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Featuring Holly Shipman '12

Position: 3rd Grade Teacher
School: Highlands International School (Network of International Christian Schools)
Location: La Paz, Bolivia

♦  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?

A recruiter with NICS visited campus in the spring of my senior year. I attended a seminar that she presented for professional development credit with Kappa Delta Pi. Tucking away the idea of international education, I kept the resources she provided. A couple months later, I began researching the organization more thoroughly. In October 2012, I applied with NICS as an overseas missionary teacher. Less than a month later, a job opportunity opened up for a fifth grade teaching position in La Paz, Bolivia. I accepted the position, packed my bags, and began teaching a few weeks later. With the foreknowledge that several elementary positions would become available the following academic year, I chose to switch to third grade for the 2013-2014 school year.  

What attracted you to this position?

The Lord’s intervention and a genuine transformation of my heart. I didn’t choose to pursue international education; He did. It took a lot of tears and heartache until I finally submitted to the Lord’s will and listened to where He was calling me. Once that happened, my eyes were opened to a wider picture of His global teaching ministry. It’s impossible for me to list all of the benefits of teaching with NICS, but here are just a few:  1. Gaining a Christ-like, global vision for education; 2. Being connected to Christian teachers all over the world; 3. Escaping a false sense of security and comfort in the United States; 4. Experiencing and embracing new cultures; 5. Working with faculty that share a common passion and vision; 6. Witnessing to families and sharing the Gospel.

What are the most gratifying aspects of your job?
The best part about my job is that is forces me to my knees daily. There is no way that I would be able to accomplish anything here without God stooping to strengthen me. In other careers, it’s a constant battle to achieve more, gain the promotion, and climb the ladder. I have learned that teaching is truly the opposite. It is a constant battle to empty yourself more, bow in service, and build a ladder for others to climb. I don’t think I would have learned that as fully and as quickly had I taught in the U.S. The obstacles you face as a teacher are magnified exponentially overseas. The good news is that the greater the obstacle, the more fruit He wants to produce through you.

What has been your biggest challenge as a first-year teacher?
First, that I spent my novice year of teaching away from “home.” Up until my move, I had never fully experienced what it means to be an outsider. The language, culture, food, physical surroundings, and comforts were totally different. I had to make a choice between rejecting the world I was living in or embracing it. Through a lot of prayer, the Lord graciously gave me a heart for the people He called me to live and learn amongst. The second major challenge was a lack of resources. Our school is very small (around 200 students Pre-K through 12), and since we live in a third world country, there is little accessibility to classroom luxuries. Technology is very behind, which means no Smart boards, laminators, color printers, overhead projectors, iPads, or laptops. There also isn’t a Walmart or Staples around the corner to pick up supplies. I learned to get really creative and be flexible in ways I never would have been before.

How did your time at GCC prepare you for the teaching field?
GCC honors excellence and creativity, which has enabled me to create a classroom environment that honors those things as well. The high standards I was held to in my classes and during student teaching are the standards that I hold for myself now as a professional. Also, my professors at GCC knew me, invested in me, and respected my contributions as a learner. Those are qualities I wish to convey to my students.

What advice would you give to a current pre-service teacher in order to better prepare for his or her future classroom?

Watch those teachers in action! I remember as a teacher-in-training that so much of my field experiences and student teaching were focused completely on me. My lesson plans, my performance, my formal observations. One of my greatest regrets is not watching enough. The best teachers have learned through diligent observation and masterful imitation. I’m not discounting the need for originality, but your mentor teacher is too valuable to ignore. Use the knowledge and practices that they have gained from years of experience.

What job search tips would you give to GCC students?

Be careful what you pray for. If your truest heart’s desire is for Him to send you, to be His hands and feet, then get ready to be surprised. International education was definitely not in my plans, but He took my prayer seriously when I committed my way fully to Him. Don’t dismiss an opportunity because it wasn’t part of your plan. When it comes down to it, your plans don’t really matter. Be in the Word consistently, growing in sensitivity to His Spirit and learning how to discern His voice. Then, and only then, can you move forward in confidence toward the ministry He’s prepared you for.  

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


1. Language Barrier: Every single one of my students is an ESL student. Their home and culture language is Spanish. Although I had some background knowledge of Spanish, I had basically zero experience with English language education in college, so this was a major shock. Last year I had two students show up at my door to join my class (literally), and neither had any prior knowledge of English.

2. Resources: As I mentioned before, technology is way behind in Bolivia and American classroom resources are practically nonexistent. Also, I’m only able to pack two suitcases each time I come back and the postal system doesn’t support sending books or supplies from the States.


1.       Language Barrier: I know I mentioned this as a challenge, but it’s also an enormous blessing.  My students have such a richer understanding of language and their growing fluency in both Spanish and English only adds to our classroom dynamic. Also, this has transformed my teaching practices! I have improved so much in my ability to set expectations clearly, translate hard concepts, and teach literacy in general.

2.       Freedom: With the ever-increasing pressure of the state testing craze in the U.S., a multitude of teachers complain that it infringes on their creativity and ability to ‘own’ their classroom. That’s not the case here at all. We do standardized testing three times a year, but the results only inform our teaching practices rather than command them. I have so much freedom to be creative in my lessons, re-teach when it’s necessary, and design meaningful units geared to my students. I do all this without the fear of a government program or administrator telling me what or how I need to teach.

3.       Small Class Sizes: Last year I taught the largest class at our entire school, which was 22 students. If you think about average class sizes in U.S. public schools, that’s considered a small class. At HIS, we typically have 14-18 students per classroom. Research tells us over and over that smaller class sizes are often a direct correlation to high student achievement. I have a thorough knowledge of my students personally, academically, and spiritually. I get to work with them one-on-one and in small groups every single day. I know their weaknesses and also where they can be challenged.

4.       Global perspective: Throughout my schooling, I was taught about global competition and how the U.S. is falling behind academically. I was taught a worldview that centered completely on the States’ desire to “be the best.” Now that I’m teaching in an international school to a population of Bolivians, the whole notion of competition seems irrational. Literacy is a worldwide epidemic, and the heart of Christ is for the nations. I believe that God honors global collaboration, especially when it concerns the welfare of His children around the world.

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