Katie Adan is no stranger to embarking on an adventure in a strange land, so in 2010 when it looked like her teaching job in Tulsa was going to fall victim to budgetary cuts, she began looking for teaching jobs overseas. That's how she ended up teaching elementary school in Kuwait.
Adan, who graduated from Ozarks in 2008 with a degree in early childhood education, will soon begin her third year of teaching at the Universal American School in Kuwait, a private school that uses American curriculum. Adan said most of her students are Kuwaiti, but that she also has American students as well as students from surrounding countries. The school, which is located in the city of Hawally, has more than 1,000 students, ranging from as young as 2 years old and up to the 12th grade.
Katie Adan, visiting with U of O President Dr. Rick Niece recently, will soon begin her third year of teaching elementary school for the Universal American School in Kuwait.
“Kuwait is very westernized and as a result strives to have the same education that American children have,” Adan said in a recent visit back to the U of O campus. “The ability to brag that their child attends an American school is important for status there. I teach all subjects just as a teacher in America would to the kids, but they also have an Arabic and Islamic Religion class, which is taught by another teacher. If a child is Christian they do not have to attend the Islam class. Other than that, it’s very much like an American school.”
The fact that Adan ended up teaching in Kuwait might surprise some people, but not those who know her well. Her adopted parents spent more than 30 years as missionaries with Wycliffe Bible Translators, so she spent considerable time growing up in foreign countries, including Cameroon and Canada, below graduating high school in Dallas. Despite just turning 26, Adan has visited more than 25 countries on five continents in her lifetime.
“I’ve had the opportunity to live in and visit many countries, so I looked at this as just the latest adventure,” she said. “I taught in Tulsa for two years in the lowest performing school in all of Oklahoma, and it was the most amazing and rewarding experience of my life. I only left because there was talk of my position being cut because I was a newer teacher. My dad told me to look for a Plan B, which was how I stumbled on the Kuwait job. The same week I took the job in Kuwait, my principal in Tulsa told me she had secured my job. It was definitely God telling me this is where I needed to be.”
Adan said the most difficult part of living in Kuwait is seeing the prejudices that are prevalent.
“I have lived overseas before, but Kuwait is a very different experience because of the mindset of the people and the way that different people are treated,” she said. “As an American, I am second in the social standings, but people from many other races and backgrounds are treated very poorly, much as the blacks of the 1940s and 1950s were treated in America. This is probably the most challenging part of living and working in Kuwait.”
Adan is currently working on a master’s degree in educational leadership from the American College of Education. She plans to teach one more year in Kuwait and then return to the States. Her long-range goals are to earn her doctorate and to help develop and implement a system that ensures all children have access to a top-quality education.
“My ultimate goal is to open up my own private elementary school geared towards but not limited to African-American children in poverty, but offering the same level of education that a wealthy Caucasian child would receive at a private school,” Adan said. “As education evolves, there is a large focus on curriculums and the best way to teach, and there is a lot of emphasis on English as Second Language (ESL) learners. Because of this important focus, the children struggling in poverty, especially the African-American children, often slip through the cracks because they are not ESL. They do not fit the molds that the curriculums created now are geared towards.”
Adan said it has become her passion to study and analyze how children learn within different cultures and environments.
“There is too much focus on tests and statistics and data, and not enough focus on what children can do and how they learn best,” she said. “As a teacher, everything is rewarding when you are changing the lives of children. Growth occurs daily in the classroom as my students teach me as much as I teach them. Working with different cultures has broadened my horizons and experiences and makes me more conscious of the individual backgrounds and needs of my students. We as educators really need to get to know students as individuals, no matter what race or ethnicity, to figure out how they learn best.”
Adan said the teacher education program at Ozarks prepared her not only for her first teaching job in Tulsa but for teaching in a foreign country.
“I was taught how to figure things out, even when I would not always have the resources,” Adan said of her Ozarks education. “I was taught how to see students as individuals and how to accommodate for and modify for the different personalities, learning styles, and backgrounds of my students. The more years I teach, the more I realize how unique my experience at Ozarks was, compared to other teachers who attended other universities. The Ozarks community is one of a kind and I had a fantastic college experience there.”
Adan said she hopes to someday write a book about her experiences.
“Growing up as a black child and being adopted by a white family, traveling the world, growing up in South Dallas, and now teaching in Kuwait has opened my eyes to things one can only imagine,” she said. “There’s definitely a book in there somewhere.”