Life's Lessons In Teaching Abroad

Thursday, June 21, 2012

I'd like to welcome and thank Heidi for being today's guest blogger! After reading her posts I am inspired to do bigger and better things! I hope that you'll visit her blog/journey and maybe even become a follower :)

 Hello Mrs. Stanford's Class Readers! 
I am Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources

A year ago, my husband and I packed up our three children and moved to Casablanca, Morocco.  We moved for a variety of reasons, and I blog about those reasons and my experiences as a mom and a
person at my personal blog - Journey to Morocco.  However, in addition to being a wife and a mom here, I have been a teacher at an International School for the past year, and this experience has taught me so much about being a teacher.  Here are a few of the things I have learned:

      1. Kids are Kids: 

Kids are kids, no matter where you teach.  The kids in my class loved to giggle and laugh and play.  They were inquisitive and curious and loved learning new things.  All the good things and bad things about kids in the US are true of the kids anywhere. I will admit that childhood is cherished slightly more here in Morocco, and you often here grown-ups say things like "They're only kids." or "Let them be, they're little!", so the kids here are maybe a little less responsible and more babyish than kids of the same age in the US, but overall, kids are

2. Background knowledge is dependent on many variables: 
Teaching phonics to kids who have little English is always interesting, but add in a culture that is very different from the United States and the pictures that would help ESL learners in the US don't always work.  For example, the kids I taught this year had no idea what carrot sticks or pre-packaged apple slices looked like. They had no idea what a mop was, as mops are not regularly used in Morocco.  School busses and fire trucks look vastly different here, so they didn't recognize the US version in pictures.  However, the best picture story was trying to get them to recognize a ham, as pork is taboo in most of the families I taught this year.  Now, all this being said, please don't think that these kids have no background knowledge.  Many of them have traveled to multiple countries, all of them had a more than basic understanding of the workings of a souk (open-air market), a farm, and a mosque - which is not the average background knowledge of students I taught in the US.  In addition, they all spoke more than one language, and intuitively understand who to speak what language to.  (Many of my kids speak English with me, French with mom and dad, Arabic to the maid or driver, a mix of Arabic and
French with their friends, unless they know that friend doesn't speak Arabic and French, in which case, they can easily switch right into English.)

3.  A little language goes a long way: 
Because most of my students did not speak English in their households, they are classified as language learners. One thing I learned a long time ago teaching ESL is that knowing even a few words in the home language is helpful. I was daunted this time, though, because I had not one, but two, new home languages to learn. Thankfully, my son is learning those languages at school, and he was able to help me.  However, this year, I also learned to count in both French and Arabic, in an effort to help my students grasp the concept of numbers, since many could only count to 10 or 15 in their home language and they needed to understand the concept in their home
language before they could master it in English.  Also, the names of food and animals became important when reading certain books, because again, the pictures didn't always show something the kids could understand, and if they didn't have a picture to connect the English word to, they needed the word in their home language to connect to.

4.   Cultural discussions are a good thing: 
Coming from the States, I was always told not to discuss religion and politics in the classroom.  However, one of my standards to teach this year was Muslim Holidays.  Another was Ancient Egypt, which touched on the concepts of believing in multiple gods vs. believing in just one god.  Needless to say, we talked religion a lot in my class. I found that this ended up being a good thing, and a good time to talk about tolerance.  At first, I skirted the issue a little, but not all of the students in my class were Muslim, and therewere some heated discussions between classmates about how "Eating pig is dirty and god doesn't like it, so if you eat it, you'll go to the fire." This was when we stopped skirting the issue and sat down and talked about different people having the right to believe different things.  We also discussed this topic in relationship to clothes, and why some women wear hijab (head covering) and why some women don't.  I'd like to believe that the students got a message of tolerance from these discussions that they will take with them as they get older, as the whole world could do with more tolerance.


5.  I am still learning 

and growing as a teacher: 

One of the things that was brought home to me daily this year is that although I am a good teacher, I am growing and learning and becoming a better teacher every day.  My class this year was a challenge behaviorally, but they encouraged me to reflect, try new strategies and think outside the box and generally grow as a teacher.  Every challenge I have faced here over the last year has taught me to be a stronger person and teacher, and will make me better for next year's class of lovelies.

After only one year of teaching in Morocco, I feel like I have learned and grown so much.  I can't wait to see what I learn over the next year.  Feel free to stop by Raki's Rad Resources, where I share teaching tips, resources, and reflections from teaching abroad.

Biographical information:

Heidi Raki teaches at an International School
in Casablanca, Morocco.  In addition to being a teacher, 
she is also a mother of 3 young boys 
and the author of the blog Raki's Rad Resources.  
She believes in using quality teaching strategies 
and quality resources to create quality teaching moments 
that will resonate with her children, increasing understanding
and a love of the learning experience.
Feel free visit her blog at

Thanks again Heidi!! You have me so intrigued!!!
Don't forget to check back tomorrow for  Mary from Mrs. Lirette's Learning Detectives.

1 comment

Kinderkay said...

This was such an interesting post and really makes me realize that what we take for granted here in the US doesn't necessarily apply throughout the world! Thank you Jessica and Heidi for posting this!

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