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DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION

Discovering My Educator Purpose Through Podcasting

By Kwame Sarfo-Mensah
05-Jun-24
Discovering My Educator Purpose Through Podcasting


Back in July 2019, I resigned from my middle school math teaching position in Boston, Massachusetts in the United States of America to move abroad with my family. The destination was Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. When I arrived in Ethiopia with my family, my mindset was, “I’m just going to apply for a teaching position at an international school and continue my career.” I had 13 years of classroom experience under my belt, a master’s degree, and two teaching licenses for Middle School Mathematics and Teaching Students with Moderate Disabilities in Grades 5-12. With credentials like that, getting a teaching position should be a piece of cake, right?

Boy, was I so wrong about that!

I would soon realize how drastically different the international school landscape is from what I experienced in my previous years. I wasn’t prepared for the racist gatekeeping I experienced and the amount of social networking it would take just to get my foot in the door. I also wasn’t prepared to settle for a teaching assistant or a lower-level job because I recognized my worth and I knew I deserved better. Perhaps, that unwillingness to settle, more than anything, contributed to my inability to lock down a teaching job. Now to be clear, I don’t expect to be just handed any teaching position on a silver platter. I’m even okay with an employer admitting that there are candidates who are a better fit for the open position based on their skill set and years of international teaching experience.

Coming from the United States, where more than 90 percent of schools follow some iteration of the Common Core Curricular Framework, I knew that my lack of experience with the International Baccalaureate Curriculum could serve as a potential barrier to getting hired for an international school teaching position. And that proved to be the case for almost every rejection email or letter I received from the different schools I reached out to. For the first time in 13 years, I had no school to report to, no parents to call, no lesson plans to create, no kids to teach. It was unfamiliar territory and it brought about a great deal of anxiety. For months, I struggled to accept my new reality. It felt like the world moved on without me and I was left stranded to fend for myself. For 13 years, teaching was the most prominent part of my identity… so much so that I minimized all the other parts of who I am. So much of my life had revolved around my teaching career that I never bothered to find new interests or hobbies.

With all of this idle time, I knew I needed to make a pivot. December 2019 would end up being that pivotal point. I was surfing through my Instagram account and came across so many educators doing amazing things in their classrooms. They were openly documenting their teacher lives and championing the work of educators in ways that had never been done before. With each teacher profile I came across, I grew more and more intrigued by what I saw and became more curious about what their stories were.

  • What made them want to become educators?
  • How do they sustain the passion to do this difficult work?
  • What inspired them to want to digitally document their teaching lives to the world?

So many questions were circling through my mind and then it dawned on me. Why don’t I just ask them these questions directly? I figured if I couldn’t make my way back into the classroom at an international school, then I would go ahead and create my own “classroom.” So out of desperation for connection, I made the bold decision to start a podcast where I connected with educators from all over the world. That podcast would be called, Identity Talk 4 Educators LIVE, a space that would highlight the unsung heroes of education. The term “Identity Talk” speaks to the need for teachers to be reflective practitioners and prioritize knowledge of self in everything they do. Over time, the term has evolved to include the commitment that we, as educators, must have to affirm and honor the intersectional identities of our students, especially our Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) ones.

Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that a simple tap of the Zoom record button one evening in December 2019 would be the start of a podcast journey that has featured more than 150 educators representing more than 20 countries across the globe. Through the podcast, I’ve been fortunate enough to expand my knowledge of the international school landscape and gain inspiration from the personal stories of the educators I’ve interviewed. When I invite a guest to my podcast, I do it because I know they have a compelling story that will resonate with the viewers and listeners. They know that my podcast is a space where they can be transparent and vulnerable and share things that they wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing within their respective school communities.

To truly understand a teacher’s identity, we must know the life experiences that shape who that teacher is. This is the self-evaluative identity work that Identity Talk 4 Educators LIVE pushes all of us to do, as educators. Columbia University professor Dr. Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz emphasizes this self-evaluation process in her extensive research and work in racial literacy development. She refers to this self-evaluation process as the “Archeology of the Self,” where the teacher plays the role of the archeologist and performs a deep excavation of their beliefs, biases, and ideas that shape how they engage in antiracist work. Although this process can potentially bring about feelings of anger, discomfort, frustration, and denial, it is necessary for us, as educators, to allow those feelings to manifest, and then we push through them so we can serve as active interrupters of racism and inequality at the personal and professional levels.

When a guest shares their story on Identity Talk 4 Educators LIVE, it’s an opportunity for them to reclaim and proclaim their humanity and power. It’s a chance for them to vent, heal, and vocalize internal thoughts that they’ve allowed to trouble their spirit for far too long. It’s an opportunity for them to freely emote and exist authentically within an affinity space that they’ve longed to have within their own international schools. Identity Talk 4 Educators LIVE is the utopian space for every international educator who radically dreams of a reality where humanity is at the center of every aspect of the international education experience.

I know that this radical dream is possible, which is why I continue to invest so much time and energy. Our world would be a better place if we all embraced our roles as lifelong learners and normalized the habit of engaging in proactive and continuous capacity building. As a podcaster, I make a conscious effort to model this behavior with every guest I interview. As much as I would love to work within an international school, I’ve learned through this journey that I don’t need the physical space of a school building to live out my purpose as an educator. I don’t need validation from international school recruitment agencies because I already know my worth. And for that reason, I’m confident that my time will soon come.

But in the meantime, I’m going to keep on amplifying the stories of my fellow international educators and disrupt the status quo through these airwaves, one episode at a time. And I sincerely hope that you come along for the ride.

 

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Kwame Sarfo-Mensah is currently the K-12 teacher coordinator at Ayoub International School in Freetown, Sierra Leone and is serving as an AIELOC Fellow for the 2023-24 academic year. 

Instagram: @kwam_the_identity_shaper
X:  @identityshaper
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kwame-sarfo-mensah-76142482/
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8mP1u2wPVb4UAuct9cM_Yw
Podcast Website: https://identitytalk4educators.com/podcast/
Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/identity-talk-4-educators-live/id1509599570

 




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