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Featuring Jessica Mittelman '10



Position: Primary Art Teacher
Location: Kansanga, Kampala, Uganda
Certification: K-6 Elementary Education
(Profiled: December 2012)

♦  How did you connect with this job opportunity?
♦  What attracted you to this position?
♦  What are the most gratifying aspects of your job?
♦  What has been/was your biggest challenge as a first-year teacher?
♦  How did your time at GCC prepare you for the teaching field?
♦  What advice would you give to a current pre-service teacher in order to better prepare for his or her future classroom?
♦  What job search tips would you give to GCC students?
♦  What are the challenges and rewards of teaching in another culture?
♦  What are the challenges and rewards of living in another culture?

How did you connect with this job opportunity?

After graduation, I searched for teaching jobs in the inner city regions of Pittsburgh or Philadelphia. When the desired opportunities did not develop, I began to search for a teaching job abroad. I spent many hours in a systematic search online looking for challenging opportunities. Having been part of Project Okello during my time at Grove City, I was excited when my search uncovered a Christian international school in Uganda. After the application and interviewing process, I applied to a missions organization, packed my bags, and headed off to Africa.


What attracted you to this position?

My previous experience raising awareness about the conflicts in Uganda and my love for the people of the country motivated me to pursue this position. However, my original desire was to teach anywhere as long as it was abroad. I have found that I thrive in situations that are slightly unusual and largely challenging. I can slip into apathy if not in an environment that is stimulating, trying, and exciting. Also, my desire to travel and find the beauty in other cultures reinforced my desire to teach abroad.

What are the most gratifying aspects of your job?

The school I teach in has approximately thirty countries represented among the student body. Teaching to students from such a diverse set of backgrounds is a joyful challenge. It is fascinating to see how best practice remains absolute despite such vast cultural differences. It is humorous to find oneself mid-lesson and realize  that using snowmen to teach a lesson on circles is not going to work when there is no “snow schema” for many of the students. Other than the daily appreciation of cultural beauties, I have found that I also enjoy teaching divergent thinking in a country where most instruction in convergent. As the visual arts teacher, it’s a blessing to watch children rediscover and strengthen their creative skills.

What has been your biggest challenge as a first-year teacher?

While I had some small issues with classroom management, the largest challenge was creating a curriculum that had the quality and depth I desired. I wanted to implement a curriculum that would build upon both the skills taught in class and appropriate developmental stages. It took me a few months before I felt that my instruction was incorporating higher level questions, teaching students divergent thinking and not just drawing, and building upon.


What advice would you give to a current pre-service teacher in order to better prepare for his or her future classroom?
I would urge them to give greater thought to their educational philosophy. Over the few years I’ve been teaching, the greatest challenge has been to align my methods, curriculum, words, and behaviors with my classroom objectives. I would challenge teachers to be humble enough and creative enough to always be pushing for better quality education.

What job search tips would you give to GCC students?

Be willing to put in the time. It takes hours upon hours to complete the searching, researching, and application process.  Also, bring yourself to each essay, application, and interview. In the world of elementary education, it is a great thing to have personality with specific passions that other teachers do not carry.


What are the challenges and rewards of teaching in another culture?

Very often the challenges are actually the rewards. As a teacher in a different culture, you can never assume that you and your students are approaching a project from a similar mindset or worldview.  This aspect is a blessed challenge because it forces thoughtful preparation. What is a simple snowman project in the states is a full on cultural learning experience in an equatorial country.

There are many ESL barriers. Sending bad markings home might result in beatings which, though discouraged by the school, are culturally accepted. In my particular country of residence, a high work ethic is not often valued. This cultural element is frustrating to combat, especially as a Fine Arts teacher, but can be trained away through creating a subculture in the classroom that values high quality work.

The clear rewards are the bits of information and humor that come from mixing children from 27 different countries into one school community. Each child brings such a different sensibility to their class and to their work. It’s an ever-surprising and fresh atmosphere.

What are the challenges and rewards of living in another culture?

I’m not sure that I could answer this question in a page, much less a paragraph. I’m sure that each person and each culture is different so the challenges and rewards would be specific to each individual as they face them. In my specific situation, I’ve found the greatest challenges to be treatment of women, lack of punctuality, and lack of quality work. The greatest rewards have been a culture steeped in bright colors and rhythmic music, the weather, the straightforward and genuine people, and my increased focus on and faith in God.



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