The wonder of Mexico City

Have you ever visited a city and had your mind completely changed about what you expected it to be like? Well Mexico City has done that to me. Let me share how and why this is a must visit city!

Heading to Mexico City last week I had visions of street crime, high levels of pollution, tourist sights that were miles out of town and worries about my safety. Well how wrong could I have been! Recently, the government has worked really hard to clean up the city and it shows. I found Mexico beautiful, clean and a pleasure to explore.


There a many wonderful areas to explore. Paseo de la Reforma is a wide tree lined avenue that runs through the middle of the city. Today it is filled with tourist attractions, restaurants and museums. It leads to the Historic Centre which is focused on the Zocalo or main plaza, the second largest plaza in the world after Red Square in Moscow. Absolutely amazing! Find a cafe up high overlooking the square with a view of the Presidents Palace and the Cathedral and get into the spirit of Mexico by drinking Corona and eating tapas. You really feel like you have arrived.

For an evening out head to one of the historic neighborhoods like Tlalpan or San Angel. Find a spot on the sidewalk to sip coffee, tequila or a glass of wine and watch the world go by. For an outstanding meal try 1900 in Tlalpan. A large steak and a bottle of red wine with new found friends is a great way to spend an evening. San Angel, which was historically a rural community, is now a maze of cobbled streets full of beautiful old homes and restaurants intersected by major avenues. It has a Bohemian feel and is a popular meeting place for artists.

When you’re ready to explore further afield the ancient pyramids of Teotihuacan or Pyramids of the Sun are a must, and only two hours drive away. In fact, there are hundreds of pyramids all over Mexico to explore. Something I did not know!


The Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (The National University of Mexico) is the country’s largest and one of the most influential in Latin America. It occupies a campus of 177 hectares which includes impressive modern architecture, enormous murals and the 1968 Olympic Stadium.

Coyoacan or place of the Coyotes is a borough of Mexico City filled with history. The central plaza is a great place to have dinner, shop for Mexican souvenirs and drink in the atmosphere of times gone by. Trotsky’s house, the Frida Kahlo museum and many other gems are all accessible on foot from the centre. Above all, you will find the Mexican people extremely friendly, keen to help if you get lost and very proud of their city. Mexico City is a great place to practice your Spanish too, as everyone is kind enough to overlook all those grammatical mistakes. So give it a go!

For teachers, Mexico City is a wonderland waiting to be explored, so put yourself in the picture and say hola to a wonderful opportunity.

If you’re mad about Mexico, why not browse schools and check out our current vacancies in this fascinating country.

Written by Eldon Pascoe, Senior Recruitment Adviser for Teacherhorizons, and a former head of a leading international school. He is a recognised authority in Gifted and Talented education and a respected professional learning provider.

International school teaching in Switzerland

I was so excited to actually have a job offer for what on paper looked like my dream job that I accepted without thinking through all of the practicalities!

I was so desperate to leave my stressful job in an inner-city London Primary at the time, that I think I would have taken it anyway even if they had said they wouldn’t pay me, and I’d have to sleep in a cowshed!

Alison TipperAlison Tipper is a Primary teacher. After a degree in Classics at the University of Liverpool and an MA at Nottingham, she trained as a teacher in London where she taught for 5 years before deciding it was time for a change of scene! She talks to Teacherhorizons about international school teaching in Switzerland.

As it turned out, accommodation proved a whole lot of bother. The school didn’t offer much help and it’s not easy when you don’t speak the lingo and everything is totally in the landlord’s favour. You don’t choose them; they choose you – but only after scrutinizing your application thoroughly. On my way to view one apartment I passed by lots of people in the street and assumed they were having a party nearby. It turned out they were all waiting for ‘open doors’ to see the same apartment as me, a common occurrence in Switzerland where the outgoing tenant has one set time to view. I didn’t even have a chance to hand in my application as by the time I made it to the estate agents it had been snapped up, which was a scenario that kept repeating itself. I was not the only new teacher having problems, however, and fortunately our school  had a little annexe with bedrooms in it that we lovingly christened the ‘Big Brother’ house. I was able to stay there rent-free for almost three months before finally getting lucky. For the first month it was like being a student again and a great way to get to know people who were in the same situation. I was the last teacher to leave that year but my record has been broken twice since, and the longest serving person stayed until January when they had to get out because there was no heating!

International school teaching in Switzerland

Les Paccots, Switzerland

The major obstacle to everyday life has been the language barrier. I had GCSE French before I went out but it in no way prepared me for some of the situations that have occurred from: ‘I think I may have broken your washing machine’ to ‘I appear to have left my flute in your taxi and it’s now having a nice tour of town but can you bring it back please?’ and then the embarrassing trips to the doctor when I had a touch of cystitis. I certainly learned some new vocabulary that day! I was so proud of myself the day I conducted my first parent teacher interview entirely in French. However, they say that pride comes before a fall and the next day I was waxing eloquently about my friend’s love of cats only to wonder why this was greeted with laughter. It was pointed out to me that I had used the wrong gender for cat so this changed the meaning to my friend not loving cats but a specific part of the female anatomy instead! I have accidentally told someone “Je suis chaud!” (I am feeling horny) instead of  “J’ai chaud!” (I am hot). Once, I said this to an older lady who thought it was hilarious and joked ‘oh those English they are so funny!’ However, when I accidentally said the same to the caretaker he seemed slightly disappointed when he realised I wasn’t propositioning him.

Sunset over Lake Geneva

Sunset over Lake Geneva

Another problem can be the change of culture. As I was only going to Switzerland I didn’t think it would be too different, but I hadn’t expected all the rules about re-cycling and laundry. I welcomed the fact that it was a lot quieter than the UK without the big gangs of people getting drunk, but I wasn’t prepared for all of the noise pollution laws. Also, all of the shops are shut on Sundays so it is very quiet and you have to be prepared with the grocery shopping. Allegedly, a man is not allowed to urinate standing up in an apartment block after 10pm and before 7am. The same goes for flushing toilets and running showers or baths. People are not supposed to have parties after 10pm and it is not unknown for neighbours to come around and enjoy themselves at your party but call the police when they return to complain about the noise! Not really very neighbourly! I’m only permitted to use the communal washing machine every second Tuesday between 5pm and 10pm. A sign states that the electric supply will be cut off automatically at 10pm. I have actually had to turn down social invitations that would have interfered with washing night. For some reason Switzerland seems to have less washing machines than Albert Square. However, the scenery and lifestyle more than make up for this and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Cela vous intéresse? Browse our schools in Switzerland.

Written by Alison Tipper, a Primary teacher currently teaching at an international school in Switzerland.

International school teachers need to be the best of the best!

A Head once said to me that International School Teachers are the best of the best… and they need to be! Not only do they have to be the best effective professionals around…they also do this under pressure in a foreign environment, working with many cultures.

culture-imageSo, what causes some teachers and administrators to be very successful overseas and others not?  It’s all in the intelligence, I believe.

So, do you really have what it takes to live and work overseas?

In today’s increasingly global and diverse contexts it is important to be aware and understanding. You must be intelligent, but not just in the academic sense, but also emotionally and culturally. It’s challenging at the best of times, but it’s also intensly rewarding.

Research has identified multiple types of intelligence. These include:

  • IQ – General mental ability
  • EQ – Emotional Intelligence
  • CQ – Cultural Intelligence

Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is a person’s capability to function effectively in situations characterised by cultural diversity. CQ is a critical capability that enhances employee, manager, and organisational effectiveness. It also enhances interpersonal interactions in a wide range of social contexts.

Two academics, Christopher Earley and Elaine Mosakowski, have revealed in their  research three main elements of cultural intelligence, and their survey across 60 countries discovered only a few people were competent in all three:

  • the Head: learning the beliefs, customs of the new culture
  • the Body: mirroring the actions of others
  • the Heart: confidence in an individual’s ability to adapt and be agile.

Cultural intelligence helps you work effectively with people who are different from you. Simply, it can mean the difference between success and failure, and the difference between solving problems and creating them. It helps you build rapport with a new team, and adjust to a new school. Cultural intelligence is a predictor of strong job performance in a new culture. The research shows that professionals with high cultural intelligence are more successful in international assignments. They work more effectively with different groups, and they adjust more easily to living and working in the new culture.

I would argue that the difference between successful people and those whose careers falter…is their ability to wrest meaning from experience and be agile and adaptable.

I believe that one of the most reliable indicators and predictors of true character is an individual’s ability to find meaning in negative events and to learn from even the most trying circumstances.

Daniel Goleman (1998), the well known writer in this area states that “EQ refers to the capacity for recognising our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships.”

He explains that EQ requires you to know:

  • how you feel and how others around you feel
  • what feels good and bad and how to change
  • an emotional awareness and sensitivity, and developing the skills that will help you to stay positive.

When recruiting, Heads look for a balance of all three to ensure that they have high quality teaching and learning occurring and that they deliver the school’s mission. They look at EQ for how this teacher will relate to others, afterall, schools are communities of people. Additionally, they look at whether this person can make it in this country and be happy?

International School Teachers are a very special bunch and they are often:

  • open to experience
  • conscientious
  • extroverts
  • flexible
  • agreeable and calm


  • they enjoy success and challenges
  • they are realistic
  • they understand there will be differences
  • they appreciate there will be frustrations (just like back home)
  • most importantly, they are resilient

We are living in a time of development and change. We must change, as the workplace does. The world of work is changing at an unprecedented rate. By 2020 the workforce will look significantly different than today. So an organisation will need to be sustainable to move forward. To survive, organisations will need to be agile, innovative and demonstrate best educational practice.

In response to this, School Heads will  need to explore and identify good teachers through recruitment.  A key part of EQ is resilience,  and as this increases educators explore ways to improve their practice. This requires open and honest dialogue in a supportive, accepting environment within the school by building the school culture and morale.

Performance is enhanced when people are motivated and engaged in what they do. When people are passionate about their work they are focused, energetic and enjoy the challenges presented to them to ensure this best practice. Developing a culture of recognition, success and celebration is vital in building, supporting and maintaining positive and professional relationships. It is even more important in creating a desirable learning and working environment that engages students, retains staff and ensures the support of the whole school community.

Simply, Heads are looking for the ‘Best of the Best’, with character and EQ, as they build dynamic and engaging schools, developing 21st century learners who are adaptable and flexible.

Welcome to the exciting world of international education….I only wish I had joined earlier!

Paul Grisewood
Paul Grisewood has been Head of a number of international schools.

Previously, Paul has worked as a Head in Australia, Japan and the Cayman Islands. He is a current serving Head with 22 years experience in education and administration.

Written by Paul Grisewood, a Senior Recruitment Adviser at Teacherhorizons.

Entrepreneurship can and will be the liberating force for Africa’s economy

“Entrepreneurship can and will be the liberating force for Africa’s economy”

“All our future leaders will need to take human-centred approaches to resolving the challenges we face”

“No, success does not knock on doors. Talks don’t lead to great achievement. Only actions count”

Where are these quotations taken from? Mandela’s autobiography? The Dalai Lama? The FT?


In fact, these words were spoken by a bunch of teenagers, who are still at school. But these aren’t just any old teenagers; they are part of the current cohort of students studying at the inspirational African Leadership Academy (ALA). ALA is a unique school which develops and connects Africa’s young leaders from over 35 countries across the continent.

The focus is on solving Africa’s problems; no mean feat for our world’s greatest politicians, let alone for a group of 16 year olds. And yet, the Academy’s intense curriculum with its focus on ethical and entrepreneurial leadership skills, discussion-based lessons and strategic development, empowers them to face these issues head-on.

The Academy selects exceptionally gifted young people from across Africa and offers them scholarships to a world class education in South Africa. It welcomes teachers from around the world to inspire the students to become Africa’s leaders after attending Ivy League universities. And just as the continent itself needs to use the best of its home-grown talent along with international support to achieve its goals, so the Academy mixes the best in international teaching expertise with its native and, frankly, phenomenal students.


This new breed of inspiring ‘World Schools’ such as the ALA is the reason why I set up Teacherhorizons. The teaching profession is finally catching up with business, politics and most other industries, and becoming truly outward looking and international. Outstanding teachers should be free to engage and inspire young people across the world who have grown up in different cultures, with different languages and in new environments. The learning which can then go on, on both sides of the classroom, is unparalleled.

And yet, for teachers keen to take that next leap in their school careers – to a village in Ecuador, a buzzing Asian city, an Academy for African leaders – there is surprisingly little in the way of information or support out there. When Alexis (Co-Founder of Teacherhorizons) and I set about applying for jobs abroad, we were amazed at how backwards the world of international teaching was – in terms of transparency and information and technology. Furthermore, we were fed up with international education increasingly being dominated by greedy corporates making vast amounts of education and sucking money out of schools. This clearly chimed with many of our friends who are teachers in different parts of the world.

It was this realisation that led to the concept of Teacherhorizons – a free platform – developed by teachers – for teachers to explore all kinds of teaching opportunities around the world. Through one single website, teachers can browse jobs, schools and apply for roles at the click of a button. Of course, it wasn’t that simple, and setting up a venture, where we are communicating with people literally in every corner of the earth on a daily basis, had a few teething problems! But we are now proud to have a constantly-growing community of talented teachers and to be connecting great teachers to inspiring, forward-thinking institutions like the ALA every month.


We placed Tim Hancock at the ALA in January and he recently shared his first impressions with us:

“I love working at the ALA. Our students are truly inspirational, wonderfully diligent and dynamic. The combination of small class sizes and low teaching hours allow teachers to build powerful relationships and create rewarding lessons. It is an honour to be part of such an ambitious and exciting movement. If you’re passionate about Africa and helping to develop the next generation of African leaders, then this is the job for you!”

And, for those of you torn between the comforts of home and an African adventure on the horizons, just take a look out of your window. 

Tim’s final thought: “The weather is pretty good too!”

Are you inspired? We regularly have vacancies at the ALA. Check out the latest opportunities.

Written by Alex Reynolds, founding partner and Director of Communications at Teacherhorizons.

Can youthful, musical agents re-shape an IB world school?

I spent a two year period abroad in Hong Kong teaching music in a semi subsidized international school (Lorway, 2010). The truly fascinating part is what happened to me as a teacher after I returned to my country of origin into my position at an IB international school on the east coast of Canada.

After re-entry, I became more aware of how young people deploy music to give voice to their beliefs and opinions about school and society in ways that can shape their school lives. When I re-entered Canada, I began to pursue a PhD program in Educational Studies at the University of Prince Edward Island, in an effort to critically examine practices in music education in public school settings which might assist young people to enhance those musical processes I believed to be already in place in their lives in and outside school.

I found that extensive research has been conducted examining the value of music education for students in public schools and possibilities for processes drawn from popular musicians to inform pedagogy for music educators (Cavicchi, 2009; Campbell, Connell, & Beegle, 2007; O’Neill, 2005; Green, 2008). As far back as seventeen years ago in my career in Canada, I became interested in the music making of young people in largely informal settings which appeared to be undisturbed by adults.

Similarly, when I taught music in Hong Kong about eight years ago, I observed how vital it was for students to continue the development of more independent learning through music making in school. In both Canada and Hong Kong, the young people with whom I worked embodied music much differently from how I had been taught in my Western music education pedagogy courses. How could I reflect such differences in my own teaching?

As part of my research project at the University of Prince Edward Island, Canada, we developed an after-school song writing club in which we aimed to create music based upon the experiences, personal cultures, and preferences of the students. Once a week the group meets for two hours after school to write songs and plan performances to showcase their work to the general public. The students develop arrangements of cover songs written by various artists, as well as writing and performing their own songs arranged individually and in groups. In order to understand the music making processes of these young people, the challenge for me as the music teacher is to assist in nurturing an environment in which the young people can develop their musical ideas, while simultaneously stepping away to avoid interfering. This is no easy task while conducting research with young people at the intersection between informal and formal learning in and outside school.

The Ocelots

The Ocelots¹

However, I believe young people today are serious about developing new approaches in music education which are rooted in their own lives, sustainable, and can affect schools in very profound ways (Smyth, Angus, Down, & McInerney, 2008). As part of my own research, my guiding questions are: How can the beautiful musical insights created by young people in their own musical lives assist me in becoming a better collaborator; a better music teacher? Are these young people assisting me in becoming more socially conscious as a teacher? As these youthful, rich musical insights came from practices and processes students participate in their daily lives outside of school, I deduced early on that teaching and learning needed to be voiced from the perspective of young people.

Yelling in the Color Yellow

Yelling in the Color Yellow²

Thinking back over my years as a music educator of vocal and instrumental music has resulted in the realization that the music making of the young people with whom I work has had a major role in shaping my own practice. Trained to conduct traditional wind band and concert choir at the secondary level has certainly not been in vain, but seems to have taken a back stand to my real job as a music educator. Assisting young people to write, arrange, record, and perform original compositions and covers of artists of their choice, reminds me that young people have moved beyond the simple acquisition of musical skill. I often wonder if these young people have a deep seated sense of social responsibility which comes to the surface in a musical environment where pedagogy is conceived as a collaboration between teacher and student (Smyth, 2011).

If so, what insights can we draw from their musical performances and music making to better inform us about practices in music education, or in other disciplines? What will our schools sound like and look like with the insertion of youthful insights into our pedagogies; informed by the expertise young people have in their own worlds which they choose to share with the school and greater community?

If voiced from the perspective of young people themselves, I believe changes in teaching and learning can be lasting, and not only a phase or fad. I believe young people can impact change in public schools through music. At least, this is what I am hearing in an IB world school in eastern Canada…

Verne LorwayVerne Lorway is a music educator currently employed with the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board in Nova Scotia, Canada, and a PhD Candidate in Educational Studies at the University of Prince Edward Island, Canada. Her work examines the development of youth agency and social justice frameworks through music making in educational contexts. You can reach Verne at


1 and 2: These photos have been approved by the students and their parents for scholarly purposes through the University of Prince Edward Island Research Ethics Board and the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board.


Campbell, P., Connell, C., & Beegle, A. (2007). Adolescents’ expressed meaning of music in and out of school. Journal of Research in Music Education, 55(3), 220–236.

Cavicchi, D. (2009). My music, their music, and the irrelevance of music education. In T.A. Regelski & J.T. Gates (Eds.), Music education for changing times: Guiding visions for practice (pp. 97-107). New York: Springer.

Green, L. (2008). Music, informal learning and the school: A new classroom pedagogy. Hampshire: Ashgate.

Lorway, V. (2010). Revelations of a Canadian arts educator in the Far East. Retrieved from:

O’Neill, S.A. (2005). Youth music engagements in diverse contexts. In J.L. Mahoney, R.W. Larson, & J.S. Eccles (Eds.), Organized activities as contexts of development: Extracurricular activities, after-school and community programs (pp. 255-273). New Jersey: Taylor & Francis.

Smyth, J. (2011). Critical pedagogy for social justice. New York: Continuum.

Smyth, J., Angus, L., Down, B., & McInerney, P. (2008). Critically engaged learning: Connecting to young lives. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

Written by Verne Lorway, a music educator currently employed with the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Why I skipped the country to teach overseas

So, why did I skip the country and teach overseas?

I needed air!  I needed a change.  I had been in the same area for 17 years and felt suffocated, although I enjoyed my job and felt wanted and appreciated at the same time.

My first overseas posts were in the Middle East.  I went to the United Arab Emirates and I was plunged into a school of 2,000 + pupils from being a kingpin in a school of 250, and I loved it!  The kids in my class ranged from 9-13 years old.  They were supposed to be 9-10 year olds, but what the heck!  That first year felt like being on holiday all of the time.  I loved Monday mornings.

Why?  Because it was the middle of the week and the weekend began on Thursday!  Okay, so we worked Saturday and Sunday, but that was simply novel and not arduous.  The facilities in the school were excellent and were there to use – an Olympic size swimming pool, with only me in it and a vast sports hall for any activity you cared to indulge in!

Elaine Crawford on a Honda

Elaine Crawford on a Honda

What do I remember most?  I think of the calls to prayer echoing out over the city, the scenery and the food.  I love Indian food and there is stacks of it.  I love Arabic food and there it is to indulge in.  If you want it, of course you can get European food – just head off to Spinney’s supermarket and you can cook your own!

My second post was in Kuwait.  That was straight after the Gulf War of the 1990s and that was a shock.  The destruction and devastation were unbelievable.  The oil wells were still burning until the Russians found out how to blow out the flames.  The school was a delight and the children were just gorgeous.  I think that was the best year of my life.

I went to Hong Kong after that.  Did I like it?  Well, I stayed for 17 years and I wept when I left.  Yes, I really did enjoy it so much.  It was hard work, long hours, plenty of paper work, parent evenings and reports.  Just like everywhere really!

So what matters?  What makes a difference?  Well, the answer is you.  It is your attitude that counts, your application, your acceptance of responsibilities.  Work hard and you can also play hard.  Take the opportunities as they come.  It is a new home, so don’t expect the same – just enjoy the differences!

Elaine Crawford trained at Bingley Yorkshire, ages ago, and lived in the Yorkshire Dales until she got itchy feet.  She always loved the outdoors and sports and went as an assistant leader with the Anglo Austrian Society to Austria whilst at college.  This prompted her to take school parties walking the highways and byways and the Three Peaks in Yorkshire.  She took groups on Youth Hostelling trips in Britain, Belgium, Holland, Germany and France.  Later she branched out and went cycling and camping with parties in Britain, The United Arab Emirates and China.  She is currently dividing her time between the UK and Thailand.

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.

The three main challenges of working abroad

By means of a simple introduction, I am an English teacher, aged 31 who moved this year from Manchester, UK to Dubai, UAE, having never set foot in the Middle East before.  I must also mention that, although this piece reflects some negative aspects of teaching abroad, on the whole it is an amazing experience, which leaves me with no regrets.  You can only fully get to know a culture after living there for one or two years – if you’ve only been a tourist for one or two weeks that’s not enough!

English teacher, aged 31It must be said that everything I will say depends fully on (a) which country you mean by ‘abroad’ and (b) how you are, i.e. the old cliché of crisis and opportunity being two sides of the same coin.  I would also add that I am a minor veteran of overseas life – my first ever teaching job being on no other than the Isle of Man, and at some point having also spent two years teaching at an International School in Helsinki, Finland.

The first challenge I will describe is the poisoned chalice of bureaucracy.  Again this depends on where you go, but be prepared for draconian measures, such as blood tests, chest X-rays, finger-printing, palm prints, iris scans, in short – the works.  This comes after you have provided a signed letter from each of your previous employers confirming the dates that you worked at their school.  Sounds simple?  We’re talking dozens of emails!  The list continues… a transcript of your PGCE certificate from the University, and do make sure your qualifications have been fully ‘attested’ (this involves a solicitor, the foreign office, mingled with a dollop of cash, waiting and stress).  But I’m going to an EU country you cry!  Well, still be prepared for puzzling visits to the Magistrates, the local police et al.  On the bright side, your school will be experienced in this, and will help you along the way.
Next, I would say the second biggest challenge is simply adapting.  There will be a myriad of things which are different to your home country, laws, social mores etc.  Logistically, being in a new environment gives challenges to your daily life at the beginning.  You need to visit the doctor, but firstly there may be several things to think about: Where is the surgery? How do you make an appointment? Who do you see? (There may be few GPs and many various specialists) Have I got my health insurance yet?  Is this covered?  How much will medicine cost me?  Etc…  You may even find that your routine medication from back home is not authorised in the new country (yes it happened to me!).  There may also be impassible boundaries placed in your way.  My first wage was paid into my new bank account, but I couldn’t withdraw money as the bank would not give my bank card over without my producing my passport / an ID card.  You guessed it – the passport was with the embassy, and had been for several weeks, whilst waiting for said ID to materialise.  “It’s no problem,” said the bank.  “Just come into the branch and we’ll hand you cash.”

“You’ll hand me cash, without me having ID?”

“No ma’am, you will need your ID.”


Again, the school will help you.  And there will be new colleagues sharing in your commiseration whilst you bond over such small-scale catastrophes.

Thirdly comes the challenge of isolation.  Away from friends and family, you will have to build new relationships and friendships.  Personally, I think this is a great opportunity, but again there may be some practical limitations.  At first you may not have the internet.  You may not have a TV, sofa, the majority of your personal items – and you may not have a car.  In some countries, getting set up with these things may take a while.  For a start, you are not likely to be flush with cash straight away, particularly as you might be waiting for a refund of your flight ticket etc, but also you may need residency to even be able to get the internet and a driving license.  Living in a bare shell without transport, possessions, and no friends – that’s isolating!  Bear in mind also if you go somewhere where you can’t understand the language, it can get to you after a while.  OK, you can survive, but that may not be enough for you.
My goodness, I haven’t even mentioned the teaching!  There will be a new curriculum to get to grips with, and you will need to look beyond the Sceptred Isle to thinking of literature, history, geography etc in a more internationally-minded less ethnocentric way – as far as this is possible.  Personally, yes, a new way of teaching is a challenge, but it is also a breath of fresh air and after all ‘a change is as good as a rest.’  You may find you and your teaching to be reinvigorated as a result.

To close, you will notice that these three main challenges will face you most at the beginning of your sojourn.  The beginning may also be the time when you have the most energy, enthusiasm and excitement.  So, my friends, after the honeymoon period the rot can set in, be prepared for a rollercoaster ride and the world’s your oyster.  And on the plus side, you can look forward to the holiday of your dreams, you guessed it, coming back to the UK after several months and telling your tall tales to all and sundry really is the icing on the cake.  Enjoy.

Written by Rachel Oxley, an English teacher in Dubai, UAE

Getting the most out of the IB

‘Is teaching in IB World schools different from teaching in government schools?’ is the first question that may arise in the mind of a person about to embark on this journey. The story below is going to suffice your inquisitive mind with a simple answer for this compelling question! No, it is not. It requires open-mindedness to understand and embrace different cultures.

Getting started

I started teaching seven years ago. My first job was as an English language teacher in a local (government) school, but it did not last as long as I would wish. My career path veered and I joined the international community of IB World Schools in Southeast Asia, Singapore. This is when I started teaching English in international schools.

I still remember my first day in a truly multinational and multicultural school. In my classroom, I had students who represented six different countries; Taiwan, China, Japan, France, the United States, Thailand and Indonesia. Whilst teaching in such a diverse classroom, a teacher is likely to encounter problems of how to create a common ground to make sure that learning takes place. However, the other side of the coin is quite different –  expert teachers should not look for a common ground, instead, they should embrace different cultures and create a companionable setting to work in.

IB students

This is what I have done in the multiple international classrooms where I have worked as a homeroom teacher. I always tell my students, “We all are humans and we need to appreciate our common humanity while recognising our differences.”

Curricula at IB World Schools

The curricula at IB World Schools allows you to design lessons that will help you draw students in. Both the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP) and Middle Years Programme (MYP) and  curricula give teachers generic guidelines that allow them to design units where students learn to build emotional connections with the taught materials.

One such unit that I have designed was called “people around the world” within the MYP curriculum. In this unit, students learned all about different traditions, costumes, cuisine, beliefs and religions. At the end of the unit students were asked to come to school in their traditional costumes and act as ambassadors for their countries,  all of whom were invited to share lunch.

Students not only learned about different cuisines but they also had a discussion about the significance of peace in our ever-more global world. Such activities are essential as they bring practice into the classroom, and the IB provides the impetus to get started.

Making school a community of practice

Students learn better when they are given opportunities to apply their skills in the real world.  And, again the IB provides the best starting point for this.

In one of the units for Social Science class, students in my homeroom base learned about different government systems around the world. From all of the different government systems, students chose democracy as the best. Later on in the unit, students developed a small government and a constitutional draft that would help them keep their system organised.  As we concluded the unit, my young co-investigators took pleasure and pride in thinking of themselves as ‘experts in expertise.’

“Teaching in IB World Schools broadens your horizons as a teacher by inviting you to embrace different cultures and create a learning environment for students from different cultural backgrounds.” Remind yourself of this statement before getting started at what you do the best!
IB colleagues

About the author

Armine Abrahamyan has been involved in Foreign/Second Language teaching (EFL, ESL) for seven years. She spent the first year of her career teaching both English and German in local high schools in Armenia, Yerevan City.

Since 2008, Armine has taught many subjects and courses in English – from basic ESL at Primary Grade 1 to Grade 6, Middle School Science, MYP Language B (English), International Science, History of Asian Civilization (India, China and Southeast Asia), Primary 1, 2 and 3 English and Social Science, as well as Science and World History and General Paper courses to high school students.

Armine is currently a faculty member at NPS International School in Singapore.

Written by Armine Abrahamyan, a faculty member at NPS International School in Singapore.

Moving overseas with a family

My two year old’s future was bright. He would attend an International School, learn Thai and Mandarin, complete an International Baccalaureate and maybe go on to either a US or UK university. We would save money and enjoy trips to Koh Samet every other weekend.

I did not think about some of the more pressing issues such as nappies and food, nor did I think about pushing around prams and negotiating public transport and letting agents.

We moved to Thailand in August 2012. It was a decision that took months in the planning and interviewing stage and a split-second in the packed up and gone stage. In hindsight, I should have conducted a little more research into the new lifestyle ahead of us. The Thai phrase of ‘mai pen rai’ which literally translates as ‘don’t worry about it’ is deeply embedded in Thai culture but we Brits require a little more preparation and planning.

If you are moving abroad with your family, here are the things I should have known beforehand.

Housing and costs

Research the cost (and process) of renting a home. In Thailand, it is common for you to provide two months deposit and one month in advance. You should always research the area surrounding your school and ask your school to recommend some places to live and approximate prices. We found it varied hugely between developments and some developments had no local shops and were miles back to the main roads.

Negotiate your rent and the items you do or don’t want in the house. Check with people at school as to whether it is a good price for the area.

If you require the services of a nanny or medical care, ask the other teacher-parents at your school, I found they were the most helpful with their answers even down to which cable package was best to go for.

Check your contract

Sounds silly but make sure you know  what your contract contains such as who is covered by medical insurance and who isn’t. If your spouse or child aren’t, then ask your school to add them to your policy.

Make sure you have the correct visas on arrival and check with your local consulate for the up to date information. Ask your school who is responsible for your family’s visa – you’ll be surprised at how vastly different the policy is from school to school. Some do not pay for your visas, some only pay for yours and not your dependent or spouse.

Do some research into ex-pat jobs and fields especially if your spouse is not a teacher and intends to work – the Thai labour laws can be difficult to negotiate. Any company wishing to hire foreign staff must prove the post can not be filled by a national. They also must hire 4:1 Thai to Ex-pats.

Also, does your school provide flights or free school places? Take this into consideration when negotiating pay. Flights back to the UK can be especially expensive as can school fees even if reduced to 50%.

Ask when your first pay day is, you may find it is 6 weeks away. Finding your feet in the first few weeks can be exorbitantly expensive.

Travelling with children

julia-and-childThe public transport system is not geared up for buggies and pushchairs and the pavements of Bangkok are often crowded with vendors and inappropriately placed street furniture. However, if your little one is too big for a sling or carrier then brave it. Using the overhead crossings can be a bit tricky as they usually have no lift or escalator. Maybe consider downsizing your buggy to the very handy Backpack Stroller especially if you plan to island hop around Thailand.

Buying and renting cars in Bangkok is expensive. Taxis are inexpensive and numerous but whether the capricious cabbie will take you where you want to go is another matter. If they do, insist on the meter being used at all times and be prepared that none of the taxis have seatbelts for you or your child. And definitely learn the words left, right, slow down and stop. Ask someone at your school to write your address in Thai so you can show the driver.

What to bring with you

If you do have a little one then bring enough nappies and baby wipes to last you a few weeks. They are readily available in most 7/11s but it’s one less worry for you when you are house hunting/starting new jobs etc.

If you are worried about your child eating the local food, bring your child’s favourite brand of things such as cereal or baby food as they do taste a little different. We found that our little one’s pallet soon adjusted to the food and he has a good appetite for the local cuisine. He loves going to the market and spotting the different fruit and vegetables. There are western supermarkets but they are expensive compared to the local markets and stalls.

Jars of baby food are available, however, the ingredients are not always in English so for your own peace of mind it is definitely worth investing in a blender and making your own.

If your baby is still using a bottle, cup or dummies then bring some extra ones as the shops tend not to stock western brands. The ones stocked are not as robust as the ones you may be used to.

I brought a selection of books and favourite toys with us, most airlines will let you check extra baggage in on-line at a much cheaper rate saving the agonising decisions of what not to bring.

Family life

julia-child-playingAfter a few weeks, we were settled and I bought ‘What can we do today? Kids in Bangkok‘. It’s a selection of activities which on a weekend we select at random and head off to do. We have visited the zoo, a water park and even been ice-skating – discovering that Bangkok has a lot more on offer for families than it at first appears.

Thai people love children and you will find them welcome all over and in places you might not expect too. Expect people to pick them up and offer them treats and gifts. When you relax in the knowledge that there is no Health and Safety and that rules no longer apply, just enjoy it. Mai pen rai.

Some helpful websites

Written by Julia Knight-Williams, a Curriculum, Planning and Pastoral Delivery KS Coordinator at a Preparatory School in Thailand. Follow Julia on twitter.

School Christmas Venezuelan style

Of course our Christmas celebration is school related. It makes me realize that there is seamlessness to one’s personal/school life here in Venezuela. They are interconnected, unlike back in the States, where we seem to like keeping them separated, compartmentalized, as if students and school staff have two different identities depending on the setting.

Dolores, English Director and her familyAs big as Halloween was here at Pablo Romero Millan (PRM), the coming of Christmas celebration is even bigger and much early preparation goes into the holiday revelling to come.

Teachers and students have begun decorating their classrooms in preparation for Christmas. Rich reds, greens, and golds are ubiquitous on the small private school campus. One classroom even has a manger scene with Joseph, Mary and Jesus on a bulletin board. Try that back in the United States, where public schools have all but abandoned a celebration of the holidays, afraid of offending some and/or incurring a lawsuit.

Joe, Alicia, and Susie Clovis, parents of 3 of our studentsAlicia and I have been a bit like two of the three wise men, following that star to the promise land. It’s here on Island of Margarita. There’s a heightened happiness that we exude at school each day. Yes, learning is getting done, but we’re all looking at the bigger, holiday picture.

It’s the last days of school here at PRM, a couple of weeks before Christmas day; they announce themselves with an all-embracing holiday magic. Everyone is excited. It’s bitter sweet for Alicia and me, as we’ll be off to Heredia, Costa Rica soon. At this point, staff and students know that Alicia and I are planning on relocating to Costa Rica.

Joe's StudentsThis holiday season, each teacher is in charge of organizing their students to decorate their own classrooms, inside and out. For common areas of the school, students, staff, and parents volunteer their efforts.

There’s a contest for holiday decorations and Alicia’s fifth grade class wins a prize for their door decoration.In my 4th grade classroom, we create on the back wall a fireplace with stockings that are individually decorated by each student, who glue them around the fireplace, which is made with lots of red construction paper. The 3rd grade students decide to have a huge tree on their door that they then decorate with ornaments that they make themselves.

Holiday bulletin boardIt’s priceless how pretty the school becomes over a week’s time. It’s transformed into a winter wonderland. Of course finals are given and grades are due. Teacher duties along with holiday planning go hand in hand.

All of the holiday preparations lead up, crescendo like, to the last day of school before the Christmas break. There is a big concert on a wood stage, built specially for this party. My 4th grade students dance and sing Frosty the Snowman, while the third graders perform another holiday classic in Spanish. Alicia’s classes sing a John Lennon favorite, Happy Christmas (War is Over).

Joe's StudentThe students are all dressed in red t-shirts and Santa hats. On the basketball court are folding chairs galore with parents and other family members in attendance. There is fabulous food, lots of local Venezuelan dishes, with lots of sugar-plum fairy type desserts, and endless bottles of sugary pop for all to indulge in.

When the day is done, Alicia and I help other staff with cleanup. We’ve already said goodbye to our students, many of whom have already gone home with their parents to begin their own family celebrations of the holidays. They are happy that there is no school for weeks to come.

We check out our small classroom, still decorated, one last time. We say goodbye to our teacher friends and walk to the bus holding wrapped presents that some of our students gave us, knowing that this will be the last time we take the bus home from school here on the Island of Margarita.

Joe Haviland is a New Yorker, one of eleven children, with a B.A. in journalism from New York University and an MSEd in Elementary Education from University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. Married to Alicia Frank Haviland. Both Joe and Alicia have taught internationally at schools on the Island of Margarita, Venezuela, in Heredia, Costa Rica, and in Miramar Mexico.

Visions of Venezuela bookAfter Mrs. Haviland graduates with a B.A. in Secondary Education from the University of New Mexico this month, the two will be teaching internationally again. They are currently investigating teaching opportunities on all seven continents. This is an extract from the penultimate chapter of Joe’s book, Visions of Venezuela

Written by Joe Haviland