Friday, May 20, 2011

Why I wish I had a crystal ball

Now that student teaching is finally over--tests returned, farewells bid, crêpes eaten, armful of roses accepted like a grateful yet particularly haggard Miss America hopeful--I find myself at a bit of a crossroads. The stress of this last semester has been undeniable. At the end of it, gathered in celebration with my peers, several of us actually expressed audible relief to be finished, in the context of, "Whew! Glad we never have to do that again!" And then looking around and breaking into nervous laughter, the reality of it suddenly dawning on us. " will be different when they're my own students. Right? Right?

And though teaching is done, for now, the road is long from over, as over the next month I am required to take an intensive French summer course and write a 30 page research paper, not to mention undertake a massive online job application blitzkrieg that hopefully results in my gainful employment a few months hence. Easy peasy, right? But here comes the sticky part. Because while on the one hand it would be nice to have a job, any job at all that will pay me to teach French, on the other hand, I kind of don't want just any French teaching job. I kind of want the perfect French teaching job. I feel like I have spent enough years of my life being unhappy in my career (or lack thereof) and unhappy with my location, that I just want to start being fucking happy, for once. I realize this is a lot to ask of a job. 

In any case, I've been thinking it over, and these are some of the things that I think might make me happy:
  • I want to live in a city
  • I would prefer to teach in the suburbs
  • I'm kind of through with harsh winters
  • I would like to live near friends and/or family
  • I don't want to prep for four or five different classes every day, though this is becoming increasingly common for French teachers due to low enrollment numbers
  • I want a dog
I realize that any job I am likely to get is never going to fulfill all of these requirements. I'd be willing to sacrifice certain items on the list in exchange for others. It's all sort of a balancing act, isn't it? Now here's where I need your advice.

Let's say, let's just say, that it came down to a choice between these two options: Option A--a very small, private, all-girls boarding school in the middle of nowhere, VA. Downsides--in the middle of nowhere. An hour from DC if there's no traffic. Two if there is. I would be required to live in the dorms. I would be required to prep for at least four classes--French 1 through 4/5. Though class sizes would be small, it still takes just as much time to create a lesson plan for five students as it does to create one for twenty-five students. Perks--living expenses paid (housing, internet, etc.). Though I would be required to live in the dorms, I would only be "on duty" one out of every few weekends. Two week expenses-paid trip to Paris every summer as part of a study abroad program. Students live in homestays during this time, so I would be able to spend some time out and exploring on my own. "Opportunity to build a program."

Option B--American International School in Cairo. Much larger school, with potentially more opportunities to befriend other teachers. Downsides--in Cairo. Far from friends and family. Pollution. The unknown. Danger and potential sketchiness? Two year contract. Salary not great. Parents would freak. (Could also be considered a perk?) Perks--in Cairo. A new country and new continent to explore. Big city. Adventure! Warm to hot weather year-round. No snow! Housing and transportation expenses paid. One free round-trip plane ticket for visit home every year. 

I'm not saying it will definitely come down to these two choices, although, dozens of applications submitted elsewhere notwithstanding, they are the only two schools actively pursuing me at the moment. The two extremes. (What I wouldn't give for a happy medium right now.) 

But, readers, if it were you...what would you do? 


  1. I don't envy your situation but I'll tell you mine at the end, and you'll think I'm worse off than you are.

    OK, so your situation. If those were the only two options available -- and I think you'll be presented with more sooner rather than later, anyway -- I, personally, would choose Option A. I'm afraid of drastic change and Cairo would scare the crapazoid out of me. (Not only because I'm Jewish.) I also think that the Paris trip that's involved in Option A is very, very appealing. So that's what *I* would do.

    My situation that's worse than yours? You know that I live in CT, right? Well, my husband go a job in MA. We're moving. We need a house. So we bought a house in MA. But, um, no, we have not yet had one offer on the CT house. So, uh, TWO mortgages. And me with zero work coming in. Excuse me. I need to go vomit. Again.

  2. "go" should be "got" in that last paragraph -- husband GOT a job. I was so gearing up to throw up, I dropped a "t".

  3. Cairo for sure. I've been in a similar situation to option 1 and unless you enjoy having no freedom, then it's not a great option. I totally get why Cairo is scary, but what a cool experience and 2 years will fly by. Anyway, ultimately you have to be comfortable and happy wiht your decision. Good Luck!

  4. which one has the better career prospects? i.e. which will look better on your resume and open more doors to better french-teaching jobs? my guess would be the cairo position. and yeah - 2 yrs WILL fly by. no denying it's gonna be scary as fuck, and i sure as hell wouldn't do it, but i'm a total pussy and terrified of change. and also totally lacking in ambition.

    i think the key is not to look for a job that will specifically meet your above requirements, but rather a job that will give you the experience and qualifications to eventually land you that dream job.

  5. Hey, I'm chiming in.

    I teach French in the international school system. I'm working at my second international school and have been through the recruiting process a few times so I know a bit about the schools.... As a matter of fact, back in 2007 I was interviewed for a French position at the American International School of Cairo. They were interested but in the end, I decided to go teach in Mexico because I heard a number of bad things about the AIS Cairo from a variety of different ppl... A couple of years later, I was actually offered a job at the Canadian International School of Cairo (French immersion position) but decided to take a job at an int'l school in HK... Anyway.. Email me if you'd like more info...

    nikita (underscore)the (underscore)traveller (at)

    Have you ever checked out the site It may be worth your while to sign up for membership... Once you do, check out the reviews for AIS Cairo... They are pretty awful. Three of my teaching colleagues in Hong Kong taught and lived in Cairo for many years and told me the only schools there worth considering are Modern School and the British International school...

    Have you ever considered teaching in Canada? There are TONS of French teaching jobs there and the pay in Ontario, Alberta, and British Colombia is very good!

  6. If you end up with only those two options, I would choose Cairo. As anonymous said above, an international post is impressive, and you would know you could come back when the two years were over.

    Hopefully you'll get other options though. Each of those choices meets only two of your desires. I think you can meet at least four.

  7. Oh, here's a blog I used to read about a girl studying abroad in Cairo... Gives a bit of perspective...

    Also, if you're interested in teaching in international schools, sign up for the recruiting fairs through Search Associates and CIS and ISS. Search Assoc is having a recruiting fair in Bethesda, Maryland in a few weeks... Might be worth checking out.

  8. Thanks for all the advice so far, everyone.

    And thanks particularly for all of that helpful info, Oneika. I will be e-mailing you soon.

  9. I would choose Cairo for the sole reason (that I wouldn't tell ANYONE else, except maybe my BFF) that the dating prospects also seem better, seeing as how I wouldn't be staying in an all-girls' dorm in the middle of nowhere. :)

  10. What Oneika said: how about coming to Canada to teach French Immersion? I'm a French Immersion teacher, elementary school level, in a suburb of Vancouver. My district is ALWAYS looking for French Immersion teachers from kindergarten up to Grade 12 - and we have no weather extremes, with pretty mild winters (usually no snow, just rain).

    As for Cairo, I was there last summer, and although I'm glad I had the experience of being there, it was just TOO culturally and socially different for me. That whole Muslim anti-woman thing was bothersome, too. I doubt I could live there, even for a defined period of time.

    Just my two cents worth!

  11. I don't think I could pass up the opportunity to go to Cairo, danger be damned.

  12. I'd go with option A. Cairo would be cool but a crappy school would make life hell and not having a support system in place (so far from friends/family) would make it worse!

    Also, I'd look into those other options that PPs mentioned. Canada and other international school options sound pretty cool.

  13. Vancouver is a big city, vibrant and cultured and beautiful. It rarely snows here, though we do have dreary grey winters with quite a lot of rain. We're close to Seattle (don't you have a good friend there?) and there are loads of jobs teaching FSL and French Immersion. You should think about it!

    I'd be way too chicken to move to Cairo.

  14. cairo! living in a dorm? could you drink in your dorm? could boys sleep over? sounds like a snooze fest. are students living next door to you? will they stop by and knock when they don't understand homework? will you feel comfortable rolling out of bed and going to the coffee shop in your pajamas without showering if these students are in your hallway?

  15. I think you should look into Pittsburgh and the surrounding school systems, now before everyone laughs, the burgh has been voted America's most livable city (2 out of the last 3 years i think and when i say America i mean North America), it's got a pretty damn good art and music scene, the cost of living is pretty reasonable (we are getting a ton of NYC refugees who dig that it's cheap and happening)my friends wife teaches French here, i'd pay you to tutor my kids in the language as well as be an invaluable guide on where to live and what to do... and i know a lot of single guys, how's that for a sales pitch?

  16. So many good ideas here. Pinklea and Erin, I love the idea of Vancouver! I'm just not sure I will be able to break through all the red tape involved with not having a Visa and not being *quite* certified yet in the U.S. (I finish in July) in time to get a job there this year. I am trying though!

    And Kono, that is quite an attractive prospect you propose, or at least it was until I went to your fair town's school website and saw this: "Due to the current budget environment, we are ceasing all hiring that has not received special approval from District leadership." Ah well. Know any good suburbs?

  17. yeah i should have clarified, not the Pittsburgh Public schools, try North Allegheny School District, Fox Chapel, Mt. Lebanon, Upper St. Clair, Sewickely, Keystone Oaks, North Hills, Penn Hills, Shaler, those are some of the better ones particularly the first four.

  18. Vancouver! :) I could see you every other weekend. However, I would definitely visit you in Cairo. Virginia? Prob not.

  19. I second everything Kono said, since he did a great job representing my city! It is hard to get a teaching job in the city, though, because they give first priority to teachers who graduated from City of Pittsburgh schools. But as he said, there are really good suburbs, some of them closer to the city center than parts of the actual city (I live in the city, but about 20 minutes from downtown, whereas Mt. Lebanon is a lovely suburb responsible for its own schools, etc., and you can be parking downtown 10 minutes after leaving your house if you live there).

    Of the two options you laid out, neither of them sounds especially good, unfortunately. Living in the dorms and being accountable to private school parents sounds like a bit of a nightmare. Living in Cairo and teaching at a school that might not be very supportive sounds both frustrating and potentially quite dangerous. Egypt JUST went through some major civil unrest. They have a brand new government in place and it really might not be the best place for an American to hang out for a couple of years.

    Honestly, I'd keep Pittsburgh!

  20. From reading the comments, I would not advise going to Cairo - Oneika totally dissuaded me!

    I went to a small boarding school (mine was co-ed but still), and the teachers worked huge amounts. Like huge...the one bonus is that the staff is quite close knit ... I know several people who met Mr. Right while teaching at boarding schools. would you have to work study halls once week?

    As far as I can tell australians are always looking for secondary teachers.

  21. Teach math in Cairo, Illinois?

    I dunno. Rural Virginia is ... rural virginia. As culturally apart in some ways as Cairo, only with an ultra religious Christian majority instead of a Muslim one.

    But (as a man) I would go for Cairo. A tougher call for a woman.

    Maybe you should just marry a really conservative guy, move to San Diego for the climate and go to a lot of Republican fundraisers.


  22. How about C) neither -- because neither of them satisfies enough of your criteria. You've figured out the hard way what makes you happy, so don't go for (much) less. In my experience, these sorts of choices that are so obviously wrong fall away when something more obviously better comes along (or, less passively, when you seek out something obviously better). Bonne chance!

  23. No worries!! Let me know how things turn out!! I actually have a colleague who worked in a similar type boarding school (all girls) outside of NYC and she loved it.. :-)

  24. If no harsh winters is a criteria, I'd think twice about Pittsburgh!

  25. Oh wow, I'm a little late to this.

    Cairo? I've been there, it was a lovely place to visit (and even covering my head a surprising amount of men, including guards, hit on me in Egypt), but I think now in particular would be a bad time for a longer stay. I'm not sure I would want to live there anyway.

    Boarding school? Well... I always wished I had been sent to boarding school (away from the controlling momster), but I can see how you might be worked to death, and a trip to Paris every year might not be enough to make up for an early grave.

    I say stick it out and see what else is offered. And I definitely think you should look into Canada!

  26. Compared to Mythaca, Pittsburgh winters are tame.

  27. I'd say neither...doesn't sound like either one is a perfect fit. When I got my 1st teaching job (no certification!) - Spanish High School - I went through ERG (educational resource group) that got me tons of interviews at private schools. I got a job in NYC and LOVED it. Lived in Manhattan - had a fun social was in another borough but only took 20 minutes to get to. Really great 3 years I had there! I would wait for more options to come your way. I didn't get my first job until July and started in August :) Good luck

  28. I used to work with a lady who moved to Cairo to teach. We lost touch, though, so I never found out how it went.

    Is Austin big enough for you? SAY YES! There are really good schools in the suburbs here, I'm just sayin. And even the schools in Austin are not bad gigs.

    And the winters? Daytime highs are frequently in the 60's and 70's. And you can go visit family and friends and travel the world when it's summertime and miserably hot. PERFECT PLACE, FYI.

    P.S. Sorry to have disappeared...

  29. Jane--I really want to move to Austin! Unfortunately, there seems to be not a single French teacher opening there...I looked. :(

  30. Here's a compelling reason not to move to Egypt.