Friday, February 20, 2009

10 Myths About Teaching in London

This was originally posted in July 2008. With 5000 new readers since then, I figured I should re-post it. I hope it helps you in your research into teaching in London, England.

1. It's beneficial to sign up with lots of agencies.
A common misconception with teaching in London is that signing up with a plethora of agencies will guarantee you a steady stream of work and multiple opportunities for long term placements. The reality is, supply agencies are looking for loyal and reliable teachers with whom they can form strong working relationships. The more agencies you sign up with, the more you show that you lack confidence in your teaching capability and in the agency's ability to find you a job. If you are looking to supply teach, then by all means keep yourself covered by joining two agencies, BUT don't expect either agency to bend over backwards for you, because they will have a bank of other teachers that are working exclusively with them and those teachers are seen as more dependable than you. Try to put yourself in their shoes. It's not Canada. They have a teacher shortage, not a job shortage. They call the first teacher they know is available to them and them only; the first teacher to answer the phone is the one to get the job. Just remember - it’s important not to underestimate the importance of your teacher-agency relationship – it’s a valuable commodity!


2. It's advantageous to lie to the different agencies, so you get the best deal.
Sadly, this happens all the time. Some teachers show up in London, move into the agency's accommodations, make friends with their teachers (and have an instant community) and then turn around and work through another agency. The teachers who do this just want to get as much as they can from wherever they can. Frankly, its bad form. Choose your agency carefully, and if you're not confident that they can find you a job and help you in your transition to London, then politely tell them and find another one.


I have also experienced teachers who lie about their rate of pay in order to strike the best deal for themselves. I recall an Australian teacher who was keen to register but for a rate of 145 pounds per day. When asked what experience she had, she replied "None, but I'm Australian and I know another company that will pay me 145 just for that!" To this, I secretly giggled, because that simply isn't true and it's commercially unethical to pay people more based on their nationality. So, she walked out and searched for that elusive company that would pay her more just because she's Aussie. Well good luck to her. Very simply, pay comes down to your experience and flexibility as a teacher – be suspicious of anyone that tells you otherwise!

3. The kids are horrible.
Yes, the teaching is hard. It's different than teaching in Canada. But they're still kids. And if you think that the "kids are horrible in London," then perhaps you should a) consider a career other than teaching or b) do some research on why the behaviour of the children is different than you're used to. The kids behave in ways that we're not used to, but that doesn't make them horrible. 95% of the kids I taught were not from England originally. They were from the Caribbean, Africa, Asia (particularly Bangladesh & India) and across Europe. If you think that makes for "horrible kids" then London isn't for you. Neither is Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal or Ottawa for that matter.


4. Teaching in the outskirts is better (aka easier) and you save more money than in the centre of London.
Ah this one is fun to de-bunk. There are a lot of agencies that now specialize in bringing Canadians over to the "outskirts" of London. They know that's where there is a serious shortage of teachers, so they can place Canadians into jobs fairly easily. And if you're in the outskirts, you won't know any better.


Well, where better to hear the reality than from the horse’s mouth. At the time, prior to arriving in London, my thought pattern went, "Well, I just want a job. I'll go anywhere. I don't want to go all the way to England and not have secured a long-term job. What if I don't get enough work? It's only 30 minutes into the city. It'll be fine."

Boy was I wrong. The image of the suburbs that a movie like The Holiday may portray will undoubtedly not match up to the kind of suburbs that an agency may send you to. ‘The Holiday’ is set in Surrey. - the middle-upper class outskirts that, for sure don't have a shortage of teachers. Why would they? What a pretty wonderful place to live and work. So, remove those rose-tinted specs, turn the image of the Holiday on it's head, and NOW you have the kind of outskirts towards which your agency may be enticing you. My advice? Think very carefully about where you want to be.

Having lived in the outskirts for several months and felt at times, both isolated and unsafe, I eventually made the move to London and didn’t look back. The highlight for me was being placed in the inner city schools & working with kids from around the world. I lived downtown and in North London (Islington, Finsbury Park area) and loved every minute of it. I made the same amount of money, paid the same in rent but had so many more weekend options on my plate than just visiting the local mall. Theatres, Museums, Galleries, Parks, you name it, I did it.

On the matter of money - sure I spent more living in a central location, but for me that was a compromise I was happy to make. If you’re thinking of coming to London to teach and "save money" I'd advise you re-think – if money is your goal go to Asia and teach ESL. It is worth mentioning however, that whilst living in London for those three years, I did pay off $15 000 of my student loans. Not bad considering I was out on the town every weekend, travelled various destinations across Europe and lived a darn good life by Canadian standards.

5. You should always go with the agency that pays you the most money no matter what.

Well, you can do that of course. But first, think hard about why that agency may be offering you such attractive rates? Quite often, and through experience it can be because the agency are compensating for the terrible schools they’re planning to send you to (it’s just that they don’t tell you that). It’s a good idea to talk to other teachers registered through that agency and see what they have to say. And don't just take the names & numbers of teachers the agency give you. Do some real digging & find the teachers they don't want you to talk to. They'll give you their story, and if they're making 10 pounds more per day and they're still not happy with the company, well there’s your answer. If you decide to join up with Classroom Canada, sign up to the exclusive network we offer – a great way to swap stories, experiences and general ‘London info’ with other teachers in the same boat as you.

6. All agencies claim to offer new teachers support in setting-up, but no agencies follow through.

Sadly, this is often true, but not always. Again, quiz other teachers working through particular agencies what level of support their agency provided on their arrival. If they say they helped with accommodation, does that mean providing the link to a property search website that they recommend, or actually allocating them an apartment to live in? These are two very different versions of offering ‘support’ so it's important that you clarify in advance exactly what assistance they can provide you with.

7. Agencies make a killing off your salary.

Agencies are businesses, and naturally will be making money from placing you into schools – that’s what they do. However, the following guide to approximately what rates you can expect upon registration will ensure that you have a benchmark to follow should you be offered an either unusually high or unusually low rate at any point. Rates of pay can vary from £120 per day to £150 per day dependant on experience and the nature of role that you may be applying for. The vast majority of agencies in London will pay between £120-£125 per day for an NQT (Newly Qualified Teacher) and possibly more for newly qualified Secondary teachers if their subjects are in demand (Science or Technology for example). Rates can also vary between positions – generally speaking long-term roles will pay higher than day to day, and class teacher roles will yield more than floating PPA (Preparation, Planning & Assessment positions). Money aside, it’s just as crucial to focus on the service the agency provide. Are you as the teacher just another number in a database, or do the consultants make the effort to get to know you, build a strong working relationship with you, and thus be better equipped to secure the right job for you? Agencies have long-standing relationships with schools that trust their judgements on teachers, so it’s worth your while registering with a company that are ready to listen to what you actually want.

You could always try to get a job without an agency, and you might succeed. The problem is that you will then make about 5000 pounds ($10 000 Canadian) less per year because the school will have to pay you as an "Overseas Qualified Teacher".

8. Teaching in London is great because you can like, totally just slack off.

Thankfully, I've only heard this a few times. I won't bother explaining it, because it's obvious to a good teacher that this isn't true.

9. The British education system is horrible. Why would you want to teach there?

Unless you can understand the history and the cultural context for the teaching system the UK have in place, this is an unfair judgement to make. I have found that most foreign teachers arriving in London make a whole host of comparisons to what they know "back home", which is only natural of course. A year or so into their UK teaching career, they begin to develop an understanding for the reasons the system exists as it does because it’s better than the other options. This one is complicated, so I'll write another blog entry at a later date to explain the differences between the Canadian and the UK education system.

10. London is far too expensive to live there. You must be stupid to even consider it.

This is a comment often made by people who have travelled through London en-route to another destination. They show up with Canadian dollars and complain that a cup of coffee costs $8! Well, yes if you are using Canadian dollars. If not, it cost 4 pounds. Just like a Starbucks coffee in Canada costs $4, a Starbucks coffee in London costs 4 pounds. So earn pounds. And life is good again.

Read the Guide to Teaching in London: A Survival Guide for Canadians by Victoria Westcott (me!) and sign up to the Classroom Canada newsletters to read more from our teachers in London.


4 comments:

  1. Victoria,

    I'm an American that just chatted with you on the phone; we have an interview on Tuesday! I was curious about information about taxes in the UK. I'm not asking about standard taxes, although a review would be nice, rather I'm asking whether these two things are "myths" or not.

    1. I've heard that Americans do not have to pay taxes for the first two years. I've seen this on recruiter websites that take Americans, and I've also seen it on one of the American school located in the London area (TASIS). Can you debunk some of what they're claiming? Is it the same for Canadians? My first school in the UK didn't take anything for taxes, but my second did.

    2. Another tax issue was that American friends that came over the BUNAC or while a spouse was studying both said that they didn't have to pay taxes on the first 5,000 pounds they earned.

    Can you please help me become more aware of this?

    Thanks,

    Ann

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Ann,
    Great questions! I've forwarded the questions to our accountant-manager in the Classroom UK office. He's excellent & will be able to answer these questions I'm sure.

    For Canadians, we aren't double-taxed, meaning we pay taxes in the UK while we teach there, but not in Canada. I know there are some tax breaks if you return within the tax year (I received a nice cheque from the UK government when I returned in July for example, but I had already worked in London for 3 years...).

    In any case, I'll let Adam clarify as I'm not an accountant. :-)

    It's the weekend, but I'm sure I'll have an answer for you next week.

    Thanks for posting!
    Victoria

    ReplyDelete
  3. Victoria,

    Thanks for passing that comment on. When you mentioned you got a check back from the UK government, I knew that once again I didn't have much information...I may have mentioned that my agency dropped me after I found my own job in the middle of the year. My business manager didn't inform me that I could get income tax after I left either...I went on the HM Revenue and Customs page and found forms for workers who had left the UK and are entitled to their income tax back. I don't know if I'll qualify, but I'm going to try!

    Ann

    ReplyDelete
  4. There's no reason you wouldn't qualify, except if you planned to return to the UK. But when you left, you had intended to leave for good - so yes, you should get this money back.

    I think most people (agencies, managers, etc.) in the UK tend to think that you're on your own with this kind of thing. I suspect it's partly because they deal with people from around the world, and every country is so different. I know I had to ask for the information in order to get it.

    But I can say that the cheque I rec'd was amazing! It was more than I anticipated, and after leaving the UK I honestly didn't expect to get anything back.

    Good luck!
    Victoria
    PS) I haven't heard anything from Adam yet in accounts, but it is the first Monday back from half-term break so I'm not surprised. All my colleagues are swamped today.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for sharing your two pence!

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