Career, Education, NQT, School, Teaching

A Year of Teaching

Nearly a whole year has passed since I popped out of my training bubble and was let loose as an NQT (Newly Qualified Teacher). This will come as a huge relief to the Department of Education, who is in the midst of an epic recruitment crisis.

People simply are not applying to become teachers anymore. And those that do, often leave within a couple of years on the job.

As a physicist, I am on the critically-endangered list of teaching skills. And as such, I was wooed into the profession by grants and bursaries to essentially ease my transition from a well-paid career to a much-less-well-paid career. Interestingly, despite this crisis, which covers all subject areas, a PGCE (Post Graduate Certificate in Education) still costs £9,000. There are not many other careers that require you to pay for your own job-specific training, certainly not to the value of £9,000!

This poses the first and probably most significant block to aspiring or curious future teachers. Day one, -£9k. Not a great start. If the potential candidates are not already Googling other possible career options, they might go on to find out that teachers salaries in England are well below the OECD average. In fact, we don’t even make it into the top 20 countries.

It gets worse… When you compare the working hours against the salary, we fall even further down the list. A trainee teacher, even one with a £26,000 bursary, can expect that to equate to far less than minimum wage when spread over the year. And that’s before you deduct the £9,000 PGCE fee!

For me, there is also an issue with the leadership. Schools don’t operate like a business. Although with the academy model slowly taking over many schools, they are being financially run like one (money goes to the pockets of CEOs, not to the students). Despite this shift, most of the people I have met in high-level positions at schools have only ever been teachers. They’ve gone to university then gone straight into teaching. Which is great. We need these people, who have always wanted to be a teacher! But… they have zero experience of how the rest of the working world operates. Teachers and schools are in their own little bubble. A bubble which is completely alien to a non-teaching professional. It’s really, really weird. Trust me.

This lack of real-world business and management experience is blindingly apparent to anyone who has worked outside of a school for more than a few months. Schools need to recruit non-teachers to fill some of the management roles. This would massively streamline – everything. Reducing workloads. Cutting down pointless admin, and generally improving workplace morale. Teambuilding doesn’t exist in teaching. Instead its called CPD, which is just a one-way meeting about how great we could all be if we did just a little bit more work.

To make my point. Go to any modern office space. You’ll find great food, comfortable seating, fast (unrestricted WiFi), a premium coffee machine (or even an iPad controlled coffee tap, Google it), booths/pods for private chats or lunches, IT that works, well-designed surroundings and maybe even some interesting art. You might even, if you’re lucky, find people that look comfortable in the clothes they’re wearing! Gosh. Compare this to any staff room in a school. Dull, crappy seating, a half-arsed attempt at a kitchen unit, and a 5kg tub of stale coffee from Costco. If schools cared as much about their teachers as any decent city firm cared about its employees, there would not be a retainment crisis. End of conversation.

My next issue is the level of respect given to teachers. To put it simply, there isn’t any. Students don’t respect teachers, teaching is no longer an aspirational job. Knowledge is not cool. Knowing stuff has no value. Stupidity is a badge of honor. Morons walk the catwalks. They’re on our TVs, they’re on YouTube, they’re in our ruddy parliament, running the country! We, with our multiple degrees, are seen as people who couldn’t get a job elsewhere. We failed to find a ‘cool’ job. We’re stuck in a crumbling 1960’s tower block filled with asbestos, teaching 14-year-olds about specific heat capacity.

With the recruitment crisis getting worse, this grim misconception may turn out to be true. Teachers will continue to leave, only to be replaced by less qualified and undertrained replacements. Soon, you may even be able to teach science with only a degree in Biology! For crying out loud!

I get asked multiple times a week by teachers, students and parents – “Why on earth did you leave your last job to do this?!”. Because I want to teach! I didn’t accidentally quit my job, move continents, enroll in a training programme, complete a PGCE (and pay for it) and then stumble into a teaching role!

Parents don’t respect us. Every parent thinks that you’re not doing enough for their child. Or that because you gave their child a detention for throwing a pork pie at another child, which then became partially lodged in his ear, you are somehow against their child. I’m not, your child is a prat, trust me, I spend more time with him than you do.

Don’t get me started on parenting… It should be put on one of those lists of skills that our society has lost. Like whittling spoons, outdoor survival and voting based on facts in referendums.

The school doesn’t respect teachers (see my point about the staff areas). Schools are 100% designed for the students. Very little effort has gone into making the staff areas adult-friendly, productive or relaxing, which is a shame, as most staff spend up to 10-hours a day on site!

Finally, the government doesn’t respect teachers. Money is being ripped away from schools. The workload is increasing. Teachers are leaving. Government reduces funding further… Enough said about that. And who can forget when our very own secretary of the environment, that glorified sock puppet, Michael Gove said: “We’re fed up of experts”. I could write an entire blog post on that spam-faced wank crumpet. But I won’t. This is about teaching. Teachers are experts! Experts are exactly what this country does need!

All of this reinforces that popular misquote of the teaching recruitment adverts – ‘Those who can’t, teach’. It’s damaging to the profession, and therefore the next generations.

Teaching needs a huge PR overhaul. Money needs to flood back into schools, they need to be updated. Teachers will not stay in schools with rotting tower blocks and equipment that was last serviced as part of the war effort.

Interestingly only teachers that have taught for their entire professional life say it’s the best job in the world… How would they know? They’ve never had another job. Other jobs pay well, other jobs can choose when to go on holiday, other jobs don’t have compulsory unpaid overtime (yes, that’s a real thing – yes, it is in our contracts – yes, it does mean we don’t get paid for a huge amount of work that we do – yes, it is bullshit).

Please don’t sit there and CPD the life out of me telling me that this is the best job in the world. It’s not. Are you insane? Have you not seen the guys at DARPA who are developing running robots? Get a grip.

Despite this. I still want to teach. I love it. Well, I hate a lot of it. But the bit’s I love make me wake up at 06:30 every day and begrudgingly put on a tie.

I love it when a student comes to find me, out of the whole school, to tell me about a problem they have. I love it when they ‘get it’. I love it when they hate my shirts/music/jokes, I love it when they love my shirts/music/jokes, I love it when they tell me about something awesome they found on YouTube and how they understood it because of my 20-minute off-topic rant about black holes. I love it when they come to my room at lunch, just for a chat. I love it when they get their exam results and they’ve done way better than they expected. I love it when they realise that school is just the beginning, a stepping stone onto the next part of their life, and the more they put in, the more they’ll get out.

Still not as good as making a robot that can run. Come on.

Teaching, Thailand, Work

I’m back!

So, here it is, my first post in what seems like a decade. I know I have a small, but dedicated readership on here, so I apologise for my absence. Sorry. But, I’m back! And I hope to be posting on a far more regular basis than before. I’m sure you’ll understand both why I’ve been inactive for so long, and why that is now going to change, as you read on.

My last post on the 28th May 2013 detailed my first couple of months working on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship, Enchantment of the Seas. Since then, not much has changed. However I was promoted to Head Broadcast. Which basically means I delegate work rather than actually do it… I’m hoping to base myself on a much larger ship, then I will be able to properly maintain equipment and fix issues.

I did have a short, three-week, holiday back in Thailand. Most of it was spent in airports, on planes, busses and trains. But I did enjoy the remaining time. And of course, seeing Mos again after seven longs months was amazing. We spent every minute of the holiday together. We immediately decided that we’d never be apart for that long again. It’s not fair, it’s not fun, it’s horrible. But, there was light at the end of the tunnel, Mos had been offered a job on my ship. I won’t go into the frankly ridiculous hoops that we had to jump through to get the job offer. But I will say that Royal Caribbean need to take a serious looks at their hiring system. In particular their hiring partner in Thailand. Unhelpful, dishonest and corrupt.

Sadly most of the holiday was spent filling out paperwork and visiting various hospitals, offices and embassies to get Mos’ visa. This is a fairly simple process, but as with everything else the hiring partner (recruitment agency) made it far more difficult and complex than it needed to be. Even so, we enjoyed the hours of taxi rides around Bangkok, we enjoyed the hundreds of BTS train journeys , we even enjoyed a handful of crazy tuk-tuk trips.

In between the two main paperwork periods we managed to escape to our farm and family in Bueng Kan, northern Thailand. It was great to see them again, and our dog Khao San! Who I hadn’t seen since I left Thailand in April 2013. It was also a chance for us to see the new house our family had been building. It is on the same site as their previous house, but far bigger. Mos and I have helped them out with money to get the house built and up to a decent standard. Our family are farmers and happy with the most basic accommodation. Naturally, Mos and I want the best for them, so we’ve helped fund a new kitchen, tiles, equipment and labour to assist the construction. They even built me my own western style bathroom.

As usual out visit was far shorter than we’d have liked. And it was now time for us to head back down to Bangkok to completed the final few tasks to get Mos on her way to Miami! Mos’ contract started a week earlier than mine, so she was going to be flying to Miami, boarding the ship and getting to know people all by herself. I knew she’d be fine, but I was still very nervous for her.

As Mos holds a Thai passport, she was told that she would have to start her career in Royal Caribbean as either a laundry attendant or in room service. She chose room service, which is much less physically demanding, but still has horrific hours. Again, I could talk for hours on the unfairness of this system and what many rightly see as racial profiling, but I won’t. That is the system, it’s been very cleverly set up by the Royal Caribbean legal team and it’s pretty bullet proof from a legal standpoint. Ethically however, it’s disgusting and archaic.

Mos’ role is a mid-level job in the food & beverage department. She works very long hours and answers to a team of supervisors that are tripping over themselves to impress their manager. Sadly, this is normally executed by overworking those under them and pushing the legal working hours to the limit… sometimes exceeding them. This role for Mos is very much a stepping stone to get into the Adventure Ocean team, who look after the babies, toddlers, kids and teens on the ship. As a result, she puts up with far more than she should. There is a light at the end of the tunnel as they say.

Having said that, I have learnt not to trust any information the company gives me. I only believe it if I can see it. There are countless examples I could give, but again, to refrain from this post becoming a rant, I won’t. We’ll just say this, Mos has all the qualifications needed to join the Adventure Ocean team. She has been approved by our Miami office. She has been told by HR that it’s very likely to happen. But, I’ll only believe it when Mos starts her first day in Adventure Ocean.

Even if our next contract does have Mos in Adventure Ocean, we’re not fully sure that we’ll return to the company. There are a few points that are making us look elsewhere. Mos’ biggest factor to leaving ships is the distance from her family. Not so much the geographical distance, but the time delay in information. We often only check our Facebook pages, phone home etc twice a week. So, if anything happens at home, we will hear about it a couple of days late. Meaning it difficult for us to respond to anything urgent. An issue which has affected us and one that I will discuss later.

One of my main issues with our work on ships is the lack of a ‘home’. Sure, we have a cabin on the ship, but it’s not a home. I want a home, that we can own together, that we can furnish, decorate and enjoy. We are also keen to start a family in the next few years, and that is simply impossible on ships, and difficult without a homely home.

Another issue that plagues me throughout this industry is the feeling that nothing I do means anything. I don’t help anyone. Nothing I do matters. Sure I can install a full HD broadcast studio, I can build a stereoscopic camera system from scratch, I can operate a multi-national satellite network. I can do plenty of complicated, difficult and technical things. But at best, all these skills do is enable people to watch TV. It lets people watch a football match live from the other side of the world. That’s it. It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t change lives.

I don’t save lives, I don’t put out fires, I don’t help people, I don’t serve in the military. And that is something I want. I want to do something that benefits someone else. Someone that needs it. And that is why teaching has caught my eye. And not just any teaching. I am looking at teaching English to children in rural Thailand. Children who’s families can’t afford to send them to the expensive schools, colleges, universities. In Thailand, fluency in English is the holy grail of education. It can open doors to scholarships, jobs, societies and it is a vital skill for any visa application in the west.

As a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) teacher, I could also travel, like I do now. These teachers are in demand across the world. And salaries vary greatly. In Thailand, a TEFL teacher can expect around $1,000 USD per month. Some schools will also provide accommodation, flight and lunches, but not all. A TEFL teacher in South Korea and expect to receive $2,500 USD per month, again some schools will include some added bonuses, some won’t. In addition to this base salary, many TEFL teachers take on private lessons, where they teach students 1-to-1 for an additional fee. Which can be anything between $8-$50 USD per hour.

Both of these salaries will strike anyone from the ‘west’ as low. But you have to take into account the living expenses and quality of life. In Thailand for example, your $1,000 USD salary which equates roughly to 30,000 Thai Baht, would easily allow you to have your own air-conditioned bungalow, run and maintain a motorbike, drink socially and eat every meal in a local cafe and still have 30-50% of your salary to put into savings. The quality of life is also vastly different to that in the UK for example. There is very little stress, you have far more spare time and far less admin work such as paying personal taxes and bills.

Most valuable to me though is the impact I would have on the lives of my students. I would be giving them a skill that they will have for life. A skill that will give them more opportunities that their parents would have had.

To get started on this idea of becoming a TEFL teacher, I have started my certification and training program. It’s with a company in the UK, and I am able to complete the course online with tutors and various bits and pieces at my disposal. I’m currently 36% of the way through the course having completed four exams and having scored an ‘A’ grade on all four. I will have completed this certification before the end of my contract at the end of July.

Also, as if fate has already decided that I am going to become a TEFL teacher, I have been offered a job in a tiny remote rural village in the North East of Thailand. This village has also happens to be home to Mos’ family. Bueng Kan.

So, right now, Mos and I are working away at completing our current contracts. We’ve got 87 days left. I’ve got my certification to complete. We’d both like to start learning Spanish. And we’re also researching ways to invest our money. So lots to be done. Plenty to keep us busy. Who knows, maybe by the next time I update this blog we’ll have a completely different set of plans… That’s what’s so exciting…