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STORIES FROM THE FIELD
Read from many books 28-Jul-19
Editor Meadow Hilley talks with Mohammad Saleh, who teaches IBDP Biology and Chemistry in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He has also taught in Lebanon, where he’s originally from. Mohammad began his international teaching career in Jeddah seven years ago.
Meadow: You’ve been working in Saudi Arabia for seven years now. Do you imagine eventually moving to a different region?
Mohammad: I have no limits. When looking at jobs on those recruitment agency websites, I never click on any particular region. I decided to teach internationally because going all around the world is one of my lifelong targets. I don't want to stay in the Middle East for good. I want to work with different cultures because I believe that just working in international schools is not going to make you an international educator. You have to go and discover different cultures. It’s not just about working with different mentalities among principals—you have to actually go interact with the culture itself.
Meadow: What's the climate like in the school community where you are currently? What are the demographics?
Mohammad: If we’re talking about the students, they’re mostly local. Among the staff there is a good balance between locals and non-nationals. The western staff is mostly made up of Americans and Canadians. It could be more international; maybe with the cultural reform happening in Riyadh more people will start coming.
Meadow: How did you get into international education? How did it occur to you that this might be a career path?
Mohammad: After I decided I wanted to become a teacher, I underwent a year-long training in Lebanon. During my first year teaching a Lebanese curriculum, I was still in contact with the guy who had taught me English in high school. He and I were discussing my early career goals when he brought this international school thing to the table. At that time, I didn't know a thing about this sector. I discovered it was the missing piece, because it links everything I want. I want to do the maximum I can as a teacher. And I want to travel the world—not to travel as a tourist but to discover cultures, to interact with all kinds of people. And I want to make things better, because as a teacher, you believe in humanity.
So after two years of teaching I quit both jobs and got myself a ticket to Dubai, without getting a visa. I had done some research and seen that Dubai was the big hub, with the largest number of international schools. I did some interviews to get a sense for what was happening, as a way of testing the water. Following that, I moved to Saudi Arabia, for the sake of going into a more comprehensive place. During that year in Jeddah, I looked around for the most challenging program and discovered the International Baccalaureate (IB). Over the course of those months I learned as much about it as I could. At the first chance, I jumped at a position in an advanced learning school, as it offered the biggest opportunity for growth.
Meadow: You’ve explained that your interest is really broad-based. That you're insatiably curious. Do you think that you’re the type of candidate who could end up in a different school every two years?
Mohammad: Not every two years, no. Actually, I did make a quick move after that first year in Jeddah because I was keen on starting my IB career very quickly, seeing it as the growing thing. I’ve always been interested in challenging myself. Back when I was a student, I played sports—not to compete with others but to compete with myself. But no, I’m not the type to move around every couple of years. Two years won't give you the chance to really grow and to make a difference. Four would be good. In Riyadh now I just finished my sixth year and I'll be staying for another year or two, depending on what happens. If I move on to a new country, I want to test the culture. I'm not going there to try a few dishes and visit the famous locations that you can see during a week’s vacation.
Meadow: Do you have any advice for those who are just starting out in international education or who are currently working within a national system but are imagining this might be a career path for them?
Mohammad: If you're just beginning your international career or thinking of moving in that direction, from my point of view the positive far outweighs the negative. Sure, if you spend a long enough time away and don't go home every year, you can lose those ties, depending on your lifestyle. But if you are focused on having this, rich, wealthy experience, it's worth it.
There's a famous saying: if you don't travel, you read from only one book. It doesn't matter how good that book is—it's still just one book. When you travel, you're reading from a new book in every city and every place you go. I plan to read from as many books as I can, and I want to learn from each of them. So I say, go for it. Challenge yourself. I don't see myself growing old and getting gray hair in the same place with the same people. Some people like it—it's their safe thing or cocoon. I don't want a cocoon. I always imagine myself with wings.
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