Long-distance lessons

For many teachers, relief from the stresses and strains of the job may lie abroad. Steve McCormack looks at the popularity of teaching in foreign countries
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The Independent Online

In addition to the thousands of Brits who go abroad every year to teach English as a foreign language, often chiefly as a means to do some travelling, there are several hundred teachers who leave the white cliffs of Dover behind them not on the EFL trail.

In addition to the thousands of Brits who go abroad every year to teach English as a foreign language, often chiefly as a means to do some travelling, there are several hundred teachers who leave the white cliffs of Dover behind them not on the EFL trail.

There's a plentiful supply of "normal" primary and secondary jobs abroad in schools where English is the language of teaching but not necessarily the lingua franca outside the school gates. At their best, these jobs offer rewarding career moves, together with the novelty and attraction of working in a new country. In return, recruits have to be prepared to offer the same professional commitment that they would do if moving to a new school in the UK.

Most of these jobs are in independent schools, and are thus outside the state system of the host country. They can be sorted into two main categories: those that follow the UK curriculum, colloquially known as British schools, and those with a largely US-based programme, often known as international schools. Teachers who have qualified in Britain are routinely taken on in both types of school.

If you confine yourself to the British schools, there are several hundred to choose from around the world. Many are members of, or affiliated to, the Council of British Independent Schools in the European Communities ( www.cobisec.org).

But if you include international schools, the choice becomes huge. To get an idea of how huge, have a look at the Council of International Schools ( www.cois.org) website. Here, you can search for schools all over the world. To see a list of current vacancies you need to register with the site.

But, for a quick look at the sort of jobs available right now, without going through the chore of online registration, look at the international section at Eteach ( www.eteach.com). There are usually up to a hundred current vacancies on this site.

The two most common pluses experienced when teachers move abroad concern paperwork and discipline.

"The vast majority of schools abroad hire teachers to teach," says Albert Hundspeth, who's been head teacher at British schools in Prague and Cyprus. "You are relieved of a lot of the administration that is normal in the UK system, and plenty of British schools abroad don't do the SATs tests." On the discipline front, because the schools are fee-paying there's a higher chance that the students will be well-motivated.

Pay varies enormously, but after the local cost of living is taken into consideration, most teachers will find themselves comfortably off with a good standard of living, although not living in the lap of luxury.

"The days are gone when you could go and teach abroad and make a fortune," warns Hundspeth, who now works as general secretary of Cobisec. An additional factor is that, while abroad, a teacher may be losing ground on the property ladder and pensions front.

Daniel Avenal, 26, qualified as a primary teacher in England in 2000 and taught for two years in Norwich. He then worked at a school in Switzerland for a year and is now a Year 3 class teacher at St George's British International School in Rome. On the whole, he's enjoyed the experience.

"It's definitely been good. There's a little more freedom to interpret the curriculum, the class sizes are smaller and I get much more non-contact time than I would do in a state school in England."

He has, however, experienced some difficulties getting hold of teaching resources away from the myriad available sources of books, magazines and the like in the UK. He also questions whether the in-service training that's available can be as good abroad as for a teacher in the state system back home.

Because of the obvious attractions of working in outwardly glamourous locations, there can sometimes be stiff competition for positions. Roy Napier, head of school at the Bermuda High School For Girls, which has 630 students, lists maturity, flexibility and good educational experience as key strengths he's looking for when making an appointment.

And the plus points for him of teaching abroad? "A fresh start appeals to many, as well as a refuge from the host of administrative matters in the UK system."

There are also some opportunities in public sector schools abroad. In New Zealand, for example, state secondary schools are in need of at least 2,000 new recruits over the next four years, as a population "bulge" moves into the teenage years. A number of specialist websites, among them www.jobfastrack.co.nz, help with the recruiting.

But if you're a little nervous about resigning from your job in the UK, you can always try an exchange, which means swapping jobs - and often accommodation - with a teacher in a comparable job abroad. At the end of the fixed period, usually a term or a school year, you simply return to your original school. The British Council ( www.britishcouncil.org) helps organise exchanges in Europe and the US.

Angus Clarke, a senior modern languages teacher at a state comprehensive in Perthshire, is in the final term of a swap with a teacher at the equivalent of a sixth form college in the French city of Lyon. His significantly improved fluency in French and greater first-hand experience of France will help him when he gets back to teaching French in Scotland, and, overall, he's found the experience an enjoyable and positive one.

"To a certain extent, it's been like starting all over again: hard work, but very rewarding, and I'll go back refreshed and invigorated to continue my career at home."

And that seems to be the overwhelming verdict of teachers who go abroad. John Shaw has been in the USA for five years and now teaches at a private boarding school in Massachusetts. He is uncompromising: "It's been an enriching experience which I'd recommend to any curious and energetic teacher."