Born and raised on the island of Saint Lucia, Tessa John-Guerra was a teacher for three years and school counselor for 16 before deciding to take the plunge into international education. She says “the deep desire for a different experience” compelled her to make the change. While enjoying international educator blogs online, Tessa noticed that the name Search Associates (SEARCH) kept coming up as the go-to for educators seeking overseas opportunities. This gave her the confidence to register, and she explains why it was well worth it:
I found Search Associates quite useful as a recruiting agency because within four months of being a member, I received an offer.
With the support of Chief Executive Officer Jessica Magagna and daily use of the SEARCH website, Tessa landed her first international appointment as Guidance Counselor at the American School of Madrid (ASM). In the four months leading up to this triumph, she checked her dashboard “mostly every other day” and stayed on the lookout for daily email updates. She had an “amazing” teleconference, lasting for around 1½ hours, and for her particular position, conducted in both English and Spanish. Before making her final decision, Tessa researched the school and location thoroughly. She says,
Being in a very culturally diverse environment was very important to me, and I Google-searched my city and things to do there to help inform my decision—although I didn’t need much convincing since I have always wanted to experience Spain.
Years ago, Tessa became interested in becoming an educator because she realized, even as a young person among her friends, that she could make a big impact by helping, teaching, and inspiring. She says,
Now young people look up to me for guidance and support, and that’s what I love most about my job.
So far, the only difference Tessa sees between teaching domestically and internationally is the cultural mix of her students. Because many of her current students have moved a lot with their families through different international schools, many of them speak more than one world language fluently.
Tessa’s life as an international educator has begun in a city where COVID-19 cases have been rife. However, ASM re-opened its doors this September 2020 to students after having shut down the prior spring. The school community is proud that its strict adherence to protocols has allowed ASM to remain open, but Tessa describes the challenges:
Our greatest difficulties and/or frustrations lie in what happens off campus. Like students all over the world, a few of our students also get COVID fatigue: they want to hang out with their friends, organize sleep overs, and socialize like they used to before. I totally understand this desire because I too looked forward to all this when I was their age, so we need to be empathetic as they navigate these challenging times. As we all know, whatever happens off campus can eventually affect our experience on campus, so educating and re-educating is of the utmost importance to us. Moreover, it’s my duty as Guidance Counselor to continue to go back to this conversation. I must also say that so far it is working well because we are still open for in-person learning.
Tessa greatly misses being able to engage students in field trips and other bonding activities off campus that help create a greater sense of belonging. Even so, she shares with us an unexpected blessing:
Students are so much more enthusiastic to come to school and be with their friends. This is something that we all took for granted before. Everyone is so much happier when we are together, and we are doing our due diligence to keep it that way.
Tessa John-Guerra took her first overseas teaching position during a most trying year. In the best of times, adjusting to life in a new country and new school—and on one’s own—can be daunting. Despite the pandemic, this brave and gracious educator is not only thriving, but she is also recommending you join her in the world of international education:
Take a leap of faith and teach abroad. It broadens your perspective on life, and you get to learn and grow through your experiences.