Travelling abroad for free with the added bonus of earning a little money is an opportunity available to virtually any teacher who loves winter sports. School travel companies need short-term reps to look after groups abroad - with openings for between one and three weeks in the school holidays - and are hiring over the summer for the next ski and snowboarding season.
"For me, there's no better way to spend my holidays. I've done three weeks and I'd love the chance to do more," says Jim White, director of PE and sport at Quintin Kynaston school in the London borough of Westminster. He has worked for First Choice in the United States this year as a rep for school ski and snowboard trips on the Colorado side of Lake Tahoe. Most of the jobs are in winter sports, although there are opportunities away from the snow on summer programmes.
The majority of school trips happen out of term time, so travel companies are desperate to recruit efficient professionals who are free during these peak periods. Teachers obviously have what it takes to work with school groups: organisational and problem-solving skills, the ability to understand and communicate with children and an awareness of relevant legislation and health and safety issues.
To Bryn Robinson, schools director for First Choice, teachers are "invaluable employees". He adds: "This isn't to say that the job is easy or suitable for every teacher. Having the right personality is key. But so is never losing sight of the fact that we are a business and they are representing that business."
Reps get free travel, accommodation, food, lift passes, insurance, ski hire and sometimes a car. The companies will also pick up office expenses and pay a small weekly salary (the average is around pound;100). You may be required to attend two days' unpaid training before you leave, but sometimes this is provided at the resort. You will often have most of the day free for your own skiing or boarding while the school groups are having instruction. In return, you deal with logistics: making sure the students get the right kit from the rental shop, and that transport and meals are on time. The tour companies do a lot of the organisation but it's up to the reps to ensure everything works smoothly on the day and fix it if it doesn't.
Andrew Horrell is a former PE teacher who now works as a university lecturer. In his holidays he's a Neilson schools ski rep, and worked in Bulgaria earlier this year. "No way is it a free holiday," he insists. "It really depends how hard you are having to work for your group. You will get to go on the slopes but you have to be around to troubleshoot. That might be easy, or it might be extremely difficult."
You might have to deal with an array of mistakes, misunderstandings and even medical emergencies. But then, you might not. Being organised and communicating well will reduce the chance of problems and increase the amount of time to spend on the slopes. There are also professional benefits. Reps are not responsible for the children; that's down to the trip leader from each school.
For a teacher, being a peak season rep means having the chance to interact with a group of children without the weight of responsibility. It also illuminates other teachers' approaches, which, says Mr White, is beneficial. "It helps me professionally. It's given me a great insight into how other teachers operate, how they deal with school trips and how they interact with the children. You get to be spectator. It helps me evaluate the way I work."
The rep's own school can also gain from this. Knowing how the operation runs from the travel company's perspective can be useful when organising a school trip. Jo Shuter, headteacher at Quintin Kynaston, believes Mr White's experience as a resort rep benefits the school. "When we take our own trips out we have that experience and insight to tap into."
One sticking point with headteachers is that tour operators prefer reps to be in resorts a few days before a party arrives; this may mean teachers needing to take the last day of term off. Few heads are favourably disposed towards this, but it is not always necessary. If you do get a job as a rep, you could find yourself in the Alps or, as Bella Somerville, North American manager of First Choice, points out, even further afield. "During the course of a season we have more than 40 reps working at North American resorts and we are always looking for good professional people who can join that team."
To apply to become a school ski trip representative, contact the First Choice overseas recruitment department on 01293 588585, or Catherine Deheer at Neilson on 01273 666133. There may be a few last-minute vacancies for this year's summer programmes