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Posts you may have missed

February 15, 2015 Leave a comment

Despite having moved this site there still seems to be some traffic coming here. If you are looking for my blog it is now at:

www.ukteacherinspain.com

Here are some of my more recent articles that you may have missed if you have come here to follow my blog.

Preparing to move abroad – learning a language

Spanish Sundays – Denia

Shareday Friday – Curriculum 2014: An overview

The 10 most effective ways to impact education

Teaching posts and all the info. you need about teaching abroad

What Russian tennis tells us about talent

5 things I never worried about when I taught in England

NQTs abroad – 5 things all NQTs should know

Spanish Sunday – Cullera

Seven big myths and one truth about top performing school systems

Workload – 5 facts about reducing workload

Shareday Friday – A primary school display policy

Baseline assessment – 5 things I know

Dear teacher… Advertisements for posts in Spain

Common English errors made by Spanish speakers

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Your interview with an International school

January 28, 2015 Leave a comment

After seven years of recruiting for British schools in Spain I have put together 5 tips for teachers approaching an interview with an international school.

1: Maintain the focus on education
It is easy to get drawn into generalisations about your future host country. Try to avoid these as they hide you as a teacher. When asked why you want to go to a specific country a glib “love the food and love the culture” doesn’t separate you from the crowd. Try to prepare answers that show you are thinking about developing yourself professionally or personally. Use the questions that are asked as vehicles to communicate your teaching philosophy and wherever possible put in relevant examples of your work. A portfolio that provides examples of your planning, professional development and classroom practice can be a useful tool to refer to when answering questions and can help to keep your responses tightly focused on education.

2: Provide positive reasons for your relocation
Many people looking to work in an international school may well do so because they are feeling disenchanted with some aspects of their current career choices. During your interview focus on the reasons you are attracted to the school or country you are considering to make your new home. If you overly focus on aspects of the education system that you dislike you risk sounding like a ‘moaner’. Nobody wants negativity in the staff room so whilst sharing some opinions helps to present you in an open way, stay positive.

3: Research
Find out what you can about the school and the area. If you have been sent a welcome pack then do read it and don’t waste interview time asking questions that have already been covered. Check out the school website. Come to the interview ready to show you have done this homework. It creates a great impression if you can respond positively to an event already covered on the school website. (“It looks as though everybody in the school had a great time when they celebrated …”) It helps to know a little about the area too. Have a look on Google maps. Start thinking about where teachers may live and be asking questions about the area from the standpoint of having already done a little homework. You may find in moving to an International school that you are moving into a curriculum that is unfamiliar to you. Again, whilst it shows a professional attitude to ask what support may be on offer to help you adapt to the curriculum, it is important to have done your research so you are able to answer curriculum questions on interview.

4: Be open and be interesting
Most international schools, especially if this is your first relocation or your first time in the host country, will be looking at you personally and considering whether you have the character needed to be happy and to make your move successful. Be prepared to discuss your hobbies and even to have some idea of how you may be able to continue those hobbies when you move. It may feel at times as though the interview is prying slightly more into your personal life than if you were interviewing for a school in your home country.

5: Approach the interview as a two way process
Most international schools will send out a detailed welcome pack in advance of the interview. Many will also give a presentation about their school and the area in which they work as a part of the interview. The interview is a two way process and you should approach the interview with a confidence and determination to get straight answers to any of your own questions. This may be the only time you have before relocating to find out what the school offers. Be clear with your questions and make sure that all details about your contract and the support offered by the school are clear before you leave the interview. It is a two way process and you are picking the school and team of people that you would like to work with as much as them choosing you. Remember, wherever you eventually choose to work will have your professional commitment so you need to be comfortable that you have all the information you need to make an informed decision.

Common English errors made by Spanish speakers

January 27, 2015 2 comments

An explanation of the most common errors made by native Spanish students and how they can be corrected by the teacher.

Native Spanish speakers face a number of challenges in learning English. The translation from Spanish into English leads to common errors. If the teacher understands exactly what the error is and why it is being made then correcting the error is made easier.

Here are seven of the most common errors together with an explanation as to why the error is made. If you find this interesting and would like me to cover more of these common errors please do leave a comment below.

1: Pronunciation; “eschool, espaghettis”.
In Spanish words that begin with ‘s’ followed by a consonant start with the letter ‘e’. Students need practice in saying and writing these words correctly.

2: Common requests; “I can go to the toilet?” or “You are poorly?”
In English the habit of ‘upspeak’ is generally considered poor practice. It refers to raising the tone of the voice at the end of a statement in order to turn the statement into a question. In Spanish questions are normally formed without the use of an auxiliary verb and there is no need to invert the verb/subject order. Students need to learn that in English questions should not begin with the subject. Younger students should be able to learn this through modelling and oral repetition but older students will benefit from understanding why they are making the mistake.

3: Order of noun and adjective; “the car red”. Plural adjectives “the fats cats”.
In Spanish the order of the noun and adjective is usually opposite to English and students need to know to change the order of the noun and adjective.
In Spanish adjectives agree in gender and number with the word that they describe. Consequently students often pluralise adjectives in English. They need to be explicitly taught that adjectives in English are not plural.

4: Questions – In English questions are normally made using an auxiliary verb.
Forming questions correctly is a difficult area for Spanish learners. Students need to learn how to form questions using auxiliary verbs such as “can”, “have” and “do”.

5: Short answers to questions; “me no!”.
In English the short answer to a “yes/no” question is made by repeating the auxiliary verb with which the question has been made.
E.g. “Can you swim?” is answered with “Yes, I can.” Or, “Do you like pizza?” would be answered with “No, I don’t”.

6: Ellipsis of subject pronoun; “(Carlos) is a fast runner”.
In Spanish it is common to leave out the subject pronoun as the verb ending often contains this information. Students need to be taught to say and write the subject with the verb. In speech and in writing Spanish students often add the verb “is” when it is not needed. E.g. “Carlos is like the pizza”. This normally happens with the third person singular and is less common with other pronouns. For example, it would be more unusual to hear the error as “You is like the pizza”. This may well result from students confusing the conjugation of the third person singular verb “he likes, she eats” with the “s” sound in “is”. Students benefit from focusing on the conjugation of regular verbs in the present tense and understanding that it is only the third person singular that carries the final “s” sound.

7: Countable and uncountable nouns/there is, there are; “the people is happy” or “there is pens on the table”.
In Spanish some nouns are uncountable whereas in English those same nouns are countable. In Spanish the impersonal verb “haber” is used to express “there is” and “there are”. The same word (hay) is used for singular and plural objects which further compounds this problem.

Relocating to Spain with family

January 26, 2015 Leave a comment

So, you’re a teacher and are considering relocating to Spain to work but you have family. What about your partner and child/children?

As with all these posts I can only speak from experience of the schools I work with but hopefully this information will at least help in asking the right questions and making sure that any job offer you receive is right for your whole family.

It is often said that when you are moving to another country with a partner that there are two necessities for the move to be a success. Firstly, you should both make an effort to learn the language. Secondly you both need work. I can imagine that without something to occupy each day and the social interactions of work that life in a foreign country could become quite an isolating experience. One of the offers we make to families moving to work in our schools is to endeavor to offer a position to both parties. If both are trained teachers that is always a bonus but where the other person is in another line of work, if they are interested we offer a position within school. It may be that of classroom assistant, support class assistant or even librarian. That offer of work always helps the process of adapting to the new situation and also alleviates financial pressure. Assistant staff in school are paid on a salary of approximately 16,000€ so the extra wage certainly helps.

Children are offered a tuition free place in the school. Although not completely free, as there are still uniform and dining room expenses, this is a substantial help to most families with children. It means that children can continue in the British education system. Children of secondary age would go on to study iGCSE and A Levels as they would in the United Kingdom. Children of primary age or younger are working to the same curriculum that they would experience in the United Kingdom.

In terms of language support children below the age of five are usually quick to develop language, learning from their peers. It is unlikely that a child joining the school at five or younger would need any additional support. Children over the age of five are usually given individual support classes to help them learning Spanish. The successful social adaptation of children depends on a fluency with the language. My own daughter was six years old when we moved to Spain and after around 18 months had sufficient fluency and confidence to socialise in the same way as she would with children speaking her native language. We also offer language lessons to all our staff as learning the language certainly helps with integration.

If you are considering a move to work internationally and have a partner interested in finding work it is worth considering how to present as an asset to the school. Undertaking a TEFL qualification or even just volunteering in a school or youth setting may be of interest to a potential employer. Beginning to learn the language before you leave the UK, or showing a commitment to doing so, is also a move that sends a future employer a strong message about your determination to adapt and make your move work. Any evidence of preparing the family as a unit for the move is important to share. As an employer we always feel a duty of care to a family joining us and evidence of the family preparing as a unit for their planned move is always reassuring.

I hope this helps anybody considering moving to Spain, or elsewhere internationally, with their family. If anybody has any questions regarding moving a family please do post them in the comments section and I will answer as best I can from my own experience.

Work life balance – A Spanish working Sunday

January 25, 2015 Leave a comment

ThermometerI think Spanish Sundays are probably one of the biggest differences between teaching in the UK and in Spain. I’m writing this article sat on my terrace with the sun on my face and a view of the mountains in the distance. I do have some work to do. I have an assembly on the theme of ‘Tolerance’ to prepare in two different ways, firstly for Key Stage 1 and then for Key Stage 2. For the resources relating to this assembly read my first ‘Shareday Friday’ post. My giving back to the community started with a series of resources for PSHE – Virtues.

I also have a staff meeting to prepare on the topic of display. With a colleague preparing a discussion about what consitutes effective display my role is to plan the discussion leading to an agreed display policy. There is a wealth of excellent material on the Internet, not least the inspirational primary displays website.

But the weather is too good to waste so before I get ready for the week ahead I’m off to walk my dog on Cullera beach. Happy Sunday everybody and I hope the work-life balance feels good.

UPDATE:

Picture of Cullera Beach

Trying not to take for granted where I live. The Costa del Azahar (orange blossom coast) sits on the northern edge of Costa Blanca. A couple of hours of Sunday afternoon spent walking along the edge of the Mediterranean really helps that feeling of a work-life balance.

Teaching in a British School in Spain – FAQ

January 21, 2015 3 comments

After years of recruiting people to work with us in Spain I have put together a list of the frequently asked questions. These are taken from questions that I frequently hear from interview candidates. Hopefully this helps teachers who are maybe considering a move to working in Spain but if you have any other questions do post them in ‘comments’ and I will answer them as best I can. These are based on my personal experience in my own school so answers may differ for other schools.

What contract do teachers have?
All teachers are placed on a full time permanent contract from day one of their employment. We do this in recognition of the commitment teachers have made in relocating to work with us but also because life in Spain is made easier with a permanent contract. Obtaining credit, buying a car and even opening a bank account are made easier with a permanent contract. Teachers are salaried over twelve months which include holiday pay throughout the year up to and including the August holiday.

I don’t speak Spanish. Will this be a problem?
Our English staff do not need to speak Spanish in school. In fact, our policy is for our English staff to only ever speak with our pupils in English. Clearly in your own private life a working knowledge of Spanish is helpful if you are living in Spain. For this reason the school provides free Spanish lessons to all staff each year.

What does the working day look like?
The working day runs from 9am-5pm. Children begin to arrive in school from 9.15am with classes starting at 9.30am. Lessons are fifty minutes long and we have six lessons per day. Children have a 30 minute morning break and a 20 minute afternoon break. Lunchtime is one and a half hours with teachers doing a thirty minute duty during lunchtime.

What planning and preparation time is given to teachers?
Teachers receive a generous amount of planning and preparation time during the school day. Primary staff currently receive just over five hours of planning and preparation time. In addition having completed their duty teachers have a full hour for lunch which again contributes to our staff completing all of their work during the school day.

What professional development opportunities are available?
As a member of the National Association of British Schools in Spain (NABSS) we have access to a range of professional development opportunities throughout the year. Our teachers have attended training courses in Valencia, Madrid, Seville, Alicante and Tenerife. All of these courses have been run by experts brought out from the United Kingdom. This enables our staff to stay up to date with curriculum and policy changes taking place in the United Kingdom and ensure that their own teaching continues to develop. We also run ‘in-house’ training. This has included a full day of training for all staff where we employed trainers from the United Kingdom as well as opportunities to look at more specific issues during shorter training sessions.

Do staff eat with children?
Staff can choose to eat in the dining room with children although most staff choose to eat with colleagues in one of the two desginated staff dining areas. Staff are entitled to eat for free from our canteen. Meals are prepared daily from fresh seasonal ingredients. There is a focus on Mediterranean cuisine so plenty of fresh fish, shell fish and meats are accompanied by seasonal fruits and vegetables. Most days a salad is also on offer. The school caters for a range of specific diets.

What happens with extra-curricular activities?
Most of our pupils travel to and from school on our school transport therefore extra-curricular activities take place during the lunchtime. We have a programme of activities led by professional staff from outside school. Activities include ballet, funky dance, Chinese, German, Italian, football, tennis, judo and fencing. Alongside these activities teachers from our primary team provide complementary activities that enrich the curriculum. Teachers leading an extra-curricular activity do so in place of their usual lunchtime duty.

How does Spanish social security work?
On arriving in Spain the school employs a solicitor to process paperwork for new teachers. This includes registering new staff with the Spanish social security system. This provides full cover for health, unemployment and pensions. All of the necessary paperwork is paid for and completed by the school on your behalf.

What about healthcare?
The Spanish public health system is recognised to be of an exceptionally high standard. Treatments are provided with minimal waiting times. In addition the school provides a private health care for employees covering their time in school and their journey to and from school.

Are there any other staff benefits at the school?
We have an established staff benefits package that provides advantages with a number of local business. We have financial benefits arranged with a number of banks including Barclays Bank, BBVA, and Catalunya Caixa. These provide cash back on purchases, guaranteed overdraft arrangements and preferential rates on mortgages, account transfers and credit cards or loans.
We also have arrangements in place for discounts with regard to private health care including preferential monthly rates with Adeslas, Avisa, BBVA and MAPFRE. A local dentistry practice offers our staff 15% off all treatments.
Our staff benefits package is growing all the time and teachers are provided with the full details of this package when they start working at the school.

What is the salary and are there opportunities to supplement my salary?
The salary for teachers is 22,500€ per year. Tax rates in Spain are significantly lower than the United Kingdom with most teachers paying around 14% which includes tax and National Insurance contributions. The school has a number of positions of responsibility with the primary department currently offering six members of staff a responsibility allowance in addition to their salary.
Some parents may request additional classes for children in the hour after school and these are always offered initially to our teaching staff. These classes are worth upto 48€ per hour.
Although not obligatory teachers are welcome to work in the Saturday school which the school runs from 10am-1pm on a Saturday morning. This provides English lessons to children from the local area who do not attend the school. Teachers choosing to do this receive a separate payment in addition to their usual salary.

A comparison between teaching in Spain and teaching in the United Kingdom

January 20, 2015 1 comment

I started my teaching in Plymouth in the United Kingdom. Having worked there for fourteen years I moved to Spain where I have lived and worked for the last seven years. Teachers from the UK often want to know what the differences are or automatically assume everything here must be fantastic. This is just a brief overview of what I consider to be the five most significant positive and negative aspects of teaching in Spain. I will ignore bland comments about the weather and the beaches and focus instead on the teaching and life in school. All of this is from my own experience and therefore other teachers in different schools or different parts of Spain may hold differing points of view.

Positives

  1. In 2009 a survey in the UK found that most teachers reported working more than 50 hours per week. Moreover, a teacher contract in the UK is to work for 195 days of the year with 190 of those days identified as teaching days. The remaining 170 days should be protected and teachers should not be directed to work on those days. My own experience was that in order to do the job to the standard required I left work on a Friday evening with sufficient work for 10-12 hours of weekend work. I suppose you could argue that wasn’t directed but without doing that work planning and marking would not have been completed to the necessary standards. With about two and a half hours of planning and preparation time provided in the UK working week, trying to fit necessary work into the school day was impossible.
    By contrast, we give our primary teachers in Spain 6hrs 50mins per week of non-contact time during the school day. With a full hour of lunch break too there is more than enough time in the working day to complete the necessary work. The result is that evenings and weekends feel more relaxed and it is genuinely possible to walk out of school on Friday with the classroom prepared for Monday and no need to think about school until you return the next week. That provides for a far healthier lifestyle and much of the anxiety and pressure feels lifted from day one.
  2. The teacher is still a position of respect in society in Spain. This is a status that in the UK has been steadily eroded over the last few decades. The most positive aspect of this is that parents look to teachers for advice about how to help their children at home. The teacher is seen as a partner working with the parents and the sensation of parental support is very different to that found in many schools in the UK.
  3. Based on the three inspections I experienced in the UK and the three inspections I have experienced in Spain, the anxiety surrounding inspections in Spain feels very different to the UK. Inspections in Spain are thorough and professional but take place in a climate of providing external professional opinions about the school and how it can improve. There isn’t the same judgmental feel of UK inspections which, regardless of how they may be presented, still seem to be out to find the 15,000 poor teachers that Mr. Woodhead infamously declared were lurking in our schools. An inspection day in Spain is a far more positive experience. Certainly it is focused on teaching and learning but there isn’t the threatening feel that teachers often report from UK inspections. Perhaps it helps that the inspecting body is separated from the politics of education. Inspections in Spain still carry a reasonable period of notice and don’t come with the ever present threat of being labelled and placed into a category.
  4. Children’s behaviour is generally different to the UK. The culture in Spain is very different and children are an accepted part of their parents’ life. Going for meals out in the evening is always a family affair and the notion of baby sitters is alien to most Spanish people. In a way, children are permitted to remain children for longer than in the UK. Most Spanish children inherit the society view of teachers as an authority figure to be respected. In the UK a common complaint amongst colleagues was that a significant minority of children had the capacity to derail the teaching and learning. And that even after the teacher had spent all Sunday planning and resourcing what should have been great lessons. The class behaviour in Spain is significantly better than that found in most UK schools and the end result is that it is far easier to focus on aspects of teaching and learning and to be a great teacher. Conversations in school staffrooms tend to be more about teaching and learning and less about individual characters that have spent the morning disrupting classes and preventing learning from taking place.
  5. Schools and education are still supposed to be fun in Spain and political correctness doesn’t get in the way of a celebration. Our school still celebrates Christmas, carnival, and Fallas (a regional festival) and gives these celebrations the class time needed to make them an enjoyable part of the educational calendar. Multi-culturalism exists but adapts to the Spanish society.

Negatives

  1. Spanish education, even private education, runs on a significantly smaller budget than in the UK. Many UK educational authorities are spending between seven and eight thousand pounds per pupil. Typical costs for private education in Spain is between three and four thousand Euros. Clearly this translates into school in a variety of ways. Technology may not be quite so regularly updated as in the UK and resources purchased for classrooms need caring for as they may be expected to last longer.
  2. Spanish authorities love paperwork and a new teacher to Spain may find some of this daunting. Nothing can be requested without a backup file of paperwork. Even purchasing a mobile telephone can become a complicated mountain of essential forms. Most schools should help teachers with this adaptation but be prepared for a very different approach to anything official than is found in the UK. Forget online websites allowing you to fill out forms and be prepared for government offices that only open for a few hours each morning and are quite unforgiving if you are missing what they deem to be an essential piece of paper.
  3. Workers’ rights in Spain are different to in the UK. Behaviours that are trusted without evidence in the UK under Spanish law need evidencing. A sick leave in the UK for example that allows for a period of self-certification requires a doctor note from day one in Spain. Even funerals in Spain give out certificates of attendance so workers can evidence to their employers that they were where they said they would be. This attitude of needing to account for sickness, for example, is a cultural change that for some people may take a period of adaptation.
  4. Spanish school holidays do not follow the same pattern as UK school holidays. Half terms don’t exist although dependent on the region of Spain there will be other public holidays to celebrate Spanish fiestas. With the main Spanish Christmas celebration being 6th January schools tend to work more closely to Christmas than in the UK which can mean a Christmas term running from 1st September through to 22nd December without any substantial holiday periods. Although this balances out over the course of the year and holidays in fact are slightly more generous than in the UK the lack of a half term may be a shock initially.
  5. Wages in Spain are lower than in the UK. Experienced teachers may well find that their experience is not taken into account in Spain and they are placed on a standard teaching salary. With a salary of 22,500€ for teachers in independent schools many UK teachers will find themselves taking a pay cut to work in Spain. Obviously the less years of experience you have the less of a problem this will be but a teacher at the top of the pay scale with a management responsibility may well find Spanish teaching pays around 60% of their UK salary. Obviously lower taxes (14% to be inclusive of tax and social security) and in general a lower cost of living account for a significant part of that wage difference.

Overall

Is a move to a teaching position in Spain right for you? Everybody has their own personal circumstances but Spain does offer a great quality of work and private life and a balance between the two. Spain, being in Europe, is less of a culture shock than perhaps a move to the middle or far east. The culture, climate and countryside I have left out of the equation here in order to focus on the teaching but really perhaps the fact that January temperatures on the Mediterranean coast average at 17 degrees Celsius (the same as July temperatures for the south-east of England) could still be considered important in making a decision.

If after reading this you still have questions about the positive and negative aspects do leave comments and I will reply.

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