Teacher Trap in Paradise

 

Hello ISR, Your latest Newsletter Article, ISS VP Looks Back to the Future of International  Education, brought back some not-so-fond memories of my brief “Directorship” in Guatemala. When Mr. Ambrogi stresses the need to support and encourage small, locally owned schools my guess is he isn’t referring to quite the situation, and/or school, I found myself in.

.Here’s my story:

I’d been traveling through Mexico and Central America for several months when I arrived at a delightful destination, a magical, lake-side Guatemalan pueblo filled with spiritual energy and an indigenous population living side-by-side with a community of foreigners. I recognized it as one of those special places in the world and I was eager to stay put for a while.

A week or so after my arrival, I was sipping my morning coffee in a funky, outdoor venue overlooking the lake, when a hippie-type, middle-aged woman seated near me struck up a conversation. I soon learned Maggie (not her real name) was the “Board chairperson” of the local “International School.” Coincidentally, I’m a retired, credentialed teacher, “perfect for the job,” she said. As our conversation (i.e. informal interview) progressed, she insisted I drop by and consider the recently vacated Director’s position. Wow! Here was a chance to remain in paradise indefinitely…I took the bait!

The school, lodged in a big, old house, consisted of 42 kids. The front and backyards, replete with barnyard animals, slides, swings and a fun obstacle course, rounded out the facility. Three young teachers taught the various grade levels, all mixed into “homogeneous” groups. Expats from the lake community needed a place for their children to go to school and they had created this little “hidden gem of a school.” I decided to give it a go and settled into the job.

My salary was $900 US monthly and I soon found I could just scrape by, without dipping into my travel funds, if I kept it simple. I also found out, unfortunately, that I’d be worked like a dog (apologies to all dogs) from early morning to late afternoon. I was teacher, principal, head maintenance man, curriculum guru, teacher-support system, sympathetic ear for lonely parents, government red-tape expert, barnyard animal caretaker, coach and student support system…an overwhelmed indentured servant, in other words. Sweet, soft-spoken Maggie turned out to be a real task master!

What soon began to bother me was that I’d see the kids’ parents driving late-model cars while I walked or took the bus in the stifling heat of summer. The parents were eating and drinking in restaurants while I survived on rice and beans. They enjoyed their boats and hobbies while I tended to their kids on a salary I could barely survive on, and without a lick of air conditioning. I was supposed to be traveling, enjoying life’s adventures in my retirement and here I was stuck in paradise without a pleasurable moment, or dollar, to spare!

When I eventually broached the issue of a pay raise it was met with, “There just isn’t any money.” The 3 teachers were each paid $600 monthly, equaling $2700 in total staff expenses. Then $400 for the school-house rent, a couple hundred for electricity and incidentals and we’re talking about approximately $3,500 in monthly expenses for the entire school. Seems cheap to run a school, right?

I questioned why there was no money for higher wages with 42 kids in the school? It turned out tuition was only $100US a month! Apparently, the parents had banded together and created what simply amounted to a cheap child-care service, kept staffed with unsuspecting travelers, like me, who came and went on a regular basis. And that, my friends, was the very end of my “unsuspecting” dedication to the “education” of these 42 children.

My bet is Maggie was back in the coffee shop the morning I left, “interviewing” for the Director’s position, while I was relaxing in the sun, out on far side of the lake, fishing and considering my next retirement adventure.

My advice to travelers offered positions in little, local schools? Look carefully before you leap! Your time is your life, after all.

Has anyone had a similar experience?

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