July 23, 2018
International educator Bianca Alexander ’16 had logged in diverse professional experiences before ever coming to Ursuline College. She taught in an East Cleveland charter school, provided professional development opportunities for teachers in and around Chicago, and then taught in Miami, Washington, D.C., and suburban Chicago schools.
She learned to work with children who were coping with serious obstacles to success, including language barriers, pervasive trauma and terminal illness. She saw what worked and what didn’t work in the bureaucracies of large urban school districts.
Then she went abroad, serving as a learning support specialist in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for two years.
“My contract was up and I came back to the states knowing I really wanted to get into leadership, especially after having had two great principals. I wanted to be licensed as an administrator,” Alexander said.
She enrolled in the Principal Licensure program at Ursuline, where her mother, Venesica Alexander ’16, was finishing a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations and where Dean and Associate Professor James Connell quickly became “like a second dad” to her.
Alexander graduated in 2016 and shipped out to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to provide teacher training and then to Kuwait for a one-year stint as a principal. We caught up with Alexander gearing up to return to Kuwait for a second year.
What were the biggest challenges for you as an educator teaching in these countries?
Assimilating into the culture of a country (i.e., respecting the role of religion in society and its impact on compulsory education, relationships between males and females as it relates to gender roles and equality) can be a challenge. Another area is being able to adjust to the way that countries govern their schools on criterion that aren’t necessarily based on what is best for all children. There are many expats (especially those who have not completed a formal licensure program to teach students or lead a school) who do not know how to effectively do their jobs. If they are released from their contracts, who will the school replace them with? It can be very frustrating working with inexperienced colleagues whose actions hinder the well-being of students, day after day.
What are the biggest challenges for students there?
The challenge for students residing in any of the Gulf Cooperative Council countries is to discover their true identity outside of material wealth and adopted behaviors that are not aligned to any of the three most popular and respected religious texts of the region. Oftentimes, students place more value on their family name (notoriety) and power within the country, not necessarily on hard work and integrity. Some students use words from religious texts to manipulate others as well.
What one thing do you wish Americans understood about education in the Arab World?
Americans and expats from developed Western countries will need to develop patience and be careful not to criticize cultural norms that they are not accustomed to that have existed for centuries in other parts of the world. Change takes time and some people do not like or want to change.
What did you gain from your Ursuline experience that benefits you most in your everyday life as an educator?
The opportunity to share practical ways to improve the quality of instruction in K-12 education in an open forum with other educators was the most beneficial experience for me at Ursuline. Listening to the experiences and perspectives on how to solve problems that are common to schools all over the world was priceless.