In “Why Teachers of Color Quit,” Amanda Machado weighs in on the conversation about poor retention of teachers of color in the United States urban schools. Being of Hispanic descent, the lens Machado uses is specifically elucidating for those whose experiences too have been diminished by the more popular narrative of the “great white hope” teacher struggle. I’m tired of teacher flicks starring the white manic pixie who while wrestling her personal demons simultaneously wins over brown children, and rescues them from the certain disparity of their bleak little lives. (Ya’ll remember Dangerous Minds and Freedom Riders don’t ya?)


Machado details her personal account of enduring the pressures of being a new teacher to urban black and latino youth, critically aware of the consequences of failure: both hers and her students. She divulges how being an urban TOC lends to true martyrdom. “The job became almost a matter of life and death,” Machado says. Like so, she highlights the sense of urgency felt to deliver impeccable instruction to her students, who she knew needed a quality learning experience if they were to outstand the lags of institutional poverty. TOC know the societal damage caused by a failing educational system, and compete with both this image and the weight of personal defeat in everything that they do. Every breath and spill of ink adds up to success or doom.


As many TOC look to serve the communities they’re from, they don’t anticipate cracking under the unforeseen pressures mentioned in Machado’s article. I know I didn’t. She begins with the back story of what lead her to eventually join Teach for America in 2010. The daughter of self made middle class Mexican immigrants, Machado helps her readers understand why tolerating the lowliness of being an underpaid, overworked, and undervalued teacher, further serves as a slap in the face to the sacrifices of family counting on her success.  To be frank, TOC are often suffocated by our own sense of altruism. While our white colleagues get recognition, accolades, even promoted for their service in the trenches of public education, we lay unseen beneath the trenches. This is her last straw. She says, “…with our academic accomplishments comes pressure to choose a career that proves you have truly ‘made it’.” Plenty TOC share this burden. Machado found Teach for America reported that 39% of their recruited teachers of color were Pell-grant recipients in college, so they too have to prove the merits of the education they received.


Surely, these commonly shared experiences contradicts what new TOC would expect when they choose to teach—a seemingly honorable choice of a profession, promising to help kids like you yourself once were. Machado renders that she does not regret her two-year stint, and praises Teach for America for its good intentions. I know I surely don’t regret the seven years I put in to the New York City public school system. Every time I come home from my travels, the adult faces of my old students greet me on subway platforms, on the street, in stores and sometimes even at the club. My students love to brag about their adult lives; always quick to tell me that they’re in college, or that they’re married, or especially what place in the world they’ve just come back from on vacation. But, I certainly don’t want to sign up for another teaching stint back on the home front…just yet. In order to increase the TOC pool, Machado urges to restore the image of the teacher in society. When Machado announced that she was leaving the school to her students, many of whom had openly expressed appreciation and pride in the mere image of Machado as at least one Latina success story in their lives, some of them encouraged her to leave; a dejected view of being a teacher. “Even children could recognize that teaching was not a profession to aspire to,” she says. If the US wants to retain teachers of any ethnicity, particularly TOC, start by improving salaries, hours, and publicly promote the privileges of teaching so as to project dignity in doing the job. My students said the same thing when I told them I was leaving. And to be honest, I remember asking my favorite teachers in grade school why in the world they would choose to teach when they could do so much more with their lives. Teaching doesn’t sound like honorable work.

But I love teaching, and I’m damn good at it. I wish somedays I could go back in time and be the teacher I am now for the students I had first, and give them the good stuff I picked up with a decade of skill building. I am sad to admit that I don’t have the interest in reliving the abuse of the NYC Public School System, the bureaucratic nonsense, the angry administrators, the standardize testing race, just to placate my own fantasy of doing it all over again better. I miss bumping into students at church and at the 711 on the Grand Concourse, fixing their collars and reminding about tomorrow’s homework. Maybe, I always will.

Message from Viv, August 7th, 2016, 8:51am

How about once a week, at least, we write each other 3 words that have been a theme for the week…

The week can start today.


Message to Viv, 8:52am

No toilet! Twelve! Toe!


Saleem, is one of the kite instructors at Kashiba Kite, and perhaps one of the first local Zanzibarians to teach kite-surfing. He has been coaching me on how to seamlessly turn my kite from one side to the other. His words have become my spiritual mantra. “No toilet!” “Twelve!” “Toe!”


No toilet!

I stand in the toilet position too long, so I sink into the water before I can change the direction of the kite. My legs bend outward, my shoulders cower, and my rear-end faint-heartedly prepares for impact. This translates to Life Lesson #1. When scared, don’t we want to shit ourselves? Isn’t our natural reaction to recoil? Instead, we should be strong, and remember that we are able. We can’t own success if we at first concede. From the shore, Saleem yells out at me, “No toilet!” And this reminds me to be confident. To rely on all the knowledge and skill I know that I’ve obtained. So believe in myself!



It’s the kite position I need to return to in order to switch direction. The kite must go back to the starting position. Life Lesson #2. When changing paths, we struggle at times and need to restart and start again. We forget that every new venture must start somewhere because it is new, fresh, and untried. The experienced and spoiled human part of us wants everything to be easy, to flow from jump. But resiliency demands we buck up and go back to START.



My body follows my toe. I forget to position myself in such a way that allows me to glide in the direction I want to proceed. So, instead I get dragged by the kite like fish on a line. Pointing my toe means that my body is ready to seize what’s to come. My toe tells my body to be ready to motion out of start and into the wind. Lesson #3. Intention achieves nothing without action. Move! Move! Move in the direction you want to go. Don’t just talk about it. Get that ass red’ to go!


The profession of teaching is wonderful, especially when you believe that you’ve been called to serve in the role of transforming minds and busting up social inequality. There’s a special place in heaven for you. And sometimes this task can exhaust you of the heart with which you started. It’s okay soldier.

So treat yourself to an adventure—a self-defining life journey. Sharpen your edges again by expanding your skill set. Don’t worry about being a “sell-out”. Le struggle will be there for you when and if you decide to return.

If interested, here are some suggested steps to getting an overseas teaching position:


Steps for Overseas Teaching

  1. Get your papers in order.

Many folks are out here telling y’all that it’s easy to go overseas and land a teaching gig. And if you want to teach English in anybody’s language school, than there’s plenty of truth in that. But if you want a quality academic school post offering one of those sweet (near) all expense-paid contract, then you need a piece of paper from an accredited American/western institution. I don’t know what you’re incentive is for going overseas, but my priorities were in this order: first, adventure; second, make money, and; third, improve the quality of my life. If you’re certified with a degree in education at the BA level at least, you can land a job at any academic or exclusively language. Get copies of your diploma, and all other documents pertaining to your trainings scanned and uploaded to Google Docs or DropBox. Be sure to include any documentation of attended workshops on bullying, autism, CPR, abuse awareness, and even your practicum review forms if you can find them. Professional development records, even better. Tidy up and modernize your resume for sure, and get a new passport if you have less than five blank pages.


2. Let go of the location fixation!

Open your mind to the world. When I first looked to teach overseas, there was only one place in the world I wanted to go. Brazil…oh, how you enchanted my heart. It is my god’s honest truth that I still believe I received a message from the divine telling me that my spirit was created in Brazil. And despite every effort I made, all Brazilian doors slammed hard in my face. My resume caught no ones attention, and the few interviews I landed yielded cold hard rejections. After a month of depression and self-pity, I divorced my location fixation, shelved my dreams of Brazil, and cast my net out into the world. I applied for positions in 18 different countries. And after 30 interviews, I got offers from two schools. My choice: South Africa. And I haven’t looked back since.


  1. Register with an international teaching recruitment agency.

Lots of the upper tier internationals schools rely on Search Associates, International School Search or Association of American Schools in South America to staff their schools. They trust these organizations to filter out illegitimate teacher picks. For you, these organizations do the favor of systematizing your school search. On their databases, you can search for schools by position availability, region, etc. and can get a preview of salary and benefits packages. They also host hiring fairs all over the world. Furthermore, if you’re new to international teaching, attendance of a fair is a rite of passage. After you’re in, you’re in. Yes, these recruitment organizations cost money and the service is certainly worth it. But what’s great is that they store your records so that you want have to go through that record entry stage again when looking for your next gig.

Also, below are links to recruitment services for language school job placement, in case you don’t want to go the academic school route.

Teach Away

Teach to Travel

Teach English Abroad

The International Educator


  1. Find cheerleaders.

Recruit colleagues, admin, and parents to fill out recommendations on your behalf. Before you can actually start navigating the job search sites, you’ll need to complete your profile with confidential references.


  1. Be aggressive.

Send an email to the HR department directly introducing yourself and your interest to fill in a posted or potential position at the school. Mention if you’ll be in attendance at a hiring fair and express interest in scheduling a conversation before or during the fair. Make phone calls if you get no response, especially if the school is not attending a fair or was your random find from a Google search.


  1. Have endurance.

This process can be tedious, especially if you have particular goals. Heck–even after you get the job, you’ll need to begin the visa requirement gathering process, which may or may not be a marathon. I broke down in deep open mouth sobs in the Qatar Consulate in NYC because they told me that I had three more steps to go before I could get my last stamp of approval this past June.  Just assume you’ll never be finished until you’ve crossed the finish line.

Got a teaching degree or biting travel bug? Consider teaching overseas for the following advantages:

  1. Tax FREE Income!

This has to be the number one perk for overseas teachering. Just to be clear, the income you earn overseas is free of US income tax up until you gross upwards of $90,000 a year as stipulated by the Tax Reform Act of 1986 (readjusted by later legislation). This means that you take home everything you earn, unless you decide to make investments for retirement. I earned one-third more in salary working as a certified NYC public school teacher with a master’s degree than I currently do now as an international teacher in South Africa, but I save almost three times a much per year despite travelling like an wanderlust nomad over school breaks. Look up Foreign Earned Income Exclusion on the IRS website for more information.

Retention Incentives

Some schools choose to express appreciation for the teacher who stays past the end of their contracted time for another year in the form of retention incentives. These schools are usually in countries that are considered hardship posts (Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iraqi, etc.). Incentives bonuses are tacked on around contract renewal time and may vary, ranging between $1,000-$2,000 US.

Settling In Stipend

Here’s a lovely way to get settled in to your new home. Some schools may offer you a lovely stash of cash to settle in, as it may be the case that accessing your US bank account might present a challenge with theft alerts and foreign withdrawal blocks, and le struggle to simply finding a non-sketchy ATM. Stipends may vary, ranging between $1,000-$4,000 US.


  1. Meet Dynamic People

Expatriates, by sheer virtue of being bold enough to venture from their homebase for an extended period of time, are dynamic human beings. Before I decided to leave NYC, I was feeling suffocated by the routine of hanging out with the same people. And though I loved and adored my NYC family and friend circle, I couldn’t manage another conversation that started with: “You remember when we…” What’s different about being an expatriate amongst expatriates is that we all eagerly seek to build new relationships. Expats make friends a LOT faster than folks back home. Some say this is because we know we’re short on time and don’t approach people we meet out in the world with the same defenses we activate when we meet strangers on the homefront. Others theorize that expats live with social vulnerability that comes with the territory of being foreign, humbling us to be more accepting, inviting, and even entertaining. We empathize with each other: dishing humorous stories about the frustrations of being lost, confused, and misled. We enthusiastically want to build a community to supplement for the support systems we surrendered by leaving home. Furthermore, expats are exceptional people who live dynamic lives. Everyone has a story to share, bejewelled with rare life finds, and a thirst for the unexplored. And for some of us who just want to let our social fears go, the rejection and shame that sometimes come with not conforming to the fit of the communities we call home, it’s nice to invite new inspiring people (sometimes also nonconformists) in to our lives.


  1. Shipping Allowances

When living the transient teacher lifestyle, you may find that you can’t let go of your pretty little things as easily as you could the first time you packed your bags. Fortunately, as your collection of worldly possessions accumulate, your next school may offer a shipping allowance. Shipping allowances vary depending on the school and location. The best I’ve heard come from schools in the Middle East, India & Indonesia. A set dollar amount may be offered, averaging $3,500 US per teaching adult, and range up to $15,000 US for a family of 4. Pretty cool!


  1. Travel Opportunities

Overseas teaching comes with the advantages of being a foreigner in a new land. Obviously, you went overseas to discover a new world. Expect that your travel inertia will accelerate with each conversation. You’ll be burning to venture off to local cities, towns, sites as well as nearby and accessible neighboring countries. Vacations are typically frequent and may vary depending on the home country you work in. Keep in mind that American International Schools follow the American academic calendar year. This means that you typically get off for every American national holiday and the national holidays of your host country.


  1. Access to Professional Development

Since overseas schools, private schools namely, do not have to worry so much about the high stakes testing that dominates professional talk in the US, teachers can focus on craft. International schools serve transient multinational expatriate family communities. These schools want to keep curriculums aligned and student performance expectations at a similar standard from school to school, country to country. Moreover, diplomatic, embassadorial and business families want quality and consistent education for their children. International teachers at top tier schools are expected to be up on the latest research and practices employed in the world that are highly acclaimed as effective and meaninful. Teachers, as the top priority, are encouraged to teach well, and receive access to all the world’s teaching resources.


  1. Learn a New Language

I don’t think I understood the importance of a greeting until I travelled Tanzania. And it wasn’t until I studied poetry in Spanish that I discovered the my inner romantic.

Living in a new environment usually comes with the need to acquire a new language or a new dialect at least. Enjoy the challenge of expanding your communication skills by picking up a new language, perhaps even to discover a new you.


  1. Reinvent Yourself

Enough said. Chances are that if you are reading this, you’re looking for a big change. Nothing changes life like new scenery. Relocating to a different world allows you all the exploratory space to try new things, learn new perspectives, be creative with your look and expand your interests. Even if the world you pick to move to isn’t so different from the one you currently live in, you still need to figure out where to find a reliable source for…everything. You have to find a new favorite spot for breakfast on Saturdays, and new go-to for Friday Happy Hour. Maybe you discover that highwaist pants aren’t as comfortable or as necessary as full length skirts from Big Blue, like I did.


  1. Good-bye High Stakes Testing

This may not apply to you if you teach International Baccalaureate or Advance Place courses for transparent reasons. Teaching in the international academic school setting generally means that you are free from the pressures of teaching to the test. Instead, units of study are generally based on school designed curriculum, and usually this leaves room for you to explore your craft and learn from the expertise of your colleagues.

Millennials, before you turn up your pointed noses on obtaining a degree in education, review this list of gig bonuses that matters sooner than any of us want to believe:

  1. Job Security

Working for the public school system across the country generally means that once you’ve advanced past your probationary period (ranging between 1-3 years), you’re golden. Some feel conflicted about the perks of tenure, but for the individual teacher, it means job security—hands down. Contrary to urban myth, this doesn’t mean that you can’t be fired. It only means that your employer has to work considerably hard to prove you deserve to be fired; working against your credentials, contract, and your union support.


2. The Privilege of Holidays and Summer’s Off

Don’t you feel bad sometimes complaining about being exhausted during the school year to your friends who then turn and look at you with disdain because, unlike you, they have to beg some disgruntle superior for a 10 day stretch of vacation once a year? Summers off must be the guiltiest pleasure of the stateside teacher. Enjoy the freedom of forgetting what day of the week it is for weeks on end, while casually scheduling brunch on a weekday with your equally fortunate colleague.


3. Happy Hour

Ever wonder why Happy Hour starts at 3pm? Well, perhaps the liquor gods knew who they needed first to serve. Teacher crowds are usually the first to populate the local pubs and breweries. If any of you knew like I did to make friends with the bar owners, sometimes they’d cut you and your teacher crew an even fairer deal if you frequented the same spot often enough. Happy Hours are also great places to make new teacher friends (wink wink).


4. Unions

Truth and light! The American Federation of Teachers is one of the oldest and most well established unions remaining in the United States. Though there are mixed feelings about what purpose the AFT serves today, the fact is, that it’s a rare socio-political force to be reckoned with in our apparent capitalist society. Belonging to such a powerhouse means solidarity with others who too want free and fair public education for all children, and not at the expense of teacher martyrdom. Check your state education website for affiliate unions for more information on what your union may have to offer you.


5. Retirement Funds

I started saving for my retirement at age 22 thanks to the Tax Deffered Annuity option, in addition to automatic enrollment in the Teacher’s Retirement System administered by the City of New York. Consider how great it is to have access to well mapped retirement programs compliment of your local government, especially if you know the minimum about investing. You can borrow from your investment if ever in need, and gradually pay yourself back on a schedule that suits you. Though dipping into your salary further may feel like a deeper stretch, it’s an intelligent way to be your future self’s best friend. Buying a home, a car, or paying for an advanced degree/certification program, for instance, is so much sweeter when you can do it with your own money.


6. Discounts

Ever flash your teacher identification card to get a price cut on a new Macbook at Apple? It never hurts to ask any store if they provide price cuts for teachers. Some of my favorite stores for honoring educators is Banana Republic, Barnes and Nobles, and Staples. The expanse varies from fitness facilities, insurance companies to cell phone providers, and so on. But there are tons others that at least give teachers discounts on specific items or services. Just flaunt your teacher status to find out or visit your state or city website for teacher incentives and discounts.


7. Community Purpose

Teachers who teach in the same community, even within the same 10 mile radius, can witness their students grow up. The stateside teacher gets to be a part of the community for which they serve. If you made a difference to even one child, you get to bare witness of the impact of that difference. Maybe I recognize this as a perk because I truly have developed an appreciation for what I’ve now lost working with transient student populations. When I visit home, I’m still greeted by some random shout-outs from old students, now adults, on NYC subway platforms and on sidewalks who still recognize me. I even get to have meaningful conversation with a few from time to time. There is truly nothing better than looking into their eyes, seeing the humility and maturity, being a witness to their personal growth, and feeling grateful to have been part of their story. Check out my post Full Circle for more on this.