An Interview with a Master Teacher of Balanced Literacy

One of the best perks of my job is that I am able to collaborate with master teachers from around the globe. My school  houses some of the most impressive cast of teachers around and it is an honor each day to learn from them. With that in mind, in the upcoming weeks I am looking to interview a few teachers to both learn and share their craft. imgres

First off is Colin Weaver. Colin is a master teacher and avid hockey player. He was highly recommended from administration. While teaching literacy, Colin notes each discussion with his students. From his extensive note taking, Colin prepares highly effective lessons geared to getting the most from his readers and writers. Students, parents and teachers all rave about Colin’s work.

Elementary literacy teachers…Listen, Learn, Enjoy and Share this professional development opportunity.

It will be nineteen minutes of time well spent.


A Letter from a Fourth Grade Teacher

Dear Parents,

This letter is for you.

You have my undying admiration. Yours is the most meaningful, most important job in the world. I thank you all for trusting me to work with your children. Foremost, they bring me great joy.

The events in Connecticut, USA, these past few days are a reminder of all that is family, compassion, empathy and kindness. I find myself more than a bit angry. Overall, I guess I am just sad.

I have spent a good part of this weekend talking to my wife, family and friends. Still, I cannot fathom what parents are feeling. Understand that I am trying to “get it. ”

I have no grand advice to give you or your children. I only can tell you that I will listen to your kids and try my best to send them in the right direction. I will continue to push them to write, to read good books, and to think. I will continue to smile and make them laugh. We will have as normal a school day as possible. I will make sure that I am a comforting, peaceful presence in your child’s day.

The last week before school lets out for Winter Break is traditionally hectic. Rest assured that I have already scheduled routine, low-key lessons. That said I expect anxiety levels will raise up a notch. I am proud to say that our entire faculty is ready.

Online there are many articles, podcasts and blog postings offering tips on how to talk to your children about tragedy. They help.

However you choose to talk to your child, please help them remember that regardless of what they see on television, school is a safe place. Extremely caring people fill schools worldwide.


Please allow me to close this letter with a haiku from Izumi Shikibu:

“Although the wind

blows terribly here,

the moonlight also leaks

between the roof planks

of this ruined house.”


Take care,

 Barry Mernin



Shibiku, I. (n.d.). “although the wind .”. Retrieved from















Recruitment Tips for Aspiring International Educators

Taiko Drummers in action

Taiko Drummers in action

Ikuta Shrine of Kobe, Japan

Ikuta Shrine of Kobe, Japan

Ikuta Shrine of Kobe Japan

Ikuta Shrine of Kobe Japan

High atop Kobe, Japan‘s Ikuta Shrine on New Year’s Eve, we played. Below were thousands of Japanese revelers from the Hyogo prefecture. The air was crisp and cold. We stayed warm through constant movement and drinking hot sake. So many of the celebrants shouted “Arrigato” for our performances. The band had never sounded better. We six or seven foreigners looked at each other without much of any spoken words. Each knew that this was special.

That night, drumming with my expat Taiko drum group, I must say, was the coolest moment of my expat life. Our band was short-lived but we did have a pretty unique style. This moment could not have happened if I didn’t ace my job interview, years earlier.

I now teach at a prestigious school in Hong Kong. I have taught at Singapore American School and the Canadian Academy in Kobe, Japan. The following is a body of thought on what to expect if you are fortunate to interview for an overseas teaching position. Most of my thinking comes from successfully securing jobs at three separate recruitment fairs.  I am also sharing my learning from the Principals’ Training Center for International Educators. I hope it helps.

International School Services, Search Associates and the Council of International Schools are three of the top recruitment agencies that connect teachers with international schools. Each has recruitment fairs all over the world.Each is pretty similar in their approach and I recommend that you choose the one that is right for you. I have had a lot of luck with International School Services.

Currently there are over 6,000 international schools in over 230 countries. I am one of nearly 300,000 staff members that make a living at an international school. If you have three or more years experience as a certified teacher and you have proper references, I imagine you are likely to get a teaching position somewhere overseas.

However, the most sought after positions are highly competitive. My Hong Kong interview process spanned three consecutive days. I spoke with my current supervisor a total of seven times before finally signing my contract.

Get online and do your research.

Some Questions Headmasters Ask:

Expect all the standard questions that you would imagine, including:

  • “Why do you intend to move overseas?”
  • “What would you do when….?”(scenarios)
  • “Describe your favorite lesson.”
  • “Do you like children?”
  • “Describe a time when you were a successful collaborator.”
  • “Describe your favorite movie. What makes it so?”
  • “Describe your favorite shoe. What makes it so?”
  • “What questions do you have for me?”

Each headmaster must report back to a Board of Education of some sort so do not expect immediate positive feedback.

Be overly confident, be overly prepared and be overly aggressive. Tell great stories from your teaching life. Move quickly and dress impeccably.

Good luck.

Parent-Teacher Conference Ideas for International School Teachers

Having completed my Hong Kong school’s annual Parent Teacher conferences, it is time to reflect and celebrate. After twenty-three years of teaching, I find that I still get butterflies. Below are some thoughts about how I approach each individual Parent-Teacher Conference. If you are a new teacher or new to the international school scene, I hope this helps.

My administrator asks each teacher to focus on emotional, social, academic growth. I do this by inquiring what changes they have seen in the child in these areas. Specifically, I ask parents:

  • “Which kids in the classroom does your child consider to be friends?”
  • “How does your kid feel about school this year?”
  • “What changes in study habits have you seen this year?”
  • “What do I need to know about your kid?”
  • “What would you like me to do for your kid?
  • How has your child handled the move to Hong Kong?
  • How has your child adjusted to the classroom?

Few challenge this approach and I find that even fewer parents are hesitant to speak about their kids. This helps gets the conference started in a positive direction. It also, signals to the parents that I consider their partnership to be a priority.

I rarely set any predetermined goals for any of my students. Rather, I set goals with the parents while in the midst of the discussion. This tends to be more authentic and allows the parents to directly impact their child’s education.  I notate all agreements immediately after our talk and act on our shared plans as soon as possible.

I intentionally keep student work nearby but do not let it become a focal point of the discussions. The work is important and should be presented. However, I have found that it is easy to get bogged down on minutia when I rely too much on kid’s work.  Rather, I keep the conversation flowing by talking about the curriculum and the student’s positive reaction from my teaching.

I offer advice but I always ask before doing so. I have no kids of my own so I tend to stay away from trying to give advice to parents. Conversely, I view that it is my duty to support and to affirm their good work.

I give a “temperature check” of the parents’ emotional state as they enter the room. I sit in a comfortable chair and position myself at a slant in order to be as non-confrontational as possible. As parents leave, I bow, shake hands or give a hug depending on the situation. I always say thank you and plea for the parents to keep me updated on any pending changes or transitions that I would need to know.

Finally, below are tips that I have found to be useful:

  • Offer professional books to read.
  • Acknowledge the difficulties of living overseas.
  • Provide evidence of learning.
  • Stay balanced and fresh. No blogging, paying bills, or vacation planning.
  • “It is not about you.”
  • Be punctual.
  • You are an ambassador of your school, you are a professional, be true to your school’s mission.
  • Be quick to forgive.
  • Be reassuring.
  • Do not recommend outside tutoring ever.
  • Be realistic.
  • Brush your teeth after lunch.
  • Have a blast and appreciate the moment.

What did I learn during my first year as an expat?

Tom Hanks in Castaway.

After being inspired by both my favorite blogger, ExpatEducator, and International School Services, I opted to reflect on my first year of International School teaching, August 2001-2002.

Here goes:

Teamwork is essential. 

Your teaching team is your lifeline. You must focus on friendly, respectful communication. Keep all opinions about teaching practices and school environment to yourself for the entire first year. Your team will help you survive your posting. They can also make your first year miserable. I was very lucky, in this regard. My teammates were funny, supportive, foodies, and sympathetic to my struggles.

Stress is merely another obstacle to conquer.

The stress during your first year overseas is immense. It gets easier. Realize that you are in for an overhaul of so many preconceived notions. I arrived in Singapore two weeks before 9/11. Walking past machine gunnery and bomb sniffing dogs each day to teach ten-year olds made for an incredibly difficult year.

You are a guest.

Do everything that you can to learn and show appreciation of your foster country. Treat your newfound address as you would your hometown. Read up the local politics. Take time to understand the local issues. Listen to the people around you and get help to understand. Again, keep your opinions to yourself, however.

Learn the language. Taking a summer off during my second stint in Asia to learn conversational Japanese was a huge break for me. Many doors opened up for me. I regret not learning Mandarin while in Singapore. Where ever you are, learn the language. People have used LiveMocha. It is an incredible resource and I recommend it highly.

Smile often and expect problems.

Live conservatively, volunteer, and take pubic transportation. Save your money. I got to travel the world, visit Hawaii and Bali, but finished the year as broke as when I started. Do not do this.

Find friends not associated with your school. International school teaching is incredibly demanding. Find friends outside your realm that will not remind you of work.

Accept yourself and your current situation. My dad told me often that I am going to have to learn to appreciate being alone if I am to survive overseas. He was so very right. I remember him specifically telling me to quit feeling sorry for myself and that if you are experiencing culture shock in Singapore….”Try moving to Mississippi!”

You are a professional, act like one. Do not personalize decisions made from your administrators. Move on.

Shop in the summer. Let’s just say that nothing fits and leave it at that.

Parents need help too. I learned quickly that my students’ parents were dealing with the same degree or more of homesickness and isolation. To be effective, I needed to cultivate relationships with parents even more so than back in the states.

You are a work in progress. Take it easy on yourself. You will make many mistakes but you will see it through. Finishing my first year overseas was a major life-affirming event. I am now into my eleventh year as an expat teacher and I could not be more happy.


What did you learn about your first year overseas? Educators and Parents, please feel free to write to me. If YOU are movingoverseas for the first time, please keep use me as a resource.

Good Luck!

You can find me on Twitter @LarryHermanHK