Sun, sea and cockroaches

24th February 2012 at 00:00
With the economy in the doldrums, it's unsurprising that many teachers are looking abroad for work - and adventure. Most schools are fine, but Richard Vaughan discovers what can happen if you join the wrong school

It was while standing in the arrivals hall at Doha International Airport that Michelle Holloway felt her first twinge of doubt about making the move to Qatar to teach. She must have counted at least 60 new starters while waiting to be transferred to her accommodation, all of them hired to work in just two schools and most barely out of school themselves.

And Holloway felt a larger pang of panic when she was shown to what would be her home for the next 12 months: dirty and infested with cockroaches, it was not what she had signed up for.

But what really rammed home the mistake she had made travelling 4,000 miles to the Middle East were the small but ominous lines scratched into the wall above her bed, counting down the days.

"`Fifty days to go', they said," Holloway recalls, ruefully. "That's what greeted me when I arrived. It was obviously done by the girl who stayed before me."

Having taught in England for 18 years, Holloway made the big decision to give another country a try and answered a job advert that was calling for teachers to join the Cambridge International School for Girls in the Qatari capital. Thousands of teachers make a similar move every year, anticipating sun, sea, adventure and a life without league tables.

But what Holloway hoped would be her dream move soon turned into a teaching nightmare. "It was like a prison," she says simply. "There were CCTV cameras in every room except the toilet. You were docked pay for anything, even for something as petty as leaving the classroom door open.

"I had applied to teach design and technology to the equivalent of pupils in Years 7 to 9 but, when I arrived, I was told I would be teaching PE, despite having no experience in the subject. I felt totally betrayed."

Holloway's experience of teaching overseas, while not the norm, is certainly not unusual. Indeed, education is littered with horror stories of teachers who thought they were embarking on the adventure of a lifetime only for it to go horribly wrong.

You can read the full article in the February 24 issue of TES.

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