What did you expect?

16th June 2000 at 01:00
Teaching abroad can be a fantastic experiencebut, warns Martin Spice, only if youhave realistic expectations,a hardy constitution and an enthusiastic disposition

Interviews are the oddest of encounters. Strangers sit opposite each other in a room for an hour and, with completely different agendas, try to work out whether they want to work together for the next few years.

Interviews for overseas posts are worse. The stakes are higher. While moving from one London borough to the next, or from one end of England to the other, can be stressful, it is nothing compared with moving from one part of the world to another.

And yet people who will argue fiercely over the merits of Reading over Swindon, or Leeds over Huddersfield, become remarkably blase when it comes to considering areas of the world they have hardly heard of. Teachers who would not entertain the idea of moving from the north of England to the south are quite happy to up sticks and fly off to South America or Asia with little thought of what they are going to find when they get there.

I know this because I did it. In 1989 I applied for a job in Kathmandu and got it. At the time of my interview, I had little idea where Kathmandu was but I was so in love with the name of the place that I didn't care very much. Fortunately, my wife, children, dog and mortgage didn't care very much either. So we went. And loved it.

But we don't live in 1989 any more. These days, when I interview other teachers for jobs, I expect them to be a bit sharper than I was about what they are doing and why. Appointing the wrong member of staff in an English school can be problematic enough, but 5,000 miles from home it can be a disaster.

So when we meet for that hour that may change both our lives, you need to ask yourself about my agenda. I will have a pretty strong suspicion of what's on yours. You will have a desire, or a need, to break from the routines of the national curriculum and the increasingly nightmarish demands of teaching in England. You will want to travel a little, experience different cultures and lifestyles. You will want a better standard of living than you could have dreamed of in Luton. And to all of this I am sympathetic ecause I wanted all that too. But it will not for a minute encourage me to give you a job.

My agenda reads rather differently. First, I am looking for an outstanding practitioner. The parents of children in my school pay fees. They are successful and they want their children to be successful. Many of them also feel guilty - they want reassurance that their children are not suffering by being schooled abroad.

You and I will be sitting opposite each other because you have written a good letter of application, because your CV is in line with our needs and because your references are good. But if there is a hint that you cannot deliver the goods, or that you think teaching overseas might be an easy option, our meeting will be short.

Almost as important is whether you can adapt to a different and sometimes difficult lifestyle. In the case of Kathmandu, can you cope with electricity cuts? Does a dead dog in the gutter on your way to school in the morning upset you? Are you prepared to accept the health risks? All I can do is look for clues: have you travelled extensively before? Have you ever lived overseas? Do you seem positive in outlook, the kind of person who copes well when things get tough? You will also impress me if you have done a little homework and know something about the place you say you want to live in.

And, finally, will you fit in with the rest of the team? As you don't know them, you will have to leave this one up to me. But indications of varied interests, flexibility and a positive outlook will help. If you spend the interview telling me all about your life and your friends in London, I will wonder if you can bear to leave it.

All of this, at bottom, comes down to just one thing. Do not simply ask what I can do for you, give me some indication of what you can do for me.

You wouldn't belive how many interviewees don'tdo that.

Martin Spice is a vice-principal of the British School, Kathmandu.l The www.eslcafe.com website includes a jobs discussion forum in which teachers tell of their experiences in different parts of the world. It includes some salutary lessons for those thinking of working abroad.l Next week: You've got the job... Now what?

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