Bill Hicks takes a weekly look at the hot topics in the TES chatrooms
Teaching Overseas is both the most valuable of the forums, and also the greatest source of grief, at least for the lost souls (ourselves) who oversee it.
Around 500 posts per week to this board demonstrate the worldwide reach of the TES site. The mostly British-trained teachers might be in Bogota or Beijing, Malawi or Madrid, Riyadh or Rome, but this is where they come to swap anecdotes on new schools, vacancies, salaries, interviews, costs of living or just the local nightlife.
A typical exchange, from two o'clock one afternoon: BubbleC: "Hi everyone, I'd just like to know if it is possible to live decently in the Alicante area with about 1,100 euros a month. I really need your help!!!"
At 4pm, one of our Spanish regulars, Genti Rodriguez, drops this in passing: "What do you mean by decently? I would manage on that money, but everybody is different..."
And so it goes on. Information is exchanged, career moves are plotted.
Some see teaching as a passport for travel. But a disturbing proportion of posts reveal how often their dreams turn to ashes when faced with the reality of some very-much-for-profit outpost of the British private school system (overseas division). You get a fair clue to the trouble in store when you enter this forum and read our bossy warning notice, to the effect, "don't name schools or staff or we will delete your postings". Of course, you try to get round our rules by discussing schools and rogue SMTs in elaborate codes and metaphors. The deal is, you can post what you like within our rules and the law, with the added luxury of anonymity. We are not anonymous, so we receive the writs. We take the flak knowing that this forum can be a lifeline for isolated teachers thousands of miles from home.
And it's not all grim. Last week, knicknakss started the thread, "How about the 100 best schools then?" Among many nominations, my favourite is miketribe's: "The Parthian school in Tehran just before, during and after the Islamic revolution. It's gone now, but the time I worked there was the most rewarding of my teaching career."
For all the horror stories, this forum could awaken your wanderlust.
Doubters, heed the advice of veteran poster SMTdude: "One experience, however ghastly, should not be allowed to colour your whole approach to international education."
Bill Hicks is editor of the TES website. www.tes.co.ukstaffroom