Spinning Right Round, Baby, Right Round


And now, dizzy.

That’s the way my mind is feeling right now, and sadly, I can’t just blame it on the blonde hair. (That’s often my go-to excuse for everything from losing my pencil, only to find it behind my ear, to forgetting if I should push down on the elevator button because I want the elevator to come down to me or up because I am trying to go up. Seriously, that does happen to me.) Dizzy, because my brain that wants everything to be cheery and happy and carefree all of the time and when tidbits of information throw a wrench in that happy little bubble of a world, my brain suddenly becomes like my favorite amusement park ride- the Scrambler, twisting and turning to make laughter bubble to the surface. But, sometimes the centrifugal force is too tiring.

That’s today.

Sometimes you don’t realize how much you want something until the option is taken off the table and today, my table was cleared, handily. When Thad and I first talked about the Foreign Service a few years ago, I was one hundred percent on board; I think I even said something like, “Great! I will just teach wherever you get assigned!” After all, we’d already been looking at international schools as a way to get overseas again.

I was naïve, no doubt about it. It didn’t take long into my freshman week at FSI to learn that it isn’t as easy as having a teaching degree and applying for jobs. No, the governments (both home and host) have a lot of say in whether or not the dependents of diplomats can work, and as luck would have it, our first posting was one of those countries where I’m not allowed to work. (To be fair, Chengdu was #1 on our bid list and there were definitely squeals of excitement when we got it, but at the time I thought I’d for sure be able to land a job with Peace Corps in Chengdu, which obviously didn’t happen.)  But, I figured I’d sit the two years out from teaching and then jump right back into the middle school pool at post #2.

Bidding time rolled around and after lots of planning and researching, we submitted our list of thirty choices, many of the top ones being places where I could potentially teach. No email. No email. Email! Our assignment arrived! After scrolling down Thad’s BlackBerry to get to the meat of the email, I saw in bold letters our home for the next two years: Kuala Lumpur. I must admit to a bit of shock, as I didn’t even remember having that on our bid list, (after going back and checking, it was #18- love your mid-bids, FS folks!) but was excited to live nearly on the equator, as I do hot much better than cold.

My first order of business was to check out the work situation, which is grim, as it turns out. But, I wasn’t giving up hope. Through the summer and fall, I talked a good game about working at the embassy or online (I even completed nine credits through Pacific Lutheran University during fall term to add an online teaching certification to my resume!), but I think in the back of my mind, I was planning to make the classroom teaching thing happen. Rationally, I knew it was a misguided fantasy I was carrying around, but it was what had settled in my mind and heart.  With Christmas here,  I’ve been dreaming of reading A Christmas Carol with students, marveling at Dicken’s word play, I’ve lain in bed, creating lesson plans revolving  around awesome new YA books I’ve been reading lately, and as I’ve edited blogs for my middle school niece, I’ve realized how much I’ve missed talking with kids about their writing.

It’s not going to happen. At least not in a brick and mortar classroom.

Through the help of some great colleagues, my fears were confirmed this afternoon: I will not be able to teach at an international school in Malaysia. I could apply and even be offered a position, but I would not be allowed to accept it.

I’m having a hard time accepting it.

If you had asked me yesterday (or even this morning!), I would have given you a list of work options that included the embassy, online teaching or working in a local school, but my emphasis would have been on the school.

Tomorrow’s list is going to be one option shorter.


Not one to dwell on the negative for too long (although a bit of a short pity party is in order), I’m already hatching plan B. Since international schools do a lot of their hiring in the winter for the coming school year, I was starting to worry about getting my resume, application and letters of reference in order, but now that it has been swept off the table with gusto, it’s time to move on and focus on the options I do have. On a multiple choice test, it’s always better to have two answers to choose from rather than three, so I’m choosing to look at this the same way. I’ll focus my energies on the actual possibilities, rather than the ones I secretly (but without good reason) hoped would materialize.

Online teaching.

Embassy work.

Both could be (will be!) great.

But, maybe I need just another hour to spin…spin…spin.

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4 thoughts on “Spinning Right Round, Baby, Right Round

  1. You don’t know me at all, but I am an EFM in a similar position: I am the teacher spouse of an officer; in the two posts where we have landed, neither have provided the brick-and-mortar classroom I would like to be in. At our first post, there simply were no international schools to work at, and at our second post, where there was an international school, I was not allowed to work on the local economy. So like you, I turned my attention to embassy and online work (I got an online teaching certificate, too!). At my first post, I worked as a teaching assistant for an online university before I landed a job as a co-CLO. At our second and current post, I am working as an English instructor within the embassy, but I am teaching ESL, not the kind of English I love to teach, including reading and literature.

    We already know our next post, and I know that there is an international school there, and yet, I am somehow ambivalent about getting a teaching job there. I worry my holey resume might not measure up, and even worse, maybe I’m too much out of practice to go back to the classroom. (And don’t get me started about how the timing doesn’t match up with the school year.)

    Lots of people like to say that teaching is the best “portable” career for an EFM, but so far, that has not been my experience. Sure, you can often find opportunities to teach English or tutor, but in many cases, those possibilities don’t require certification or the extensive training professional teachers have gone through. I love helping people learn in any way, but being a tutor is vastly different than being in a classroom.

    So, I wish I had something great to say to make you feel better, but mainly, I just wanted to share that I feel your pain. But if I can try to share at least one bit of a bright side: By being forced out of the classroom, I have been forced to take stock of my other talents, some of which I forgot or never knew I had. I still probably feel the most comfortable in the classroom, but I have gained confidence by seeing how I can succeed in other arenas. I wish you the best of luck, and remember this helpful EFM mantra: This post too shall pass.


  2. I follow your blog and I do read all of your stuff, well I have skipped a couple of book reviews. So my point is that I knew and understood your desire to teach. As you know, my daughter is a teacher, so I have a soft spot for teachers. This, I think, although positive thoughts were put forth, is your first blog that did not sparkle with your unique brand of humor. This, if nothing else, tells me how disappointed you are. I got the impression that the local government may not have a problem with you teaching, but the embassy does. In their defense, if this is so, they probably fear that some parent will jump on a brightly burning bandwagon claiming their children are being taught propaganda by a blond devil from America. Just a thought. I know you will find the best alternative. If I was in a school that used online teaching, I would think a teacher who is wandering around exotic locales would be perfect for that, but I suppose there are roadblocks on that road also. But your positive attitude will win the day, just hug another goat, kiss another turtle, and move on!


    • John,

      Thanks for being such a dedicated reader!

      It is actually the host government that usually has a problem with diplomats’ spouses working. The State Department would love for us to all be able to work, as it makes for happier families when people have the freedom to continue their careers abroad, but for a variety of political, economical and religious reasons, many countries do not feel the same. Without the legal bilateral work agreement in place, we are not allowed to work, which is the case in Malaysia.

      But, like always, I’ll figure something out! I just see this as a chance to try something new.


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