'Why teaching abroad was the only option for me after my PGCE'

9th July 2017 at 18:01
Low starting salaries and training debt forced this new teacher to take up her first job in the Middle East, rather than in the UK

The teacher retention crisis is an issue that is frequently discussed in the education profession. One problem is that teachers are increasingly leaving the UK for sunnier climates and healthier pay packets. And why wouldn't you be tempted? It wasn't just the sun and the pay packet that lured me away; it was the sour taste left in my mouth from the PGCE experience. 

During my PGCE, I fell deeply in love with teaching. I was utterly head over heels with the profession. However, I had absolutely no desire to remain in the UK. I am a teacher of English with a 2:1 degree, which meant I received a bursary payment of £4,000, and paid £9,000 for the privilege of what was essentially working for free. Sitting next to people in the lecture hall who were receiving upwards of £25,000 to train in their subject was a bitter pill to swallow.

'Extortionate sums to train'

Anyway, training was minimal; a few days in university is what it amounted to. You learned on the job, and that's fine by me. However, what is not fine is forking out extortionate sums to train for a job in which you, in many cases, will end up working for local councils. How is that money spent? My main PGCE mentor was fabulous, but this wonderful lady didn't receive any extra money for training me. The whole premise is sickening; essentially, you become indebted only to end up providing a service for the same government that caused that level of debt. What's more, you're practically forced to beg for the opportunity, and existing teachers who give up their free time to train you are also exploited in the process.

Teaching is a crucial job; we are needed. Therefore, like nurses, we should not have to pay for our training. Above all else, the insult of plunging myself into debt to pay for my training was the definitive factor that prompted me to leave the UK. 

I was warned against it, of course. I heard all sorts of fanciful myths about the dangers of leaving, including becoming out of touch with the latest developments and practices in education (erm, the internet exists) and not being able to complete your NQT year abroad (yes, you can). But I had made up my mind. Even if I didn't receive a qualifying NQT year, I was off. I found a job in the Middle East. My apartment was paid for, my tax-free salary was about one and a half times what I would receive in the UK, yearly flights would be reimbursed and I would have a lighter timetable and the opportunity to teach A level

'I made the right decision'

It hasn't all been perfect; I do miss home. Some days, I ache for a bit greenery and a greasy fry-up. And lifestyle gripes aside, in the UK I felt that I had a greater impact on individual children's lives. In international teaching, you are often teaching very privileged children from supportive homes. That doesn't mean that they don't need you, it's just different. I became a teacher because I want to make a difference, and sometimes I wonder if I could be making more of a difference to young people's lives by going back home.

Overall though, I know I made the right decision. I speak with teacher friends in the UK, who are truly passionate about their jobs, but each month they scrape by, their loans from the PGCE year creating a dent in their monthly salaries. I can't do it. I'm beginning my life. If I want to buy a house and go on holidays, have the time and security to take time off to volunteer, then I cannot accept the starting salary of a teacher in the UK.

I will go back eventually, and I will carry on trying to make a difference to the lives of young people in the way that so many incredible UK-based teachers already do. To enable this, I need to be secure myself first. In many cases, international teaching provides that. Teaching in the UK does not. 

The writer is a secondary English teacher working in the Middle East

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