Does my passport define me?

Reflecting on equality in the international schools’ world

Potter. Jaipur, India, 2019

“International schools’ hiring processes and policies discriminate!” That was the first line of a post on a Facebook group for international educators that I follow. Having just tendered my resignation and being “open for opportunities,” I must admit that the idea added to my stress and made me question the timeliness of my decision. Not only was I looking for a job in the middle of a global pandemic but also a Colombian passport holder competing in a job market that is dominated by a select group of nationalities. What I was to encounter in the months to come both challenged and confirmed that assertion. 

As soon as my resignation was official, some concerned colleagues reinforced my fears and encouraged me to reverse my decision, so that I would secure my job and remain within the comfort zone of certain employment. Others, on the other hand, offered words of encouragement and supported me in my quest. To both sides, I am grateful, for their words came from authentic concern and a desire to help me. However, the fact that several people felt the need to share their anxiety was another feather on the worrying hat that I was wearing. Despite much hesitation and uncertainty, my family and I decided that it was the right time to seek new horizons and embarked on a journey of hope in treacherous times.

One of the claims the Facebook post made had to do with a lack of opportunity for those who do not have the privilege of a British, a Canadian, an American, or an Australian passport. That was not my experience. Despite the variety of approaches to the hiring and interview procedures (some more rigorous than others, but that’s another matter entirely), from October to mid-February I had more than a dozen schools express interest in my profile, and they invited me for interviews via various platforms. Although some might argue most schools chose more “mainstream” passport holders over me, I feel that in most cases I was given a fair chance to present myself as the right person for the job, and I am certain those who were selected are – in all fairness – the best fit for the job. As a matter of fact, I ended up signing a contract and had the luxury of choosing amongst a few options available to me. So no; as a Colombian passport holder and a non-native speaker of English, I never felt opportunity was in short supply.

The conversation about diversity and equality in international schools is open, and organizations have publicly and honestly brought up the issue of equity and discrimination in the international teaching context. Similarly, many international schools are actively seeking diversity in their teaching and leadership staff to better reflect the values of their missions and visions, so I am certain this newly found awareness had much to do with my success. However, this does not mean that discrimination has been eradicated in the world of international schools. 

More than ten years ago, when I went on board this international education quest, the organizers of one of the job fairs I wanted to sign up for bluntly replied that my profile would not be attractive to schools because I was not “a first-world passport holder.” In the job fair that I did attend back then, a few recruiters asked if I had another passport as it would be difficult to justify hiring a Colombian. In the end, I encountered hope and a few schools offered me the chance to interview, which led to my success in the fair. Not everything was dire then.

These blatant displays of bigotry have not entirely disappeared and I hear colleagues share their distasteful encounters with the prejudice that is undeniably present in our context. So no; the job is not done yet. Some nationalities are over-represented in the international schools’ context, the term native-speaker is loosely used to close doors to competitive candidates, and oftentimes a passport weighs more than an impressive resumé. Nonetheless, we are most definitely miles ahead from the “in your face” bigotry I experienced ten years ago, and despite the abundant discrimination, more and more schools and organizations are able to look beyond the passport to find highly qualified educators. 

Reading Buddies: The Power of Purpose

Some time ago, when Patricia, my PYP colleague, asked me if I could help her find an MYP group for a reading buddies project I checked the schedule, and the only suitable option I found did not precisely encourage me to go ahead with the idea. The MYP class that we could pair up with Patricia’s group presented some behavior challenges in the library (the school had scheduled one library lesson a week to encourage students to read for pleasure), and there had been some incidents that simply did not give us great confidence in the success of the project. However, we decided to give it a go, to try before giving up.

The outcome quickly impressed us. Kids who had previously been late to library lessons were now waiting for their PYP reading buddies at the door. Suddenly, one simple explanation of a task at the beginning of a class sufficed, and everybody was up and about finding books, flipping pages, and collaborating with their younger peers. All of this was something we were very pleased to witness, but the surprises did not stop there. When the primary students were unable to come to the library, the teenagers were effortlessly grabbing books and seemed more likely to settle down and read. Not only had the behavior of the students changed when their reading buddies were around, their attitude towards reading was shifting.

Some time ago, I came across a Facebook post that had a picture of a man playing darts and a caption that said something like “you miss all the shots you don’t take.” When given the chance, these students became caring members of their community and were learning, perhaps without fully realizing it, because their actions had a purpose. As teachers, we sometimes miss opportunities to facilitate meaningful learning experiences because we are unwilling to “take the shot.”

Darts picture taken from

Relevant feedback

One of the most important aspects of language teaching and learning (and of any kind of teaching, we’d argue) is feedback. It helps students make tangible progress and facilitates differentiation. Although it is commonly practiced, it is also often feared and misused.After discussion with some educators, we have put together a few tips to help you get the most out of your (summative and formative) assessment tasks:
1. Feedback must be timely: bearing in mind that the main purpose of assessment is to help students develop their language proficiency and not reporting, we must remember that the sooner we provide students with clear and specific advice, the better they will understand and assimilate feedback. As IB Educator Kim Edwards puts it, “in feedback, timely is transparent.
2. Choose what to address: overwhelming students with notes and advice will not help them improve. Let’s appeal to Vygotsky’s “zone of proximal development,” and target a couple of aspects that students need to master before moving up to the next level.
3. Make students accountable by having them set targets and define specific actions they will take to improve. The key is to be specific and not too ambitious. For instance, a student who was struggling with reading came up with the following target: – “From Monday to Friday I will read one article a day on”