Sunday, November 22, 2015

Teach in an International School

A lot of people ask me how I got my job at the American School of Madrid. I think it is a worthwhile story to tell because six years ago when I started thinking about teaching overseas, I had such a hard time finding firsthand accounts of what it is like, how people did it, and what I could expect.

For me it all started on a REALLY snowy Christmas break. See, in Portland, the city COMPLETELY shuts down when there is an inch or more of snow. I was snowed into my house for two weeks straight. Well, one of those nights I was totally stir crazy. Somehow the idea of teaching abroad came into my mind (it had several times before but I never really followed up on it). So I started to do some googling. I looked at places I would like to go, and then eventually I looked up schools abroad that I would like to teach at. I started noticing that many of the schools using a firm called Search Associates to do their hiring. So, late in the night, I signed up for Search.

There was all the typical paperwork involved with finding a new job (letters of rec, resume, statement of purpose). I powered through and got my application completed that same night! About four days later, I got an email from the “associate” assigned to me. His advice was, “you can get hired in Asia, but it is very unlikely that you can work in Europe or ‘more desirable areas’ because of a lack of international experience”. This broke my heart. I was a great teacher. My past administrators loved me. I had a masters. 5 years experience. I was determined to not let this get me down. So I decided to give it my best shot. Within a week I had skype interviews set up in Tokyo, Senegal, Niger, Mali, Guatamala, Vietnam, and Madrid. It was amazing! To deal with the overwhelming feeling, I decided to limit myself to schools that were solid with good admin and plenty of Professional Development. I wanted to be somewhere I could learn. I applied only at non-profit International or American schools. I wanted to stay away from for profit schools. Now I know that some for-profit schools are perfectly fine. I decided that I would take the first offer I got – no matter where that might be - because I carefully screened the schools before sending them my application. A few days later (well nights later actually) I got a phone call that woke me up. It was 2 in the morning my time. It was the headmaster at the American School of Madrid. He offered me the job! I was thrilled! I was jumping up and down in my house! I accepted on the spot. The hard part was that I couldn’t tell anyone until the next morning. It is safe to say I didn’t sleep a wink. The entire process from googling “international teaching” to having an offer was only two weeks!

Fast forward to now.

I just finished my fifth year at the American School of Madrid. It is an incredible school with amazing administrators, students, teachers, and resources. Other than the Spanish language teachers, the rest of the teachers are American. About a third of the students are American, a third Spanish, and a third international. I have learned so much since I have been here! We have been trained in writing, readers, and math workshop. We have an amazing Literacy coach to help us at every step of the way. We have been aligning all of our grading and curriculum to the standards (which I think is a good thing). The expectations are high all around. Occasionally, people still ask me I am teaching English. Far from it. When I am on campus, it feels no different than being at a private school back in the states.

The best part of life here is going off-campus :) Over the past five years I have traveled to South Africa, Sri Lanka, Morocco, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, France, etc. Sometimes I have to pinch myself when I think about planning a “weekend adventure”.

I do miss my family and I spend my entire summers back in the states. Thankfully, skype and facetime make it pretty easy to stay connected. I have also had several friends come visit. I have made amazing friendships here and it is hard to be lonely. Since I've been here, I've gotten married and had a beautiful baby in a Spanish hospital.

Yes and/or no. There are actually many roads toward international teaching. I've met people who have applied directly to schools after finding them online. I've heard of (but never met) people who work in Department of Defense schools. In addition, there are headhunter firms other than Search Associates, ISS, or TIE online. I don't know much about these firms or how much they charge.

For me, I chose to pay.

I wanted to apply to multiple schools at once. I also wanted information about the salary I could expect, the student population, and the benefits included BEFORE applying. With a paid service (such as Search Associates), you have access to all of the information. I paid $225 for the service. In retrospect, it was possibly the most life changing $225 I have ever spent. Let me point out, I am NOT being paid in any way, whatsoever to write this post. 

(advice applies if you decide to go via a PAID headhunter firm such as Search, ISS, or TIE)

1. If you want to go to a highly desirable area (such as Europe), be prepared for some rejection (unless you are in a specialized subject, i.e. high level math or science). In general, European schools will only consider candidates with a minimum of five years experience in addition to a Masters degree. If you have less experience, you can try Europe, but you should also consider Asia, Middle East, or Africa - there are amazing schools all over the world!

2. Sign up for a headhunter firm. Use their database to find the schools to you want to apply. Start gathering your bio, references, resume, etc. You want to put your best foot forward.

3.  Many of the best schools hire as early as October for the following year. You want to have your applications and materials ready before February NO MATTER WHAT.

4. You could be hired via a skype interview but most people are hired at the job fairs. Search Associates has a job fairs all over the world. In the U.S., the fairs are in January (Cambridge, MA) and February (San Francisco, CA). After the fairs are finished, it becomes very challenging to find an international job for the following year.

Does the school provide housing or a housing stipend?
Is the student population international, local, a mix of both? What are you looking for?
Are you looking only at non-profit schools?
Will you be able to live comfortably on the salary the school provides?
Does the location give you a chance to travel to places that you find interesting?
Does it look like the school values Professional Development and teacher retention?

It's important to think through your decision to accept an offer. Once you've accepted an offer, you need to follow through. Not following through can hurt your chances of being hired in other international schools. It's not something you want to do if you are hoping to work overseas somewhere else.

If you are looking for a life adventure and you think you are ready to give international teaching a try, good luck! It can be a beautiful adventure!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Compare and contrast two texts on Lewis and Clark FREEBIE!

Welcome to “The Chalkies” Turkey Trot! We hope you enjoy a jog through our blogs gobbling up freebies, ideas, and recipes for some holiday joy!

We hope you enjoy this little meal from appetizer to dessert!

To start off, here is a freebie that is PERFECT in a 4th or 5th classroom. It's two close reading passages about the Lewis and Clark expedition. It is PERFECT for comparing and contrasting and firsthand account vs. a secondhand account. That's right, it included text from the original journals! Your students will have so much fun with it. Promise! You can download it here.

Now, for an idea of something you can make in your about a timeline? When I was in school, I was always SOOOOOO lost when it came to history. I understood specific events, but I had the hardest time connecting those events together! A timeline that you use and add to all year is a perfect way to help kids like me make connections between events. 

I made this timeline using a roll of receipt tape. I marked "decades" every foot apart. You could easily have kids make the whole thing. One fun idea would be to have each kid look up the date of one thing that interests them. Then have them add it to the timeline.

If you would like a little template to use, you can download it for free here. It's a dropbox link so you shouldn't need to do anything complicated to download it. Have fun!

Not everyone has a sweet tooth. A desert for me, is a starchy super carb. BREAD. I love me some bread and butter! I get it that it's not everyone's definition of dessert. Oh boy, it is definitely mine :)

I get it that a lot people think making bread is really hard. Sometimes it is! However, if you've never tried the famous New York Times "No Knead" bread recipe, you need to do it! I swear that it comes out amazing every single time. My husband (not a cook) even makes it. I've even made it with my second grade students! It's super easy and is such a perfect thing to bring to a party, especially if it's still warm from the over! Mmmmm....

You can find the recipe by searching for the "New York Times No Knead Bread Recipe", or you can just click here. Enjoy it and have a happy Thanksgiving!

Next, go to Meg's page at the The Teacher Studio to check out another post that includes an appetizer freebie, a main dish bright idea, and a holiday desert recipe idea! Have fun!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

My 365 Day Blogging Hiatus

For the past year, I have taken a blogging hiatus. I have a very good reason though :)  A year ago today, I was in a Madrid hospital ready for my labor to be induced. Needless to say, as a first-time pregnant/mom/birth person, I was scared without any idea of what I could expect. 

I was eight days past my due date and there is no doubt that I was huge! It was scary being in a foreign (even after five years it DEFINITELY felt foreign being in a hospital) country for something medical. Thankfully, my amazing doctor and all the great nurses made me feel at ease. One difference I noted was that in Spanish healthcare, there is a lot less pampering by the nurses compared to American nurses. The Spanish nurses were more serious than the nurses in my experience of getting my appendix out in the US. I base this all on the fact that they wouldn't give me extra pillows, so my judgement might be totally ridiculous :) )

(Two days before the birth - ready to burst!)
I had an incredible birth in a clean, well-run hospital that had a birthing pool, private room, and a bed for my husband. All of this was totally free. No deductible. No monthly insurance premiums. There is no other way to say it - the free healthcare in Spain is AMAZING. Even though I am ready to move back to the US, it's really hard for me to wrap my head around having to pay so much for insurance and deductibles back "home". It's on my mind so much that I even question going back at all *insert sad faces because I MISS AMERICA SO MUCH!!!*

Finley and I

The day we came home from the hospital with my little bundle of cute, was the day I stopped thinking about school, kids, parents, assignments, etc. None of that entered my mind! Another benefit of the Spanish healthcare system is that they gave me 4.5 months of 100% paid maternity leave. My husband got two weeks of maternity leave. It was incredible! Such a gift! The crazy thing is, my expat friends who are from other European countries think the Spanish maternity leave isn't even that great. I have a friend from Hungary. There, they get two years maternity leave where they are paid 70% of their regular salary the whole time. Then, if she wants to take another year off, she is still paid, but it's a flat rate. Wowza.
So, the point of this post is that I gave myself a year where something had to give. It was my blog. I took a break and I enjoyed every extra minute I could give to my daughter (we named her Finley). Going back to work after that maternity leave was HARD. I know I am not the first mom who has had to do it. I also know some moms love spending part of their life with their other "kids" in the classroom. No matter what, holy heck, it's exhausting!!!

lovely day at the park

So, where am I now? I have decided to take this school year off from teaching. I'm still in Madrid, but now I am a stay at home mom. The Spanish maternity laws protect me so that I can return to my classroom next year if I want. Not sure yet if that's the direction I'm headed. What I DO know, is that I am ready to start blogging again! Yep, I'm reviving this rusty old html.
Our apartment is street level so she climbs up on her toys to wave at the
old Spanish ladies walking by. Melt my heart with all the cuteness!

I am sure this little sidekick will help me :)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Bat videos and a bat FREEBIE!

I am one of those people who LOVE everything October. I have just been watching youtube bat videos for the past hour. It's probably time to get some fresh air and daylight :)

Here are a few videos that you MUST show your students. Lil' Drac is the epitome of every cute animal video on the internet. Seriously, so sweet.

Here is another one that you have to play with the sound on -

Okay, here is one more can't miss. This one goes beyond just cuteness - it's a great learning video.

Last but, but not least, this one is SUCH A catchy fun song! I promise that your students will love to sing along. You might get it stuck in your head, too :) Don't worry, it's awesome!

Along with the bat theme, I have a great close reading freebie on bats that you may find useful. It a passage that is written at two levels (yay for differentiation!). It's perfect for 2nd and 3rd grade but could be used 1st-4th. Snag it up here!


Remember, it's free and super awesome! Enjoy!
Link -

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Helping Shy Students Written By a Shy Teacher

I am shy.

Yep, it's a part of me that I feel like is so obvious when you are around me in person. I feel my cheeks warm up and heart racing when talking to new people. So much of that shyness is internal. I say this because I have had people tell me they would never describe me as shy. That's me covering up a lot of my weird nervousness :)

As teachers, we are all trying to tune into our students. I remember 3rd grade clearly and at the end of the year I realized I had never once raised my hand to talk in front of my class. Yikes!

I've had teachers who tried forcing me to talk in front of groups. Some of my teachers were helpful and could coach me in a gentle way. Other teachers made me feel humiliated and where I wanted to hide deeper in my shell. Both of those models helped shape the way I interact with my students today. Here are a few tips to keep in mind with your own students...

1. Don't tell the student they are shy. 
When someone would point it out to me, I always felt more embarrassed and like everyone was staring at me waiting for me to speak. Yuck. The feelings of sitting there, anxiously worrying that everyone is going to notice me feeling super uncomfortable. Bad feeling. It's better to just acknowledge the shy student when the speak up just as you would acknowledge every other student. Make it seem like no big deal. Of every student/teacher relationship is different and if you have an open line of communication with a shy student, your judgement is the best.

2. Give your students plenty of options to interact with silent signals.
This does not have to be a special trick reserved only for some students. Re: Tip#1, when you point it out, shyness and anxiety may become worse. So just give ALL of your students the options to use silent signals such as sign language (thumbs up, thumbs down, "I understand" signals, etc.). Not only does this get more of your students interacting in your lessons, but you are able to check the understanding of even your quietest students.

My signal for "I agree"
My signal for "I made a connection"
3. Give a silent sign before calling on a student.
If you are confident that one of your shy students has something to add, give a little warning such as place a finger on the corner of their desk or give them a wink beforehand. It can take away that deer in the headlights feeling :) With a little warning, the student may be able to find their words and think of what they want to say. This means giving them plenty of wait time.

4. Strategic buddies.
Be sure the student is sitting near someone they can relate to and feel comfortable with. This can make such a huge difference when it comes to partnership activities, turn & talks, etc.

5. Assign special jobs.
Do you have a classroom job that requires someone to interact with individuals, but not in front of everyone? In my classroom, I had a job for someone to check book bins and make sure everyone had between 3-5 books. If they had too many or too little, this person would go remind the student to adjust their book bin. A job like this is perfect for a shy student if they are willing to talk to classmates.

So there you go! I hope my perspective gives you some more tools for your toolbox when it comes to doing all the great work you are doing with your students!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

5 Fun and Easy Thanksgiving Crafts

I am so thankful to have Corinne from Alternate Tutelage write this guest post about her favorite Thanksgiving craftiness! Enjoy!

Thanksgiving is always fun! There’s nothing like sitting down with kids and getting them busy with fun Thanksgiving crafts. You can find many easy and pretty crafts online. Here are a few of my favorite ones!

Craft Idea #1: Turkey Tabletop Decoration

Add a dash of Thanksgiving color to your dining table with this cute easy-to-make decoration.

You will need
·      Paper cup
·      Brown paint
·      Pom-pom
·      Construction paper in orange, yellow and red
·      Googly eyes
·      Scissors
·      Glue
How to make it
·      Paint the cup brown.
·      Turn it upside down and glue the pom-pom to the bottom. This is the turkey’s head.
·      Take the three construction papers and cut 9 leaf shapes (4 inches each.) These are the turkey’s feathers.
·      Cut a square piece of orange construction paper (1-inch) and fold it in half. Cut a triangle out of this folded paper. This is the turkey’s beak.
·      Cut a square piece of red construction paper (2-inch) and fold it in half. Cut a heart out of this folded paper. This is the turkey’s wattle.
·      Glue the wattle and the beak to the turkey’s head.
·      Now glue the googly eyes and the leaf-shaped feathers.

Craft Idea #2: Fall Leaf Placemat

Image and idea from 

Jazz up your holiday table with this leafy placemat!

You will need
·      Real leaves OR construction paper in red, green, orange and yellow
·      Glue
·      Clear Con-Tact paper
How to make it
·      Trace a leaf onto paper and use it as a template.
·      Now trace 12 leaf shapes onto the construction paper.
·      Arrange the leaf shapes into a rectangle, the leaves overlapping and a few open spaces between them.
·      Glue the leaves together where they overlap.
·      Protect your placemat with Con-Tact paper.

Craft Idea #3: Stuffed Football

Image and idea from

Celebrate NFL’s Thanksgiving Day games with this fun football craft!
You will need
·      Brown paper bag
·      Old newspapers
·      White paper
·      Stapler
·      Scissors
·      Glue
·      Brown markers
How to make it
·      Draw two footballs on the brown paper bag and color them using the brown markers.
·      Cut 5 small rectangles, 1 thin strip and 2 thick stripes out of the white paper. These are the bands and laces of the football.
·      Crumple the newspapers into balls.
·      Cut the football out of the brown paper bag and staple the two sides but not all the way through.
·      Stuff the newspaper into the ball.
·      Staple the ball all the way through.
·      Glue the laces and bands onto the football.

Craft Idea #4: Pumpkin Prints for Little Ones

Image and idea from

You will need
·      Mini pumpkin
·      Red, orange, yellow and green paint
·      Construction paper
·      Markers
·      Plate
How to do it
·      Cut the pumpkin in half and clean out the seeds.
·      Mix up the paints on a plate.
·      Using the pumpkin as a stamp, dip it into the paint plate.
·      Now, press the smeared pumpkin onto the construction paper.
·      Once you’re done stamping the pumpkin shapes, add leaves and stems to the prints.

Craft #5: Thankful Box for the Family

Image and idea from

Take time out to write about things you are thankful for and add them to this cute box.
You will need
·      Cardboard craft box
·      Plain paper
·      Permanent markers
·      Crayons
·      Glitter
·      Scissors
How to make it
·      Cut a slot in the box’s lid.
·      Use markers to write the words “I’m thankful for…” on the lid.
·      Decorate the box and the lid with crayons and markers.
·      Add glitter to the lid (and the box too, if you like)
·      Let dry.

I absolutely love getting crafty with my little ones. I’d be delighted to get more ideas on easy crafts we can busy ourselves with this Thanksgiving!

About the author:

Corinne Jacob is a wannabe writer who is convinced that kids learn best when they’re having fun. She is constantly on the lookout for new and exciting ways to make learning an enjoyable experience. Corinne loves all things that scream out un-schooling, alternative education and holistic learning. You can also find her at