June 28, 2009

On Friday I packed the last of my things, said my goodbyes to the staff, students and parents that I have worked with for the last five years, locked my classroom and handed in the key. On Monday, it will be given to someone else, and my nameplate will be removed and replaced, at least for the next two years.

I am now officially “on extended leave” from my life in Canada and my career in the Ontario public school system. While the staff relations officer at the Durham District School Board did an excellent job explaining the technicalities insofar as my career is concerned, I am still grappling about what it means.

On August 6, I will board a plane from Toronto to Guatemala City, Guatemala, to start a new phase of my life working in an international school. At the core of my decision was the powerful, but somewhat vague notion that I needed to do something different - that teaching in the suburbs of Toronto was just not giving me the powerful life experience I was looking for.

Let`s be clear: the school I worked at was an exceptional one. My administrators and colleagues supported (or at least tolerated) all of the various interests, idiosyncrasies, and pet projects that I brought to my classroom and around the school. A generous and supportive School Community Council provided funding for robots and other technology infrastructure that enabled me to take on some very progressive and rewarding projects that simply would not be possible in most public schools.

But still, an itch remained bothersome. Start with a pinch of frustrated by the system, add a dash of simple wanderlust, mixed together with a growing sense that the well-paid, comfortable, easy life I was living did not match what most of the world was experiencing. Bake for five years in a hot classroom. Voila!

So, I found a job(the easy part - see my previous blog post), put in for my leave, sold all possessions that would not fit into two suitcases, got my various shots and inoculations, and I`m now in a holding pattern, waiting for take-off.

I don`t know what it is going to be like. I`m trying to keep my expectations in check - the one golden rule I`ve learned from my frequent, but less-intensive, travel experiences is that nothing is ever like I expect it will be. Whether the international school setting will check all of the boxes, or leave me searching is only one of many unknowns.

But the dark, quiet, empty classroom on Friday made this absurd plan seem very real, all of a sudden. Whether this two-year treatment plan will cure my itch for international experience, or simply inflame it remains to be seen.

Michael J. Peters, Professional Educator
Durham District School Board (on leave)
American School of Guatemala

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