Teacher Michelle Armstrong points out Vietnam on a map as she’s surrounded by her pre-kindergartenstudents at West Point’s
Catherine Bryan School. Armstrong will move to Vietnam in July to begin a new job at the United Nations International School in Hanoi.
By Brandon Walker
It‟s a funny thing about dreams – sometimes they come true. For years, West Point native Michelle Armstrong has dreamed about
teaching internationally, taking her love for molding the minds and lives of young people
to a global classroom.
So, two years ago, the 21-year veteran of the West Point School District started to explore that option, as she began looking into
the possibility of landing an international teaching job. As it turns out, even Armstrong‟s
dreams weren‟t big enough to predict that opportunity that would soon present itself.
In July, Armstrong, who currently teaches pre-Kindergarten at West Point‟s Catherine Bryan School, will embark on a new
journey, one that will take her far beyond the halls of Catherine Bryan School and the city of West Point into one of the most
prestigious schools in the world.
As of July 30, Armstrong will teach pre-kindergarten students at the United Nations International School in Hanoi, Vietnam, one
of only two such schools in the world.
In Vietnam, she will teach an incredibly diverse group of students, mostly the sons and daughters of ambassadors and diplomats
currently based in Southeast Asia. The United Nations International School (UNIS) has two locations, one in Hanoi and the other
in New York City.
In Hanoi, Armstrong will have the chance to teach students from all over the world, as the UNIS dictates that no classroom‟s
enrollment will feature more than 20 percent of its students representing one nationality. “The school is governed by the United
Nations,” said Armstrong. “I will be teaching pre-kindergarten there as well, which will include 15 students.”
Long time coming
“It‟s always been a dream of mine to teach internationally,” said Armstrong. “With two kids and a husband, though, I knew it
wasn‟t time yet.” Well, Michelle, the time has come. With her son Jordan now a freshman at Mississippi State University and her
daughter Brooks entering high school, Armstrong began to feel comfortable enough to pursue global opportunities. So, two years
ago, she began to do the leg work necessary to give herself viable options worldwide.
“I started researching two years ago,” said Armstrong. “There are job fairs all over the world for teachers who are interested, so I
began to gather the material I needed to apply for these jobs.” Armstrong put together a credential file, which was completed this
past December. By January, offers began to flood in from across the globe, but according to Armstrong, the key was patience.
“My first offer was from a school in China, but I was told to never accept the first offer,” said Armstrong. “So I kept looking.”
Pre-kindergarten teacher Michelle Armstrong asks
her students at Catherine Bryan School to help
locate Vietnam on a map. Armstrong will travel to
Vietnam in July to teach at the prestigious United
Nations International School in Hanoi.
Armstrong‟s closest brush with a new job came just last month and only came to a halt due to an international incident. In early
January, she received an offer from a school in Cairo, Egypt, an offer that looked appealing to the West Point native. “I talked
with the superintendent of that school for a few days and I was about to sign the contract.
The next day, the revolution started in Egypt,” said Armstrong, referring to last month‟s forced removal of Egyptian president
Hozmi Mubarrak, which sparked widespread protests and unrest in Cairo. “When that happened, the superintendent called and
said „I understand if you have some concern. Let‟s wait a few days to see if this calms down.‟ “The next day, I tried to call him
back, and all phones and the Internet had been cut off in Egypt. That‟s when I knew I probably needed to look elsewhere.”
Elsewhere happened to be in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, home of one of the most prestigious job fairs linked to international education.
“I went to Cedar Rapids, where they started this job fair 35 years ago,” Armstrong said. “I went there because I heard this was the
best place to go, and it really worked out.”
In Cedar Rapids, Armstrong arrived to find out she was there along with 600 other potential candidates, and she was subjected to
three days of non-stop interviews. By 7 a.m. on Sunday, Armstrong was tired and interview-weary, but she had several offers in
hand from schools in places like Frankfurt, Germany; Kuwait City, Kuwait; Seoul, South Korea; and a renowned school in
Bangladesh. Still, she hadn‟t made her decision. That‟s when her dream intervened.
Throughout the process, Armstrong had been impressed with several schools, but apparently, something was holding her back
from making a final decision. In Cedar Rapids, that reason became obvious as soon as she talked to a representative from UNIS in
“When I started this, I had heard of UNIS, but I had never dreamed that I‟d get an offer from them,” said Armstrong. “When it
happened, I was floored.”
For two days, Armstrong met with UNIS officials, primarily speaking with the elementary school principal. All the while, she had
her eyes on West Point, calling continuously to get her family‟s opinion on her options. “I would call my husband, my kids to see
what they thought,” said Armstrong. “I‟d call my parents, and they‟d do research for me. The more I interviewed, though, the
more I knew that UNIS was where I needed to be. It is without a doubt one of the top schools in the world.”
Given an ultimatum by UNIS – “They said I had an offer but they‟d soon be going to another job fair with 600 more candidates”
– Armstrong wasted little time in making one of the biggest decisions of her life. “I called back and said „I‟m ready to do this,‟”
What comes next
Her decision behind her, Armstrong now looks to the future, which will include a new teaching job – and a world-class education
for her daughter. “She is a freshman now and it‟s a 2-year contract, so she will attend UNIS for her sophomore and junior years
of high school,” said Michelle Armstrong of her daughter, Brooks.
“The people at UNIS asked if Brooks participated in any extra-curricular activities and I said that she is on the swimming and
tennis teams. They explained to me that the UNIS athletic teams travel across Asia to compete.” In the last year alone, soccer,
basketball, tennis and swim teams from UNIS have competed in China, Japan, Laos, Cambodia, and of course, Vietnam.
In Vietnam, the Armstrongs will live in Ciputra, a selfcontained city controlled by the UN that houses ex-patriots within Hanoi,
which is known as the safest city in Asia.
Not content just to teach in Vietnam, Michelle Armstrong says “We want to fully invest ourselves in the culture. We don‟t want
to just be tourists passing through.” The externally-driven agenda at UNIS will help in that transition, as UNIS students logged
over 30,000 hours of community service in 2010.
“Dr. Barder (Superintendent Chip Barder, from Oregon) told me that community service would become a second nature to
Brooks, almost as automatic as breathing,” said Michelle Armstrong.
Within the classroom, Armstrong should fit right in, as she has emerged as one of the most respected teachers within the West
Point School District. It‟s that respect that sets her apart, says WPSD Superintendent Steve Montgomery, and it‟s also that
respect that will make her departure a big loss within the district.
“She is always one of our most requested teachers,” said Montgomery. “Her colleagues love her, her students love her, we really
hate to lose her. But an opportunity like this is something you don‟t see very often, and for her to be chosen from such a large
pool of candidates says a lot about her and I believe says a lot about West Point.”
Support from family
A decision like this isn‟t just an individual commitment, but one made through hours of thought and discussion with her family, a
family that has been supportive throughout the process according to Armstrong.
“I couldn‟t do it without the support of my family,” said Armstrong on Friday. “My son is in college, and my daughter is going
with me, so my husband (Eddie) will be alone for the first time since we started dating. It‟s an incredible commitment, and I am
blessed to have an amazing family.” “Since the beginning, they have been supportive of me following my dream.”
And that‟s what true dreams