Meet Mallory Williams. Mallory grew up in Austin, TX, the live music capital of the world. Naturally, she’s a live music enthusiast. She loves seeking out great bands playing nearby or rare vinyl about almost as much as searching for the latest flight deals to the next destination on her extensive bucket list.
So what initially sparked Mallory’s passion for education? Shortly after graduating with her BA, she left the US to teach English in South Korea. She taught for elementary kids for a year, traveled through Southeast Asia and returned to the US to seek out an alternative certification program. She’s been teaching in an elementary school in Detroit ever since and indulging her deep love for travel during school breaks.
From trekking around Angkor Wat to snowmobiling a glacier in Iceland, Mallory wants to learn as much as possible about the world through lived experiences. She’s always searching for that next great experience, even if it’s something as simple as finding a new restaurant, gallery, book or band.
Her long-term goal? To combine her two passions - teaching and traveling - in order to see and change the world. And she’s already taken that first key step towards that goal. Back in December 2017, Mallory landed her dream teaching job at an international school in the Cayman Islands at the Teach Away job fair in Atlanta.
So without further ado, Mallory's story and her path to becoming an international teacher!
Here in Detroit, there’s a phrase that you often hear as an educator. It’s repeated frequently as if a slogan or some sort of mantra. When days are tough, and many are, you tell yourself that one thing is true, “if you can teach here, you can teach anywhere.” We tell one another that if we can teach in the toughest of places, we’ll find teaching anywhere else a breeze.
It’s now my fourth year teaching in Detroit, and I’ve been questioning if I am truly prepared to teach anywhere else. Don’t get me wrong, I love my school and I am so fortunate to work for a non-profit charter school that believes in promoting professional development and recognizing hard work.
Learning to become a good educator in a high-needs school in an urban setting has afforded me a unique skill set. However, do these skills apply to a private school in the suburbs, let alone a top-ranked international school overseas?
But I guess I’m jumping ahead a bit. Before my time teaching in Detroit, my only teaching experience was a year-long stint teaching English to elementary school kids in South Korea.
What I loved most about living and teaching abroad was that almost every routine situation became a learning experience. For example, how exactly do I call in sick to work my first week when I’m violently throwing up, have no phone and can’t speak the language? (Yes, that really happened.)
Despite the food poisoning debacle that was my first week on the job, it was exhilarating to feel like a well-respected professional for the first time.
I soaked up every moment of my year abroad. I traveled around Southeast Asia, tried ALL of the food, learned to read and write Hangeul and made lifelong friends with many of the locals. Most importantly, I realized that I loved teaching and was passionate about making it a long-term career.
From these two formative teaching experiences (South Korea and Detroit) I’ve learned two things:
Nothing is better for my soul than travel
Growing as a teacher is all about challenging yourself
Once my ESL teaching contract in South Korea was up, I made the incredibly difficult decision to come back to America to train as a certified teacher. I knew that getting my teaching license and some teaching experience was the best path to landing a great job teaching in any country my heart desired.
I landed back home in Austin, TX and looked for the perfect alternative teacher certification program that fit my needs.
I also registered for Teach Away to keep an eye on to possible teaching jobs abroad and noticed an ad for The New Teacher Project (TNTP), an alternative certification program working with public school systems in a number of different cities - one of which especially caught my eye.
My art school brother was always telling me how cool Detroit is. I thought to myself, why not go to Detroit, get your teacher training done, benefit from the low cost of living and make a difference in young kids’ lives?
So I did!
Fast forward to four years later.
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I’ve had a long-term substitute gig teaching Yemeni refugees, spent two years as a fourth grade teacher and another year as a math interventionist in one of the lowest-scoring schools in the country.
I have this poster in my classroom that reads, “if you rest, you rust”. It has a colorful picture of a resting bike rusting on a fence. It embodies my attitude towards my career, or maybe just life in general.
I feel this constant itch to keep on moving. Learn more, experience more, breathe more life and make a bigger impact. I think the best way for me to settle these feelings is to keep moving. For a while, that meant changing job roles but now I know that to keep growing I need to look further afield.
I began to search for a position which might fulfill both my adventurous spirit and my desire to become a better educator. As I researched teaching destinations, I applied to a number of positions through Teach Away and even interviewed for a couple.
The more I looked, the narrower my search became. The perfect job in the perfect location wasn’t easy to find and I didn’t want to leave a school that I am extremely passionate about for something that I wasn’t totally sold on.
In September 2017, an email landed in my inbox, letting me know about an upcoming Teach Away job fair in Atlanta. Seeing all the different locations and schools looking to hire teachers fueled my sense of excitement. I applied immediately, completed the screening process, booked a flight and hotel, requested a couple of personal days, and I was off!
In preparation for the fair, I pored over the list of schools attending and made my own personal wishlist of dream schools.
Despite myself, I also found myself becoming anxious about the competition. For a brief moment, I wanted to completely bail on the whole fair and I had to remind myself over and over again why I was going and how this was going to change my life for the better. It was time to move onward and upward, and the Teach Away job fair was going to get me where I wanted to be!
Swirling around in my head throughout the fair were thoughts like: maybe I don’t have enough experience or the right experience. Maybe “speed-dating” style interviews just aren’t for me - they sounded pretty nerve-wracking.
What if an employer scoffs at my resume? What if I say something stupid? Well, the truth is, someone kind of did scoff at my “lack” of experience and I most certainly said a few stupid things. But I came out of it with a newfound sense of confidence in amid the competitive world of international education.
In the end, I received multiple offers and my decision came down to two incredible schools. However, there was one school that I knew, if they offered me a contract, I’d sign right away. So when that moment came, I was beyond thrilled and jumped to sign on the dotted line.
Will my unique skill set have prepared me for a top-ranked international school after all? I guess we’ll find out!