Mike Garnett: Becoming an English Teacher in Syria

Mike Garnett

Mike and his friend Jon walk through the streets of Damascus in search of some good falafel.

August 9, 2010 - 12:00am

One TESOL student shares how our program has enriched his understanding of the four years he spent teaching English in Syria.

I feel like I left part of me in Syria. If I could, I would buy my friends plane tickets and show them the U.S.

By chance I was hired as an English teacher at the National School of Aleppo. Living in Colorado in 2005, I was looking for an opportunity to learn Arabic. My friend Jon had graduated from the University of Colorado and was offered a job as an English teacher in Syria. I asked for an interview with the recruiter, and he hired me on the spot with no prior teaching experience. All of our expenses such as flights, housing, and health insurance were covered. After some suspicion and digging around - I'm a cynical person - we both jumped at the opportunity and lived in Syria for four years.

It was stressful at first. The school fostered a competitive environment between administrators and foreign and local staff. Life is difficult in Syria - people work around the clock. They get paid very little even after earning a college degree. It's almost an unspoken caste system. My last two years I taught science and English to middle and high school students and started an athletic league at ICARDA, a United Nations-run school. I loved my students and became part of a community.

After four years of realizing day after day that I loved teaching language, it was time to move on. I searched for graduate programs, and my love for surf culture brought me to California. I even wrote my senior thesis on surf culture from the 1930s until present.

Before beginning the TESOL program, Syria was a messy experience. I knew that English teachers should follow certain DOs and DON'Ts, but I wasn't sure what they were. And I didn’t journal or reflect about my classroom experiences.

My coursework at the Monterey Institute has provided the structure to explore my role as a teacher. And after meeting students from other programs, I have a greater understanding of how language learning impacts our efforts to understand other cultures and bring peace.

Teaching is a process. You will not be perfect, but can focus on your self-awareness and professional development.

Check out Mike's blog to learn more about his adventures in Syria.

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