Sunday, December 09, 2007

Would you hire this explorer?

Last month I started a file with International Schools Services (ISS), one of two leading recruiting agencies for (would you believe it) international schools. It's the sort of thing that you have to do if you're thinking about moving across the world, from HK to, say, Luxembourg. Or wherever.

So, here's one of the essays I wrote for that application.

What do you think - would you hire me? What do I sound like?


Narrative I: Please write a statement describing the personal and professional qualifications and experience you have that will enable you to be successful in an international school overseas. (200-400 words - not to exceed one page)

Name: Jeff Pierce

I often wonder what is different about me, what is special. I grew up in a two-story yellow-brick house on the north side of Columbus, Ohio, spent my summers playing baseball, my autumns rooting for the hometown football team, and winters indoors shooting hoops. But then at 20 years old I crossed the Atlantic to volunteer at an orphanage in Morocco, and two years later I went the other direction, across the Pacific, to begin my teaching career at an international school in Hong Kong. And I’ve done very well overseas, adapting quickly to two very different settings and to lifestyles completely foreign to anything I experienced growing up. What personal qualities have helped me to not only survive but thrive in an international setting? Wow, what a question…

The short answer is that I’ve always been an explorer. I’ve always wanted to find out more. The same impulse that caused six year-old Jeff to pick up rocks to see what new creature would scurry away also made it hard to say no to an offer to move across an ocean. That spirit of exploration sustains me, making every day in a foreign country an adventure, a chance to taste a new food, learn a new word or make a new friend.

And that same spirit of exploration drives me forward in my professional pursuits. No lesson is ever the same the next time you teach it. Every class has its own special character, every student responds to the class dynamic and to the texts in a unique way. How could an explorer not love this job?

In addition to the ever-changing classroom dynamic, teachers must be life-long learners. In four years on the job, I have participated in the following diverse workshops / trainings: a creative writing course for teachers, the Klingenstein Summer Institute for promising young educators, an Understanding by Design workshop led by Jay McTighe, MYP Level 1 Training in both Humanities and Language A, and the Learning 2.0 Conference, exploring the future of technology in education.

While I love all the new adventures both overseas and in the classroom, I do all this without forgetting that I am paid to teach my students, that they have skills they need to acquire. My job is quite simple: help my students become better learners than they were when they entered my class in August.


PS I'm a bit antsy about posting this - don't want a potential employer / ISS / a dishonest teaching rogue to find this page and get into any sorts of complications. I suppose that probably somewhere in the fine print of my application to ISS I might have easily signed off on being allowed to republish this essay in any format.

But...what is the point of the interwebs if I can't share this online?!

Middle School / Sex Ed

All I'll say regarding an apology for being quiet so long is that, like so many other teachers, I've just not been making the time to sit down and reflect on what's going on.

But then on Friday I wanted my 7th graders to spend some time reflecting on what I'd taught them in Moral Education about Sex and Relationships. And, the best way to get 18 twelve year-olds to do something quiet like write or read for an extended period of time is for the teacher to do it, too. So, I sat down with them to write out my own reflection on the unit. Here it is.


I learned...
"Normal is different for everyone." That's the main point of a sex-ed video we watched together, and it really is true. Some of these 7th graders are already acting out on their crushes and dating and kissing, but they won't hold hands in school. The 8th graders, well, are some of them experimenting with anything further than that? Probably. 6th, they're really still in primary, still for the most part oblivious to it all.

Another eye opener is how much talking about sex embarrasses them. Can't get through a single lesson without at some point the class dissolving into laughter. I will never forget about the stories they came up with when I introduced our two imaginary classmates, Jimmy Chan and Gloria Ng, so that we could talk about specific situations without putting anyone on the spot. The students decided that they met outside of the restroom. Huh? Then, there was the time I asked them if they thought that Jimmy & Gloria should think about having sex. K__ shouted out at the top of his lungs "YES!", then fell out of his chair because he was laughing so hard.

But they aren't just embarrassed in front of the opposite sex. For about 20 minutes one lesson we split into boys and girls, and the boys went nuts. One of them brought up masturbation - in Canto slang, "shooting the airplane". The whole 20 minutes was spent with them laughing and making "firing" motions from their crotch.

I have to come to the conclusion that with this age group, there's really no possibility of a serious conversation about sex, at least not in a group setting. The point of the unit needs to be to give them answers to the questions they aren't willing to ask in front of their peers, or, as Doc J, my 12th grade religion & moral ed teacher always said, "Give answers to the questions they aren't asking yet".

In their journals, and one on one, they're willing to ask more of the questions that they won't share in front of their peers. We're moving on from sex ed to other topics - right now it's something brief on families - but I'll always let them ask questions about the topics we've already discussed. So I'll wait and see if any of our previous topics, like smoking or drugs or sex ed, come up throughout the rest of the year.


To any readers - what do you think? Does my approach sound right? Do you have any recollections from middle school, that twisted and confusing time, that jibe with what I'm saying here?