After enjoying their two years at the International School of Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, the Punjabis have relocated to the New Oriental Academy, Beijing. Naina is teaching math; Sanjay’s students take his International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme (DP) economics and business management courses, and 13-year-old Dhriti has begun Year 4 of the IB Middle Years Programme (MYP). Search Associates (SEARCH) has been honored to help them every step of the way.
When a meeting was arranged by a matrimonial service for the pair 16 years ago, Naina and Sanjay fell in love at first sight and were married five months later. Naina finished earning her certification before accepting a middle school math position in the same school as Sanjay. She took a sabbatical when the couple was “blessed with a lovely daughter” in 2006, and three years later, the Punjabis took positions at their first International Baccalaureate (IB) school within India. Naina calls this “a significant turning point” in her career.
Through IB workshops and networking opportunities, Naina deepened her understanding of the importance of creating a supportive learning environment in her classroom. Personalizing learning for both the individual and the group has become a priority, and a pleasure, and small class sizes in international schools have allowed Naina to make positive changes in her students’ lives, academically and socially. She says,
My efforts got covered by a leading newspaper in 2013 when I brought a change in the life of a girl child who had selective mutism. I was the only teacher with whom she would speak and share her problems, but slowly she overcame her fear and anxiety.
Sanjay says, “Students learn with joy when teachers teach with passion.” His passion for education was inspired by his 8th grade English and high school business management teachers. Because he is open-minded to his students’ creative ideas, Sanjay is able to promote a deeper level of thinking in his business and economics classes. Finding it personally fulfilling that his students are motivated to find creative solutions to existing problems for individuals and communities, Sanjay reveals the key to success:
I enjoy being with students during service projects, sports events, and school excursions. From my several years of experience, I can confidently say, it helps in setting an environment of trust, co-operation, and collaboration.
In 2018, when the time was right to seek positions beyond their national borders, this teaching couple sought the services of Search Associates (SEARCH), “the obvious choice,” they say. Interactions with people in the international school circuit convinced them that SEARCH was the most recognized recruitment agency, “especially for IB school jobs,” says Sanjay. After a few email exchanges, the Punjabis were assigned to Senior Associate Harry Deelman, who, with his team, assisted them throughout the entire process of registration and finding a job overseas.
The Punjabis have attended Search Bangkok job fairs twice, considering them excellent opportunities to discover more schools and their unique cultures, and definitely worth their time and resources. So far, though, they have found positions by using the website to narrow their search for “Team Jobs,” a newly-added feature, which “saves a lot of time for couples.” They look for schools that match their philosophy of education. As SEARCH candidates, Sanjay and Naina are confident that recruiters can find everything about them in one place. They say,
SEARCH exceeded our expectations, and we managed to find jobs that matched our requirements on two out of two occasions.
When Sanjay and Naina attended their first January Bangkok fair in 2018 and signed up for a few interviews, Naina was offered a position from a school right there in Bangkok. Harry provided both encouragement and “proper perspective,” says Sanjay. “He more than agreed with our view that the January fair was early in the season and that waiting longer would be worth it.”
A month after the job fair, a school in Kazakhstan made the Punjabis an offer that matched the teaching couple’s needs exactly: Sanjay signed on as DP Advisor and DP Economics/Business Teacher while Naina accepted the position as a MYP and DP mathematics teacher and subject leader. Harry had explained how the school’s offer could work for Sanjay and Naina in the long run. Sanjay recalls,
His reply was almost like a SWOT analysis, contextualized from our point of view. His suggestions for the school and the country were beneficial. We could easily decide on going ahead with the offer. We found the right match in terms of the IB curriculum, small school size, bilingual instructions, and the collaborative work culture.
During their first overseas move to the International School of Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, the Punjabis were thrilled to experience another culture in a way no tourist can: meeting people with whom to share ideas, forging lasting friendships, traveling, engaging in cultural exchange, learning a new language, and finding personal enrichment. The couple took pleasure in collaborating with local teachers in a team-teaching environment. In addition to helping students learn the language of business, economics, and mathematics, Naina and Sanjay loved being able to help them improve their English. Sanjay says,
Teaching overseas gave us a chance to do something incredible, adventurous, and fulfilling, all at the same time.
Nevertheless, Sanjay and Naina believe that their daughter has been the greatest beneficiary of their overseas adventures. During their stay in Kazakhstan, Dhriti made Turkish, Russian, and Kazakh friends. Not only did she learn their languages, she has also grown “tall and independent,” says her father. Sanjay adds,
While it is difficult to leave everything in Kazakhstan behind and start a new journey with us, she is fortunate to experience diverse cultures and learn to speak different languages at a very young age. It seems she has become a more global citizen, capable of making informed decisions.
Naina and Sanjay compare domestic and international schools as parents. National schools in India, by and large, share the same learning environment. Sanjay explains:
Dhriti picked up several skills but got fewer opportunities to demonstrate them because of the competitive school environment and large class sizes. As we moved to Kazakhstan, she grew more confident and took part in several competitions like Mathematical Olympiads, badminton tournaments, Science Fairs, and Kazakh poetry competitions. She took a lot of initiative in organizing school events. She got a lot of praise from her teachers and friends because of the unique attributes she had acquired from Indian schools.
In March 2020, when the Kazakhstan government declared a complete lockdown due to COVID-19, the Punjabis tried to maintain their regular school day, working online in their apartment until the end of May. They were fortunate to have enough space and resources to do their work with few problems and no issue with the internet or technology. The school used Zoom for synchronous communication and Microsoft Teams for asynchronous communication, which most students and teachers, found user-friendly and comprehensive.
The Punjabis admit that by the third week, because of “limited options for collaboration, and the absence of classroom activities and . . . excursions,” things grew monotonous. The school addressed this by inviting guest speakers and organizing student-led lessons. When restrictions were gradually lifted about two months later, life started returning to normal. Sadly, though, Sanjay and Naina never got a chance to return to the classroom with their students before the family left the country in June.
The Punjabis have emerged from the crisis with the confidence and skills to use technology to the fullest, to enhance their classroom teaching moving forward—certainly at their new school New Oriental Academy, Beijing.