Teach Overseas, Only If You Want To Change The World
This past July, a girl stood in front of the United Nations on her 16th birthday and spoke these words:
One child, one teacher, one pen, and one book can change the world.
Her name is Malala Yousafzai. The Taliban shot her in the head the previous year because she believes those words carry a sacred weight. Malala is willing to give her life for the education of every child everywhere, male and female, because she remembers what we too often forget or take for granted:
An educated world is an unstoppable force for good.
Malala’s story is catching fire. Her courage is an inspiration for us to take her fight seriously. And it reminds us that teachers the world over carry a responsibility laden with meaning. What you do when you stand in front of a classroom full of kindergarteners or sit one on one with a businessman learning your language is nothing short of shaping unwritten history.
You matter, O Teacher.
Your words matter. Your actions make a difference. Your smile will be remembered. The efforts you take in teaching your students well will act as a foundation for the lives they will build.
Teaching overseas is more than a job. More than a paycheck. More than a cool way to see the world. In all the hard hours of preparation and dealing with unruly children and difficult relationships with other staff and feeling down about any number of things – in those moments – see reality for what it is.
You are part of something epic. Something world changing. You are empowering others to engage in the fights that truly matter. Just like Malala.
And you thought you were just talking about zoo animals.
A Place to Start
Didn’t know your master plan to save some money and see the world was such a big deal, did you?
You are right to be excited about the benefits of your decisions. Adventure is waiting! New foods to taste, new cultures to embrace, new accents to try on… and someone to fund it all. Rock on. Celebrate each moment, each plane ride, each encounter with diversity.
Just tuck these words away.
Because in proper time you’ll be in the fray and the daily decisions of what kind of teacher you are going to be will be a poignant reality. Your travel daydreams will be met by a 6 A.M. alarm beckoning you to grab a breakfast falafel before work. Kids will be vying for your attention and you’ll be scrambling to plan your lesson while also work out what your long weekend looks like. Where else would you rather be?
Please don’t be scared off by talk of responsibility, either. The same is true for all of us in all professions and all walks of life: we have a contribution to offer this world which only we can. You certainly don’t have to give 100% all the time. There are times in my teaching career where I didn’t. And some days I felt like I couldn’t.
But I could have given more. I know this now. And I wish I had taken more time to be a little more genuine, a little more prepared, and a little more engaged in the lives of others instead of hidden somewhere in my own. Just a little.
Thank goodness I have those lessons to teach me about my choices today.
Today, all things are new.
A Note on Awesomeness
Your decision to teach, whether overseas or domestically, is not a free pass to awesomeness. It’s a step. Albeit, a truly noble one. Awesomeness is earned in the care you give to seeing your students succeed. The unseen hours you put in outside of the classroom in order to communicate clearly and effectively. The creative ways you use to share not only what you know but who you are with your students. The positive attitude you hold onto when you’re over it and want to go home.
The truth is, awesomeness takes work and you can get by much easier if you’re willing to compromise. Those voices can be persuasive, can’t they? Sleep in a little longer. Watch TV instead. Wing it. Lean on your default emotional response. Tempting indeed. But it’s not for you.
Because I have a feeling you don’t want that to be your legacy, O Teacher.
Take heart. Don’t compromise. Those voices want to shut down the good you have to offer because, like the Taliban, evil is threatened by the integrity, love, and hope you infuse into the lives of your audience. Because there is power in these things. So when the hard days come, and they will come, see them for what they are: desperate attempts to squelch your brilliance.
Feel free to tell those voices where they can go.
A High Calling
I don’t know how you spent your 16th birthday, but mine certainly wasn’t giving inspirational speeches in front of the U.N. while the world looked on. Not even close. I think I went to the bowling alley.
But I’m a fan of Malala; a normal girl who soars to unimaginable heights – at incredible costs – because some teachers somewhere took a book and a pen and taught her about more than just zoo animals. They taught her the value of education. They taught her to love life, to stand up for what she believes, and to hold onto the truth that she can make a difference in this world.
This is the high calling of teaching.
You get to be that person. You get to make those choices. In the Monday through Friday grind of curriculum, games, songs, lesson plans, and lunch bells, you have a room full of Malalas sitting there, hanging on your every word, if not from the ceilings. Whether it’s a career path or an overseas experience, there is no telling where and how your influence as a teacher will transform our world. Only that it will.
This I know for sure: all roads lead to here. You are where you are because people invested in you. You now get to invest in others. Good or bad, half-effort or full, with integrity or without, awesome or average. You choose, O Teacher.
The world watches with bated breath.