A tour of international schools in China

In 2013 Alexis Toye, co-founder of Teacherhorizons, visited international schools in China, speaking with principals along the way. In this article he shares his experience and insights – a must read for anyone considering teaching in this fascinating country.

Alexis ToyeThe first time I went to China was ten years ago, at the beginning of my teaching career. I had turned up with no preconceptions, a friend’s para-glide and a toothbrush as my only luggage and no real plan as to what I was going to do for 2 weeks while my friend worked. Having enjoyed Beijing, Shanghai and some of the surrounding towns immensely I was very much looking forward to returning, this time to work through Teacherhorizons on meeting the needs of schools and teachers in a huge country growing at phenomenal speed.

This blog post will share my thoughts on my journey and teaching at international schools in China. It may help you make a better judgment as to whether you’d like to live and work there one day. There is certainly a growing demand for English-medium education as the country looks to consolidate its vast potential into sustained economic success on an international stage.

Getting there

My journey from London started with plenty of bureaucracy: the UK makes it hard for Chinese nationals to secure visas and the Chinese have kindly reciprocated. Not only did I have to pay over £100 for a stamp in my passport but there were also endless documents to submit. Being a fairly last-minute person, I was only issued my visa the morning of the flight… Armed with a Lonely Planet, my best suit, a tonne of brochures and an iPad I arrived at Beijing Airport after what seemed a very quick journey. China, for some reason, feels like the other side of the world to the UK but it is only actually an 8-hour journey from London to Beijing, the same as to New York.

Alexis in the Hutongs ready for a meeting at The Beijing British School. Notice the backpack (s) – doesn't quite fit with the suit!

Alexis in the Hutongs ready for a meeting at The Beijing British School. Notice the backpack (s) – doesn’t quite fit with the suit!

My three week journey was to take me across the country: Beijing, Tianjin in the North-West followed by Chengdu in Central China and Shanghai, Suzhou, Changzhou and Nanjing in the South-West. All in all I met with Heads and visited 25 self-styled international schools across 7 cities and was staggered by their differences. It shouldn’t be a surprise really. China is as big as the whole of Europe so it is rather naïve to expect the whole country to be similar.

International schools in Beijing and Tianjin

I was impressed about how much Beijing had developed culturally since my last visit. We arrived during a national holiday and people from all over the region were having fun as families in the city’s numerous lakes and parks. When you think of communist countries such as North Korea, you think of serious faces, machine like people but China it seems is not like that all. Chinese love to live life, they have strong family ties and people seemed much more confident in their own skin than when I visited ten years ago. People also seemed friendlier and more open than I had found them last. It is no surprise, the country (well, the cities at least) is booming economically, sustaining a high percentage growth year after year. This growth can clearly be seen not only in the incredible infrastructure (that sometimes makes the UK seem third world) but more importantly, ordinary people seemed much better-off than in the past. Cheap Chinese brands have been replaced by Gucci, Prada and Apple products. I expected the western consumerism but didn’t expect the breadth of arts and culture on offer in what felt like a very liberal city.

The variety of restaurants (my favourite was the spicy crayfish outdoor restaurant area of Ghost Street), bars, music venues, museums and art galleries in Beijing is up there with the very best cities in the world. Our visit to the bohemian-style Arts area in disused factories in Beijing was an example of this cultural transformation. I was also pleased to see that many of the city’s hutongs (local neighbourhoods) had stood the test of time and endless construction. Getting lost in these hutongs’ narrow alleyways, brimming with life, is a magical way to spend a few hours and helps understand the importance of community living in China. Whilst public transport is superb in Beijing (and China for that matter), I most enjoyed pedalling around the city on an ancient Chinese bicycle as Beijing, despite the pollution, is remarkably well set up for cyclists.

Western Academy of Beijing. What an incredible school. The is the most truly “IB” school I have been to so far.

Western Academy of Beijing. What an incredible school. The is the most truly “IB” school I have been to so far.

The lively Ghost Street in Beijing

The lively Ghost Street in Beijing

Whipping across in 40 minutes on the bullet train to Tianjin, I had no idea what to expect. I had never even heard of Tianjin, a city of 9 million people. I was pleasantly surprised by the city centre: a mix of cutting-edge modern buildings, a wide open square and lots of colonial buildings from the former concessions. These concession areas have now been done up in a tasteful way as restaurant and bar zones. As everywhere in China, people are building for the future.

Travelling across China used to be unbelievably slow – things have changed with the arrival of the Bullet trains

Travelling across China used to be unbelievably slow – things have changed with the arrival of the Bullet trains

Wellington College, a branch of the famous school in the UK exemplified this, being built recently for a student population for 1000 but only currently housing just 250 students. Excitement about future growth abounds everywhere in the education world, particularly as the Chinese government has started to relax restrictions for English-language education of Chinese national students. International schools are currently restricted to accepting children of foreign nationals or with Chinese parents from abroad, but regulations are expected that would allows schools to accept Chinese nationals as long as their whole education is in their chosen language. Hence many schools are building for much more capacity than they need currently.

The brand new Wellington International School in Tianjin

The brand new Wellington International School in Tianjin

There are many outstanding schools in the northern cities of Beijing and Tianjin so I wouldn’t rule out living there for a few years but probably wouldn’t spend longer than that. My favourite of all the schools was the Western Academy of Beijing, know as WAB. Of the 50+ international schools I have visited to date, it has come closest to being the perfect IB school: uber-liberal, bursting with energy, student-led and full of smiling ambitious faces, determined to make the world a better place. I left inspired and longing to return to teaching.

People and pollution

There is are two key things that take time to get used to in China: the volume of people and the pollution. From speaking to teachers in China, you get used to the volume of people, but not to the pollution, particularly for those in the the North and Central China. However, I must confess that I found it hard to cope at first with the complete lack of personal space and the volumes of people we encountered at Beijing’s Summer Palace for example. You sometimes feel like a tiny ant in a huge colony, one of billions and that isn’t a feeling you often have in Europe. You do get used to it, and eventually, I even grew to enjoy the crowds of people enjoying themselves – there are always lots of people-watching opportunities in China. I was stuck by how hard-working people are, something you will find replicated at international schools. If you want to teach overseas to have an easy life, this is not the place to do it. Having spoken to a number of African teachers there, I was also refreshingly pleased about how open-minded Chinese were. To my pleasant surprise, they had encountered no racism towards them at all.

The pollution is much bigger issue. In the cities of the North, the AQI (air quality indicator) readings sound off all kinds of alarm bells. Schools such as Dulwich Beijing and the International School of Beijing have built massive anti-pollution domes to allow children to play without damaging their lungs. The government are trying to implement measures to deal with the pollution: mostly caused by construction, factories and an unfavourably still climate but the numbers and impact remains bad. So much so, that I wouldn’t recommend living in northern China with young children, when their lungs are most susceptible. My phone app read 5 days of sun and 25 degrees celsius in Beijing, my ideal climate! However, I didn’t see the sun for the first four days as pollution levels were so high until a breeze came through and swept it away.

International schools in Chengdu

The next part of my voyage took me to Chengdu, the heart of the Szechuan province. I was there to visit two schools we work with there: Leman International School and Oxford International College (OIC).

Following a number of current and former teacher complaints about the school, we had stopped supporting OIC until a site visit to their schools in Chengdu and Changzhou. Whilst I was horrified at stories of what had happened in the past, it seemed the organisation had made significant progress towards becoming a good school for teachers and students. There was still a way to go, but with the right leadership and the right teachers in place, I think they’ll go from strength to strength.

I was particularly impressed by the Human Resources department at Leman International School, they seemed to go out of their way for their teachers, both professionally and when helping them to settle into a very foreign city. One of my main motivations for a visit to Chengdu, though, was its food! Chengdu is the capital of the Szechuan province, known for its super spicy food and lip-tingling szechuan pepper. I was a little disappointed to be honest – the food we had wastoo oily for my liking and the cuts of meat seemed to be on the cheap, fatty side. Local knowledge is key to find good eateries in China and that is something I didn’t have time to develop. I was expecting Chengdu to be a sleepy, laid back town full of the tea houses it is famous for. Far from it, it is a huge metropolis and is growing as fast as any city in China. They have recently built the largest building in the world there, containing an artificial beach! Traffic on the ring roads was getting heavy so the government decided to build a whole second, elevated level of the motorway in a few months, delivering it before the deadline date. Where else does that happen? Despite the volume of sky scrapers I grew to appreciate the stunning parks, pedestrian shopping streets and old part of town that gives the town a more traditional, laid-back feeling.

Tina, Head of HR at Leman International School. Tina really goes out of her way to make teachers feel at home.

Tina, Head of HR at Leman International School. Tina really goes out of her way to make teachers feel at home.

A much-needed weekend break took us to a national park, 150 km outside of the city. The plan was to go hiking and stay at a monastery, up in the mountains. We boarded the bullet train, expecting the national park to be a stop on the train but no, it ended there. They had built a bullet train line to just go to the national park. The park entrance was as busy as Disney World. I was gutted as I desperately needed some fresh air and solitude. However, as we started to climb the crowds began to thin until we found ourselves at the most stunning monastery, sharing the whole place with just two other people. It was magical. Our mood wasn’t broken when we found out the only thing on offer for dinner was pot noodles, cashew nuts and some beers that the monks had hidden in the cellar. Oh well!

International schools in Shanghai, Suzhou, Changzhou and Nanjing

The final leg took me to the most dense part of China: the endless cities surrounding Shanghai. But Shanghai was the place that had changed the least since my last visit. It is a wonderful city and felt much less polluted than the other places I had been to many of China’s cities now have an impressive skyline but what makes Shanghai unique is that it has had sky scrapers from different decades for so long. It gives it an air of being established. Shanghai feels much bigger than Beijing.

I visited many excellent schools in and around the Shanghai area. I was impressed by my visit to Dulwich College in Shanghai. They seemed truly committed to building well-rounded individuals and getting the best out of every student, something many schools in China claim but then end up giving way to parental academic pressures.

Dulwich College in Shanghai: really well-run school in a lovely suburb of Shanghai

Dulwich College in Shanghai: really well-run school in a lovely suburb of Shanghai

I found Yew Chung International School’s approach at primary level fascinating. They have a Chinese teacher and a Western teacher co-teaching in a class, the idea being to bring the best of Western and Eastern educational practices into the classroom. It means that teachers also have much more of a chance to feel integrated with the local community. When it comes to facilities and energy, Shanghai American School was probably the most impressive of my whole visit.

Shanghai has a very active social scene. More than 800,000 expatriates live there. I visited a number of former colleagues who now work here and was somewhat envious of their standard of living. International school salaries are superb in China and the cost of living is significantly lower than it is in Europe, meaning that many teachers have a very high standard of living whilst saving a substantial chunk of their salary simultaneously. Like Hong Kong, Shanghai has a very lively expat social scene which focusses primarily on socialising and sport. Opportunities for exotic holidays and regional travel are both excellent.

Eddie takes in the extraordinary skyline in Shanghai, such a great city

Eddie takes in the extraordinary skyline in Shanghai, such a great city

My next three days were spent in Suzhou, Changzhou and Nanjing. I had heard Suzhou and Nanjing were pleasant but Changzhou had been described to me as a frontier town and I had quite low expectations.

Suzhou ended up being my favourite of the Chinese cities I visited. The air seemed cleaner and the traditional way of life had been preserved to a much greater extent than other cities. Going for a morning run round the old canals was the highlight. I was impressed how tastefully the new and old have been integrated in Suzhou. With the excellent Dulwich College Suzhou being based there, this would probably be my pick of the lot for couples and families looking to settle in China.

Teaching in Suzhou

Beautiful Suzhou with its cafés and canals. Suzhou has done a much better job of preserving its history than many cities in China.

Always lovely to meet teachers with place. In this case, Jon at Dulwich Suzhou. He and his family appear to have settled in very well indeed.

Changzhou also turned out to be a rather pleasant city. It is very modern but has been well planned with three city centres. The one I stayed at had restaurants and bars surrounding a pretty man-made lake. We went down to the building site of the new Oxford International College Changzhou. It is a fabulous spot by a huge, very beautiful lake and I was really impressed how the Head, Olly Wells, has turned things around there.

At the impressive new site of Oxford International College Changzhou with the Head, Olly Wells

The final stop was the British School of Nanjing, a delightful primary and middle school in a very pleasant leafy city.

Final thoughts

I really enjoyed my three weeks in China. I wouldn’t want to live there for the very long term as I personally identify more with the Latin American or South-East Asia cultures but I would certainly consider working there for 3 years or so. China is changing so fast and will only continue to develop that I think it would make an exciting opportunity to be a small part of its undoubtedly challenging but fascinating future. Opportunities for good teachers abound, and though the schools I visited set high standards, the rewards in all senses are impressive.

Have you ever considered teaching in China? Browse our international schools in China for information and current vacancies. Have you taught in China before? Share your experiences with us in the comments.

Written by Alexis Toye, Director of Operation and Finance at Teacherhorizons. Former IB school teacher and IB Coordinator at Oporto British School and Westminster Academy.

Bouncing back from the PISA results!

I’ve seen a lot of changes come and go during my teaching career in the past twenty years. Here in Sweden we got a bit of a shock when the last PISA-results were announced. Right now, we’re thinking long and hard about how to improve student performance in both reading and maths.

Pernilla LarssonMe! Where I love to be… in water, near the sea. Pernilla Larsson is an English and History teacher from the Skåne region in southern Sweden. She currently teaches Swedish and English to 10-16 year olds.

In 2011, we put a new curriculum in place that made us focus more closely on children’s individual abilities. All of their abilities. It was a smart way of allowing us to focus on the quieter children and to identify weaknesses within the strongest. In this way I feel we have already started to capture New Knowledge, which will be reflected in the next PISA-results.

What do I mean by New Knowledge? I mean thinking in new ways. It’s a question of being aware of the past but constantly webbing in new approaches to inform my way of teaching. Right now, I am working with a large number of students to help them cope with their own studies, to progress their learning. I’m sharing good examples to inform their self-study. For example, the appropriate language to use when writing an essay; how to understand what you read even when not being aware of reading. Tapping into metathinking – if you understand what I refer to.

LibraryWe have computers where I work and have done for some years. However, I still spread the view that books and study rooms, such as the library, are essential. Computers may make us work faster but my students need to realize that we still need to meet for real! In books there are magical worlds to be found! I was more or less raised in a library! But books and technology can happily co-exist. I can’t live without my Android. I exist as @Qvittra on Twitter, and I’m sharing this online blog with you now.

I’m going to end with my elephants. They are a fine example of how we need to lean on one another to spread knowledge and grow. With open minds and good hearts.
African savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana africana)

Written by Pernilla Larsson, an English and History teacher from the Skåne region in southern Sweden.

Settling in and making the most of teaching abroad

Teaching abroad for the first, second or even tenth time can be a scary prospect.  Not only are you moving jobs – most likely to a significantly different school – but you are also moving country.  With a proactive approach and the excellent support provided by most international schools, you will probably find settling in to be part of the experience and a rewarding one.

The logistics of moving home and jobs

castleIf moving home in your own country can be a laborious process, moving jobs, home and country can be even more challenging.  It can also be exciting.  Flat hunting in a new city is a great way to get to know it.  Most reputable international schools will appoint either a buddy in the teaching or administrative staff to help you with the logistics of settling in.  It is in their interest for you to settle in easily.

Logistics include finding suitable housing, sorting out visa issues, bank accounts and access to health care.  Outside the developed world, most international schools will provide free private healthcare with access to hospitals of the highest standard.  One area to consider is your pension.  Some schools will allow you to continue with your current pension plan (however, your contribution to the the Teacher’s Pension Scheme in England & Wales must be suspended while you are teaching abroad), some choose a private one and some subscribe to the local state pension plan.

No matter how adaptable you are, we would recommend moving countries at least a week before the school year starts and it will probably be at least a month before you feel properly at home.

Most international school teachers find that the first year is about settling in to the new job and country, the second year starts to feel like home and from the third year on they feel truly at home and integrated.  Those that stay beyond two years are likely to find it the most rewarding.

Expatriate lifestyle vs local lifestyle

boatsPart of the appeal of teaching abroad is the opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture.  However, battles against speaking a foreign language and dealing with foreign etiquette can get wearing.  Most cities with international schools do have an active and very sociable expatriate community.  New teachers can be rather damning of these communities and their activities – this is unfair.  Whilst there are expatriates that want nothing to do with the local community, most are open minded, interested in travel and keen to experience the country they reside in.

International teachers can feel lonely when moving to a new job and country.  Your teaching colleagues, expatriate societies, clubs and communities can be an excellent starting points for meeting new people from all varieties of professions, nationalities, backgrounds and interests.  Sporting clubs, wine tasting societies, cooking taster sessions, book clubs and social events are all a common experience of the international teacher.

However, whilst the expatriate scene is certainly appealing, we would urge international teachers to engage with the local community.  Local staff can be a great starting point with this and given an introduction into the local culture and customs.  Getting to grips with the local language will most likely be a rewarding experience and help you make friends quickly.  Whilst English is becoming an increasing global language, locals love it when one makes an effort to learn their language – no matter how badly you may speak it!  Local universities or language centres are a good starting point for these.

Joining a local sports club or band, going to a local bar or tea shop, learning how to cook the local cuisine are all good starting points and will no doubt enhance your experience in your new home.  Independent travel can be another way to meet people and know the local cultural intricacies in depth; you are far less intimidating as an individual than as part of a foreign group.

Culture

fountainThe world is without doubt becoming more globalised.  English is more and more widely spoken, western dress is becoming the norm amongst even the most traditional and conservative cultures, American music and television dominate whilst European soccer is supported almost everywhere.

Never-the-less, it is no less exciting to be an international teacher now than it ever has been.  With modern communications, you will feel much closer to home, but no matter where you are you will still find cultures to be hugely varied.  In most societies it is still wise to understand the do’s and don’ts of the local etiquette.  Very few will expect you to master it immediately and many local residents will find your actions amusing.  Ensure you ask and use the sections in the Lonely Planet or any other reputable guide book to help you get started.  Above all, be respectful to different ways of living.  That doesn’t mean you can’t question it but it is wise to be respectful of it.

Written by Alexis Toye, Director of Operation and Finance at Teacherhorizons. Former IB school teacher and IB Coordinator at Oporto British School and Westminster Academy.

Writing a great teaching philosophy statement

This is an opportunity to really differentiate and sell yourself.  The idea is to give an overall description of why you have chosen to be in education, explain what your beliefs and values are, and describe how you teach and how you measure effectiveness.  It is likely that your statement will change and evolve as you gain experience, teach in different locations and situations.

boy-on-yellow-scooterOf the whole profile this section will most likely take the most time and a blank page can be fairly daunting.  So here are a few starting points.

  • Create a list of your positive traits and characteristics.
  • Brainstorm what you are proud of or what you think makes you unique  – what sets you apart as a teacher?
  • Mind map your experiences and think what skills you have developed from them.
  • Think about why you want to or went into teaching abroad and teaching itself.
  • Explore your educational values – in an ideal world what do you strive to achieve as an educator?

Thinking about your responses to some of the questions below may help you to guide your statement:

More general and overarching questions

  • Why did you choose to enter the teaching profession?
  • What do you think the main aim of schools should be and what role do you see yourself playing in fulfilling that aim?
  • What do you think excellent teaching comprises of?
  • What does it take to be a successful educator?
  • What is the value of an international education?

Questions about yourself

  • In your ideal world what would education provide all learners with?
  • What do you need to do in your role to ensure that you get the best out of yourself and the people around you?
  • How do you measure effectiveness in your role?
  • What values would you bring to any role?
  • What are your teaching approach, methods and expertise?

Do

  • Only include ideas/views you are prepared to talk about at an interview.
  • Give convincing reasons for why you work in education.
  • If you have long term career plans, make a link between these and what you are currently applying for.
  • Be reflective –  what areas do you want to develop further as a teacher?
  • Consider your audience.  International head teachers and recruiters around the world will be reading your statement – try to anticipate any questions they may have.

Do not

  • List your achievements, experiences or responsibilities – there is a separate area for this on the profile.
  • Create a CV or write a statement on pedagogy.

Lots of help can be found on the web but it is important that this statement comes from deep down and represents as closely as possible who you are and what values you represent.

Written by Nikki Macleod, Marketing Manager of Teacherhorizons and former International Baccalaureate Business Studies Teacher

The challenges of teaching ESL students in international schools

Teaching ESL students alongside mother-tongue speakers in an international school environment presents numerous challenges, not least to the students. It’s hard even to start to highlight the challenges to international school teachers of teaching ESL students in such a short article, but here are a few key areas to consider.

Include learners of all cultures into the classroom environment and the school

boy-and-girl-readingIt’s not easy to adjust to the conventions of another culture. Being in a new environment can mean feeling like a permanent stranger in an unfamiliar place. It’s possible for a child new to English suddenly to feel unsuccessful at almost every task. This can result in feelings of inadequacy and frustration. The customs in which they grew up may no longer have significance and new, unfamiliar customs unexpectedly have priority. More advanced learners usually already have a good understanding of culture. It is important, however, not to assume this and to include the home culture of the ESL learner.

Assess their needs alongside the needs of more advanced native speakers

Assessment in English speaking schools is often geared towards more advanced learners. It’s important to consider what is appropriate for learners who are less advanced in English.

Understand the challenge of learning a new writing system

A new writing system can prove an additional challenge to the ESL learner. Some new arrivals appear to cope well with a new writing system, especially if their home language has many similarities but, without training, issues can occur with children acquiring a patchy understanding of direction, letter formation, phonological processing, lexical processing, orthographical regularities, punctuation, creativity and functions. These 8 elements, in no particular order, are based on Cook’s (p426-430, 2005) outline of how one might learn to use a second language writing system.

Cater for all the learners in the class, whatever their level of English

It is easy to set objectives too high for the English language learners. Remember that every child should be successful from the most advance at English to those in the beginning stages.

Provide support in the use of effective language learning strategies

It is important to consider the tools that a child can use to help them learn a language. It’s our role as teachers to provide guidance in how to learn English.

esl students
Ensure resources are supportive for ESL learners

There is a wealth of resources available to support learners of ESL. This can include authentic resources: tickets, magazines, photos, newspapers, menus, tourist brochures, personal documents e.g. passport, school reports, tapes with songs and stories, poems, posters, catalogues, postcards, story props, dual language texts, big books, magnetic letters, word games, puppets, objects, published language games, homemade games, simple worksheets, story sequencing cards and story packs – to name just a few! Make sure resources are easy to use, appropriate and functional.

How do you help ESL learners to integrate in your classroom? Feel free to join in the discussion below!

It’s the year of the horse… and a great time to teach in China!

It’s the year of the horse and to those who believe in such things – the horse represents energy, brightness and warm heartedness. The Chinese see the symbol of the horse as an unremitting effort to improve themselves. How apt then, that it should be the year that I move to China! And for snakes such as myself it is set to be a great year. I have to say, I feel my ‘fortune’ is already coming true!

Frances WallerFrances Waller is an international teacher currently teaching in Shanghai. Here, she shares her experiences so far of the vibrant, lively city she already considers home…

I came to teach in China just over three and half weeks ago. I am already overwhelmed by how at home I feel and how easy the transition has been. Mostly however, I am amazed at what can be accomplished with the words hello and thank you! I’ve set up home, survived the obligatory Ikea trip, settled into a new school and am now enjoying the first days of my holiday! Eleven days off – just one of the many pluses to being a teacher in Asia!

A vibrant city

So after a short teaching term I am now embracing the chance for my feet to touch the ground and to generally take stock of where I am. And where I am is immense! This city is eclectic, vibrant, welcoming, eccentric, and bursting with the new and the old. There is an insane amount to see and do, and other places to travel to. The good news is, it’s all possible! The great thing about being a teacher abroad is the improved work-life balance, that elusive dream we are all always chasing.
shanghai-buildings-at-night
Don’t misunderstand me, its still a tough job and the hours are still long. The rumour that international teaching hours are shorter and you don’t actually have to work is a rumour! After all, I’m still a teacher and that hasn’t changed from London to Shanghai. Lessons still need planning, work still needs marking and those levels need improving. However, what has changed is the ethos in which I now do these things. Somehow there is a security in the transience of international living. Both the teachers and children come from all over the world and move on to all over the world! The turnover of families and staff is frequent but this means relationships with the kids and your colleagues are fast tracked. People are enormously welcoming and I feel more at home here then I ever did in a London school.

The freedom to teach

Teaching out here is also what teaching should be. Less tick boxes and doing things for futile reasons and more actual teaching! Of course all the paperwork needs to be done and the progress of children needs to be evidenced; you are still accountable for your class and their achievement / happiness. However, there is a freedom here which I never felt in the UK. I am trusted to teach uniquely and diversely, not just teach in a colour by numbers fashion. Being a teacher here has given my love of teaching the wake-up call that it needed. Even after a matter of weeks I can already feel myself becoming a better teacher. It feels like the final piece in the puzzle. After this I will be equipped to go anywhere, work anywhere. I will have challenged and improved myself professionally far more than any opportunities back home allowed me to, and on top of all that I will have done it in an exciting and captivating country.
street

No regrets!

Before I left the UK a friend said to me that even if it wasn’t an amazing experience, it would still be the best thing I ever did. She wasn’t wrong. I know its early days but my instincts tell me there is more good stuff to come. I don’t have any real regrets in life, but I do wish I had done this sooner. If you’re toying with the idea of teaching abroad then do it! By thinking about it and never deciding you’re effectively choosing to stay. Choose to go. It will be the best thing you ever did.

Fancy following in Frances’ footsteps? We frequently have vacancies in China – Browse our international schools in China to find your perfect teaching job. Read our other related posts on this fascinating country or get some practical information about moving to China.

Written by Frances Waller, an international teacher currently teaching in Shanghai.

Throwing yourself ‘dans le bain linguistique’!

I really took for granted the journey mastering a foreign language would take me on until I embarked on my year abroad thousands of miles away from home. No text book exercises or comical conversation classes could have prepared me for life à la Martiniquaise nor come anywhere close to that joyous feeling of finally ‘settling in’…

Nneka ChukwurahNneka Chukwurah, who has taught and studied in Martinique, Cuba and Brazil, reminisces about her initial leap into teaching abroad…she also heads up Teacherhorizons’ social media engagement. Stop and say ‘hi’ sometime – she loves connecting with international teachers!

It’s been some 10 years since I first taught English abroad through the British Council’s assistantship scheme but I can remember every moment as if it were yesterday. I wanted a taste of teaching abroad and I wanted to improve my French – simple! What I got was an amazing opportunity to get under the skin of another language, people and culture…

First few months

These simultaneously sped by in a blur and yet seemed to drag on forever! So many new things to take in all at once – locating the three schools where I would be working, meeting teachers and Headteachers, looking for a permanent place to stay while temporarily boarding with one of the teachers who had kindly picked me up at the airport, not to mention navigating more paperwork to formalise my stay than I’d ever seen in my life! All the while, my French felt clunky – rudimentary at best – as I struggled to understand those around me and make myself understood.

Striking it lucky!

After a short while, I was fortunate to learn through a contact that a local family who were keen to take in a lodger had a room vacant. I fell in love with the house instantly, with its driveway bursting with pink forget-me-not flowers and the expansive balcony! It just so happened that my landlord, Mr Bravo, worked at the local university and Mrs Bravo was a teacher at a primary school I had been assigned to. I’ll admit – living with a family probably isn’t for everyone – and there were plenty of times where I wished I were tucked away in my own little flat somewhere! I can’t, however, express enough gratitude to the Bravos for including me in almost everything they did!
DrumsThis included family trips, kayaking, Christmas, Easter and everything in between, which exposed me to Martinican culture and hospitality first-hand, nothing but French language 24-hours a day, and a support system – given my friends were all teaching in Europe and my family were so far away back in the UK.Being thrust into a bustling family quickly demystified the appropriate language to use (with plenty of teasing at my regular gaffes along the way) with whom and in which social situations. One of my happiest days was simply calling up a Martinican colleague on the phone without her realising it was me for some time. That was a great feeling!

Culture vulture

directionsMartinique is a relatively small island, with collective taxi-buses or taxi-co departing from the capital Fort-de-France to all of the other major towns. As Wednesdays were a no-school zone, this became the perfect day to explore what the rest of the island had to offer. Visiting one of Martinique’s oldest rum distilleries with one of the other teaching assistants is a particular fond memory.

I made a point of joining Martinique’s main cultural centre, Le CMAC, Scène Nationale de Martinique for updates on upcoming exhibitions, productions and plays. In such a small place the CMAC was pretty much ‘it’ for stumbling upon young Martinicans (most of them having left to study in mainland France)…unless you include the island’s numerous ‘zouk’ night-clubs! I even took up a contemporary dance class on Saturday mornings…but that was was short lived. The humid days and early starts were hard enough to negotiate in the week, let alone at the weekend! I discovered kayaking was more my thing and now I try to do it every chance I get.
Beach

Going back

A few years ago, I travelled back to Martinique – well, I’d talked about it so much I just had to show my partner this place that had made such an impression on me and kick started my passion for travelling. I hadn’t been in contact with Mr & Mrs Bravo for years, but after a few warm emails they insisted on collecting us from the airport, dropping us to our guest house and having us over for dinner the next evening.

My French had certainly regressed a little by then, but my memories of the year I had spent there were as sharp and vivid as ever. Taking the plunge and teaching on the other side of the world remains one of the best choices I ever made.
Kitchen

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.

Inside classrooms: Canada

Along with Finland and Shanghai, Canada is a top performing education system that is also relatively equitable. So what are its teachers doing?

Lucy CrehanLucy Crehan is a teacher on an educational mission to give some insights on education in top performing systems from a teacher’s perspective. Over the next 9 months she will share her experience of work in schools in 8 systems that do well in the international PISA rankings at insideclassrooms.com.

Salary: Although teacher pay varies across the provinces, on average Canadian teacher salaries compare favourably to salaries in other OECD countries; only Luxembourg and Germany pay their teachers more. Teachers also fare well compared to other Canadians with post secondary qualifications.

Class sizes: Having come from Finland, Canadian classrooms felt more like home to me, as their class sizes are above the OECD average. They are still not as big as England’s though (our average is 26.1).

Pay progression: In British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario – the three top performing provinces – teachers’ pay scales are negotiated at a local or regional level rather than at a school board level. These pay scales are based on number of years teaching, qualifications and extra training.
canada-info
A day in the life of a teacher

6.00 Wake up. Have to get up at the crack of dawn to finish my marking. A double espresso from my coffee machine gets me going.

7:30 Leave for school. Drop off my daughter at kindergarten on the way. In BC they start learning through play in kindergarten at 5. Last week she was involved in a project pondering the question “is a spider a good guy or a bad guy?”

8.00 Prepare for the day. Make a pot of coffee in the Science office, prepare the equipment that I need for the day (there are no Science technicians), and photocopy some tests for later.

8.30 Physics 11. We are beginning a new unit on forces, so I begin with a partner talk to generate some ideas on definitions and categories of forces, discuss their ideas and give some notes. I then give the kids my “you are made out of nothing, and you will never touch another person” rant. They love it! I always try, at the beginning of each new unit, to leave the kids with a concept that challenges them. The CAPE of rigour: Complex, Ambiguous, Provocative and Emotionally engaging.

9:30 TAG (Teacher Advisory Group). This is in our home room (my lab) and includes students from across the year groups – grade 9 to 11. In Canada students attend middle school in years 7 and 8, so year 9s are the youngest we have. I read announcements, talk to kids in the school musical about their rehearsal schedules, and discuss with whole TAG the fundraising drive to get $ for our earthquake survival food stash.

9.52 Science 10. Science 10 is one of only five classes the students take a provincial exam in throughout the whole of secondary school, so we are doing practice tests. Before tests, I try to give as much practice as the kids can stomach. Some require much more practice than others, and this is difficult to accommodate for, but I do. One of the many reasons I do not give homework marks is because kids all need to do different amounts of homework to be successful.

10:52 “Break”. I try to run downstairs and go pee. No luck. Stopped by a student who has a question about the kinematics pre-test. Maybe I’ll go tomorrow.

11:02 Science 9 ‘ungraded’. We want students to focus on achieving the learning outcomes rather than on just getting the grades, so this year, we are trying out an ‘ungraded course’ with half of the grade 9s, in which they will receive only formative feedback throughout the course. We’ll then compare their progress with the other year 9 group as they go through years 10 and 11.

12:08 Lunch. Ha ha ha ha ha… lunch. Good one! My room is packed. It is this way before any unit test. I work through lunch everyday helping kids, and after school about twice a week by appointment. In Canada, because of union bargaining, teachers do not need to make themselves available at any time outside of class time. We do not need to be at work early, or stay late. Of course, you would pretty much suck as a teacher if you followed that style.

1:02 Physics 12 (Advanced placement). From grade 10 upwards, we have some advanced placement classes made up of the brightest students in certain subjects; apart from these, our classes our mixed ability.  As there is no provincial assessment for Physics 12, we don’t need to drill for exams, and for this session the students have been given the task of designing their own experiment in groups. They got on well with this task, after a brief tangential discussion on university life.

2.13 Free period. I’m away on a training day next week, so my first job is to sort out cover, and see if the supervisor I usually get in is available. Most new teachers start off as teachers on call, so the staff room pin board is covered in their business cards. Luckily she is, and I then spend the rest of the time planning for tomorrow.

3:13 End of school day. Done! Well… a few kids hang around for about 30 minutes asking me stuff. After that, I enter attendance into the computer, wash my dishes, photocopy the tests, and I’m off home by 4:30ish. I’m not taking much home with me this evening, but I will have to make up an answer key for the test and answer some emails from parents and students.
——————-
Editor’s note: This is not a real day in the life of a teacher, but is based on real days from real teachers, with some added notes for clarification. This blog post has been shared with our readers courtesy of Edapt UK where this post was originally published.

Written by Lucy Crehan, a teacher on an educational mission to give some insights on education in top performing systems, from a teacher’s perspective.

Adventure is key to learning!

Without wishing to get too philosophical, what is life all about?

Tim Douglas, Head of Group Travel at GVI shares his experience of leading adventure trips for young people and demonstrates how enriching these experiences can be…

For me, it’s about people and experiences. Today, young people can explore the world from their bedroom but so many do not experience it. Having spent 10 years planning and leading school adventures for young people I have seen first hand the benefits of this experience.

I remember when I was in Kenya with an International School – we were working on a community project in the remote Kenyan wilderness and a girl in the group asked a local girl, of a similar age, how she got to school every day:

I walk.

How long does it take you?

2 Hours. Each way. 

And she did it barefoot.

The girl in my group was astonished. Wow, she said to me, I thought my 20 minute bus ride was a hassle and I can’t believe she wants to go to school that much! There and then, with that simple exchange, I could see her gaining perspective of her own life and admiration for this girl, her peer. A couple of weeks later, on the last day of the trip we did a review session of highlights and the girl mentioned this encounter and said she would resolve to be ‘more appreciative and work harder at school’.
GVI Kenya
Experiential experiences are very powerful. Her classmates came up with words and phrases such as confidence, overcoming challenges, problem solving, empathy and leadership during the review session. All fantastic skills and powerful examples to use in university/college applications and in job interviews.

Unquestionably, International Schools are nurturing future business leaders and as today’s society demands instant gratification and immediate success there will be a whole heap of pressure on them. It’s important, therefore, not only to nurture the soft skills outlined above and develop global citizens but also to promote socially responsible leadership.

Corkscrew, an organisation offering innovative study abroad opportunities, have created a highly relevant and unique programme, which allows for the development of socially responsible leaders. Students work on real life business issues for social enterprises while learning business skills themselves.  www.cork-screw.org/emerging-leaders-program

 

Now for some stats to back all this up – a recent study by the UK government on outdoor education stated that young people become more resilient and optimistic, and their emotional health and self-esteem improved. 93% of teachers agree that outward bound experiences influence their pupils’ personal development, in particular their confidence and self-esteem.
Thailand Waterfalls

The same study also demonstrated improved social well being as a result of these trips, stating that the quality of young people’s relationships improved, in particular with their friends, family and teachers. 93% of teachers observe better relationships between pupils on return to school. 72% of teachers observe improved awareness of the natural environment in their pupils on return to school and their attitude towards learning improves, and they become more confident, capable learners in the classroom. 60% of teachers observe an improvement in their pupils’ performance in the classroom on return to school.

So whether it’s Corkscrew’s Emerging Leaders programme, raising money for a trip to Fiji, climbing Kilimanjaro, teaching a class for 300 eight year olds in Kenya, trying to negotiate accommodation for 20 people in Thailand or spending 3 days in your local woods – these trips allow students to learn valuable life skills, have fun and understand the world. Go do it! It’s an opportunity for students and teachers alike to benefit from the power of adventure.

GVI wildlife - Limpopo SAGVI, Global Vision International, offer service and adventure trips to 11 countries across the world. You can find out more about their awesome trips here!

www.gvi.co.uk/volunteer-options/group-travel/schools

Written by Tim Douglas, Head of Group Travel for GVI, which promotes overseas volunteering and travel.

Lost in translation

Unlike many, I hadn’t come to Italy in search of its fine culture of good food, wine and the works of Da Vinci. And even the thought of ever potentially working out there as a teacher had never really occurred to me until I was in need of immediate work.

Annie SurdiAnnie Surdi, who has lived and worked in Honduras and Australia, describes how even  an experienced international teacher can still feel lost at the start of a new placement…

As many of you may know, the ESL industry can be quite unpredictable at times, especially where sessional contracts and temporary work are concerned – and when they come to an end, one must often travel in search of where the work is. I had to do just that, and it happened so quickly that I didn’t give myself any time to explore or uncover exactly what this job would entail and where exactly I would be positioned, or even the language barrier – all the essential things that I would normally offer some consideration. But as it was work and I needed it, it just didn’t filter into my mind.

I arrived at Malpensa airport in Milan and made my way through customs without any qualms, and my dear friend welcomed me and happened to speak some English so it all went quite smoothly. I felt quite calm even though I was pretty jetlagged. It was only the day after when I woke up and saw a note which had directions on how to get to the centre and the name of the mobile shop that I would need to get to in order to get my sim card that I realised life here would demand more than meets the eye. I looked out the window and it seemed pretty dismal and gloomy with no one in sight. I quickly regained my thoughts that I didn’t speak a word of Italian and didn’t even have a phrase book, so how would I get around?!
italy-buildingMy employer, on the other hand, was keen to get me started, so those immediate thoughts and first impressions of culture shock had to be put to one side. I was escorted to the central train station by my friend who also waited with me patiently as he told me that the train system was not as organised as in London. As I gazed up to get a clear view of the train timetable, I noticed it had been cancelled, so we had to get my ticket refunded. It was certainly not straightforward as we had to report to the head office as opposed to the ticket counter. All the jabbering in Italian and strange faces glaring at me…I felt so lost and not so independent for the first time.

My destination was Carpi and not Capri, which would have taken me off to a beautiful and luxurious island in the South. This took a while to sink in though. I boarded the train and struggled with my baggage, but I couldn’t get anyone to help as I couldn’t express myself, so I huffed and puffed and sat down.

Now, my new boss had instructed me beforehand that once I arrived at the station I should head straight out through the entrance. I was still a little dazed with all the commotion and followed everyone else, and saw the huge steps leading me out of the station. “I am here, I said to myself”. I could see a huge car park but no one in sight. But I waited patiently looking around and at the cars driving past. Little to my surprise, there’s a spot of drizzle, and no sight of my umbrella. Half an hour later, I finally built up the courage to ask someone if I could use their mobile as the battery was flat on mine. I approached one man who just walked away as soon as he heard me speak in English; I saw someone else and by the looks of it he could speak a little as he came over and I offered to pay him. He took the money but the line was busy, so I left a message. The man had to leave to catch his train but assured me that he would tell my boss where I was. So, another 15 minutes passed with no one in sight, and everyone just passing me by or ignoring me until someone came over and started speaking to me in English and let me use his phone. My boss was livid by the sounds of it, and instructed me that I was not at the main entrance but the exit!
mayor-of-carpiThis was all because I couldn’t communicate and get myself across to anyone. For a second I felt pretty low. I found it pretty hard even over the next couple of days, as Carpi was much smaller than I had anticipated, although surrounded by beautiful shops, venetian décor, and cobble stone pavements. Despite all the finesse, I appeared to be so detached from it. My new housemate, also a colleague at the school, appeared to be quite friendly and helped me settle in, but at weekends she would head back to see her parents. The first weekend I just broke down in tears as I finally realised I was so lost and the thought of even heading back to a shop haunted me, as I felt I became the centre of attention – but in a not so nice way.

Thankfully, my stay got better with time as I adapted and learnt a few words to get around and then took a few lessons of Italian to master my way through social situations. I guess, all in all, it comes down to the fact that I wasn’t organised as I had taken on the job so quickly. On top of that, I was living in a small town as opposed to a big city where locals are used to being surrounded by foreigners. Life brings forth surprises and valuable experiences at times, and my life-lesson as a language teacher has only just begun.

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