Julia Knight

So many upsides

The joys of teaching internationally


I left the UK a year ago to join a growing number of teachers who had left for sunnier, Ofsted-free climes. I remember talking to my union rep in the countdown to my departure and she asked if I knew how many had gone for my job. She said the head teacher received over a thousand applicants for it and I sighed. And I sighed because that's 1000 teachers who wanted to leave the UK teaching profession. But with constant criticism and degradation of the profession, it isn't surprising.

There are some definite upsides to teaching internationally, especially here in Bangkok, but there are also some downsides. I am lucky enough to be part of an amazing community of ex-pat teachers who have shared some of their experiences with me.

One definitive upside is the weather, we all agree that an escape to Ko Samet is possible most weekends and there is no horrible November feeling when the nights last longer than the days and your workload feels like an impenetrable fog.

The international teaching day is longer, lessons start early when most UK teachers are huddled around a Nescafe - but this is counteracted by more non-contracts. In the UK, your non-contracts are protected by the Teacher's Pay & Conditions. In international schools, there are no such agreements and although pay can be higher, the contracts are for two years and if your face doesn't fit, you could be out the door.

The anxiety caused by two year contracts permeates staff rooms. There is a lot more jostling for favour and as a rule, unhappy teachers just put up and shut up. This itself leads to insular and very retrogressive teaching styles; death by PowerPoint and copy and comprehend exercises. But then it is no surprise when CPD (Professional Development) is seen as expensive and unnecessary by some international schools.

Pity the poor international school leaders, they live in fear of 'personal problems prevent me from returning' emails which is code for I got a better offer elsewhere. A headteacher in Bangkok told me schools within the city had an unwritten rule, like a code of honour, a promise not to hire anyone breaking a contract. There are pressures like performance related pay and school numbers- these exist in the UK too as the academisation of UK state schools unfolds. However, allowing a student to drop a subject is far more acceptable than palatable.

Do I leave at 4pm swishing my handbag like a comprehensive school RE teacher? Yes because my day allows me to mark, plan and prep everything during my contracted hours. A dream for most UK teachers. Can I hit that beach this weekend, yes. Is my marking up to date? Yes. Is anyone checking? No.

International classrooms can be more creative and are often equipped with new technologies which lends itself perfectly to collaboration from peer marking to Skyping classroom's further afield. Have I become a better teacher? I hope so mostly because I am no longer on the battery hen production line of data driven, too - little - too late interventions and unrealistic targets set by managers in offices who rarely come into contact with children let alone pupils.

I have smaller classes, more time to actualize personal learning, to realise potential and to raise aspirations. To work one-to-one with a struggling student or provide something extra for the Gifted and Talented pupil. We can connect via email, use VLEs to their full potential. International teachers move in different circles not bound by some of the more stringent rules. There are no behaviour issues to deal with but support for SEN and EAL can be sketchy and varies from school to school. It isn't perfect, but nowhere is.

Underneath all these layers of pros and cons, lies the heart and soul of any good school, the pupil. I have met the most wonderful students but the international school is not at the heart of a community like a UK school. The parents offer no loyalty, just high expectations and can (and do) move their children at a term's notice. Education is a commodity; it is a transient world, where teachers, schools and parents are interchangeable and replaceable.

Would I swap it, change it? Not for the world. Ok maybe not for England right now.


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