Seeking respect, Wisconsin teachers go abroad
The reasons for choosing to teach overseas are varied—but some departing educators say the political and budgetary climate has made the choice to leave a lot easier.
She woke up at 6:40 a.m. thinking about how much she still had to do.
Get rid of the car, pay the last medical bill, take a photo with a friend in front of Buffalo Wild Wings, their old Tuesday night haunt.
Tammy Wolfe also needed contact solution and sunscreen, SPF 100.
She doesn’t know exactly what to expect as a teacher at Qatar Academy Al-Wakra, but she knows what the Middle Eastern sun will do to her fair skin if she’s not careful.
“I’m freaked,” Wolfe said while waiting for her flight at Mitchell International Airport on Aug. 22, her 16-year-old cat Dezi asleep in the carrier at her feet.
As her former colleagues in Milwaukee Public Schools prepare for another school year in Wisconsin, Wolfe is joining a select group of educators headed to assignments abroad in international schools—private schools that deliver an American-style education to children of U.S. businesspeople and foreign-service workers, and also a growing number of host country nationals.
The reasons for choosing to teach overseas are varied—the pursuit of adventure or a different cultural experience are commonly cited—but some departing educators say the political and budgetary climate in Wisconsin made the choice to leave a lot easier.
Some Wisconsinites already working in international schools say they’d like to return someday but don’t see as very welcoming the state’s rolled-back funding for schools, limits on collective bargaining, and the general pall that’s settled over the profession since the passage of controversial legislation in 2011.
“I can come overseas and not lay people off, come overseas and have enough resources to support our students, come overseas and be treated like a corporate professional,” said Darin Fahrney, a former principal of Greenfield High School who is starting his second year as deputy principal at Singapore American School. “As a professional, it’s not all that appealing to go back.”
Demand for teachers
Burgeoning student enrollment in many international schools means that experienced U.S. teachers and school leaders have been in high demand. Particularly in Middle Eastern and Asian countries, a growing middle class means that more host country nationals have the resources to send their children to an international school instead of the local public schools.
Historically, international schools were designed to serve the children of American diplomats at the host country’s embassy, as well as those of military or businesspeople on foreign assignments.
Jim Ambrose, president of international schoolteacher placement service Search Associates, said his company had 645 international schools registered in the database in 2011, up from 474 in 2007.
“Some of these schools got their beginnings through the work of missionaries, but most are a result of businessmen and diplomats needing a place for their kids without going into the local school system,” he said. “Many started out as parent cooperatives in a rented house, and 50 years later, they’re a school of 5,000 kids.”
Ambrose added that international schools still serve predominantly American students, but growth recently has been driven by a greater number of host country nationals sending their children to the schools.