Switzerland: Teaching in Geneva
Stephen Winfield is enjoying the high life of teaching in a secondary school in Switzerland.
I was attracted to teaching in Geneva partly because my wife is Swiss and I wanted an opportunity to integrate into Swiss life. Teaching standards are high here: all teachers must have a masters degree in the subjects they teach. The city’s large university accommodates many qualified graduates who face stiff competition for teaching posts. I teach 13 - 15-year-olds who never have the excuse to go to the toilet during lessons as they are taught in 45 minute sessions.
Geneva is multicultural; French is the national language but most colleagues can speak another language, too. School children come from all over the world, so there are many different languages spoken in school. Greater emphasis is put on learning languages than in England, owing to the fact that Switzerland has several national languages.
Geneva is one of over 20 cantons, or states, in Switzerland. Each state has its own parliament, laws, taxes and traditions. Pupils don’t wear school uniform and religion isn’t taught, but they learn about different cultures and civic duties in history and geography. Maths, French and German are the core subjects.
As French is the language used in Geneva, any new child not fluent is placed into ‘classes d’accueil’ where they quickly learn how to speak the language. We have children from all kinds of backgrounds including illegal immigrants, diplomatic and commercial worlds.
Students are usually split into two streams: those likely to go to university and those who will do some kind of apprenticeship. ‘Apprentissage” can mean anything from insurance, banking and ICT to being an electrician. It is a very well-organised and respected system.
Class size is 24 maximum or smaller. Classrooms are big, well-equipped and discipline is assisted by large corridors. In contrast to the UK, there is a small senior management team, which includes the director and a small support team consisting of a nurse, psychologists and counsellors. We have no department heads. Bureaucracy is almost unheard of as paperwork is kept to a minimum, and schools aren’t overrun by initiatives.
Schools are well-funded, well organised and teachers are well respected. Geneva is an expensive place, although cheaper than London. You pay less tax and secondary school teachers’ pay is well above the national average. The standard of living is excellent; trains run safely on time and you can get direct trains to Paris, Italy and Spain, which makes organising school trips very easy.
France is so close by you can ‘pop’ there for lunch. When snow is heavy, schools remain open, unlike the UK. Teachers simply add chains to their tyres to drive to work!
A word of warning: Swiss teachers rarely change school and jobs can be few and far between. I have heard of cases where people wait four or five years for someone to retire in order to get a teaching job.
For more advice on working abroad, visit Teaching overseas