There are a lot of false truths and urban myths that circulate about teaching in England. There are, however, common themes that emerge when talking to those who have made the move.
Most teachers share similar motives for wanting to come to the UK to teach, a mixture of a need for adventure and travel with a desire to develop as a teacher. For most, it has been the adventure of a lifetime but by no means an easy ride and the challenge of adapting to a new culture has presented a huge learning curve.
England is the "heart of Europe & the pit stop for the rest " as Martin, currently teaching PE in London, gives for his motivation to travel and base himself in England. Catherine, who is in Essex teaching at a primary school, wanted an adventure, she "needed to become more independent" so she took the plunge hoping the experience would enable her to achieve this. Mark, now teaching Media in Yorkshire chose to relocate to the UK for financial reasons; the strength of the pound gave him the ability to meet his financial commitments back home in Australia.
There can be opportunities for advancing a teaching career too. Kirsten says " In many cases you have to teach for a fair few years before you may be considered for leadership roles in Queensland schools. Because of the shortage of teachers in the UK it is easier to progress into positions such as Head of Year and particularly Head of Department which many of my Australian and New Zealand friends have done" She adds "When we head back to Australia I will have a great deal more experience than someone else my age in terms of behaviour management, leadership roles, teaching in culturally diverse areas and British Literature (very handy for an English teacher!) which may be advantageous when applying for jobs in Australia."
Karen, who is now teaching Science in London says "it was hard at first, especially if you are alone. You have to give it at least six months before you really start to feel at home". Marian , now teaching English in rural Cumbria says "I found aspects of the integration difficult. The short, dark, cold winter days were the hardest. The food is different too. All I wanted when arriving was a packet of cheese and onion chips that tasted right (I still haven’t found any, but I’ve found something else)". Lisa teaches English in Northamptonshire and says that she would not have lasted six months had she not actively gone out to seek friends and found that arriving into a school with other international teachers at the same time helped greatly. "We call ourselves the United Nations and have become our own little family. Adjusting to the culture of another place has its ups and downs".
One of the common difficulties to overcome when you first arrive in England is adjusting to the differences in the education system and managing students. Kirsten says "it was a huge culture shock in the beginning because English students are far more mature and streetwise than Australian kids. It took a while to find out what was important to British students (apart from football) and experiment with ways to get them on-side. You definitely have to think about new behaviour management strategies because simply raising your voice doesn’t work!".
Martin and Catherine found there were greater expectations placed on the teachers in the UK, and that things were structured differently. Martin says "I found it difficult to adjust in the beginning. I wasn’t really prepared as I didn’t think the culture would be that different, considering I was moving to an English speaking country. So much more is expected of teachers over here, but the difference between teaching in Australia and England is that every weekend you can jump on a plane and travel to a new country if you want to escape the pressures of work".
"One of the best parts of my experience so far", says Kristen, "has been overcoming the challenges you face when you first arrive and then reflecting later on how much better you are as a person and as a teacher. After 6 months I was promoted to Assistant Learning Manager (equivalent to Assistant Head of Year)". Marian says "the best part has been having lots of holidays and weekends to explore the UK and Europe while getting paid. I’m meeting new people all the time. I have a new challenge every day and I can definitely say I learn at least one new thing a day"
There are two ways to apply for positions in England, either through an education recruitment agency or directly to the schools. Applying to schools directly from overseas is possible and many teachers have chosen this path, but this process can be riskier as the information about the school and the area is often overstated leaving teachers in a precarious position. An agency, however, can provide you with first hand knowledge of a school and the location and they may even have teachers who are currently teaching at the school to provide you with a true account of what to expect. "Dealing with an agency such as Bluewave smoothed things out. For example I think I would still be waiting to open a bank account in England without a letter from them! Then there are the nice touches like having a mobile phone waiting for me on arrival – very much appreciated" says Catherine
For the majority of teachers the experience has lived up to expectations "Coming to teach in England has changed my life and the way I view the world for the better. It has been an experience of a lifetime that thankfully isn’t over yet" says Lisa.
To find out more about teaching in the UK: http://www.bluewaveinternational.com