Today in the Teaching Around the World blog post series, we’re hearing from Heidi Raki, who runs the collaborative blog Global Teacher Connect and empowers teachers from across the globe to share their teaching experiences. You might remember Heidi from her wonderful Real Teachers, Real Tips post here in January: it was called 5 Tips for Making Every Moment Count in the Classroom. You can find more great ideas and reflections from Heidi at Raki’s Rad Resources. Thank you, Heidi, for joining us and sharing your stories!
How did you find yourself teaching in Morocco?
My husband is originally from Morocco, but we met and married in the US. About two years ago, we decided we really wanted our children to have a real chance to be immersed in the Arabic language, and so moving to Morocco provided them with this experience. When we decided to move, I contacted American and International Schools all over Morocco. I received a phone interview and then a job with an American school here. At the end of the school year, a friend I had made in Casablanca offered me a job teaching at her brand new school – the International School of Morocco. This year, I teach a mixed grade class of 3rd and 4th graders at this school, and I love every minute.
What is like to live in Morocco, in your experience?
Morocco is a country of wonderful contrasts. Sometimes it feels like you are in Europe or the US, like when you go to Morocco Mall and get a Starbucks coffee or drive past the McDonalds and the KFC. Other times you feel like you are in an exotic land that hasn’t changed since 1800, like when you wander around souks selling live (soon to be dead) chickens and watching men hammer copper into bowls, or when you get stuck behind a donkey cart full of oranges in the middle of rush hour. We live in Casablanca, so we have all of the modern conveniences, but in many places of Morocco, especially the rural areas, life is very different, and I love that my kids and I get to experience that.
Living in Morocco is exhilarating and frustrating all the same time. Sometimes, I love the fact that so few people speak English. I am working my hardest at learning French and Arabic, and the people are usually very willing to help me get by with whatever I know. Although, I’m also good at finding people who are learning English and want to use me to practice their English skills! Other times, I get so frustrated that I can’t fully communicate, like when my son’s teacher is trying to tell me what’s going on in his class and I only catch half of the meaning and I have to rely on my husband to translate, or when I just want to be able to call the electric company and figure out my bill.
What are the biggest differences between schools where you live and American schools?
From a parent’s point of view, the biggest difference between school in the US and school in Morocco is that you have to choose your children’s future no later than the age of 6. There are many options when it comes to school in Morocco. Students can attend public schools in mostly Arabic with a little French taught each day, or they can attend bilingual schools with the school day split 50/50 between Arabic and French, or they can go to a French mission school where everything is in French with a little Arabic taught each day, or they can attend a Spanish mission school where everything is taught in Spanish, with a little French and a little Arabic taught each day, or they can go to an American/International school where everything is taught in English, with a little French and a little Arabic taught each day.
I teach at an International school, where everything is taught in English. My sons attend a bilingual school. My sons are lucky, they are able to learn French and Arabic at school and I maintain their English at home. Most students in Morocco don’t have these options. They generally have to choose an “academic language”. Once their parents choose the academic language for them, it is hard to switch to another type of school, because even though many students speak and even read in the other languages, their level is not the same and so they will not be accepted into other schools. French is seen as the language of the educated and so parents who have money often teach and send their children to school in French, sacrificing Arabic, which is the “official” language of Morocco for the opportunities they would like to give their children.
The school I teach at is run in the same way as a school in the US. The biggest differences are: Our students get recess twice a day, and Arabic and French lessons for 30 minutes each day. Also, we spend a lot of time looking at language and culture, because our students speak so many different languages and come from so many different cultures. The school my children attend is run in a very French style, which focuses on memorization and perfect penmanship.
Tell us the basics about your job. How many students do you have? How long is your school day? What subjects do you teach?
I am truly the luckiest teacher in the world. I currently have 6 students, 3 third graders and 3 fourth graders. The reason I have so few students is that my school is brand new. This is only the second year of its existence, and so we are still gaining students. If my class was full, I would have 18 students. The typical size classroom for an American/International school in this area is 22 – 24, but the director of this school is dedicated to small class sizes and multi-age classrooms. (The average size classroom in schools in the other systems in Morocco is 20 – 30 students.)
My school day begins at 8:30 and ends at 3:30. During the day, my students have a community snack (provided by the school) and a 10 minute morning recess. Then, at lunch time, we have a 30 minute recess, followed by a 30 minute lunch. Because it is such a small school – we only have 30 students in grades K3 – 4th, we are all doing multiple duties. One of the duties I have is that I spend snack and lunch with my kids. It is actually a great time to have conversations with them, and we talk about manners, nutrition and even do some real life math. I am also teaching Art this trimester. Last trimester I taught Drama and next trimester I’ll teach Music. Our PE teacher is also our Arabic teacher. We all do a little of everything, but it all gets done.
What’s the best part about your teaching experience in Morocco?
The best part of teaching in Morocco is teaching students from such varied backgrounds in regards to culture and language. I love helping them to learn from each other and to see the world through each others’ eyes. I love getting a chance to see the world through their eyes. All of my students speak at least some of another language, many speak two and three languages fluently. All of my students have traveled to other countries, some extensively. All of my students have a view on life that so different than my view was at that age. I love having my eyes opened again and again to how anything can be seen through the eyes of your culture and how we can understand our students better by understanding and appreciating their culture.
What’s the toughest part?
There are so many cute crafty ideas I have or that I see on Pinterest that I can’t make because I can’t find the same supplies here – no craft shops around. Also, I’ve had to re-learn how to tell time, count on a calendar, measure, count money etc. so that I can teach my students appropriately. In the US, we don’t realize that we do so much differently than the rest of the world, and so I am still reminding myself that calendars here (and many other places, including England) start on Monday, that a movie can start at 15:30, that 40 degrees is really hot (in Celsius) and that there is no 25 cent coin in Euros, Pounds or Dirhams.
What advice would you give teachers who would like to teach in Morocco Are the school systems looking to hire teachers internationally?
If you want to teach at an International School, you need to decide if you are going to be a “foreign hire” or a “local hire”. Foreign hire positions are the ones where schools pay for you to move to a country and often help you with your bills. There are some stumbling blocks to these positions, all of which I’ve hit. First, International Schools rarely hire married teachers with or without kids – or single parents – unless both the husband and wife are teachers. Second, they will not hire you as a foreign hire once you are already in the country. Third, you have a better shot at getting a job if you have a specialized degree – counselors, high school science teachers, art teachers, special education teachers etc. So, if you are deciding to look for a Foreign hire position, try to be 1.) single or married to a teacher 2.) interviewing at a job fair outside of the country you want to move to 3.) certified in more than just Elementary and ESL.
As a local hire, I don’t receive the foreign hire benefits, but it is also known that I have more of a vested, long term interest in the school. Luckily, at the school I am at now, all of the teachers are local hires, and we are all working to make this a strong school with teachers that stay. If you are already in Morocco, you can get a job in an International School, but you can also teach English at one of the many French or Bilingual schools. There are many opportunities for English speaking certified teachers in Morocco, you simply have to be open minded about what you are going to teach.
Feel free to read more teaching around the world blog posts from this series. If you have questions for Heidi about teaching in Morocco, please ask in the comment section below. Or, if you teach in an unusual place and would like to be featured in this space, send me an email. I would love to share your story!