International School Turnover

During my interview process for international teaching, I was frequently told the most difficult part about international schools is the turnover with both staff members and students. Because many of our students’ families are in the country on contract, there is a definitive limit to their stay. At my old school, the school was a part of the community. Some of my students were third generation Hendersonville graduates. It was unusual for a student to leave the school unless he/she was transferring to another school in the district. And even then, I knew I could always drive down the road and watch my former students graduate at Beech or Station Camp. That communal glue made it all easier when a student came and went from my class. Currently, UAS is starting to feel that ebb and flow of fluctuation among our students.

We are a small school. And most of us (students and faculty alike) rely on the community of the school itself as a lifeline. The places beyond the UAS fence is foreign, making the classroom the familiar. Even though we share a common language (either Spanish or English), the myriad flags lining our halls prove that we need each other to feel safe. We need the school to feel a common identity.

I am a teacher who gets very attached to my students. They become my babies. And even though I have tried to distance myself a bit more this year, knowing the heartbreak of losing students was imminent,  there were several students who wiggled through the cracks of my protected heart. Of course, these are some of the ones who have to leave me. Worse, when a parent’s contract is up, the embassy or military or company does not care that the kids are not finished with school yet. So we (the school) are forced to watch as our babies, our friends, or communities swept away prematurely. And it isn’t necessarily the vast turnover that is getting to me; it’s losing students with weeks left in class. It’s knowing that empty seats will be there Monday. Knowing others are leaving at the end of the year is still difficult, but a fresh year makes it a bit more leveled. Some come in and some go out. The year is new. But those who go out now are visibly gone and that is difficult for me to handle.

Being a first year international teacher, I didn’t think it would hurt this badly. But here I am, sitting in a darkened classroom trying not to let tears fall. (I have a whole wall of windows and a reputation to uphold after all.) Worse, it’s graduation tonight, which makes the emotion even more elevated. I can feel the drops on my eyelashes and the already empty hole in my heart. I cannot even imagine what I will be feeling when my own friends start to leave and I am left behind. With the decision to stay in international teaching, this is a feeling I am going to have to get used to. But for now, I just feel heavy. I guess all of those principals and directors I talked to were right, the turnover IS the hardest part.

So to Steve, Sheikha, and Hassan: I miss you already. And to all of my babies leaving at the end of the year, it simply will not be the same. So go out into the world and do good deeds, think great thoughts, and be the best versions of yourselves.


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