A Pleasant Reminder

It feels good to be back in the swing of things. To have a routine, have set targets for everything happening around me. More than anything, it feels good being part of a team that is genuinely striving to achieve the same goals.

Erbil, as much as I loved my time there, was all too often defined by how negative the work experience was, how misplaced the goals of my previous company were.

Teachers working in my last job’s system (I’m not referring to them by name just because many of my friends are still employed with them, but they all know how little I think of the company) are limited to a position of little to no input to empower or lead change, and the system survives off of restricting teachers to being little more than classroom stewards for fifty minutes at a time until a new teacher steps in. There is no ownership over material, and infusion of outside material is frowned upon.  All of this for the purpose of creating a structure where anyone can be plugged in and out of a class regardless of topical understanding or experience level.

Absolute control is no way to run a company, nor is viewing people as little more than replaceable cogs able to be changed when one breaks or wears thin.  And even less so, absolute control in a profession that thrives off of the development of rapport, different experiential ranges, and blossoms when there is trust between students, teachers, management, and parents.

When I left Iraq back in April I thought there was a fair chance that I had taught for the last time. My work experience in Erbil was negative enough to make me feel that strongly. Everything else about life in Kurdistan was wonderful, but work was all too often insufferable.

Hindsight has helped soften my view. I realize now that I’d been too quick to fall into the trappings of negativity and impotence that so regularly plague the positions below the management levels in that company. My school, although uniquely recognized as being the worst performing under the company’s auspices in Kurdistan, shared many of its problems with other schools.  As bad as the work experience was, I was actively relinquishing my right to control my immediate surroundings, instead letting the shortcomings of the situation limit my attitude and output.  I noticed the powerlessness of others to fix the myriad of problems that I saw within the work structure, and then let that become all too real for myself as well.  So for all of the shortcomings that I observed, it was ultimately my fault that things weren’t at least a little better for me.

But here, now, (I’m only 2 1/2 weeks into life in Duhok) everything has already been as far removed as I could imagine from my experience in Erbil.

We’ve had our growing pains in Duhok, as our school is less than a month old, and new problems still present themselves every day. However, the culture of camaraderie and team-attack approach towards issues has been invigorating.  Everyone has quickly bought into the positive culture of doing what’s best for the school moving forward.  There is a mutual understanding of this moment as being very pivotal, as a personal mission for each involved, and as there is a lot to mold, many precedents to be set in a newborn school.

It’s been refreshing and reaffirming working in an environment that prioritizes open mindedness, cooperation, and the best overall solution above hierarchy and established norms.  The chain of command does clearly exist, but at a perfect balance between maintaining order and open discussion for progression.  Established norms do exist, but as guidelines for improvement, and a base for dynamic improvement.

I, like every other teacher, is following a curriculum but have full control to determine the pace, many of the sources, and how I go about achieving the targets for each student.  Every individual has ownership, and the school, still so young, is already functioning as a healthy interdependent organism.  It’s been fun just to watch and spectate, as the positivity is electric.

I’ve always maintained to those within earshot of me that teaching is not the career I want to pursue long-term (maybe 1-2 more academic years after this one). And although I can tell this is going to be a far more positive work experience than my time in Erbil I don’t think the timeline I’ve set for myself is really going to change all that much.

That said, I can’t deny it’s in my blood to teach and to enjoy doing it, having come from a family of them. I’ve been reminded these past two and a half weeks of how much I still have to learn about/from teaching, and how much there is to take from every moment and opportunity within it.

What happens when you do an exercise to create an imaginary animal to stretch kids' vocabulary and descriptive words, and the boys end up being the main participators
What happens when you do an exercise to create an imaginary animal to stretch kids’ vocabulary and descriptive words, and the boys end up being the main participators… oh and for the record, like “Jako,” I also have a striped tie and beard. 

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