Things we wish we’d known when we first taught in England. Part 1.
Teaching jobs in London have a lot in common with teaching jobs in Adelaide or Auckland. You’ll be in a classroom taking charge. You’ll need to help learners master new concepts and discover their potential. There’s work to mark and reports to write.
That said, there are all sorts of unexpected challenges when you first become an international teacher. The culture will be different in ways you never expected. Even a place like Britain, where there’s no language barrier, can be a daunting environment when you first arrive.
We don’t want to sound overly negative, because teaching and travelling overseas is a thrilling adventure. The trick is to quickly find your feet at your new school, take good care of yourself, and balance work with a healthy amount of play. Sounds simple, but how exactly do you do that in London?
Here are some tips we wish we’d known when we first went to teach in England.
- Getting off to the right start in your new English school.
Don’t neglect the basics. Marking students’ work and giving feedback are two of the cornerstones of teaching, so in your first few days, you’ll want to make sure you’re delivering in these areas. There’s no great secret to this, but here are some tips to help you get off on the right foot:
Be consistent with your marking and listen to any feedback from your mentors. Ask questions. Take their advice but focus on one or two areas rather than everything.
Focus on your students and establish a good learning environment. Keep on top of expectations and follow through on any consequences. This will help you in the long run.
At the same time, don’t neglect the bigger picture. Pay attention to your learning environment and teaching network. Ask questions of your colleagues – they will be able to provide insights and information on all things related to your school.
- Playtime isn’t just for the kids.
You’ll do a better job – and have a much better time – if you’re not feeling tired and harried.
First things first. Leave a gap of a few days before starting work so you have time to get over jetlag. A couple of days’ stopover in Hong Kong, Dubai or Singapore could make things easier.
Once you’ve settled in, it’s time to start expanding your world outside the places you work and sleep. For instance, if you’re into fitness there are lots of different options with gyms. Shop around and grab the best deal.
If you have an interest in sport you’re in luck – there are a bunch of great social networks you can tap into immediately. If you like playing soccer join a Powerleague team for indoor soccer (or football, as you’ll soon learn to call it). If you’re into AFL there are plenty of male and female social teams in London with training and social events to keep fit and make friends.
It’s not just about team sports, so make sure you get out and explore nature. There are some stunning trails in and around London, including Hampstead Heath, Parliament Hill, Oak Trail in Epping Forest, and Parkland Walk. An outdoor hike on a sunny day, followed by lunch at a picture-perfect pub, is one of the joys of living in England.
Try to keep up good exercise routines and sleeping habits. Exercise can increase your energy levels and help with relaxation and sleep quality.
Above all, take time out for yourself, even during the busy first few weeks at your new school. This will help with mental health and bring some calmness and normality. Go for a walk, do some yoga or join a club.
- Friendly relationships make a massive difference.
Avoid isolation. On a personal level, put yourself out there, talk to other teachers at school and any flatmates. Make the most of your new situation by reaching out to your new network.
The relationships you form will soon become your network or family. Organise regular catch-ups – dinners, movies, sightseeing, shows, whatever you’re interested in.
On the professional level, be friendly to the people at the reception and the caretakers, and they will make life easier for you. Be open and honest with your teaching team and leadership. Let them know if you’re struggling in any area of your teaching and ask for support.
Be yourself! Remember that the school has chosen to employ you and they want you to succeed. Be friendly and personable with your colleagues and don’t be scared to ask for advice.
For the first few weeks, you might consider just saying yes to everything. Don’t be frightened to travel a little bit and you will meet people. There are plenty of online forums out there with tips, plus the chance to connect with like-minded people.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions in school or when you are travelling. The stranger you ask for directions or advice might have a wealth of knowledge to share. He or she may even become a new friend.
- Boundaries and routines reduce your stress.
Make sure you get into a good routine at school by arriving and leaving at the same time every day. The earlier you can get into this routine, the easier you will find marking and feedback. Try not to take work home too often.
Work hard but keep a balance. Be open to the team ethos and remember that you’re all working towards the same goal.
Routines might seem tricky at first when you are learning everything about the school’s systems, but it’s important to form healthy habits as soon as possible. If you stay back late every night for the first six weeks, this will be hard to break. Leave at a reasonable hour so you can enjoy your own activities outside of school (see Tip 3 above).
One smart routine is to catch the same train or bus every day. You could also try minimising the variables in your pre and post-school life, such as lunch and clothing. Routines and balance make us more efficient so stick to a routine that sees you working towards your main goals.
- Don’t forget to reward yourself.
Professional development – this is a big part of your overseas teaching adventure. However, you’ll need some extra rewards to really benefit from the experience.
In a nutshell, you’ll need a few after-school treats to look forward to. Here are some thought starters:
Go out with your friends and enjoy life. Explore new places. Look out for festivals and events, especially during the summer months.
Go solo. While it’s great to meet up with others, don’t be afraid to strike out on your own if there’s something you really want to do. Go for a hike, take in a concert (download the DICE app first), or go to a local football match. Make the most of the amazing European train network and cheap flights to discover new places.
Pace yourself. There’s no need to cram everything into the first month, so research that Mediterranean escape and have the pleasure of looking forward to it. Having a reward at the end of term really helps keep you focused, plus it’s exciting!
Book in something you have not done before and get out of your comfort zone. You will feel so accomplished and have a sense of achievement after a new adventure.
Remember that you’re working to live, not living to work. There is something that inspired you to leave your old life behind and head to England, so remember what that something is, and take the leap.
But wait – there’s more.
If you follow these five tips you’ll be set for a great start as a teacher abroad. In our next blog, we’ll cover some more things we wish we’d known as teachers when we first worked overseas.
Because as every teacher knows, it’s all about being prepared.