World Teachers' Day 2015

Katie Gourlay, a teacher in North Carolina, USA, describes her experience of teaching in Malawi and the USA.

Primary Teacher, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA

It was a huge decision to undertake my probation year abroad, through the flexible route but, as soon as I had a taste of my new school in Malawi, Africa, I knew that it was the right decision.  Since then, I have spent 3 years working in Malawi, before taking up my current post teaching Third Grade in a school in Raleigh, North Carolina. 

There are many things that keep me overseas.  The sun, of course, is a big factor in that.  However, the most compelling factor is the enrichment that I get as a teacher from the cultural experience.  I have had the pleasure of working with colleagues from all over the world, including India, Pakistan, Malawi, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Australia, Israel and the USA. This has provided a great opportunity to learn about and observe teaching practises from all over the world. Similarly, I have taught children from all corners of the globe as well.  This has really helped me to develop my pedagogy as a teacher, in order to nurture a whole class approach to learning, that draws on the individual skills and cultural capital of the children.


Daily routines in teaching around the world have differed from place to place. In Malawi, the heat of the day meant an early finish to the school day, with children finishing school just after lunch.  Further enrichment came in the form of afternoon activities, which offered the likes of outdoor tennis, swimming and tending to the school’s pet camel in the onsite animal farm.  I soon got used to the early rises (school started at 7.00am) as I greeted the monkey family in the morning, that had set up camp outside my classroom window.  Malawi provides an organic, out door quality of life that benefits both teacher and student.

Life in the USA

The USA, so far, has been a little different.  With a wealth of CPD opportunities, the mornings are similarly early starts, with a later end to the day as children are coordinated onto their school buses for heading home and many more CPD opportunities are available after school.  Children attend 45 minutes of “specials” per day, which sees them immersing themselves in specialist subjects such as Art, PE and even Mandarin lessons.  The children thoroughly enjoy this aspect of the day and though I have missed being able to teach the more creative subjects like Music and Art, I try to filter them through the global ethos that the school adopts. 

Many schools in the North Carolina area are global schools, which aim to provide the children with a global perspective on their learning.  For many children who do not get to travel outside of the country, this is their view into the world.  So, it has been great to teach children about the daily lives of children in Malawi and about Scottish literature and cultural practises.  All of the children are very taken by the mystery of our dear Nessie!

It has been rewarding to share this global planning with the colleagues in my grade level.  In my current school and in my schools in Malawi, we have used  a “grade level” planning approach.  This has provided the opportunity to plan in conjunction with teaching colleagues in my neighbouring classes.  This has been a particular growth opportunity and has allowed all of us to problem solve and try out new ways of approaching vital subjects.  It has been a great way to draw the on the advantages of our cultural and professional backgrounds and I have learned a lot about both my own practise and the practise of others.


Adapting to the curriculum is always one of the most difficult parts of working overseas.  Although most international schools in Malawi follow a British Curriculum, which is not too far detached from the Curriculum for Excellence, the Common Core Curriculum in the USA has been completely different.  There is a large emphasis on summative assessment, which is very different from our CfE training.  However, I have slowly begun to become accustomed to this and have found it useful to identify areas of need and to pick up on children who require extra intervention.  Although a curriculum is always different and sometimes challenging to get your head around, it is important to remember that as an international teacher, you are always bringing something new and different to the classroom. So, it is imperative to maintain your own pedagogy and bring “you” and where you are coming from into the classroom, to create a fun, diverse, active and encompassing learning experience for the children.. no matter where you are in the world!