When teacher Debbee Chiodi addresses foreign cultures and lands with her third-grade class, it'll be from first-hand experience. Chiodi spent the last few years teaching in Haiti, Luxembourg and Mali, West Africa.
Despite what seems like an exotic itinerary, Chiodi described teaching and raising a family outside the United States as a “pretty normal life.”
“It doesn’t seem that interesting to me because it is just my life,” said Chiodi, a mother of four. “My husband works for the State Dpartment and every two or three years we move to a different country. We like to travel. We get to see the world and get paid while doing it.”
The traveling lifestyle may seem causal to Chiodi because from 10-years old to 17 she grew up in Haiti while her parents did missionary work. Before that, she and her family lived on a dairy farm in Pennsylvania.
Chiodi said the experiences have taught her how to adapt to her surroundings.
“I think I have developed strong flexibility because learning a different system every couple of years has made me very flexible,” she said. “I think I am open to a lot of different beliefs and cultures and opinions.”
While teaching overseas, Chiodi worked in international schools, which were taught in English using an American or British curriculum. As a result, there haven't been a whole lot of changes coming to a U.S. teaching environment.
“No matter where you go kids are kids,” Chiodi said. “I think, overseas, they were very accepting and it seemed to be the norm to have friends who were from all over and had different mixes of nationalities. That was just normal. If someone said ‘Oh I am from Kenya’—it was just expected. And here if you have traveled out of the U.S., it is like, ‘Where did you go? Why?’ It is more of a big deal for the kids here.”
Chiodi said that one of the biggest changes for her and her chldren in American schools has been reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. She said when she moved here one of the first things she did was teach her kids the Pledge.
As far as the school day goes, Chiodi said things are very similar everywhere they go. Schools everywhere have extracurricular activities. They just vary. In Trinidad, they had soccer and cricket. In Mali, which is in a desert, Chiodi said they had sand painting after school.
Chiodi said while she misses the diverse students she has overseas, she enjoys teaching at a higher level in the U.S.
“I think that I am able to teach at a higher level because they have the background of the English language,” she said. “Where overseas that isn’t the case. Here in Severna Park, English is the first language. They have a background of parents speaking English to them, they have been read to and have a strong vocabulary.”
Chiodi said sometimes her biggest challenge with moving is keeping her kids up-to-date with the current culture, especially with music. But she said the Internet helps with that.
As for Chiodi she seems to be adapting to life in Severna Park quite nicely. She enjoys her students, her lessons and her new life.
“I really like the students,” she said. “They are very polite and respectful. I think they really do have a desire to learn and they have very inquisitive minds.”