Science - Want to teach abroad?

Here's a tip: make sure you hang on to your pencils

Simon Porter

It's been more than a decade since I looked out of the window one bitter winter morning at a mountain of chip papers and vomit on the doorstep (downtown Dudley - lovely) and thought: "It can't be worse than this."

Now, 13 years after ditching Dudley and still with my wife and three children in tow, I have no desire to come home.

But before leaping to work abroad, do think things through. The first thing to consider, if you plan to be away only a couple of years, is that many UK schools won't be too open-minded about having you back. I'm lucky that I teach a shortage subject (physics), but even my options if I decided to return home would be limited, as many schools fear you will be out of touch.

Second, find out which type of school you are applying to. The funds available to long-standing international schools run as charities will be much better than for those run as businesses by private owners or large educational companies. At the former (in Scandinavia) I went on five overseas courses in two years. Compare that with a school in the US, owned by a large educational company, which gave me little meaningful training and where I had to hoard pencils because of a schoolwide shortage. Doubly dangerous are institutions run by a local "owner" who treats the school as their private fiefdom.

Ask yourself: "Am I flexible and open-minded?" In most international schools you will be on your own. Don't expect detailed schemes of work, even in the most well-established school, and your equipment might be substandard compared with what you had at home. Teachers who have never taught IGCSE or International Baccalaureate will find these courses challenging, and international parents equally so.

Also ask yourself: "Am I truly internationally minded?" I was shocked by how Eurocentric my teaching was. Peruvian students were baffled by my UK textbooks' preoccupation with radiators and loft insulation, as much as they were by short days and long nights in winter (Lima is near the equator and the difference in daylight hours is barely noticeable as seasons change). I had never before considered that even physics could be regional.

Having said all this, the rewards have been immense. My own children are mature, bilingual and at ease in every situation. We have lived in a house on the beach, watching dolphins swim past in the morning, and in a stilt house in the middle of the Papua New Guinea jungle. Life is for living - so take the plunge.

Simon Porter has taught at international schools in Peru, Papua New Guinea, Norway, the US and Poland

What else?

If you are planning to teach abroad, get a head start with Simon Porter's range of IGCSE science resources.

Become less Eurocentric in your science teaching with funforester's PowerPoint about seasons across the world.

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Simon Porter

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