Summer Reflections

A dilemma of being an international school teacher is that when you return to your home country in the summer you’re more often than not homeless and relegated to crashing on couches or begging rooms from family. And you’ve got to meet the obligation of seeing family and friends, even when that takes you across the continent in the few short weeks you have.

This year I spent a week in Belgium visiting a friend and enjoying Kasteel, Delirium Tremens, Leffe, and Hoegaarden before heading off to DC for the week-long JOSTI conference, a series of technology-oriented seminars sponsored by the State Department for international school teachers. Like other conferences I’d been to, this one had a mix of valuable and forgettable sessions. Some were useful hands-on demonstrations of a teaching practice like the flipped classroom, while others were merely presentations of lists of apps, tools, and websites that we might find useful in the classroom. I found that the most useful sessions had four components:

  1. A summary of relevant standards, philosophies, and other pedagogical considerations as background.
  2. A demonstration of the tool or activity
  3. Hands-on activities where teachers relate the presented information to their own classrooms
  4. A summary of best practices related to the tool or activity

It’s hard to fit all that into 90 minutes, but the conference did an excellent job of giving teachers time to process and network, and this is where the real value of the conference was. From the pre-conference happy hour to a baseball game to exploration of DC landmarks, the JOSTI organizers made sure not only that we had fun but that we had plenty of time to compare notes and make connections while doing it. The State Dept also selects a very diverse group of educators, both foreign- and local-hire from every geography from Caracas to Curacao, Bamako to Hyderabad, Kuala Lumpur to Manila. Considering that it’s room, board and tuition paid, I think tech-oriented educators should really consider it, especially those at schools far from big regional tech conferences.

The rest of the summer was spent shuttling between WA, BC, ON, and NY visiting family. We learned that BC wineries make some delicious Gewurtztraminers, Rieslings, and Madeiras among the stunning hills overlooking the Okanagan Lake; that Mt. Rainier boasts the highest snowfall in the continental US; and that France requires you to clear your pet through customs when making any connection through Paris. This created quite a snarl in our travel plans since we learned of the requirement too late to secure the requisite paperwork to clear EU customs, so instead of flying my girlfriend and dog through Paris via JFK as planned, we were rebooking her flight a day before her scheduled departure. In the end I ended up driving her 10 hours to DC to pick up an Ethiopian flight to Bamako via Addis Abbaba, and then driving another five to New York to catch my flight from JFK. We met safe and sound in Bamako, glad to have the world’s worst itinerary behind us.