You Learn To Keep It To Yourself
In almost no time at all, I have learned the cardinal rule of working at Fancy International School (FIS). Here it is:
You Don’t Talk About Working At FIS with people who don’t work at FIS.
This is actually a thing that is pretty widely distributed in international schools more broadly, but at a school like FIS, it becomes a firm operating guideline. The logic behind the stricture is simple. Working at a Fancy International School is well outside of any sort of mainstream understanding of what it means to work in education. This being the case, any discussions you might have about working at your Fancy International School with people who don’t understand what it’s like to work in a place like this are going to be equally outside of any sort of mainstream. It’s not going to sound like you are just reporting out on the experience, even though you are. It’s going to seem like you’re bragging, even though you’re not. You might already think I’m bragging because I keep referring to the place as “fancy.” Read through the rest of the piece and then see if you get what I mean with that particular descriptor.
A FIS is a singularly strange place because it is so different from anything else in education (at least if your model of education is something approximating US public schools). Even just looking at the most apparent bits, one can quickly see how strange things are: The sheer amount of resources (both material and pedagogical). The highly-motivated, high-achieving student population (which is NOT always a benefit for the social-emotional well-being of said students). The ability for a family of four to live quite comfortably on one teacher’s salary. But there’s also a lot of more subtextual weirdness, that shifts one’s expectations for what a school can be: I get more explicit thanks from students at the end of every class period than I did during the entirety of my 15 years in an NYS public school. The school has a hall of history spotlighting various events that have happened which includes visits to the campus by people like George HW Bush, Alex Haley, and Muhamed Ali. In the summers, when Arsenal FC comes to visit Singapore on its annual tour, the club uses the FIS athletic facilities to train.
These are the first examples that popped into my mind, and it’s already well into the realm of reading like an extended brag. And that’s why you don’t talk about it too much. The frame of reference that almost every other teacher in the world brings to their experience as a teacher is just too far away. So you keep it to yourself. It’s a lesson that you learn very fast.
I won’t keep it to myself as much here. If you stop here to read things, then you know what you’re getting in to/you’ll get what you came for. But if you find me elsewhere, don’t be too surprised if I’m not keen on the discussion. Or at least, kindly don’t accuse me of bragging when I’m just telling it like it is.