Why did you decide to teach overseas?
My spouse and I have been thinking about living overseas for many years before we made the move last year. First and foremost, as a couple raising biracial kids, we wanted to live in a Chinese-speaking or Spanish-speaking country so that our kids could learn in a truly bilingual environment. As a first-generation immigrant young person growing up in a mostly white American suburb, I wanted our kids to experience an environment that would help them grow into their identity (not one that would force assimilation). Secondly, as two overworked school administrators in San Francisco, our quality of life and family time had in recent years started to deteriorate, both from the cost of living in the Bay Area and from the emotional stress of our jobs as high school principals (in different schools) in a large urban district. We feel lucky to have both found jobs in Kaohsiung, Taiwan at the Kaohsiung American School.
Lastly, and perhaps most impactful to our decision for me to return to teaching was the demographic make-up of school administrators in International Schools was overwhelmingly male and white. Coming from San Francisco where being a female of color school principal was still not the norm but widely accepted, celebrated, and supported, this was both shocking and unsurprising to us. After careful consideration and joint discussions on our personal and professional goals, we decided that my spouse (who is male and white) would interview for school leader positions and that I would be more flexible about my position with the end goal being that the location of the school and the quality of life for ourselves and our children would be prioritized. Once we had our start in the International School circuit, we could be more intentional around our next steps.
What did you learn about yourself as a first year teacher?
After being a school administrator for the last seven years, teaching is still the hardest, and most rewarding job in the school building. I continue to believe that relationship-building and student leadership development, no matter the subject area is the most important part of being a teacher.
The year 2020 has been full of challenges, surprises, and personal growth for our entire family. I have immensely enjoyed returning to the classroom. Perhaps for the first time, I am teaching students who look like me. As one of the few Chinese-American faculty on staff, I’m proud to be able to connect to and build relationships with my school community in ways that uplift their identity. I am also looking forward to opportunities to work on more Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion work in the International School landscape. Returning to teaching at this time was the right decision for me. I have been able to build strong relationships with students and faculty in ways that would have been more challenging as a new administrator.
What advice would you give to others who are looking to teach overseas?
International Schools are by nature, tools of white supremacy and privilege. In areas of the world that are not Western European and North America, International schools are another form of colonization. Just as public schools in America were first built to educate the privileged and then to educate workers for the Industrial Revolution (thus, the factory mentality), we can decolonize educational spaces only when we know the history of the institutions in which we work. We can then imagine and create an alternative vision that serves the liberation and humanization of all people. If you are looking to teach anywhere (even in your local public schools), first know the history of your institutions and then be very clear what your personal beliefs are for education and your students. Learn about the community you will serve, learn the language and embed yourself in the culture as much as you can. As educators of color, be confident that you also bring with you a wealth of knowledge stemming from your own experience and share your authentic self with your students and community.
Jessica Wei Huang was most recently the Principal of June Jordan School for Equity where she served as a teacher and school leader since 2006. She found a passion for education after receiving a Bachelor’s of Foreign Service from Georgetown University and went on to receive a Master’s of Secondary Education from Stanford University. She has seventeen years of combined teaching and leadership experience in public schools in San Francisco. Jessica believes that facilitating cross-cultural and diverse conversations around personal identity and culture is a powerful way to build community and understanding in educational settings. Jessica has co-facilitated professional development for school districts and non-profits in creating and sustaining a culture of equity and anti-racism. Jessica is currently living and teaching 9th grade Biology in Kaohsiung, Taiwan with her family where the maternal side of her family is from.