Do your homework to avoid pain in Spain

19th March 2004 at 00:00
Like many teachers, I regularly scan the jobs abroad section of The TES.

Around this time last year, I took the plunge and applied for what sounded like a fantastic job in southern Spain.

I should have guessed from the interview, in a cheap hotel in west London's Notting Hill, that all may not be as it seemed. Being used to professional interviews that pay regard to equal opportunities, I was confused by the director's interest in my (assumed male) partner's language skills rather than my teaching skills. But I discarded any doubts and accepted the job.

The school was run by a conservative family who saw private education as a lucrative business. Parents who paid huge fees for the prestige of sending their children to a private British school would have been horrified if they'd seen the poor classroom resources or known that the unqualified partners of teachers were employed as tutors. We were promised various kinds of support but often bureaucracy assured that practical help was not available. Promised Spanish lessons were sporadic and, again, taught by unqualified teachers.

I have passed through the threshold and enjoy working as part of a team, but professional dialogue was not on the agenda here. My mistake was to have opinions about the school's business ethic, the special needs provision and the management's disrespectful attitude towards the staff.

After two months I was called into the director's room. In the presence of two silent witnesses (the head and deputy, whose non-mention mirrors the extent of their influence), I was told that my contract had been terminated with immediate effect. It is legal in Spain to terminate a contract within the probationary period without giving a reason. All teachers taking a job in a private school abroad start on the same salary. "You all start with a clean slate," I was told - or, your experience does not count. The irony is that schools abroad want to attract the best teachers and make a big play on experience in their publicity literature. But once you're in post, this is forgotten.

My advice to teachers who plan a move abroad is:

* When interviewed, try to find out about the culture of the school and the expectations of the director. Remember, private schools are also businesses; your values may be very different.

* Understand what is being offered in terms of contract, support and so on.

* Remember that your experience, opinions and vision of education may neither count nor be welcome.

* Have a back-up plan in case you don't fit in with the organisation. Have money, a support system and a grasp of the language to tide you over.

Living and working abroad can be a fantastic experience, just be prepared for all eventualities.

The writer wants to remain anonymous

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