Monday, March 19, 2007

Profiles of Expats - School Administrator

This is the seventh in a series on Profiles of Expats. I hope to show the good, the bad and the ugly side of expat personalities. You may know them, you may have seen them or you might be one yourself.

Disclaimer: I have lived as an American Expatriate for more than 10 years in several locations and come across numerous “characters” in my travels. However, this is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

School Administrator

American Administrators have a habit of wearing short-sleeved shirts with ties and khaki pants, either baseball caps or Panama hats and aviator sunglasses.

Old Fashioned Administrator:
Helps kids cross the streets in the morning / afternoon with a friendly and open awareness. Enjoys his job and is proud of the accomplishments the small school has made in the years it has been in existence. His service is minimal – to the extent that his ego has anything to do with it, but major in maintaining a positive atmosphere. Likes the small, “private school” feel of the environment and has been able to attract students from diplomatic families. Always available, as he will be often seen wandering about the school grounds. He pops into classes to get a feel for what's actually going on. (Okay - it's his way of spying, but he's into the intricacies of the environment.) Realizes there are problems, but focuses on priorities and learning. Gets an offer from ARAMCO, he cannot refuse. All other faculty members of quality see the writing on the wall and depart, leaving school with the characters below and new teaching staff.

The Knight In Shining Armor:
He’s going to save the school from it’s shoddy self. He wants to “upgrade” “enlarge” or “expand” the physical facilities and demolish the tennis courts (golf is king.) He wants to have a “learning resource area” instead of a library (wow, we have resources?) Has a habit of moving from one country to the next, “upgrading” facilities and leaving before the job is done and the bills are paid. Decides his housing allowance is inadequate and wants to double it. Decides the old breed of teachers (the ones actually dedicated to teaching), and mostly single (as in not married) are too expensive and need to go. Not concerned with quality of education, since he’s hired all his old friends (the working vacation folks) - 2 for the price of 1, as teachers. Wants the school to be just like a suburban public school on the outskirts of Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Kansas City, Denver...(Littleton?) Sometimes will be of the same mind-set as his friends (teachers) with experience in underdeveloped countries. Tries to water down the native language curriculum, much to the locals’ dismay. He's a busy man, hard to track down and is usually hiding in his office. Whatever your gripe, you will never win, since the administrator is usually consumed with the few bad apples and their business, or figuring out how to expel the non-white students. Much of his time is also taken up by sweeping demands of the Executive. When he is challenged with widespread complaints for problems he has created he declares, “but, you don’t offer any solutions,” - a line he picked up from The Executive. Tuition is expensive and comparable to U.S. private school fees.
Is it any wonder why the Ambassador sends his kids back to the States for boarding school, while waxing poetic on the wonderful qualities of expat life for everyone else’s family? As Sargent Shriver used to say, "Beers for the house, (then quietly to the bartender) but make mine a Courvoisier." (Um, Yeah, real cool ambassador - more on you in another Profile.)

Favorite sport: Displaying blueprints of new facilities in school courtyard – “it’s a vision thing.”

Bible Thumpin’ Man:
Preacher’s son, ex-missionary, married with kids enrolled in the school, wife is a teacher. Can have negative outlook from past public school experience and literal interpretation of the Bible. Has worked in underdeveloped countries where his word was considered “God’s.” Will say things like, “you are either going to end up as a rapier (spelled as he pronounced it) or a truck driver. Which do you prefer?” (Hmm, that’s quite a choice. Is that an indication of the educational quality of this facility? I was sort of thinking of college, but hey, I'm open to anything these days. I mean with your God-like expertise on employment prospects and all that....) Other quotes: “your daughter is going straight to hell”. (Is that another job possibility?) Sees things plainly in black and white, three strikes and you’re out (if you’re white – okay, it’s really only five.) Has nosey parents anchored around town spying on the students’ after school activities. Does not like sheesha smoking, which just happens to be a favorite after school activity in the Middle East. Thinks it’s equivalent to shooting up heroin and that all children involved are going straight to hell or becoming rapiers. Sets a school record for suspending kids willy-nilly. Stands outside school walls wearing straw hat and aviators, scrutinizing morning / afternoon traffic as if he’s the master of the plantation. A little bubble in his head tells him, that one day this school could be an environment, where all the future truck drivers can get a good Christian education - you know like a Jesus Camp. Thinks soccer is un-American (let's see what Mia Hamm has to say about that.) His kids never have any problems; hang out with teaching staff’s kids, attend church regularly, go to Bible study and curse evolutionists.

Favorite sport: Exacting punishment and being worshipped (groveling required.)

The Jaded:
Can also be an expat teacher given a series of promotions, and is much more open-minded than preacher’s son, but jaded. Very easy going demeanor and fair, but may be considered too lenient by teachers. Gets along very well with students (they worship him - he's that cool), but lazy staff would prefer Bible Thumpin’ Man. A believer in accountability (big problem with the faculty.) Since the Jaded has arrived, teaching staff has had to work even harder at establishing shallow relationships with students and families, and pretending to actually be fair and interested. They’ve in fact had to account for grades and teaching standards; in other words, they’ve literally had to work. Time they used to spend on sending half the class to the principle’s office must now be spent on classroom interaction. Bible Thumpin’ Man would have saved them the trouble and had all the “bad kids” expelled by now. Faculty's new saying, "Life's a bummer."

Favorite Sport: Basketball (and with the students, of all things!)

Female Principle:
Works hand in hand with the Knight In Shining Armor. She struts around in a huge straw hat as if she’s Queen for a Day. She could be miss hippie dippie from out west or a southern belle in a suit. Because she gets everything she wants, her personal relationship with the knight is questioned by the skeptical – possibly too much “hoovering?” Likes to display her expertise with the intellectual aspects of education during strategic planning groups by using a lot of pedagogical terminology, just to bamboozle you. Likes to be worshipped as she was during her Third World country stints (this explains why she had to beef up her terminology.) Patronizes everyone she meets. Talks slowly and phonetically, as she is still getting over the linguistic jet lag from Third World Country (or she thinks you're an imbecile.) Southern bell might have huge smile and wave, but hippie dippie is smug.

Favorite Sport: Talking down to everyone.

School Administrator’s Spouse: Usually a teacher (don’t mess with him/her.)

School Administrator’s kids: The Knight and The Jaded
Normal kids, who get into trouble, have same problems all kids have and are a continual yet somewhat amusing embarrassment to the parents and school community.

Old British School Administrator:
Very proper dressing – Bond Street suits, shirt from Pinks, shoes from Church's, and cuff links - always. Has been around since the dinosaurs ruled the land. Seems to hang on forever and nixes the idea of providing upper classes for the expats’ children. Thinks boarding school is the proper way to go and sending your child off at age 8 is the best thing a parent can do. "Who's to say a little buggery is bad for the boy." Has been through one thrashing after another with the school board, but has dug his claws into important community members and royal locals, who are forever coming to his rescue. Needs retirement and quickly, but realizes that once he’s retired he looses any clout he ever had in the community. Childless.

Favorite Sport: Sending little 8 year olds off to boarding school for the buggering of their life; otherwise, cricket and rugby, of course!

The International (New Guy on the Scene) Man: Usually the administrator for an upstart “International School,” providing the I.B. Program, as opposed to the American Diploma. Upstart schools are chaotic, their administrators work on whimsy and conceit, rather than any sort of careful planning and diplomacy. They rely on the recruitment of “failed” and “rejected” students from the American and British schools. Can’t decide whether or not to take a stand on the local (perhaps sometimes Shariah) interpretations of school code, which really don't apply to private schools (although, he has not figured this little conundrum out, yet - nor will he ever.) Does not have a sound working relationship with the government educational bureaucracy to settle disputes. Subsequently, dividing rooms in half with a curtain to maintain the separation of sexes in the classroom environment. Has no clue whatsoever of what the hell is going on, what he should be doing, what his job is or where the hell he is on the planet earth. A charlatan to the nth degree.

Favorite Sport: Trying to fool some of the people, some of the time.

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