Monday, January 24, 2011

Don't Hassel the Hoff...but Düssel the Dorf!

If you’re not interested in reading the whole post: here’s the nutshell version…

I accepted a two-year contract at the International School of Düsseldorf, Germany after attending an international schools job fair this weekend in London. I will start the job in August 2011 and I am REALLY excited because the school just seems absolutely amazing and I get to live in a really cool city and will start learning German right away for my own benefit but English is the language of instruction at the school. Read the post below for the full details….

School website:

Well, for those who I do not speak to regularly, I should probably explain what the heck is going on. This past weekend I attended the Council of International Schools Recruiting Fair in London in order to find a job in an international school. Really, going into it, I was thinking that I would only accept a job in London and this was my only way to get in with a London international school as I think they match me as a teacher a bit more than the British system. Not to diss the British system, but the extreme focus on exams, especially in science, is just not on par with my beliefs.

So, on Thursday, I took the train in from Dol with a four-hour layover in Paris. I decided to take a boat tour of the Seine and almost missed my train. I was sprinting through the Gare du Nord and made my train with only 1 minute to spare. Phew! I’m a moron but the boat tour was cool!

The conference began on Friday with the initial check-in and a panel discussion with three school directors from around the world. The recruiters had already had access to our CVs and other information because we had to apply in advance to get into the fair at all. So, everyone had a mailbox set up for them and apparently, when you checked in, there were supposed to be notes from recruiters saying that they wanted to meet you. I arrived, checked in, and checked my mailbox….nothing. Nada. Zip. I cried. Literally, I cried. I went to a big department store down the street and called home and felt like an idiot being emotional in public because that is SO NOT English-appropriate behavioUr. After a little pump up from my mom and dad, I went back in and left notes in the mailboxes for all of the schools that I wanted to meet.

At the panel discussion with the school heads, they just said to be open-minded and think beyond what your initial expectations were and so I decided, what the hell? I will.

The next morning, they opened the doors and all the recruiters were sitting at tables alphabetically by country and all of the candidates were supposed to walk around and hand out their resumes. I gave my resume to every school that had a middle school science opening and I ended up scheduling interviews with Düsseldorf, two London schools (who only ended up having tentative openings), Swiss Alps boarding school, Azerbaijan, Beijing, Kuwait, Cairo, Bahamas, and Milan. Most of those were places I’d never really thought about, but I was remaining open-minded and figured that you just never know what can happen so it is important to try everything. Plus, I figured I could use the practice if I had a lot of interviews… after last March where my primitive, lizard brain overtook my frontal lobe and I was unable to formulate a coherent sentence in the middle of an interview. I was so nervous that I went into full fight or flight mode!! (And yes, I do realize the dorkiness of that statement!)

My first interview of the fair was Düsseldorf, and I was his first interviewee as well. We had 15-minute interviews scheduled but we ended up chatting for about 45 minutes. And, the whole time, it didn’t feel like an interview at all, just like a conversation where we talked about what I believed about good teaching and about good schools. I was able to be totally honest with him that at that stage I was just trying to figure out what schools were all about and wasn’t thinking that I wanted to go anywhere specifically. I really liked the sound of the school and he was impressed that I had done a bunch of work showing that I understand what the IB program is all about because I’ve never taught in an IB school. For those who are not in education…IB stands for International Baccalaureate and is the curriculum that is used in all of these international schools. It is also used all over the US too and really fits in with the way I have been trained as a teacher. I think my school in Colorado could have easily had the designation based on the way teaching happens there.

Basically, I got a really good vibe right away about the school, the Deputy Director who was interviewing me, and the whole situation. He told me to come back that evening to their 30-minute general info session on the school and we left it at that.

I spent all day Saturday in interviews and oddly enough, they were FUN! I had a really fun day because all of these people spoke my “teacher language.” After being in a school last semester that was so deflating that I was ready to quit teaching, it was great to meet all of these people (and really, an ENTIRE COMMUNITY of international educators who move around the world) who think like me and were “pickin’ up what I was puttin’ down!” Every interview felt really positive and they were informal where hardly anyone even asked any really “interview-y” kind of questions. It was a chat and a conversation and that was extra great. I was able to maintain full frontal-lobe, higher cognitive function in every interview so I’d call that progress!

At the American School of Kuwait interview, I knew after about the first 5 minutes that they would offer me a job because we really fit philosophically. For any teachers reading this, they were really excited that I was into Understanding by Design and that I love middle schoolers. They offered me a seventh grade life science position on an interdisciplinary team with block scheduling- my exact job at CBMS. They were doing the hard sell on Kuwait. And, I’m not going to lie, it sounded pretty great…EXCEPT…there is NO ALCOHOL there and NO PORK! So, obviously, the Handley side of my family could not exist there because we like bacon and red wine WAY too much! But, hilariously, they make their own alcohol and so end up partying a lot with the giant ex-pat community and their bathtub gin. The benefit of a place like that is that they pay for your housing and all utilities (like air conditioning since it is about 100 degrees there every day of the year!) and so any money you make at all is tax-free and pocketable. Apparently, people teach in the Middle East and save up HUGE amounts of money that would be impossible for a teacher to normally save…like, they said I could save about $50,000 in two years. But, that means I’d have to live in Kuwait as a woman, alone. Just felt uneasy about it, but would have TOTALLY accepted if I hadn’t had another offer because at the same time, it sounded really exciting and who doesn’t like $50,000 in their bank account? As expected, they gave me a contract to sign right then. But, the sell was so hard that it kind of felt like they were creepy Mormons or something trying to convince you that there were tablets buried on a hillside in New Hampshire. J

I went to the information session for Düsseldorf and I was sold. The school is AMAZING. Let me explain a bit more about the school itself:


-1000 students representing 51 nationalities K-12

-28% German, 18% American, 15% Japanese, 10% UK, 7 % Korean, 7% Dutch, and the rest from the rest of the world.

-120 teachers representing 25 different nationalities

-average class size in secondary classrooms: 14 (WHAT??????? CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?)

And then, this is what sold me. His exact words were, “We are educating the whole child. We do not educate them for exams, but for life.”

Their core values are: critical thinking, analyzing, teaching kids to be smart information consumers, independent work, group work, using technology as a tool for learning, metacognition, differentiation, authentic assessment, investigation, context driven literacy and numeracy in every class, hands-on learning, safe risk-taking, relevance, and FUN!!!

I am pretty sure that I could not find a school more fitting to my beliefs- other than good ‘ole CBMS. But, not everyone at Con Ball thinks like this and at this school, if you don’t think like this, you don’t get to work there. I love it! Basically, the school is populated with “teacher geek” teachers like a bunch of us were at CBMS and that is just SO exciting to think about!

The one “interview-y” kind of question they asked me (when I went back the next day for the second interview with Director, Deputy Director, and Secondary School Principal) was about how kids have fun in my class. I talked a lot about “sneaky teaching” and about the Tiger team and a lot of the cool things we’ve done over the years! It is nice to have such an amazing team to draw from and the Tigers came up A LOT in my interviews. I sure have been lucky to have such kick-ass colleagues who have pushed me to become a better teacher and who are also hilariously fun to work with every day. I 100% love the Tigers. (And, I promise I won’t do DURGS…as we Tigers like to say!) J

So, to sum up. I’m over the moon excited. Now I just have to start figuring out how to get my shit from England to Germany because it is way too much manage on public transportation! I might have to rent a car, drive to the coast, take a ferry, rent a different car with the steering wheel on the other side, and drive to Germany. Sounds kinda fun.

I am going to start studying German as soon as I am not trying to relearn French because I literally think my brain would leak out my ears! I go back to France tomorrow and will re-commence my “French Housewife” duties. On this week’s agenda….learn to make a soufflé!

Last few things to say about the job fair:

1. I had an interview IN FRENCH for a school in Cairo. It is an IB school but the language of instruction is French. The lady was trying to convince me that my French was good enough to teach science while I was trying to convince her (by speaking English) that it wasn’t! I had nightmares all last week that the interviews were going to have to be in French and this one was…hilarious!

2. Everyone at the conference was incredibly interesting and had lived all over the world. I made a new friend, Jodie, who is Australian but will be living in Munich for two years starting in August. We partied it up in London last night after finding out that we both got jobs. She’s coming to visit me next week in France! I LOVE new friends!

3. I’m really glad I did a bunch of advanced preparation work. It surely came across as somewhat nerdy but I don’t care about that. It set me apart and is a huge reason I got the job I did.

So, start planning your trips to Germany. Oktoberfest anyone???? I’ve got a week off in the fall!


Aunt Susie said...

I am beyond happy for you!!! When you said you had thoughts of quiting teacher, I was really really need teachers like you, Lizbeth! Caring, creative, fun!! I'm so excited for you, especially with you teaching in Germany...the country UK LOVES and wants to share with me! (looks like it will be next Spring now) I am "pig pork, red wine proud" of you, girl!!!

Love you lots,
Your AS

Anonymous said...

Can't agree more with Susie on EVERYTHING, but especially the pork and wine stuff. We are so excited for you, Liz. Maybe I will relearn some German along with you. xxxooo Mom

Anonymous said...

We are so happy for you and know you will love Germany! Maybe we will come for a visit too! Joan & Rod