All Covidded Up

New welcome-to-Ohio signs are not a hit online. What do you think? -  cleveland.com

For the past few years since I began Working Classroom Hero (…is something to be), I’ve been writing idealistically and, I hope, humorously about education through my perspective as a high school English teacher at a handful of international schools. The schools I’ve worked in have varied in quality from truly exceptional (WAB) to what do you mean you can’t afford to pay us (name withheld), but the adventure and community and great-story fodder and, frankly, the money when it came was always enough to keep me satisfied and motivated.

Funny how a global pandemic can change things.

As I write this, I am five weeks into my new job teaching high school English at a private school in Northeast Ohio about an hour from my hometown of Canton. On one hand, I’ve lucked out. This is a really good school, and I’m happy not to be experiencing all the indignities I’ve heard so much about from U.S. public school teachers. Private, independent schools aren’t beholden to state tests. The administrators here are kind. My colleagues are collegial. The students all say “thank you” and “have a good weekend, Mr. Simon” when they leave the room; they remind me of international school students, actually. I’m happy here.

On the other, there’s a lot I miss. Not just Sunday free-flow champagne hotel brunches but I certainly do miss those. I hope my innovation of pausing briefly in the final hour for double espressos all around is still being observed somewhere. I’m proud of that. It’s my contribution to the hedonistic world of recreational brunching.

The 2019-20 school year was already going to be our last in Beijing. Again, really great school, but my wife and I were ready for something new after five years. So, we did the whole international job search thing, signed contracts at a well-regarded school in Shenzhen and prepared for a six-month farewell tour with friends, colleagues and students and all the good-hearted goodbye rituals that happen at international schools. Then covid went and covidded things up.

I’ve written already about my final months of that school year: breaking for the Chinese New Year and remaining remote for the rest of the year, flying home for a brief U.S. holiday in February and never returning to Beijing, watching my apartment being packed up on a Zoom call, etc. It all sucked but, of course, less than actually coming down with covid, which I’ve thankfully avoided.

The sequel to that story is that my wife and I started the 2020-21 school year employed by the school in Shenzhen but unable to enter the country. Thus, I taught blended learning courses, sometimes video conferencing with my students from my house in Ohio at 3:00 A.M. and groggily social distancing my days away on my back deck. I actually didn’t mind remote teaching, but I hated working the graveyard shift, a gig that lasted the entire first semester.

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We did finally make it back to China and to Shenzhen in December 2020. It was a nice school and a good experience overall, but once it became clear covid wasn’t going anywhere and leaving and returning to China each summer wasn’t going to be an option for foreseeable future, we made the decision to cut our losses and come home.

So, after 12 years abroad–two in Egypt, four in Vietnam and six (sort-of) in China–here I am. I miss my friends and I miss international travel, but I’m excited for this new experience and for new topics to explore in my writing as an ex-expat relearning how to live in his home country.

I’m sure it will be interesting.

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