Job references

In this blog piece Teacherhorizons Director, John Regan, provides extensive amount of information concerning job references. You may well find all answers to your questions in this informative piece but of course, if we omitted anything – feel free to get in touch with us and ask the team directly.

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Who do I choose to be my referees?

Ideally, your referees should have seen you teach recently and are able to assess your professional performance.  They should be line managers (Heads of School, Deputy Heads, Heads of Section, Heads of Departments or, in the case of senior leaders, members of Boards or owners) not colleagues, friends, parents, students or someone outside the teaching profession.  You must assess whether the referee will be supportive.  If you feel that your relationship with a Head of School is less than satisfactory, you should choose a Deputy Head instead.

Why do my references need submitting before I’ve even been offered a position?

Unlike in the world of commerce, schools need references before they can proceed to offer the position.  This is partly due to being confident that the candidate has the ability and experience to teach, but it is also partly due to child protection issues.

My Head has never seen me teach – can I not ask my HOD for a reference instead?

It is conceivable (particularly in very large schools) that the Head may not have direct experience of observing teachers in the classroom.  I such cases, it is likely that they receive reports and assessments from Heads of Section, Deputy Heads or Heads of Department.  Thus they are able to complete confidential references.  It is wise to ask the Head of Section, Deputy Head or Head of Department to be a referee in addition to the Head of School.

The Teacherhorizons reference proforma for teachers consists mainly of a tick-box exercise where the referee gives an assessment of the candidate’s performance on a number of professional parameters such as planning & preparation, use of ICT, relationships with students, colleagues and parents, as well as personal qualities, such as communication skills and flexibility.  There is also room for a comment.

The proforma for middle and senior leaders uses the same format, but focusses on leadership skills and experience.

Can all schools see my references?

Only schools that are approved by Teacherhorizons may see the profiles, which includes references, of teachers.

What if I don’t want to tell my current school I’m thinking of leaving?

That’s not a problem, but don’t insert the details of referees at your current school onto your profile just yet.  As soon as you insert the details, a reference request will automatically be sent to them!  When you make a definite decision to apply for a new post, and certainly if you are called for interview, it is only polite and professional that you approach your Head of School to tell them of your intention and ask that they be a referee for you.

How many references do I need?

You will need at least two references (one from a Head of School submitted using a school’s email address – ie not gmail, Hotmail etc) and preferably three.

Can I see my references?

No.  They are strictly confidential.  Only the Heads of School and Teacherhorizons staff will have access to your references.

Will my referee be sent a copy of the reference?

When the referee completes and submits the reference, they may keep a copy.

How will I know when my references have been submitted?

When the reference is received by Teacherhorizons, an email will be sent to you.

Can I update old references?  What happens to old ones?

When you would like to update, get in touch with your Teacherhorizons adviser.  They will offer you advice on what to do.  They will copy the reference that you wish to remove and file it and delete the reference from your profile.  This will leave space for you to insert the details of a new referee.

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Did we cover everything? If you are requiring any additional information, please contact our friendly team directly and they will be happy to assist with any job reference query you may have and of course any other questions regarding your potential placement abroad.

Written by John Regan, former International School Head and CEO of Teacherhorizons

Last Minute Placements

The new school year is around the corner. Whether it’s only fairly recently that you’ve begun to think about a career change or it’s been on the cards for ages, there’s still time to find some amazing teaching opportunities abroad – starting now!

With these last minute placements it’s essential that you get in touch with our team ASAP and be led through the application and placement process in a speedy and professional manner. Please also be advised that you need to be an endorsed teacher to see the full details of all listed vacancies. Each page provides a link to get endorsed. 

Image © Anna Bella Betts

The Teacherhorizons team in Cambodia

International School of Havana

Cuba! Do we need to say more???

The British School of Brasilia

This school is a part of the British Schools Foundation, a wider group of international schools. It’s the perfect place for your career and professional development. And if living your life to the max is your thing, you could arrive in time to celebrate the Olympics!

International School in Genoa

An amazing opportunity to be living near the sea in this beautiful European destination. Culture, pizza, pasta, wine…!

Vienna International School

This school has top reputation and Vienna? Simply stunning, in the heart of Europe, well connected. Tempting, isn’t it?

CfBT Education Services in Brunei

Placement here offers numerous opportunities; not all teaching – some as trainers too.  Brunei is a quiet location, good for young families and overall offering good packages too. Eternal summer and jungles – anyone?

As you can see, there’s quite the spread of goodness all across our beautiful planet. If you haven’t yet done so, become an endorsed teacher to see full details of all listed vacancies. We’re already excited on your behalf and can’t wait to help you with your new placement. Get in touch and the rest is easy!

Written by Anna Bella Betts, Teacherhorizons blog manager by night and photographer by day.

Field Day at Santa Monica

Here at Teacherhorizons we are proud to present another guest blog piece, this time written by Haley Johnson of BECA. You may well identify yourself in this account of the inner fight between the professional teacher in you and your other, more human and more fun side where you let go off controlling every situation.

Dia Deportivo: Field Day at Santa Monica

“Miss, are you going to come to the stadium on Friday?”

“Yes, we are all going. It is going to be so much fun!”

“Aw man.” *Pounds fist on desk.*

“Oh, you don’t want me to go?”

“No because you are always telling us what to do.”

This is the conversation I had with Marvin, a very smart, very cool 5th grader, just a few days before Santa Monica’s first ever Dia Deportivo. All of the 5th graders at SMBS can attest to the fact that I run a tight ship in the classroom and hold all of them to sky high expectations. Naturally, Marvin was afraid that there was absolutely no fun to be had when we all arrived at the stadium in Cofradía on Friday morning.

When the special day was upon us teachers, students, families, and friends all came together for a day filled with foot races, soccer games, great food, amazing company, and of course, a ton of fun. Now after talking with Marvin, I decided to try my best to step out of my role as teacher and disciplinary or rather step back and not let my want to control everything get in the way of simply enjoying the day. Marvin reminded me that they’re all just kids and they definitely deserve to have fun!

We ran around all day with smiles on our faces until we could not run anymore. Dia Deportivo was altogether an awesome day and a total success. One of the beauties of life is being able to be a part of growth and special moments in the lives of others. It has been a privilege to experience not only the growth in the students’ lives but the growth in my own life and to share so many special moments such as Dia Deportivo with all of these amazing kids.

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Contact us to discuss with our team your options of teaching abroad, we’ll be happy to guide you through the application process and help you figure out which destination would be your best match.

Written by Haley Johnson, Bilingual Education for Central America (BECA) is a small non-profit which partners with Honduran community-run low-cost bilingual schools to provide the English-taught expertise through volunteer teachers, teacher training and curriculum development. 

Hi, Cambodian Teacher!

I was having my morning coffee at one of my favourite caffeinating joints in town (it’s called Sister Srey and you definitely should visit if you’re ever in Siem Reap) and it was almost time for me to wrap up my life in the country. Siem Reap’s coffee places are great meeting spots and if you ever settle here as a teaching expat, then be assured that friendly faces will be popping up at you in all directions. The Little Red Fox is another such place.

I digress. I met my friend, let’s call him Mr K for the purpose of this blog and I was happy to hear that he recently got married. It turned out that his wife was a teacher and I thought: “Hey, a perfect opportunity to ask some nosy questions about her life as a Cambodian teacher and share the information with our readers!”

While holiday is still in full swing, let me introduce you to Mrs W (W for wife!). Here’s what we can call an insight into a life of a young Cambodian teacher.

What type of school do you teach in and how old are your students?

I teach primary school students, the ages range from 12 to 15 years.

Which subjects do you teach?

The main subjects I teach are Mathematics and Physics.

How many students are there in your class? Is it a mixed class? If so, what’s the approximate ratio between boys and girls?

As in all schools in Cambodia, the number of students per classroom is generally quite large in comparison to what teachers from Europe or elsewhere are used to. I teach anywhere between 40 to 55 students – they are boys and girls. Ideally I’d like to see less students in my class because it would make my life easier (imagine handling 55 12 year olds!) and the students would also have a better experience. In my class there are more girls than boys but in general there’s not much difference – both boys and girls go to school.

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Bikes everywhere!

Is (primary) education in Cambodia compulsory? If so, do all children in each town/village actually go to school? What is the biggest reason for children to skip school?

Yes, primary education in Cambodia is technically compulsory, however not all children go to school as this “rule” is not strictly enforced. The issue with children dropping out of school is more evident in the countryside where from very young age kids are expected to help out on family farms, rice fields and so on. A very large percentage of the country’s population (estimated 80%) are subsistence farmers and the cycle of planting, replanting and harvesting rice is a very involved and largely manual job. Some would say backbreaking so all hands on board is the only way this can be dealt with efficiently, unless you have heavy machinery to take care of the hard work – which most people don’t. Aside from farming duties taking over, often distance plays a factor. Many kids don’t have the means of transport to travel many kilometres to school everyday.

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Young helper during rice re-planting

What are the typical hours for the students who attend your school? What are your teaching hours? How do they get to school and how do you get to your workplace?

In my particular school, which is located outside the town of Siem Reap, I teach Monday to Wednesday from 7am to 11am. During the hottest part of the day the school takes a “siesta time” and then second shift of students arrives at 2pm and they finish at 5pm. From Thursday through to Saturday my school operates only between 7am to 11am. Officially my hours should amount to 18 hours per week but in reality, with all the pre and post admin work and lesson plans my hours actually end up being around 30 per week.
Most students travel to school by bicycle, the older ones also by motorbike, some walk with friends from nearby neighbourhoods. It takes me about 30 minutes to travel by my motorbike. The roads are not great and if you add a monsoon shower or two and busy traffic, it can be quite a challenge at times.

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The school is over for the day in the Banteay Chhmar province

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Young girl on her way to school, Siem Reap province

What is the best part of your job?

This one is easy! I love to educate people. I love to pass on knowledge and expand the students’ horizons.

What is the part of your job that you don’t like and would like to change?

There’s no point beating around the bush. My low salary is the biggest drawback. Aside from the money issue, though, I also see big gaps in the education system of Cambodia and feel that the curriculum needs an overhaul. But this is very much part of the bigger picture and reflects the current situation in the country. Too big a job for one person although I do have some great ideas!

How long have you been a teacher and what made you become a teacher?

I became a teacher in 2008 and have really enjoyed this career. As I said before, I love teaching children and the biggest reward are the new skills learned by my students, it makes me very proud. In those times I even forget about the money issues!

Have you had other jobs or would you consider a career change and if so, where?

No, I’ve always been a teacher and at this time I am not thinking about changing my vocation.

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Older students on their way back from school, Phnom Bok

What is your monthly salary and does it represent teachers’ salary across Cambodia? Is this money enough for you to support your family? Are there different pay brackets according to experience and do you get your salary reviewed and receive regular payrises according to the length of your service, your experience?

My monthly salary is 880000 Khmer Riel – which, in other terms, amounts to roughly US$220*. It can be considered the very low end of the scale of the average pay in Cambodia. This money is nowhere near enough to support my (extended) family – can you imaging living on less than US$8 per day? I heavily rely on my husband’s income too and we still barely make ends meet. Regardless of the length of service there are yearly reviews and small salary increases, further increases are possible following a performance review. With the current state of the market and the ever rising inflation those increases barely make any difference.

*Fun fact: Cambodia’s official currency is the Khmer Riel and it is widely used, however the country operates on a dual currency system – the Khmer Riel and the US Dollar. The UN peacekeeping operation of 1993 (UNTAC) injected a large quantity of US Dollars into the local economy and as a result the Dollar become Cambodia’s common currency. The exchange rate is roughly 4000 KHR to 1 USD. You can pay with a combination of the two currencies. Small change is given in Khmer Riel because there are no coins so think 0.50c is 2000 KHR and so on. The smallest denomination is 100KHR and the largest is 50000KHR. There are ATMs everywhere these days and most dispense US Dollars, while others both US Dollars as well as the Khmer Riel.

Discover your own fun facts about Cambodia or other destinations – our skilled team will be happy to answer your question about your next teaching placement. Contact us to find out more.

Written by Anna Bella Betts, Teacherhorizons blog manager by night and photographer by day.

Shiny Happy People – smiling in Cambodia

I love killing two birds with one stone and while we’re still on holiday in many parts of the world and our teachers are taking a break from teaching and contributing to our blog, I decided to recycle my own piece of written contemplation on the topic of happy people abroad and more specifically on the smiling faces of Cambodia.

Cambodia is just one of the destinations where Teacherhorizons place their qualified teachers so the following may be an interesting insight if you’re planning to settle in this part of the world for some time. Read on and if you want to stock up on some sunshine, contact us to find out whether Cambodia is a good match for you and your skills.

Are we all the “same same” or are we different?

I am on my way out of Cambodia and I am contemplating. Contemplating and thinking, remembering and reminiscing.

During my many (eight!) years living in the Kingdom and indeed during my many years of travelling through Asia I’ve seen and observed many things. I’ve met people from literally all corners of the world and I have worked with tourists and locals alike in photography and tourism.

Out of the repetitive, predictable and somewhat obvious observations I’ve heard from visitors regarding the “local population” one statement stuck out the most. It’s a statement in one way or another describing the people of Cambodia (or insert your favourite Asian / South American / African/ “third world” / developing country here) being so nice, happy and content despite the obvious lack of “things” we consider essential. Yes, to a degree, smiling is in many parts of the world considered a certain sign of happiness or at least of momentarily contentment and pleasure but did you know that in some countries it can also signify embarrassment or uncertainty of what to do, say or how to behave, an attempt to “save face”? Cambodia is a prime example of this.

But aside from this, let’s not get too deep into contemplation whether happiness in fact comes within or is directly derived from the amount of possessions we own, whether it’s based on our social status, having or not having a family and children, having much money, being healthy, being in love, having the job of our dreams or a combination of all of the above.

I’ve debated much on this topic over countless glasses of red (and white) wine with friends who, like me, have been settled here for more than just a passing visit – we are talking years. We are way beyond the cliche of “people are so nice here”. We know that humanity with all its positive and negative sides resides just under the very surface of any skin colour and if you happen to scratch it – well, see for yourself. Aside from that seemingly obvious happiness there’s also sadness, there’s envy and greed, there’s jealousy and ego.

But…. Maybe Cambodians really ARE overall a very open, welcoming and forthcoming bunch because it’s been the most wonderful eight years I could wish for if I don’t focus on the encounters of the traffic kind or the occasions of loud weddings and funerals in my neighbourhood. A different story altogether.

So, let’s move swiftly to a conclusion, because there is one:

I think that we carry the smiles of other people within us and what we encounter daily is a mirror of ourselves. Count the smiles when you’re grumpy – you probably won’t get many. Crack a smile with your “hello” and the whole world is beaming back at you, it’s infectious. I challenge you to try this at home, wherever your home may be, because that’s what you do when you’re on holiday, isn’t it? And that’s why everybody seems so “nice”. Fact. Strike up a random conversation with strangers, open up and see what happens. Compliment people, be “nice”, treat everybody the way you want to be treated – am I stating the obvious? Perhaps, but we often overlook the obvious so switch from cloudy to sunshine and be ready for amazing things to happen! 😃

Below are my favourite Cambodian smiles and for those interested in teaching abroad why not refer to our happy teachers and gain an inspiration?

Friendly monk in a monastery Monk in Angkor Wat Head monk in Wat Atvea Nun of Angkor Wat Countryside fellow On the way Heavy load and still smiling Smile on Phnom Santuk Happy friends gathering Uhm, dentist? Peek-a-boo Harvest Smile

 

 

 

Written by Anna Bella Betts, Teacherhorizons blog manager by night and photographer by day.

Prague city break

Hello, teachers! Are you rested? Are you having fun? Have you forgotten all about schools or are you secretly missing it?

Regardless where you’re at I decided to tackle the Teacherhorizons blog with a holiday spirit at least during the two summer months which mark your precious time off work – more or less. Stay tuned as we have for you in the pipeline more serious topics such as “When things go wrong”, “Women’s safety abroad”, “Why do I need references?” and “Same sex couples moving and working abroad” to name a few.

While the sun is shining and in a similar spirit to our last blog I wanted to invite you to “Czech out” the capital of the Czech Republic if you still have some empty slots in your holiday schedule. A nice Prague city break may just well be what you’re looking for.

Prague must have been and still is on so many bucket lists so I can call myself lucky that it will be my home again from the end of July. It has also undergone a massive change since the fall of the Berlin wall and opening of European borders in the early 90’s. What was once a city of certain Kafka-esque mood and dilapidated peeling street corners has now become a sparkling metropolis with homogenous high street brands lulling you to get rid of your hard earned cash literally everywhere. Whether it’s good or bad is the question I ask myself all the time. I miss the old days when crossing the Charles Bridge was not a battle of survival between the umbrellas of tour leaders and rapidly clicking cameras, when walking in the centre of Prague you would meet only a few brave foreign souls and would not risk your life being run over by obnoxious Segways riders….
There’s no point being bitter about it though and we must go with the flow, or do we? Maybe going against the flow is a better option here. Like anywhere, to cover the “must sees” such as Charles Bridge, Mala Strana, Old Town Square and the Astronomical Clock, the Prague Castle and Zlata Ulicka to name a few, one has to put up with some levels of discomfort because other people have the same right to visit those places and in the end we are all tourists and Prague is THE place to be… I will not focus on these top spots as any guidebook will tell you what you need to know about them. Instead, let me tell you about my personal top things to do in Prague which should enhance your few days’ experience and provide for more varied memories.
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Zlata Ulicka completely devoid of tourists. A truly rare sight.

 

Breathe the fresh air of Petrin

If greenery and nature is what you are looking for, then look no further. Petrin has all that and more. This leafy hilly space dominates the left bank of the Vltava river and it’s truly an oasis of greenery and peace bang in the middle of the city. The way to recognise it is by spotting the Eiffel tower-like structure atop the hill – a lookout tower offering spectacular 360 degree views of the city. Petrin can be navigated on foot (like most of Prague) or reached by a tram. There are outdoor pubs scattered around the place and the zigzag up and down hill paths offer an excellent exercise ground for those who love to walk, jog or cycle.

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Stunning panorama views of Prague from Petrin Hill.

 

Discover the Old Prague

This place, ironically called the New World is perhaps one of the last few places which would suit the label “old Prague”. Quiet winding cobbled streets with not much traffic, hidden cafes and picturesque houses and not a tourist in sight – that’s what I like most about Novy Svet; how it reminds me of the Prague of old. Find it and bring your camera along to practise some black and white shots, it suits it very well here! Then have a coffee and relax before your return to the buzz of the city just a few streets away.
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Archways and cobbled streets. The old Prague.

 

Quench your thirst on a hot day (or a cold one)

Not many activities in Prague would take place without consuming at least one (or three) icy glasses of the frothy golden liquid we call “pivo”. If you purposely find U Jelinku or just stumble upon it, make sure you call in and have a pint there. “Jedno pivo, prosim” and a smile should score you some brownie points with the master pourer himself and his mighty moustache. You will not be invited to sit down here, it’s a stand up kind of place. Locals call in on the way from work “for one” and it’s generally a good spot to study the local “culture”. Also, the fact that there’s no end to “pumping pints” here ensures that the Pilsner that flows here is one of the best and the freshest in the whole city. Trust me, I speak from experience.

Stroll the evening away along Vltava river

When the shadows grow longer and the sun starts to set, many flock to the banks of the Vltava river to enjoy an evening stroll occasionally interrupted by a beer stop. Several makeshift bars and pubs have popped up here in the recent years and it’s also possible to enjoy the sunset and evening breeze from the numerous boats mooring on the banks of the river. Here you’ll often find local and visiting youth dipping their feet in the water and sipping on BYO drinks while discussing and solving the problems of the world. In the middle of the day when human traffic consists more of runners, cyclists and mums with pushchairs, it’s a nice place to relax and read a book or just watch the river flow. Completely free and very much infused with the spirit of Prague.
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A classic view of the Prague Castle from across the Vltava river.

 

Views, views, views!

The fact that Prague’s topography is hilly is overall great news for visitors, even though you do have to earn your views. Think steps and hills! Vysehrad, a historical fort dating back to the 10th century, offers much more than just stunning views. The impressive neo-gothic Basilica of St Peter and Paul dominates the site and attached to it is the famous Vysehrad Cemetery, a resting place of many prominent Czech personalities – from Bedrich Smetana and Antonin Dvorak to Alfons Mucha and Karel Capek. From the view point you can see the whole Prague panorama opening in front of you into the west, so this makes it another excellent sunset watching spot.
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Beautifully decorated door of the Basilica of St Peter and Paul in Vysehrad.

 

Get deliciously lost

This is a good one. Get lost. Either completely on foot or taking advantage of the excellent public transport system of the city. I suggest you get yourself a ticket which will cover you on all means of transport for 24 hours from the moment you “punch it” and then go for your life! As long as you have the name and address of your hotel with you, you’ll be perfectly fine to randomly hop on and off and take a stroll in places which take your fancy. Prague has many faces and only few visitors venture out of the comfort zone of the historical centre – why not be different? The Tram #22 is perhaps the best one to take and enjoy many iconic sights along the way. The network of underground, trams and busses is very well connected and frequent so it’s always easy to find your way back.
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Old Zizkov freight train depot

Go “Retro”

If you make it to Prague before the end of October 2016 then I urge you to pay a visit to the “Retro 70’s & 80’s” Exhibition in the Dancing House. Here I found my childhood condensed in an impressive collection of all things I remember from my young years. You’ll see the funky wardrobes our mothers would have, the camping assembly so much part of any family-time leisure, old motorcycles and cars, rubber swimming hats, chocolate and cheese wrappers and other “goods” available in the deep dark communist days, all of this scattered over three floors of the Dancing House. The Dancing House is an icon in itself with its flowing twisting lines and mirror-like windows. The entry fee will entitle you to the roof access from where you’ll get yet another bird’s eye perspective on Mother Prague while sipping on a delicious cup of coffee. If you miss this particular exhibition, the next one is about to be just as good.
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Yet another view. This one from atop of the Dancing House.

 

Try your luck in Textile House

I feel no shame admitting that I am addicted to second hand shopping so discovering Textile House made my heart sing. There are at least 5 locations scattered throughout Prague and I frequent at least 3 of them almost weekly. It’s a kind of sport to me and what a better way to reset and refill your wardrobe upon relocation than scouting these well stocked shops?! The prices are reasonable, the assortment of goods wide and well displayed so it’s no wonder these shops are popular among locals and tourists alike.

Needless to say, this list is not exhaustive and you will most likely create your own by the time you come to leave the city of hundreds of towers and bridges. The main thing is to have fun of course!

Did you know that Teacherhorizons also place teachers in Prague? If this city sounds like a match to you, contact us to discuss your options of teaching there and discovering your own top activities!

Written by Anna Bella Betts, Teacherhorizons blog manager by night and photographer by day.

Holiday in Cambodia!

Summer is here! At least in the northern hemisphere and many of you teachers are taking a well deserved time off.

The team at Teacherhorizons want to wish you a very pleasant time off full of adventure, sunshine and relaxation if this is indeed what rocks your boat.

I made my way back to Siem Reap after 2,5 months in Prague and I found the Teacherhorizons office empty! Yes, they too deserve their holiday so excuse us while we recharge our batteries! However, it’s still possible for you to contact the team should you have questions about your placement abroad or to discuss your next career move so don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Now…If you’re not sure where to head this summer and Asia has been on your list, why not give Cambodia a go?

Yes, it’s the rainy season but we prefer to call it the green season instead. The almost daily storms are much welcome after a prolonged period of drought but don’t worry, it generally doesn’t rain all day everyday. The days start fairly clear with fresh breeze and only by the mid afternoon or the evening the clouds will have gathered in a layer of thick grey fluff and the humidity has built up to make your hair curly. Forget your hair straighteners and go frizz all the way, that’s my advice after 8 wet seasons in the country. The benefits are clear – less dust, less people in the ancient temple sites and cheaper rates for accommodation. The green season also brings the most gorgeous sunsets so get your cameras ready!

For me it’s time to wrap up my time here and consolidate my worldly possessions and belongings which have gathered in alarming amounts. I will be moving back to Europe, Prague awaits and with it my next adventures, but in the meantime I will enjoy the last few weeks in the Kingdom of Wonder and give my new camera run for its money.

In any case, here’s what holiday in Cambodia has in stall for you should you decide to travel this way.

Vibrant countryside near Siem Reap

Vibrant countryside near Siem Reap

Fishing

Fishing

Young green shoots of rice ready to be replanted

Young green shoots of rice ready to be replanted

Green patchwork of rice fields as seen from helicopter

Green patchwork of rice fields as seen from helicopter

Reflections in Beng Mealea

Reflections in Beng Mealea

Rain falls heavily outside Preah Khan

Rain falls heavily outside Preah Khan

Submerged trees in the moat of Angkor Thom

Submerged trees in the moat of Angkor Thom

Tonle Sap lake as seen from Phnom Krom at sunset

Tonle Sap lake as seen from Phnom Krom at sunset

Written by Anna Bella Betts, Teacherhorizons blog manager by night and photographer by day.

The Lessons Learned

Well, June is nearly over and many of you teachers residing and teaching in the northern hemisphere are looking forward to the warmth of summer with long sunny days and well deserved days of rest. It seems like the perfect time to reflect upon the lessons learned and we’ve taken the invitation from BECA to share more of their inspirational stories here on the platform of our Teacherhorizons blog.

Meet Elena Height who looks back on her life and work in Honduras telling us that everyday is a school day – for all of us!

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It has been a year and a half since I last left Honduras, dirty, exhausted, and so incredibly grateful. A lot in my life has changed since then. I no longer pick ants out of my drinking water. I no longer sit at night and watch the sun set over the dazzling mountains at the Guatemalan border. I no longer take cold bucket showers or do my laundry by hand. And I no longer get to see my bright-eyed, mischievous, and loving Kindergarten students on a daily basis.

While I no longer do any of these things, I have carried the lessons I learned in Honduras and from BECA like dark chocolates that I unwrap and savor when life gets overwhelming and hard. I grew up there. I learned humility, forgiveness, frustration, exhaustion, hope. I learned that even when you plan and work and plan and work that sometimes life is not always going to go your way. I learned that you have to meet kids and people where they’re at and not where you want them to be, that you’ll never really know the pain or struggles someone else has faced. I learned that I had limits that I wore like the dirt caked into my skin. I learned that wasting something sometimes felt the same as taking from those who had none. I learned to let go, be present, and give.

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It has been a year and a half, but I am still the person that emerged from those two years with BECA. I am more generous, less stressed, stronger, and happier. While I was the teacher, I learned all of those qualities from my students, their wonderful families, and dozens of other people I met when I was there. I feel so thankful for those in the Honduran community for welcoming me into their homes, their lives, because their openness and generosity showed me a way of operating in the world that is often lacking in America. No matter when or how, there were always baleadas ready, a hug waiting, and a friendly joke about your accent ready to be deployed.

How all my best stories, successes, and failures can come from one place, from two years still amazes me. But what does not amaze me is that I still have the hope Honduras instilled in me that love and patience is all you really need to change yourself, to change the world.

To find out more about BECA and how you can get involved explore here.

Written by Elena Height, Bilingual Education for Central America (BECA) is a small non-profit which partners with Honduran community-run low-cost bilingual schools to provide the English-taught expertise through volunteer teachers, teacher training and curriculum development. 

Classroom Inequality

The school year is drawing to an end and it will soon be time for teachers to recharge their batteries. Here at Teacherhorizons we’ve connected with BECA for some insightful stories with flavor of Central America for you to gain ideas and inspiration for your next career moves.

In the following article Nick Derda pauses to think of classroom inequality which many of you who teach anywhere in the world may be able to relate to.

Despite having a day off school, it was still an early Thursday morning when my coworkers and I hopped on a busito, ready for a long day of professional development. We were on our way to San Pedro Sula’s La Escuela Internacional Sampedrana (EIS), host of the annual Teachers Teaching Teachers conference, commonly known as “T3” amongst attendees. As such, I walked in expecting to be woken up by sugary Honduran coffee and conversations about pedagogy – not Dr. Dre. But there I was, at 8:04 AM, watching as the keynote speaker showed N.W.A.’s 1988 music video for “Straight Outta Compton.” Scanning the room, the mix of Honduran and foreign attendees looked confused. Last year’s keynote talked about project-based learning. Why were we watching hip-hop videos instead of talking about positive behavior management?

The speaker was Lizette Arevalo, an educational policy advocate and Ethnic Studies PhD student at the University of California-Riverside. Her talk, an analysis of her own experience in the Los Angeles public school system, borrowed its name from a poem by the late Tupac Shakur: “The Rose that Grew from Concrete.” Ms. Arevalo encouraged us to pay attention to race and ethnicity. Photos of her kindergarten class and a demographic breakdown of Compton’s Board of Education posed concerning questions: why was her kindergarten teacher white while Ms. Arevalo and her classmates were all Latinx? Why was the majority of the Compton’s Board of Education African-American when the majority of students were Latinx? Despite the social progress the educational system had made, it remained an institution that, inadvertently or not, perpetuated inequality.

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Ms. Arevalo’s talk reminded me of an earlier BECA professional development training, where one workshop discussed how schools perpetuate social inequalities based on gender, race, and class. In the session, we examined how popular children’s books taught students unintended lessons about norms, values, and beliefs –a concept in education known as the “hidden curriculum.” Through careful analysis of these texts, participants saw how seemingly innocuous fairy tales taught students unintended lessons on gender roles, sexuality, and standards of beauty.

After the training, I felt energized and eager to tackle the implicit biases in our curriculum and classrooms. Sitting in Ms. Arevalo’s address, however, I realized that I hadn’t thought about those things in a very long time. The day-to-day difficulties of managing a school had taken over. Desegregating gendered recess activities and incorporating books by Afro-Latinx authors had been superseded by curing stomachaches and making sure classrooms were clean. It didn’t seem like there was time to step back and critically think about how we were unintentionally reinforcing inequalities.

 

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Ms. Arevalo ended her talk by returning to Shakur’s poem:

Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature’s law is wrong it
learned to walk with out having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared.

Like the rose, Ms. Arevalo concluded that some students survive and thrive regardless of the inherent obstacles posed by the current educational system. Yet such cases are too rare to truly justify a “successful” system, and just because some students can flourish despite the odds does not mean that they should.

T3 had reminded me that we have much work to do to incorporate social justice into our schools. Even though there isn’t time to do this, we must make time. Going to T3, being in a space with other dedicated educators, and hearing Ms. Arevalo’s inspiring address allowed me to think outside my of the daily duties and remember why I came to BECA in the first place: to work towards giving all students the opportunities and equality they deserve.

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Bilingual Education for Central America (BECA) is a small non-profit which partners with Honduran community-run low-cost bilingual schools to provide the English-taught expertise through volunteer teachers, teacher training and curriculum development.  Teachers need to be graduates (of any discipline) and it is a full year commitment.  BECA provides a six week teacher training and cultural orientation prior to the teachers starting their roles as class teachers.  The charity works with three schools, two just outside San Pedro Sula and one in Santa Barbara.  These are voluntary positions, though BECA covers living costs, teacher training and visa costs.  There are stipends available for teachers who choose to stay for a second year to teach with BECA.

Written by Nick Derda, Bilingual Education for Central America (BECA) is a small non-profit which partners with Honduran community-run low-cost bilingual schools to provide the English-taught expertise through volunteer teachers, teacher training and curriculum development. 

Limited Resources Teacher Training

LRTT (Limited Resources Teacher Training) is an organisation that aims to address educational disadvantage worldwide. Right now there are 250 million children unable to read and write, but only 90 million of those children are not in education. The other 160 million are getting up early, travelling the often long, potentially dangerous journey to school, and sitting in classrooms- however different they may look from our own. What happens in those classrooms matters. That’s what LRTT is all about.

Felicity King reflects on her time working with LRTT.

“So teaching can be a difficult job. (Just mind out there, while I put my understatement of the year award down.)

No but really, it can. It’s like any other job- long hours, too many emails, never enough time to finish a cup of tea; only instead of having a team of people working with you, you have a team of people who disagree with everything you say. “Amiira, would you mind closing the door?” “Yes Miss I would. You see, I twisted my ankle at break time and now I can’t walk.” “But Amiira, you walked to my lesson?” “Yeah, but Miss, now I’ve sat down it proper hurts and I think it might break. Do you want me to break my ankle? OHMYGOD Miss wants me to break my ankle.”

Imagine asking a colleague: “Jenny, could you do this in my office?” and getting this response: “Uhhhhh, well I don’t want to. I want to do it here, next to Emma. Why can’t I sit next to Emma? This is like a dictatorship; Miss, you are like a dictator.

Last year, statistics suggested nearly 4 in 10 teachers left the profession after only two years. Elephants are pregnant for longer. (Well, overdue ones…) The question is, how can we de-stress and re-motivate?

There are lots of ways. We could do yoga, or in my case, sit on a mat and watch wide eyed and with increasing alarm as the people around me do things with their body I am reasonably sure aren’t possible. We could do exercise, because after 11 hours of chasing Jason around the second floor asking him to change his school shoes, we’re all up for the cross trainer. We could breathe deeply, count the leaves on the trees, and try and find a deeper meaning to our lives. I tried that once and a pigeon landed on my head. Or we could do more teaching. We could spend our summer in a developing country working for LRTT.

LRTT sends teachers to countries such as India, Guyana and Uganda to share good practice and help develop ideas on how to teach in limited resource settings. Last summer I travelled to Tanzania and took part in the program myself.

I will be honest. Some parts of it are stressful. Packing, for example. It is simply not possible to fit 28 packs of baby wipes into a suitcase and it is, of course, wholly necessary to bring a pack for each day. Planes: as far as I’m concerned hanging out in the sky eating stroganoff is just not normal for human beings. Long haul flights to far off countries (though totally worth it) have to be spent furiously colouring in my Mindfulness colouring book.

However, once you arrive you’ll lose your over-priced Mindfulness colouring book and you won’t even care. You will instantly start to relax because you will meet teachers with fewer resources, bigger classes, and lions nearby, who are less stressed than you.

Most teachers in Tanzania do not have mindfulness colouring books. They don’t travel to far off countries to work for charity organisations in order to de-stress. They just live. They eat and they talk and they laugh and they walk and they make things and they smile and you say “wow- 80 kids in one class that must be difficult,” and they shrug and say “sometimes” and then they grin and ask you again and again, “what more can we do? What else could I do to be a better teacher?” And you blush, because you haven’t asked that question yourself in years.

And so I am reminded of my class of 24. And my projector, which is meant to make learning easier but really just allows me to accidentally project the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ trailer to my entire class. I think of the ongoing printing saga that is my life. Like a modern version of The Odyssey. Except there are no epic journeys or six-headed monsters; just me, getting annoyed at the printer because it ran out of toner, or decided to have a career change half way through Tuesday and not actually print for the rest of the afternoon.

I am reminded of all these things as I sit in the back of a small, dark, dusty classroom, where the teacher has to write every single thing on the chalk board because there aren’t any text books. And I hear myself telling one of my teachers “I love how you did this” and realise something. That if this man in front of me can be an outstanding teacher, which he absolutely can be, there is no reason I can’t. And if this man in front of me isn’t stressed about the task, why on earth am I?

What happened in Tanzania (which FYI would make an excellent reality TV show) showed me that teaching isn’t about projectors or text books. These schools depend on the very foundations of teaching. They need teachers who can ask the right questions, give the right examples, read a class’s reaction with a look, and check understanding in a moment, because they can’t rely on a PowerPoint to paint over the cracks, or an Excel spreadsheet to tell them who is progressing. That is why it is so good for teachers like us.

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So it’s up to you how you spend your August. You can spend it dodging pigeons in Hyde Park, or you can go somewhere different, and realise something obvious: that teaching is one of the hardest and one of the best jobs in the world. But that the Felicity versus printer saga doesn’t need to end like a Greek tragedy; I don’t have to marry my Mother or accidentally cause a Trojan war. It can end with the protagonist, pausing as she flees, stressed and terrified, from the dragon of data and printers and marking, and realising everything’s okay. That the dragon is actually a greenfly. That none of it actually matters. That if she looked behind the dragon for once, she might notice the child.”

The team at Teacherhorizons will happily help you discuss your options teaching abroad. Contact our helpful team of experts to talk over your options and the destinations most suited to your skills, qualifications and personality.

Written by Felicity King, an English teacher in central London, who went to Tanzania with LRTT in the summer of 2015, and is heading to Rwanda with them in summer 2016.