Next up in our Interviews with Teachers series, we spoke to Jason Clarke who, back in 2015, made the move from teaching in the UK to teaching abroad.
Over the course of his career, Jason has been a marketing executive for Sky TV, worked for Manchester City Council, and has worked abroad in both Buenos Aires and New York. After completing his PGCE in 2011 and teaching at the City of London Academy in Bermondsey for four years, Jason made the move to teaching abroad, this time travelling to Qatar.
We wanted to speak to Jason about the differences and challenges of working abroad as a teacher, compared to the UK. If you’re considering teaching in another country, read on to find out about Jason’s experience and get his advice.
Hi Jason! First of all, tell us a bit more about your current teaching role in Qatar...
I’m an Assistant Headteacher, in charge of the Sixth Form and Language Development. These are my main strategic areas, but I also have a leading role for work-related learning and universities. I’m also an economics teacher, but only have one IGCSE class in this subject for Year 11. Any given day could include any given task really, but I suppose typically my day will be equally split between some sort of university contact or applications; a pastoral or attendance issue; planning for a larger initiative or CPD (recently lots of work has been committed to re-introducing home languages into the extended curriculum); and meeting with the heads of the departments that I line manage.
When did you decide to make the move to teach abroad, and why?
About three years into my last teaching job in London my wife and I had a daughter. London was an expensive place beforehand, and that becomes even more so with children. We dreamed of having a lovely family home, and on our then current salaries, that dream seemed more like a pipe dream. We realised we didn’t want to compromise on it though, so thought about what our options would be. Additionally, we wanted to live somewhere where our daughter could grow up in a safe and happy environment; whilst we felt that was what London was for us, it didn’t seem that for young children.
What are the biggest differences between teaching in the UK vs. teaching in Qatar?
All children do all of their homework (almost) all the time! Whilst I miss the kids I taught before – and the associated challenges and successes that came with that – there is just a basic understanding here that everyone tries their best, particularly as that pertains to homework. When you have that base level understanding of what is going to be completed at home, the planning of lesson sequences becomes more far-reaching and consistent. I can have a better handle on where we can be in five or six weeks’ time for instance. That’s actually quite powerful for a teacher/learning community. This comes hand in hand with parental expectation, which can be challenging in its own right, but this is certainly the best accommodation. But in terms of behaviour, teenage attitude, punctuality, etc… kids are kids – it’s all the same!
What do you think UK schools could learn from your school, and vice versa?
From our school, I think some UK schools could take a sense of group civility and pride in your surroundings and school. We also make room in the curriculum for whole school enrichment on two days of the week. Lesson time missed is not an issue (in part because of the above) and so it’s a win-win.
From UK schools, schools over here could better manage the process of enacting your own budget and having ultimate control over it. Some of the corporate systems – for reasons which I can completely understand and are necessary – make it more difficult to give department heads this power. Like the homework thing, this can have quite far-reaching implications.
What was the biggest personal obstacle that you had to overcome in order to make the move to teaching abroad?
As a couple, my wife and I had worked and taught abroad before so it wasn’t really an issue. As time goes by, the kids not having regular contact with grandparents and family is a little tough, but nothing major now, with video calling.
What have you found most challenging about teaching abroad?
The last school I worked at was (at least it felt to me) a real happy family. I was close friends with many of the people I worked with, and had a great professional/working relationship with the head and my line managers. In the initial stages here, that was absolutely not the case! That was hard in the first year. However, the management and corporate structure is now great here, so no more complaints.
What's your favourite thing about your current role?
The control to affect wider parts of the school and the development of whole-students. It’s nice to be tasked with an important aspect of learning or education, to research that, and then manage people and facilities to make your vision become part of the culture of the school. That gives me a great sense of pride.
Do you think you'll ever come back to teaching in the UK?
Absolutely. For the family reasons above, so that my daughters do not become accustomed to the high life and, genuinely, I miss England.
What advice would you give to UK teachers looking to make the move to teaching abroad?
Do it! Don’t think that life must be in the cosy confines of the UK. Don’t get trapped into a high cost life and low income living because you think it’s too much bother to change. If you are single and / or have no kids, the worst thing that can happen is it’s a three-month holiday you didn’t like that much. If you have kids, they are adaptable and will benefit socially and cognitively from moving into different environments and learning how to rearrange their routine. Another win-win!
What's the biggest lesson you have learned in your time teaching abroad?
Kids are the same everywhere. How you teach them can be different, but they’re mostly the same wherever you go.
Thanks Jason, it was brilliant speaking to you!
If you have a great experience (or not-so-great) experience of teaching abroad that you’d love to share with us, we’d love to speak to you. Email us at email@example.com