Teaching in Baku – the City of Flames

Baku with its tree lined streets and café culture has been likened to Paris. On summer evenings the squares are thronged with people enjoying the cooler air, sitting by fountains, sipping drinks or just strolling.

Mosques and minarets dot the landscape and the call to prayer sounds above the traffic roar.

Elaine Crawford spent much of her career working overseas, first in the Middle East and then for many years teaching in Hong Kong. Despite retiring a few years ago, the chance to work at the International School of Zanzibar was too good to miss and after a spell of supply teaching in the UK, Elaine was delighted with the idea of teaching in Baku. This will be Elaine’s first real winter for 20 years and that is as exciting as teaching here again!

Baku is the capital and largest city of Azerbaijan, as well as the largest city on the Caspian Sea. It is called the ‘City of Flames’ and petrol-dollars have funded much development. The lovely Park Bulvar – a wide, shady boulevard park with formal gardens along the edge of the Caspian Sea is a good place to relax. By way of contrast, architecturally pleasing high-rise buildings are springing up throughout the whole city area. The most spectacular towers being the Flame Towers which are built in the shape of flames and ‘burn’ at night when the lights go on. Baku literally glows with light every night.

Baku at night

The school is in a brand new building and is called Baku Talents Education Complex. It has a new Management Team and a truly international staff. It was still being completed when we moved in, which meant we were very much part of the process. Our first week involved shifting resources of every kind whilst the builders completed their work around us. Thankfully, the builders have since gone but the camaraderie has remained and the atmosphere is friendly and supportive.

Baku at sunset

The children are mostly local but we have a small percentage of non Azeri speaking students and a large percentage of children who are multilingual in the ‘local’ languages such as Russian, Turkish and Azeri. Each international teacher in the primary section has an Azeri co-teacher who is fluent in English. We work together in the classroom sharing the teaching. When it comes to communicating with parents, the co-teachers are invaluable as many parents are not confident English speakers.

Classes are small, the maximum being 20 – taught in small classrooms making it near impossible to ever exceed that number. The building has all the specialist rooms you could want, a massive swimming pool, and another smaller one in the kindergarten area. It is a school in progress where all of the routines, systems and standards are being developed as we go. It is interesting, exciting, challenging and hard work, and I thoroughly enjoy living in the city and working at the school.

Has Baku piqued your interest? We regularly have international school vacancies in Azerbaijan. Browse our schools in Azerbaijan, or sign up or sign in to search for worldwide international teaching vacancies.

Elaine kindly agreed to answer a few questions about teaching in Baku – you can read the interview here.

Written by Elaine Crawford, who has spent much of her career working overseas, first in the Middle East and then for many years teaching in Hong Kong. She has also taught in Tanzania and, most recently, Azerbaijan.

Come to Iraq, you know you want to!

Probably not the first country that springs to mind when you decide to leave the safety and comfort of home for an adventure! At the time I joined Teacherhorizons the news was awash with footage of Iraq under attack as the ISIS fighters moved from city to city.

Erbil, the city I now call home, was being surrounded and it looked like it was going to be the next victory for the fighters, just as I was preparing to move to start teaching in Iraq.

My plans were halted after the teaching staff were told to stay put and not to travel to Kurdistan, as it was unsafe. This left me feeling really frustrated as my preparation was complete and I felt ready to fly out regardless of what was going on. A few more emails between the principal and I were sent back and forth until finally the day arrived – bag packed, goodbyes all said, tickets in hand – here I come Iraq!


So I arrived in the baking sun, 46 degrees, no wind, lots of dust. “What have I done?” I asked myself. Was this a mistake? Well I can happily say the heat has dropped to a reasonable level now, my apartment is air conditioned, there’s still dust everywhere but not even a super Dyson could shift that!

IraqI had a few days to acclimatise as school was opening late due to the terror threats. The principal showed me around parts of the city, which is very modern in places. There are lots of shopping centres or malls as they are called here, which offer pretty much the same products as back home including Cadbury’s chocolate – that was a nice discovery! Obviously, as it’s a predominantly Muslim country certain products are not available such as pork or alcohol. There is a Christian community, however, which has bars and off-licences so all is not lost.

The children come from a variety of backgrounds and speak several languages including Kurdish, Turkish, Arabic and English. The language barrier can be an issue at times as my pupils are young but you can always find common ground wherever you are – for example, all of my pupils know twinkle twinkle little star! The parents clearly value their children’s education and are very involved with the school.

To summarise, I am happy here in Iraq, the salary is far better than at home, and I get to see a diversity of cultures and teach alongside staff from every corner of the planet.

Come to Iraq, you know you want to!

Think Iraq might be right for you? Learn more by reading Chris’s interview about teaching in Iraq. Browse our schools in Iraq or join free to search for vacancies.

Written by Chris Jamison, who had always wanted to work as a Primary School teacher, and completed his training in 2001 followed by a PGCE at Canterbury Christchurch University the following year. Chris loves to watch and play football, enjoys reading Irvine Welch books and living in countries with a dangerous side.

Join the Education Countdown Campaign to get every child in school by 2015

In 2000, world leaders made a promise that every child worldwide would be in school and learning by end 2015. But with 466 days left before the deadline, 58 million children are still out of school.

The Education Countdown campaign, officially launched last month and led by A World at School co-founded by Sarah Brown, is targeting key barriers to universal education by bringing together top campaigners, youth, business, faith and political leaders.

In the last few years, international aid to support basic education has declined rapidly – by more than 10% between 2010 and 2012 – and many countries affected have not scaled up domestic financing fast enough to address the gap. This combined with a myriad of sociopolitical factors risks putting the right to education firmly beyond reach for the almost 60 million children still out of school.

Education countdown campaign

That’s why A World at School’s #EducationCountdown campaign is focusing on five key barriers that keep children excluded from school:

  • providing education to war-torn areas
  • protecting girls from child marriage
  • ensuring children are at school and not at work
  • ending discrimination against girls
  • ensuring enough teachers are trained
Campaigning for the future

Alongside the campaigners, teachers and businesses comitted to tackling these barriers, hundreds of A World at School Global Youth Ambassadors in more than 85 countries have been empowered to demand the right to education for all children.

Inspire your class to support the campaign for universal education with this handy Youth Advocacy Toolkit packed full of ideas and inspiring stories.

Written by Nneka Chukwurah, former Teacherhorizons blog editor. Now she works at vInspired - a digital platform that enables young people to take action on causes they care about.

Boost your experience and supplement your salary – 5 tips for summer school teaching

Financially, I just couldn’t get through another year without a salary during the summer so, after toying with the idea for a few years, I decided to do a placement at a summer school.

I was fortunate to have lovely students and like-minded teaching colleagues – essential to making teaching at a summer school a rewarding and stimulating experience.

Annie SurdiI must admit though that I found my first experience of summer school teaching intense and exhausting at times! But having successfully completed the 6-week course, here are some top tips I would like to share to help others get the most out of their summer placement:

1. Compare summer schools to find one that suits your strengths and interests. I’m not big on conducting sporting activities, so I opted for a summer school with a strong focus on classroom teaching.

2. Seek out reviews or feedback from past teaching staff where possible. The setting, from the location through to how the school was organised was not exactly what I had anticipated, although I eventually got my bearings.

3. Be clear about the school’s expectations of staff, and who you can go to for support. My 6-week contract consisted of double teaching, which I coordinated with another teacher.

Summer school students

4. Plan in adequate preparation time, and ask for support if your workload gets too heavy. During my placement the school introduced some evening activities to give teachers the chance to mingle with fellow students. A nice initiative in theory, but in reality the time spent doing these activities ended up cutting into my lesson preparation and free-time!

5. Adopt an open, communicative approach with your students and fellow staff. Remember, the concept of a summer school is to create a fun and pleasant environment for both students and teachers – the above is key to this!

Written by Annie Surdi, an international teacher who has lived and worked in Honduras, Australia, and Italy.

Who are you? – Identity and my experience in Tanzania

If I asked you to use one word, how would you define yourself to others? Are you a Canadian, an American, a Maritimer or a Californian?

Perhaps you’re of First Nations heritage and you recognise your tribe as being the group that you most associate with your identity. Maybe your first response would be Catholic, Muslim or Rastafarian. Or maybe your response would be brother, wife or husband of…

This article is taken from a collection of weekly stories that I posted to friends, family, and those who became interested through word of mouth about my year in Tanzania (2008) as a volunteer teacher in a Maasai village.

Shannon Howlett in TanzaniaI know that the answer to this question depends on the context that we are in. If I’m in Canada and asked that question I might say that I’m a Maritimer. When abroad, I’m proudly Canadian. If you’re a mother, perhaps you tend to select that identity above all others, regardless of where you find yourself geographically. Here in Tanzania, one of the first questions asked by my new African friends is “Are you married?” or “Do you have children?” – as it is motherhood and marriage that most define your role in society. They have difficulty accepting when I answer “bado” (not yet) in Swahili, as traveling the world and volunteering are not high on their priority list!

I am finding that my perceptions of people from other cultures have changed drastically…in a good way. I have always been fascinated by the differences that separated me from people of distant lands, but I have now become much more conscious and appreciative of the threads that weave us together. The women passing me on the street covered head to toe in traditional burkas, the amputee begging on the side of the road, the Maasai women with shaved heads, elaborate dresses and their babies strapped to their backs don’t feel nearly as different from me as they once did.

Maasai women in Tanzania

I have friends from all over the world here and yet as we sit together sharing stories and experiences it’s easy to forget that we represent so many different nations. Other than a few slight differences in accent, our stories are similar. I believe that the eloquent words of Michelle Obama put it best when she described the achievements of Oprah Winfrey:

“There is more that unites us than divides us – that our shared experiences in work, life and love, in family and community, in our hopes and dreams know no barriers; that regardless of race, gender or socio-economic status or hometown, we are our brothers’ keepers, our sisters’ keepers.”

Now more than ever, I see myself as a citizen of this amazing planet and seem to have abandoned my preoccupations with identity.

Time continues to be my enemy at the moment as I wrestle to hang on to my time here. I am in my last month as a resident of Maasailand… as a teacher at Ilkurot Primary. That nasty lump reappears in my throat even as I write these words. I know now that my work here is not yet over and that my life now will involve some delicate balance between Canada and East Africa.

Global citizenI have decided to combine forces with my dear friend Lisa to form a Non-Governmental Agency (NGO). We share a passion for education; improving the system here, educating those who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity, building bridges of sharing between Tanzania and the communities that we have called home. During the planning stages of a long term project such as this, it’s essential to focus on what it is that you hope to achieve.

One can easily become overwhelmed by trying to help everyone in need here. Our goal, and the intention of any good grassroots NGO, is to start small – do a few things really well instead of doing many things poorly. It will be a lot of work but when the work is driven by passion, it becomes less and less like work and more and more your reason to get up in the morning. I embrace the new challenge with open arms!

Written by Shannon Howlett, French teacher and DP coordinator at the International School of Moshi in Arusha, Tanzania.

Notting Hill Carnival 2014 – Sound systems, sequins and solidarity!

It’s that time of year again when Londoners and visitors alike fill the streets of W11 for the annual Notting Hill Carnival – Europe’s largest street festival, which originated in 1964 as a way for Afro-Caribbean communities to celebrate their own cultures and traditions.

Taking place every August Bank Holiday weekend come rain or shine, the Notting Hill Carnival is an amazing array of sounds, colourful sights and social solidarity. I couldn’t resist a trip to the Notting Hill Carnival 2014 to soak up the sights and sounds.

Nneka at Notting Hill Carnival 2014At the roots of the Notting Hill Carnival are the Caribbean carnivals of the early 19th century – a particularly strong tradition in Trinidad – which were all about celebrating the abolition of slavery and the slave trade. The very first carnival was an attempt to showcase the steel band musicians who played in London’s Earls Court every weekend. When the bands paraded through the streets of Notting Hill, they drew black residents out on to the streets, reminding them of the Caribbean homes they had left behind.

Today, as well as drawing the Caribbean community together to party in style, revellers from around the world rub shoulders to celebrate London’s remarkable diversity, culture, and mix of nationalities.

Notting Hill Carnival 1970s

At Sunday’s family day, I spotted people waving flags from all corners of the globe and enjoyed a heady mix of calypso, electronica, dub, reggae, salsa, soul and afro-beat blasting from the sound systems on every corner – a truly international journey in sound!

Notting Hill Carnival 2014

In 2016 the Notting Hill Carnival will celebrate its 50th anniversary – will you be there? Share the spirit of carnival with your class, with these teaching resources:

Early years teaching resources

Benjamin Zephaniah poem ‘The Men from Jamaica’ and related resources

Notting Hill Carnival web quest

Written by Nneka Chukwurah, former Teacherhorizons blog editor. Now she works at vInspired - a digital platform that enables young people to take action on causes they care about.

When students become co-creators in the classroom

It can be easy to forget that teaching and learning form part of an ongoing conversation, and not a monologue directed at students!

Whether we know our subject so well we forget to pause for feedback, or we’re so scared we won’t know the answer to a rogue question that we just ‘plough through’ and hope for the best – we can all make room to involve students more with these handy tips that have served me well so far.

1. Make students your co-teachers. Gather information on their interests, hobbies, motivations for learning and their preferred learning styles. The more they feel listened to, the more they feel that their contribution is important, and the more involved they’ll get in the lessons.

2. Foster co-operation and community rather than mere competition in the classroom. Create an atmosphere conducive to student collaboration and trust. Learning is not a solitary pursuit – it’s far more effective for students to help each other and develop trust among their peers compared to learning alone or blindly competing.

Collaboration in the classroom

3. Plan your lessons – but be flexible and responsive to students’ needs and ideas. If your lesson is not appropriate or is falling flat, ditch it, and try adopting your students’ ideas instead! This will give them greater ownership of the lesson and encourage them to get more actively involved.

4. Share with and learn from other teachers. They’re likely to be full of tried and tested resources and ideas. Observe them too, especially teachers with different teaching styles to yours.

5. Experiment with new ideas, techniques, layouts, and resources. They won’t all work, but some of them will and they’ll inject new life into your teaching techniques and into your classroom too.

6. Surprise and challenge your students. Make them learn a poem to recite, hold a classroom quiz, or put on a play of a text you’ve been studying. They might complain, but they’ll inevitably rise to the challenge and make a success of it!

Try something new

7. Teach the students, not the book. Remember that the course book is there to serve as a guide. Enrich, supplement and humanize what’s already mapped out whenever possible with anecdotes, videos, relevant authentic texts and your students’ own experiences.

8. Get modern! Embrace new technologies to enhance your students’ learning. For example, use a video camera or dictaphone to record and work on accents; get your students to text each other a summary of the lesson, or tweet the most important part of the lesson in 140 characters.

The more you mix it up and vary your teaching approach, the richer the experience for you and your students!

Written by Alex Cheatle, an English-language teacher with the British Council in Paris. A keen linguist, she speaks Spanish, French and smatterings of Portuguese, Serbian and Nahuatl. She also has the rather irksome habit of completing other people's crosswords.

Why learning needn’t be lost in translation

With English being such a lingua franca, namely in academia and in the world of technology, more and more Brazilians are recognising the necessity of familiarising themselves with the language.

As a result, a large number of new English schools open in Brazil every year, and as they emerge, the need for qualified teachers and attractive methodologies – combined with affordable prices – become fundamental to a school’s success in the growing private education sector.

I currently teach English on a course aimed at students and staff of the faculty of UNIVATES, a private university in Lajeado, a small town in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. Having taught for close to twelve years now has given me the opportunity to test several different methodologies, and a bank of practical knowledge of what is and isn’t effective when it comes to teaching English to Brazilians.

It goes without saying that there is no perfect method for teaching English, as it is dependent on the motivations and focus of each individual learner.

I chose to adopt the Audio-Lingual Method for my classes as I personally find it a really effective method for training students’ oral skills. First and foremost, I like to teach my lessons entirely in English, even though the course where I teach (which uses the Communicative Approach rather than the Audio-Lingual Method) gives no explicit instruction about not using the students’ native language during lessons.

So, when I step into a new class do I just launch into a lecture to show off how good my English is? Not at all!

Encourage, inspire, energize

A good teacher keeps in mind that their role is to teach and encourage students to speak English, and that to do so there are techniques – such as visual aids and gestures – that depend both on the teacher’s and the students’ engagement to work well. However, as a native Portuguese and proficient English speaker, I like to take every opportunity to stretch my Brazilian students’ vocabulary and grammar in English.

For example, there are many similar words in English and Portuguese that I purposefully use to explain words and phrases that sound completely different in English; such as answerhard and call off. Call off is a synonym for cancel, which sounds very similar to cancelar, its equivalent in Portuguese. So, instead of providing the translation for call off in the following sentence “We should call off the meeting.” Instead, I explain to my students that call off and cancel are synonyms.

I do the same with the words answer and hard. Although answer and respond are not exact synonyms, respond sounds very similar to its equivalent responder in Portuguese, and hard is a synonym for difficult (difícil in Portuguese). Even if the words and phrases in question are not exact synonyms, I prefer to draw on their similarities rather than translate. As my students’ English improves, I start to introduce more elaborate explanations.

Students hands up

The benefits of this technique are increasing your students’ vocabulary and thus comprehension through regularly introducing new words. As well as equipping students with a richer language-bank so that they can come up with their own way of expressing their ideas in English without resorting to their native language.

Written by Rodolfo Roger, an English teacher from Brazil, a Languages graduate and Translation postgraduate. He is currently working to develop a set of methodologies to implement the Audio-Lingual Method (based on the Communicative Approach) in English classes.

Unlocking the potential of girls through education

On 22nd July 2014, London hosted the very first Girl Summit focusing on how to enable girls and women living in some of the poorest countries in the world to live free from violence and discrimination and achieve their potential.

Speakers, including the UK prime minister David Cameron, girls education champion Malala Yousafzai and actress Freida Pinto, joined campaigners, policymakers and development professionals from around the world at the event in a school in South London. Access to education for all girls featured among the key drivers to bringing about sustainable change for future generations.

In situations of extreme poverty, girls are particularly at risk as they tend to inherit the poverty of their mothers. They are prone to abuse of all forms, and very often confined to the household. In cases like this, education needs to go beyond preparing children to achieve at school. It has to empower them by heightening their awareness of their rights and responsibilities, nurturing their abilities, and enhancing their self-confidence to be able to improve their own lives and contribute to their local community and society at large.

Empowering girls through human rights

I came across a great feature by the Guardian, in support of Girl Summit 2014, where girls from Colombia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Pakistan, Peru, Rwanda and the UK were asked to share insights into their daily lives and reveal their hopes for the world they want to see. Here are some of their aspirations:

“I want to study psychology so I can help people with their problems. In 10 years time I see myself as a professional who has finished her studies. I’ll be independent and able to help people. I see myself as a leader who will be able to take others with me. When I started as a youth leader I thought it would be a waste of time, but no, I realise that everyday I learn something new, how to find solutions.” (Ana Gabriela Caballero, 13, Peru)

“I used to live in rural areas, but it was not easy there so my father decided to bring us to Nairobi […] Nairobi is so nice – if you are educated in Nairobi you can get a good job. Since I came to this school it’s been fantastic. My favourite subjects are maths, chemistry and biology. I’d like to be a journalist. At school I’m in the journalists’ club. I really want to see myself talking on television! […] I can change my life by being well educated.” (Caro, 13, Kenya)

When girls are allowed to be girls, we all do better.

“I want to be a great person who can impact the world, not just somebody who stands by, but someone who makes a big difference. I want to travel to other countries. I want to learn several languages like Russian. I know some English, French, Italian. I like nature and heard about a course of study called marine biology. I would really like to go to the Mediterranean Sea.” (Valentina Sanchez, 13, Colombia)

Ana Gabriela, Caro and Valentina  beautifully illustrate the power of education as a framework for gaining fundamental skills, a gateway to new subjects and experiences, and ultimately a stepping stone to becoming an active citizen.

What sort of world do your students aspire to? How are you nurturing their ideas?

Written by Nneka Chukwurah, former Teacherhorizons blog editor. Now she works at vInspired - a digital platform that enables young people to take action on causes they care about.

10 language learning tips for travellers

3.3 billion people are expected to travel abroad this year, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Motivations for spending time, resources, and energy travelling abroad range from: studying or taking a crash course, accepting a new job to discovering new cultures, savouring unique delicacies, seeing breathtaking sceneries, and meeting new people.

However, there are issues we all encounter as travellers in a foreign country. Aside from cultural differences, a language barrier can turn a fairytale trip into a nightmare.

For example, a study published by The Pennsylvania State University found that negative emotional and cognitive responses develop due to language barriers. Not having the means to communicate with local people and engage with everyday services can really limit the experience and enjoyment of a new country.

What Charlemagne said must be true – “To have another language is to possess a second soul.” Language gives meaning to our life pursuits. So how can you get the most out of your overseas stay?

To have another language is to possess a second soul. - Charlemagne

By ‘travelling smart’ and learning the essentials of a new language before you set off, you’ll gain a much richer experience.

Here are 10 language learning tips for your next journey…

1. Review your travel goals

What activities are you going to do in the country? What places will you visit? Is there a local dialect you need to be aware of? By determining your plan, you’ll be able to identify the kind of expressions you need to focus on and eventually master.

2. Study a little (or more) about the country’s culture

Language and culture are inseparable. There are words or pronunciations that may be offensive in a particular country. Being aware of these will help avoid any misunderstanding or conflict during your stay.

3. Watch local TV shows and movies, and listen to local radio

Listening to the context within which words are used, and how people pronounce them will improve your understanding and confidence to communicate.

4. Ask for help

You can find language tutors online. Translators and interpreters are everywhere. There are also native speakers who may be willing to help you. All you have to do is to ask!

5. Carry a pocket dictionary

Bring a pocket or mobile dictionary with you. Look up new words as you hear or see them written, especially when there is no help around.

Language learning

6. Take advantage of available language learning technologies

Computer-based language learning tools are not only for learners but for teachers as well. Many of these programmes feature interactive platforms, vocabulary lessons, quizzes, and other activities that make language learning easier. Click here for a selection of software reviews and comparisons.

7. Non-verbal communication is also a valuable clue

Observe how locals move their hands or how their faces react during a conversation. Try to imitate these gestures to give your communication a more authentic feel.

8. Accept that you are going to make mistakes

Many language learners get frustrated when they make mistakes or when people make fun of them. Learning a new language is not an easy task. Stay focused on getting better and equipping yourself with the learning essentials.

9. Embrace being a student all over again

Take notes, practice your lines, and learn one phrase a day. Having a solid routine and preparation are key to becoming more confident and well versed in the new language.

10. Grab every opportunity for conversation

All of your efforts to learn a new language will go to waste unless you put it into practice! Immerse yourself in the local community, connect with new people, and you’ll be well on your way to fulfilling your travel goals.

Bon voyage!

Written by Laurianne Sumerset, who evaluates language learning software to help others choose the right programme for them. She has worked and travelled abroad.