The end is nigh! The end of the school year, I mean. Students wrapped up on Thursday. Faculty checked out on Friday. Administrators complete their work on Saturday and Sunday. I’ll get on a plane in the early, early hours of the morning on Monday with a little hop in my step as I look forward to a much-needed summer holiday. Just like that, my four years in India have blown by.
There’s a transitory quality to this life that is quite unlike the common teaching experience in North America. Teacher turnover in schools happens with much less frequency there than it does in the international teaching world. Tenure isn’t a thing here. Typically, a teacher signs a two-year contract, and after that is on as many one-year contracts as is mutually agreed upon by the teacher and the school. There are some international teachers who purposely choose to move every two years, and there are others who stay as long as they feel comfortable doing what they’re doing in that place. The average length of stay by teachers at my school is nearly five years — that number has gone up a lot in the time I’ve been here. I think there’s a sweet spot of the average number of years a faculty stays in place, although I don’t know what it is yet. If the a average is low, that says something — maybe that there’s too much disruption and instability; on the other hand, the average years of service could be too high — perhaps signifying that a faculty is too traditional or inhospitable to new educational methods.
The end of the year brings with it some “have a great summer” moments, but also a lot of goodbyes. Typically a quarter of our students leave the school at the end of the year. Teachers leave too — not in the same proportions — and saying goodbye is tough. Even though Chennai is a huge population center, there’s a small-town quality to my school community. For most members of the faculty, the people we work with are also the people with whom we socialize and turn to for support. Bonds are formed quickly in this way, so when someone leaves, it’s not just like you’re losing a colleague. Your friends are going, and the departure brings with it a magnified loss. So, cleaning up your classroom or your office happens at the same time you pack up your house or apartment. Emotions are everywhere.
One of the things I have come to appreciate is that the consistent turnover that is the nature of international education brings with it frequent validations and affirmations. I have noticed that people tell each other what they appreciate about one another more often than in other places I worked. This is not to say that I didn’t feel valued by my colleagues at my old school, but rather that I see many more instances of teachers (and students) communicating the impact that a departing colleague or friend has had than I witnessed or felt in my working life in the U.S. I appreciate that the frequent departures spark frequent conversations where one adult says to another “I appreciate you because . . . .” So, some sadness as I saw farewell to close friends, and also gratitude for the impetus to acknowledge these meaningful connections.