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STORIES FROM THE FIELD
Passion can be problematic 28-Jul-19
Editor Meadow Hilley talks with Shannon Keane, a Grade 2 Teacher, Team Leader, and Social Studies Subject Leader K–5. Currently working in Brazil, Shannon’s previous position brought her to Qatar. She has been in international education for eight years.
Meadow: How did you get your start in international education?
Shannon: It's actually kind of an interesting story. I was really hoping to teach in Philadelphia, because that's where I'm from, and I wanted to teach in inner-city schools. But Philadelphia was facing budget cuts in education and so they laid off all first- and second-year teachers.
In Pennsylvania in general it's really hard to get a job, especially when you're not as experienced. Around my town, there was nothing available. My dad was actually working overseas at the time, so he told me about international American schools. I'd never heard of them before.
Meadow: It’s a well-kept secret!
Shannon: Right. It was like nobody I knew had ever heard of this sector. I just started applying. The way I got my first job was actually thanks to my dad, who had given my resume to a school in Doha, Qatar, where he was located at the time. My CV was passed on to the upper school principal. When a local hire had to leave suddenly, the school contacted me. It all went quickly from there. It was super exciting.
Meadow: You didn't have any reservations? You were just like, yeah, I'm ready?
Shannon: I was ready for a new adventure and really wanted to start my career. I’d been excited to start in Philly but because of the budget issues I didn't get that opportunity. I was really against subbing because I wanted to grow as an educator. I wasn’t looking to just fill in and do what other teachers wanted me to do. I wanted my own classroom. I wanted to be a better educator. I could probably be described as a go-getter. So when this opportunity in Doha came along, I just went for it, and jumped in the pool.
Meadow: That seems to be a common quality among international educators. Can you describe a moment when you felt particularly challenged, either in this position or your previous one?
Shannon: In Qatar people spoke English, which made that initial transition easier than when I moved to Brazil. There, I had to learn Portuguese. I speak a little bit of the language but I’m not proficient. The language barrier made adapting to this new environment much more difficult. It’s something that I think people just need to be aware of. You have to really be a go-getter and really try to learn the local language as much as you can to really survive and get around and feel comfortable.
Meadow: Can you name a moment of radical transformation for you in your approach, or a moment that stopped you short?
Shannon: In my last position, I was one of the newer teachers and was extremely passionate about things. At one point, my principals made me aware of how I might be perceived by others and it was something I’d just never really thought about before.
Meadow: What did they say?
Shannon: We were in a meeting. Me, I come from a loud, crazy family. So, I'm being myself—loud me. Luckily, I had a really trusting team who knew me well. They were just like, oh, Shannon, that's just her style; you develop a loving relationship with your team over time. But my principals were concerned about the impression I was making on some of the teachers, afraid my tone was making them uncomfortable. They were like, “I hope everyone is okay with this. Shannon is maybe coming across as a little aggressive.” The principals explained to me that, as educators, we come from different cultures and so your actions kind of can be intimidating to others when you are so loud. “You're very passionate,” they said, “and we appreciate that, but you also have to be aware of your surroundings.”
That made me realize that I hadn’t been sensitive to this aspect at all. I was just kind of being me. The experience taught me that I need to adjust and be more aware of where others are coming from and how to interact with them. It made me a better educator in general, because I was able to deal with people on different teams who are from other cultures. But I also think it made me a better teacher, because I realized that if I'm loud or something, those kids that aren't used to that could find it very scary or disturbing. Not that they would ever tell me that, because they know I care about them so much. But it just made me tone it down a bit, which is probably a good thing.
Meadow: What aspects of the work have you really enjoyed?
Shannon: I've had some really great opportunities to do interesting things. In my previous post, I got to act as new teacher liaison, helping new teachers to the school adapt to the country and kind of get into the little details that administrators just don't have time for. That was really fun.
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