What keeps me awake at night - The arrogance of expatriate teachers

Tes Editorial

I have been an international school teacher for several years, and in that time I have experienced many different environments and cultures. It is a truly rewarding job in so many ways.

Alongside all the positives, however, are some pitfalls: the transient colleagues, the cultural isolation, the language barriers. Yet the main problem I have had to contend with is the arrogance of teachers working in what they believe to be a "developing nation".

These are teachers who relish their apparently lofty positions over locals and students. At a school I taught at a few years ago, the majority of staff thought in this way. Early on in my time there, a teacher was begrudgingly fired for muttering to a parent that they should "speak English". Unfortunately, this was indicative of an endemic problem.

Depressingly, I noticed that if a student didn't speak English well at school, it affected a teacher's predicted grades. Teachers would often sit in the expatriate club and discuss how stupid a student was because of their lack of English language skills. These teachers would lambast their multilingual, intelligent students while relaxing on deckchairs, sipping mai tais and caipirinhas that they had ordered in English. The way that some teachers treated waiting staff and shop vendors was reminiscent of 19th-century imperialism.

Professionalism from less experienced staff was not of the highest standards, either. Some of the younger staff would drink with students on nights out, kiss the students' sisters, fight their brothers and demean their parents. They believed that they were untouchable and their salaries exacerbated their delusions of grandeur.

Some teachers lost sight of who they were and why they were there. Now, thankfully, I have moved on to a real international school, not a place full of characters such as Kurtz in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, who act as if they are demigods. That the bad examples are still out there, though, threatens to damage the perception of teachers everywhere.

The writer is a teacher based in Switzerland.

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