always be a gentleman, and to always help those in need.
Would it be too cliche to say that 2016 was a roller coaster of a year? It’s a good thing I like a thrilling roller coaster!
The High Point: Realizing I Could Leave
I graduated my 9th middle school class in New York City – and walked right out of the school building with them. I loved my years as a teacher in New York City Public Schools, but this needed to be my last year with them. For now. Perhaps the political climate will change. Perhaps there will be more focus on the teaching of children and not the accountability of a product. All the joy I felt teaching my classes got swept away with the pressures from Administration, Common Core, Standardized Tests and Buzz Words. I was so fortunate to be hired by a community that placed little value on tests and more value on engagement of students. Stepping away has allowed me to grow and focus on areas of teaching that were not possible in New York – collaboration with other teachers, project based learning and educational technology that got stuck behind the “Crime Scene” tape in NYC. It’s amazing what can be done when you have the freedom to just teach!
The Low Point: I’m Still Leaving
I’m quite a bit further from family and friends than I was before and it’s challenging. So many have come to visit, which always makes for a great time. But it’s tough not spending every Friday night at my Mom’s house with my sisters and all the kids. It’s odd not having someone to dial up and go out for sushi on a whim. Baby Z sometimes says, “I miss my old house.” and even Baby D will cry, “I want to go home.” Where will home be when we’re done traveling abroad? Are we being fair to them by going so far away from family?
2017: Live Life
This is not much of a resolution but here goes: Keep working on being the best version of myself I can be. The best mom I can be, the best wife I can be, the best daughter, sister, cousin, friend etc. Stay healthy. Be kind. Be welcoming. See the world.
I don’t know if I should be as proud as I am of myself for all that I’ve accomplished, but I am. I have a family, a career, and dreams. I’ve got a few people reading my blog too!
While sitting down for our second taste of Beignets at Cafe Du Monde, New Orleans, I got the email:
Greetings from Qatar!
I’m sorry it has taken this long to put your offer together and appreciate your patience. I believe that you have the qualifications and experience that is needed … and that you will be a good fit in our school with our staff.
I almost choked on the pound of sugar sitting atop my diamond shaped donut – “I have a serious offer from Qatar!” I yell my husband.
We really wanted this. After Abu Dhabi left us high and dry as the desert last June, we couldn’t get excited over their second offer. But Qatar is a real step in the right direction as far as starting a career teaching abroad. I can see myself there for several years, rather than an obligatory two. Their IB Program is closer to what I am looking for as far as teaching style and philosophy. My own children will be able to attend their schools and get a true global experience!
Which is why we were in New Orleans.
What are you going to do with two kids in New Orleans?
Most people bawked at the idea of bringing two small children to the City of Sinners and Saints. But I am usually after a different perspective and since we can’t really afford a flight for four to another continent, we might as well make the most of this one. New Orleans offers so much history and culture shaped from around the world.
We were fortunate to arrive on an extremely rainy Sunday. I believe it washed the streets clean enough for us to push a stroller down Bourbon Street over the next week. On our first day, we took the kids to Jackson Square and rode a streetcar to Mardi Gras World. While the tour of parade floats seemed tedious for toddlers, making a mask full of glitter was a great craft for the kids!
At the Presbetyre Museum, we saw an exhibit on the impact of Hurricane Katrina. I sometimes want to say I experienced my own “Katrina” with Hurricane Sandy, but really, nothing compares to this type of devastation. We were displaced, but not our entire community. The similarities are the lack of attention given to those who need it most. Their VA is just now opening, 15 years later! Hospitals, schools, and programs that support the poor are still struggling to rebuild! Anyhow, the exhibit takes you through experiencing the storm, artifacts collected in the rubble and stories of those who were lost.
The most notable experience on this trip was a visit to the Whitney Plantation. We saw several plantation tours advertised, but this seemed like the most worthwhile. The Whitney Plantation tells the story of life on a sugarcane plantation through the eyes of slave children. It is a chilling tribute to the thousands of children who died while enslaved on these plantations. These are stories you would never find in a text book at school.
We walked through a memorial dedicated to thousands of lost children. I became transfixed by a stature of an angel holding a baby in her hands. It symbolized the children who died at birth…even those who were miscarriages. There are records kept of each child, named and unnamed. Records kept by slave owners, not to memorialize them, but for inventory. Each child was property and a dead child was property lost; a tax write-off. I was frozen for quite a while at this particular memorial garden.
We toured slave quarters and a slave jail. There were beautiful life-like statues of children throughout the grounds; in the aisles of the church, on the porch of their shacks and by the slave master’s bed. Zara tried talking to them because they were exactly her height!
With every experience on this trip, the kids picked up at least 20 new words. The cuisine were heavy, salty, brackish; the Mississippi River was brown, muddy, murky; and the beignets were just “too yummy.”
The highlight for Baby D was riding the St. Charles Streetcar at night and seeing the classic homes lit up with Christmas lights. The highlight for Lady Z was making the Mardi Gras mask and eating beignets! For me, it was the Whitney Plantation and Geisha Sushi (really good sushi!). For Hubby, it was most likely a catfish and grits meal at Ruby Slipper and an “American Pickers” marathon on TV! We don’t have cable at home, so the oddest shows are like gold! The Louisiana Children’s Museum was also perfect for our little ones! They loved serving food in the kid sized restaurant and shopping in the kid-sized supermarket!
We’re in for more adventures, ladies and gentleman! Perhaps on the other side of the world?
By Friday, the streets were foul smelling and filthy.
Remember not being able to fall asleep on Christmas Eve? Or the day before a trip to Six Flags? Or the night before the science fair?
That was me at last night. The night before a Skype interview with a school in Qatar. Despite interviewing for Abu Dhabi last week in New York, despite receiving an offer letter from them (again), and despite receiving another invitation to interview with a school in S. Korea, I was super excited about interviewing for Qatar.
If you’re looking for more information about moving abroad and teaching in Qatar, you should check out my fellow teacher/blogger American Teacher Abroad. Kennesha has been inspiring me from the start and to have her rooting for me in this endeavor has been a great support!
For me, my fascination with Qatar’s school system is their initiative to offer the leading international education experience. They are very forward-thinking in their curriculum design and offer an International Baccalaureate program. I believe my teaching style and philosophy is most in line with the IB Program.
At 6 am (2 pm in Qatar) I settled into our building’s conference room and prepared to interview. Via Skype, I met two lovely ladies, one a school director and the other a school principal. In addition to asking me questions, they described their school’s vision and learning environment. Some of their questions included:
What would I see walking into your classroom?
What has been your experience teaching students with limited English language skills?
How do you keep children in this age group (middle school) engaged?
What assessments do you give and how do you use the data?
It was very easy to speak with my interviewers. They seemed truly interested in pursuing my application until we got the question:
Are you married? Single? Do you have any dependents?
I feel like at that point, they took a step back and said
“It will be a few weeks before we make any decisions…”
In the meantime, I will sign the Abu Dhabi offer letter and email it back to my recruiter. I will check my email every few minutes. I will message my fellow interviewees and see how they are getting along with the process of moving abroad. I will wait….sleepless in the US.
Check out some of these blogs by teachers currently teaching in the UAE…I haven’t found too many by teachers in Qatar (most blogs are several years old) so feel free to share!