This year, Justin and Claire Morris completed their 13th year as international educators, three at Dubai American Academy and 10 at American International School - Riyadh. The pandemic did not allow for saying proper Ma’salamas—goodbyes—to the only school campus their children have ever known, their classrooms, teachers, friends, and others with whom the whole family has grown close over the past few years. Their adventure continues, however. They’ve just moved to Brazil to join the community of Graded–The American School of São Paulo!
Born and raised in South Africa, Justin and Claire met in the staff lounge in their first year of teaching secondary school. They subsequently learned that they had studied at the same university, probably practicing on the same sports field, without having crossed paths! Justin and Claire have always worked in the same school. They say,
A huge benefit of being in an international school is that we can all go as a family to the same school every day, and sometimes even get to bump into our kids on campus and say a quick hi to them during the day.
Justin—now in his 20th year of teaching—began college as a commerce major but changed to teaching when he discovered an effortless ability to build real rapport with the boys he was coaching at his old high school. Positively impacting the lives of young students gave him great joy.
Claire has strived to emulate the theater teacher who encouraged her as a shy and stuttering ninth grade student. Because she loved and trusted that teacher, Claire pursued theater throughout secondary school, transforming to a confident undergrad arts student, who performed in and directed productions. She even tutored literature classes in her senior year. For 17 years, Claire has approached her students the same way as her mentors: “with energy, sincerity, enthusiastic love of learning, and personal stories, connecting material we are learning to their own experiences."
Having traveled overseas a bit, Claire had a wanderlust, so after she and Justin married, they pursued teaching abroad. They contacted a friend of a friend teaching in Dubai—the country at the top of their list—sent a few emails, got a few replies, and a few interviews with a few schools there. How grateful they were to land positions at Dubai American Academy in this way. They say,
That flight to Dubai took place almost thirteen years ago now, and despite our initial ‘two-year plan,’ we certainly have no desire to put an end to our international teaching adventure.
The Morrises heard of Search Associates (SEARCH), when new colleagues in Dubai spoke well of the agency that had assisted them with their placement. Claire and Justin say,
With topics like child protection being so important, I’m sure that schools would feel more confident hiring someone who is coming to them through a reputable agency. And, of course, the support from the Associates, the tips they offer about how to approach schools, what to say, and what to ask etc. [have] proved to be very helpful. The school profiles that SEARCH provides are also very important in helping to draw up a list of schools that you might want to target.
When it was time to seek a new adventure, the Morrises joined SEARCH and another agency. The SEARCH website was very useful for them to research “the size of the school, the package and benefits, the deadline for teachers to declare their intentions etc.” Whenever they received a SEARCH email announcing new vacancies, they rushed onto the website to find out more about the schools. A spreadsheet helped them track and compare details. Justin advises prospective international teachers:
I think it’s important to keep an open mind. My wife and I said we’d never teach in Saudi Arabia….and now we have spent 10 years here. . .We also thought our next school would be somewhere further east, maybe China, Japan, South Korea….and we ended up accepting jobs in Brazil. To be honest, Brazil wasn’t really on our radar as we entered the recruiting season!
Claire and Justin also sought advice from former colleagues, who gave helpful insights into what positions might be opening up at their schools across the world. Some spoke with their HR teams on the Morrises’ behalf. In the end, Justin and Claire were hired at Graded, where a former colleague is now High School Assistant Principal as well as one of Justin and Claire’s referees. This played a major role in securing them an initial interview with the principal.
Before accepting their positions in Brazil, the Morrises did a lot of research. They asked a former colleague—now an administrator at Graded—many questions about the school and life in São Paulo. Senior Associates Bill Turner and his SEARCH partner Alison helped them find answers to more questions, and the school and its website provided a real sense of what opportunities awaited the children.
Justin and Claire picked up “a really good vibe” during interviews with the high school principal and the superintendent, who offered the couple positions that showed a trust in their talents and ability to grow: IBDP Coordinator for Justin and Middle School Humanities Teacher for Claire. The couple loved the sense of community the recruiters described; the children would experience Brazilian culture and engage in service learning.
The Morrises are grateful to have provided their children the opportunity to gain different perspectives that they would not have been able to give them, had they remained in South Africa as teachers. Their 11-year old son, born in Dubai, has best friends from Lebanon, South Korea, Colombia, and the U.S.; some currently live in Ethiopia and Indonesia. Their 8-year-old daughter has friends from Canada and the U.K. and still chats with friends who now live in Azerbaijan. The opportunity to live abroad and travel has given the children invaluable cultural and learning experiences.
To prospective international educators, Claire has this to say:
Go for it! You may feel some anxiety as you start the recruitment process, but teaching abroad is an amazing experience. I don’t recall speaking to any educators who have regretted their decision to teach abroad. Some stayed for just a few years, whilst many who planned on being abroad for a short time ended up spending the rest of their careers teaching internationally!