Sunday, April 19, 2009

Mr. Teacher Interviews Victoria Westcott of Classroom Canada


Last week, Mr. Teacher posted some questions for me in the comments section of this blog. I interviewed him a while back which you can find here, so it's only fair that I answer his questions here as well.

Here goes:

Mr Teacher: How, exactly, do you find teaching positions for the teachers who come on board with you? Are you effectively an employment agency for Canadian teachers in the UK?

Victoria Westcott: Good question! Classroom Canada is a separate company from Classroom UK, but we work very closely together. So what that means is that I focus on finding quality teachers, and my colleagues in London focus on finding them positions in schools. In a sense, that means we are an employment agency for Canadian teachers in London, but also so much more than just the "job hunters."

The long story short is that I used to work in London as both a teacher & a recruitment consultant for another company and then Classroom in my last 6 months in London. The issue I found to be a big problem for me personally is that I was always juggling too many balls in the air. Teaching, combined with recruiting teachers, working with school management to find quality teachers, offering PD sessions for teachers, SATs preparation...you see where I am going with this I'm sure. It was all just too much.

So, now, I do what I do best - find quality teachers in Canada and focus on preparing them for their journey so that when they arrive in the UK, they are 100 times more prepared than I was myself. When they finally arrive in London, they are very easy to place into positions with our schools. Schools know that the quality of teaching is much better than they have experienced in the past simply because the teachers know more of what is expected of them. It used to be that Canadian teachers would get visas, and then just show up in London with their agency, but this way, they are more prepared before they arrive.

Mr. Teacher: As for quality control, how do you ensure that the teachers you send in to schools are doing a good job and therefore properly representing Classroom Canada?

Victoria Westcott: Classroom UK has the DFES Quality Mark (which I wrote more about here), and Classroom Canada follows the standards and goes above & beyond. This means that I properly interview each candidate, check their references, police checks, education qualifications and then assess whether I believe them to be able to obtain jobs through our services and represent us well. The interview questions I ask were created along with a Head Teacher and former Ofsted inspector. Also, my colleagues in London check in with the schools and have very good working relationships with the senior management of our schools. We hold PD sessions, and I check in when necessary. If a teacher is struggling, then I generally offer advice & guidance where I can. Luckily, we haven't had too many troubles in this area. I am also proud to say that we have at least 95% success rate with our teachers, which means that very few teachers arrive and leave our agency to work for someone else. I think it's happened only one time actually.

Mr. Teacher: How do teachers in Canada find out about you?
Victoria Westcott: I go to some of the universities in Canada, as does Krissy Redekop. She taught in London with us last year, so she knows the process from a first-hand perspective. We can't make it to all the universities, so we concentrate on BC and Ontario where there are job shortages, but our teachers come from across the country.

I also deliver PD sessions here in Victoria and am considering branching out a bit more with this idea. I focus on teaching in London and specifically what it means to be an inner city school teacher in London from a Canadian perspective. That certainly helps us to find quality teachers as well.

I wrote the ebook, Guide to Teaching in London: A Survival Guide for Canadians. I don't really advertise for it, but when people search for resources like this, they tend to read it and then decide to apply to Classroom Canada. I don't even really mention Classroom Canada, except in my "author biography" but I still find plenty of great teachers find out about us through the book.

Finally, our teachers tend to be very well researched, so they search online and stumble across this blog and they ask their friends which agency is best. Word of mouth is very positive for us, so I find about half our teachers come through friends of friends. Since that was how I found Classroom (London) in the first place, that makes me proud of the same word of mouth for Classroom Canada.

Mr. Teacher: Have you considered branching out and dealing with other countries in addition to Canada?
Victoria Westcott: Yes, I have actually just started Classroom America, although I don't have as much time as I would like to focus on our neighbours to the South. The reason I focus on our two countries is that there is a real lack of information for us over here. The Aussies and Kiwis tend to know heaps of other teachers that have already been to London so they get their information through their mates. We are such massive countries, and so spread out so I find that the information is seriously in need over here.

I also used to work as the International Recruitment Manager for another teacher agency before joining Classroom. I had to coordinate the recruitment in Canada, New Zealand, South Africa & Australia and honestly, I found that I couldn't do any of it very well. I prefer to specialize and do what I do well, rather than spreading myself too thin and doing it all not so well.

Within Classroom, we already have Classroom Australia and Classroom South Africa so we don't have a need for those countries. There are of course plenty of other countries in the world that we could focus on, but with visa restrictions, the top 4 are always Canada, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

Mr. Teacher: What is your own teaching experience and do you still teach?
Victoria Westcott: Good question. I have 3 years teaching experience in London. I started in Essex, in a very tough school where almost half the staff were brought in from overseas. I taught year 5 there. Then, I moved to Central London and taught with daily supply teaching. Within a month or so, I started working for the same agency that brought me over as a recruitment consultant and a teacher. This meant that I went to schools as a supply teacher, but also to represent the agency & help them find appropriate teachers. I took on some long term contracts particularly in Year 6 and with SATs preparation in Brixton and Hackney schools.

I do still teach here in Canada, although not in the traditional sense. I just don't have the time. So, I tutor grades 5-10 students in math in the evenings, and really, it's just for fun. I really love teaching & miss it, but I think I've found my true calling with helping teachers make the move to London.

Mr. Teacher: And finally- what prompted you to do this job?
Victoria Westcott: Another excellent question! It's a long story, but I'll try to keep it short. It was a round-a-bout journey!

I used to work with Youth Challenge International as a Volunteer Selection Coordinator. I volunteered in the rainforests of Costa Rica for 3 months when I was 18 years old, as part of an international team of young volunteers. This experience prompted me to get involved with recruiting other Canadian volunteers and finally I ended up coordinating the selection weekends. YCI had these 3 day weekends where 18-25 year olds worked together to build latrines, help with trail building, and all round work together. That was where I learned how to interview properly. I also learned how to observe people in challenging circumstances and see how they did in the real world of volunteering abroad. It was a fabulous experience!

Anyway, I ended up at uni, and worked as a bookstore manager & events coordinator for Octopus Books. It might seem unrelated, but for me it all makes sense. Octopus is a political & academic bookstore, and it was there that I learned how to talk to professors and students and work as a middle-man between the two. I managed to get 100 professors to order their books through us, which meant dealing with thousands of students as well. It's really not that different from working with Head Teachers and Teachers!

Then, I did a brief stint as the Volunteer Coordinator for the Ottawa Fringe Festival, another job which involved recruiting volunteers. I loved it, and found that I was pretty darn good at it, but the pay was not so great.

Finally, I ended up in teacher's college, convinced I would become an inner city school teacher working with kids from around the world. It seemed to make the most sense. I did one of my teaching practicums in Bangladesh, helping to build latrines and assist doctors in pre-op and post-op surgery for eye cataracts. I also coordinated a summer curriculum camp, which once again involved recruiting and selecting teachers, as well as training and supervising the new teachers in practice.

So - finally I ended up in London with a Bachelor of Education in 2004. My resume screams "Inner city! Put this woman in the diverse classrooms!" but my initial agency made the error of just finding me a job, any job. This is typical with Canadian teachers as we are so desperate for teaching work, so agencies can put us into the toughest of the tough and we don't tend to know any different.

I was placed in Essex and found the school to be the complete opposite of diverse. It was a real struggle for me. I managed to convince the owner of the agency to hire me and let me help him place teachers where they would be better matched. With my background and history in volunteering abroad & helping to recruit volunteers and teachers it just made sense that I make the switch into recruitment. I continued teaching a few days a week in inner city London schools, just to keep my hand in it & to be a better recruiter by knowing the schools and teachers first-hand.

I worked with that agency for a couple of years (eventually as the International Recruitment Manager) but was unhappy with the agency. I just felt like I was always arguing, and trying to change things from within.

I met another Canadian teacher who worked for Classroom, this company I had never really heard much about. They hardly advertised at all, but my friend could only say positive things about them. I approached them, asked if I could work as a teacher & recruiter with a view to opening up a Canadian office. They agreed to see how it would go for 6 months.

It was a perfect match! Classroom UK lets me just get on with what I'm good at - dealing with teachers over here. They place all of my teachers into jobs that are the perfect matches (all within reason of course!) and I am ridiculously happy because I finally found the job where I can focus my energies and laugh every day. Classroom UK is happy because the quality of teachers that I send is so high. Our schools are happy because they get teachers who don't show up and ask a million and one questions that they should already know the answers to. Our teachers are happy because they have a sense of community with other teachers and are never just left on their own like I was in my first year in Essex. That just doesn't happen with us.

And so it goes. How's that for a long winded answer? ;-)

Any other questions for me? I hope I helped to clarify what I do with Classroom Canada. Please share your questions or thoughts below. I really appreciate all the comments I receive here. Feedback is great as well!

If you'd like to become part of the Classroom Canada team, please sign up for our newsletters & apply through our website. Be sure to read the Guide to Teaching in London: A Survival Guide for Canadians to help you understand everything you need to know about teaching in London.

3 comments:

  1. This was such an interesting read!

    I'd read somewhere that you'd been involved with the Ottawa Fringe, but I didn't realize you were the volunteer coordinator. I have an intimate relationship with Fringe, and with the volunteer coordinator folks/position especially. Small world!

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  2. Victoria- Thank you VERY MUCH for taking the time to answer my questions- interesting stuff. I really appreciate it. I check this blog regularly and I know that you read mine but I had never really grasped exactly what you do, which seemed silly! Thanks again....

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  3. Bryn, Yes small world indeed! My mother is on the board of the fringe actually, so you might know her as well (Joan G.). It was great to be involved back in the beginning of the fringe madness. I gather it is much larger now! When I worked there, we had only 2 returning volunteers from the previous year, so Nadia (owner of the Raw Sugar Cafe in china town, awesome woman) and I recruited 238 volunteers all on our own. It was mayhem! Now, I think they must have more than 500!

    Mr. Teacher - anytime! I'm happy you enjoyed it. I hope it wasn't too long winded! ;-)

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Thanks for sharing your two pence!

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