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Advice appreciated - applying for a career break / sabbatical to travel and volunteer abroad

Discussion in 'Teaching abroad' started by just_keep_swimming, Dec 31, 2011.

  1. Hi,
    I am in my 7th year of teaching - 5 years at my current school. I am very happy there and see myself teaching there for a long time to come...however I am very eager to travel. I am more than willing to combine this with some voluntary work in schools/with children, especially if I can use what I have learnt from these experiences to benefit the school when I return (i.e. sharing good practice from schools in other countries or developing language skills as there is no MFL co-ordinator at present at my school). The timing seems perfect as my school is currently restructuring and will therefore definitely need to recruit one teacher a year for the next 3 years, however I would MUCH prefer to be granted a 'career break' or sabbatical to prevent the stress of having to reapply when I return. I don't yet have a firm plan of exactly where or when I would go, or how long I would go for as I feel I don't want to get too far down the line with planning the trip of a lifetime only for it to be kyboshed by the governors/head.
    My head is very approachable and I am keen to discuss this with her at an early stage but I would appreciate some advice from the many wise folk on here before I speak to her!
    1) Are governors likely to grant a career break? Are they more likely to grant for one, two or three terms? I think my ideal would be to leave at the end of the summer hols and return at Easter but I am not sure if the Govs would go for this. What would governors see as 'benefits' that I could bring back with me? How far in advance do I need to apply to governors for a career break? I am considering leaving in Aug/Sept 2012.
    2) How easy is it to arrange work experience/voluntary work in schools abroad? Started looking with STA Travel but I would have to pay several hundred pounds for a week working in a school through them and I am sure there must be a cheaper way to set up work placements (esp if they are voluntary!). I have a few friends scattered around the globe at the mo and it would be great if I could stay with them and work in a local school. Does anyone have any useful links/websites that could help with this?
    3) I am assuming that as this would be unpaid leave, my payments to the Teacher Pension Scheme and the Student Loan Company would be suspended until I return - does anyone know if this is the case?
    I am also keen to hear from anyone who has done something similar - any stories? Hints and tips?? Are visas needed to undertake voluntary work in Oz/NZ?
    I know its a long post with LOTS of questions but if anyone can take the time to answer even one of them I would be very grateful! Have posted this in several forums as I am keen to hear a range of viewpoints.


  2. the hippo

    the hippo Lead commenter Community helper

    I do not want to be a wet blanket, but there seem to be quite a few potential problems with your plan.
    First of all, schools in the UK are under pressure to save money and therefore it is not likely that your current principal will look favourably upon your plan to go abroad, especially as you have no definite idea of where you will go and when you will be coming back! While we are on the subject of money, it does seem to me that your own personal financial situation is not exactly rosy, so shouldn't you be focussing on getting out of debt and sorting out your own financial future? A year abroad might mean additional expenses, so you are going to be even worse off than you are now. Before we leave the matter of money, it needs to be said that taking on a new teacher for only a year or so might be quite expensive for some overseas schools. Flights, visas, other travel costs, accommodation, health insurance: who is going to pay for all of these?
    Secondly, will your sojourn in foreign parts be a positive thing and a bonus, something that will enhance your teaching career in the UK and make you a better teacher? Unfortunately some school principals in the UK may not see things in this light. (If you want to become a better teacher, why not do some more CPD instead?)
    Thirdly, have you considered the possibility that teaching overseas might actually change your priorities and then you might decide that this is what you really want to do for the rest of your career? Once upon a time I planned to go overseas "for a year or two". That was in 1998. Since then, I have taught in Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Romania, the UAE and now in Qatar. I do not think that I would ever consider going back to teaching in the UK. Therefore I am not saying that teaching overseas is a bad idea - quite the reverse - but I think that you may not be able to put everything back neatly and tidily once you have opened the Pandoara's Box of international education.
    Fourthly, if you want to teach overseas because of charitable or altruistic reasons, because you wish to help young people in some of the poorer parts of the world, then why mention teaching in New Zealand and Australia? Wouldn't Sudan or Romania be more appropriate, if this is indeed your reason for wanting to be teaching in some kind of international school?
    Fifthly, and here I do not want to be rude to any of our antipodean colleagues, I would say that one of the most interesting and worthwhile things about teaching overseas is being in a culture that is very different from your own. New Zealand and Australia are not so very different from the UK. Siberia, Saudi Arabia or Japan probably would be. If you want to meet lots of Kiwis and Aussies, wouldn't it be a lot cheaper to go to a pub in Earls Court?
    Sixthly, are you reallly interested in travelling abroad or is teaching overseas what you want? Or both? Or one a bit more than the other? Couldn't you just have a foreign holiday or two? This could well be simpler, cheaper and less fuss. It also would not interrupt your career in the UK.
    Well, I am sorry if all of this sounds rather negative, but it does seem to me that you need to think long and hard about your plan.
    You can send me a PM, if you like.
  3. Mainwaring

    Mainwaring Lead commenter

    The Hippo speaks sense. I'll try to add a pennyworth of value:
    Your Student Loan payments are only demanded if your salary exceeds a certain level. It used to be 10,000 quids p.a. but I am out of date on that one. However the interest on the loan will continue to accrue. Your payments into the TP scheme are PAYE and can be resumed when you return to the UK.
    In my experience, supported by many comments on the Forum, Little England does not in general see rubbing shoulders with Johnny Foreigner as a worthwhile way of spending your youth and strength (one misses so many episodes of Corrie and East Enders). 'Overseas' teachers often struggle to find jobs when they return to the Foggy Rock and their years 'abroad' are not always recognised for salary purposes. Thoughts such as these may colour the response of your HT and governors if you make a request for sabbatical leave.
    Don't apply to them at all. Discuss it asap with your friendly headteacher. Approaching the Governors directly could be seen (by both them and her) as a discourtesy, which would sink your cause from the outset.
    I would be somewhat gobsmacked if they went for that. IF (and it's a big IF) your HT were prepared to go to the trouble of recruiting a temp to cover your absence, I am sure she would prefer not to subject your students to yet another change of teacher two thirds of the way through the year. If I were her, I would suspect this young swimmer of only wanting to dive back into my pool/ school at Easter so s/he could cash in on the short term and the summer holiday pay.
    Look at it also from the 'overseas' school's point of view. As a two-termer it is unlikely that you would be timetabled to take on full responsibility for a range of classes so you would probably be seen as a luxury rather than an essential. These are straightened times in most parts of the world. I think it likely that some schools would consider you but only if it didn't cost them money. Finally, you will need to give serious thought to your targets. An international school for the children of the wealthy or a needy school in Africa or India?

  4. Have you checked your terms and conditions? I know we have a different system here in Scotland but teachers here can apply for career breaks of up to 5 years.
  5. Thanks for the considered responses - all feedback is greatly appreciated!
    Like I say, I am in the very early stages of decision-making so I know there are plenty of holes in my plans! Also, writing posts so late at night is not always a brilliant idea as haven't expressed myself brilliantly articulately in parts! I am not looking to spend my entire trip in one place so wouldn't be looking for a 2 term placement in a single school.
    I am mostly interested in volunteering in central/South America, however I mentioned Oz/NZ as I am unlikely to undertake a trip/break like this again so am keen to see other parts of the world while I am away if possible. Not really interested in working in, as Mainwaring put it, an 'international school for the children of the wealthy'! I have some friends currently in Oz so threw the question about visas in as I know that visa applications can take a long time, if they are required. I am far from under the impression that my governing body will see me enjoying the sunshine in Oz as a worthy cause for a sabbatical! I think this is my dilemma - I do want to travel and see several places around the world but I also want to spend some time volunteering in schools in South America.
    thehippo - you are totally right I do need to think long and hard about all of this! So I don't see your comments as you being a wet blanket! Rather they are invaluable food for thought! Finances are not easy for anyone at the moment which is why I was asking the questions about TPS and SLC - I want to make sure I can afford to go without overlooking anything! I also own a house so will need to make provision for covering my mortgage while away. Although I am not currently sure about where or when to go, I wouldn't expect an open-ended 'free pass' from my current post and would make sure that I had an agreed return date - at the moment I am thinking I would want to be away for 6-8 months. Your 3rd point is something I hadn't considered as I think if I was away longer then 9 months or so I would probably feel rather homesick!! But your point is food for thought as, yes I had assumed I could return with everything 'neatly and tidily' as it was! Your 5th point made me laugh = good point!!
    Mainwaring - I think you have summed up what I was afraid of with the 2 term idea. To be honest, as I mentioned above 6-8 months is my ideal trip duration - I'm not sure I would want/could afford to be away longer - but I can see why it would look suspicious to ask for an Easter return (and yes the summer hol pay would be v useful!!). Also I had no intention of applying straight to governors without discussing with the head first! What I meant to ask was at what point do I need to start discussing this with the head (which you advise asap) and as a separate question, is there a formal/advisable notice period within which this would need to be raised with the governors? In order for me to go away this Sept? Have I left it too late?

    Thank you for all the advice and feedback so far!
  6. Thank you - a poster in the governor forum has suggested I check out school policies so will do this next week.
  7. Mainwaring

    Mainwaring Lead commenter

    Your Ts & Cs and School Policies should also cover your notice period. Also bear in mind that most South American school years start in Jan/ Feb.
  8. the hippo

    the hippo Lead commenter Community helper

    I think that perhaps the OP ought to spend some time reading a few of the posts on the "Unemployed Teachers" forum. This might well cure him (or her) of any strange ideas about foolish foreign adventures. If the OP has a property in the UK, a good job and a decent headteacher, then he or she is very lucky indeed. There are plenty of teachers in the UK who don't.
    Kenneth Graham's The Wind in the Willows has a lovely chapter entitled "Wayfarers All". The Water Rat meets another rat who has been travelling in foreign parts, so the Water Rat then decides that he too should leave the UK and go a-wandering overseas. Fortunately the Mole, that sensible animal, manages to stop the Water Rat just in time and gradually Ratty calms down and realises that it was a silly idea.
  9. Thanks for that thehippo. I do count myself lucky for those things. Precisely why I'm not just jacking everything in and instead am on here scouting out advice before I make any 'silly' or 'foolish' decisions. Plenty of others have advised me to 'just go for it' and that I would be 'foolish' to not. Just trying to get some objective and practical advice first.
  10. I am in exactly the same predicament! After a rather hellish year both at school and personally I am toying with the idea to give it all up like yourself and go away! I graduated 18mths ago and feel that I'd I don't do it now then I probably never will. I have had various people give me their opinions but the best one was that I shouldn't wake up in 20years and regret not doing it, or similarly staying for a job where I tell the children to aim high and yet-I'm not achieving mine!!
    I volunteered before I graduated at a school in Gambia for two weeks and I can honestly tell you it was the best thing that I have ever done!

    I think you should do it! Volunteering can be done in orphanages etc as that will really help you too!
    PM me if you want details of any orphanages as I know various people who have done this!!

    I hope u go for it-I'm currently trying to find enough courage to do it alone!,
  11. the hippo

    the hippo Lead commenter Community helper

    Well, someone needs to be the OP's Devil's Advocate, I think. No hard feelings?
    Seriously, folks, there is a big difference between working overseas on a permanent or semi-permanent basis and "volunteering" for a few weeks, as liz_brook has done. In addition, liz_brook's comments lend weight to my argument that teaching overseas really is a Pandora's Box and you cannot simply put everything back where it was before you left the UK. Will you be the same person that you were before you left? Probably not. Will you be able to settle down again and re-start your life in the UK? Well, yes, but perhaps you will always be wondering whether this is what you really want to do, as liz_brook makes very clear.
    Of course it is interesting to speculate about what would have happened if the sensible and practical Mole had not stopped the Water Rat from going off on his travels. Perhaps Ratty would have had all kinds of wonderful foreign adventures, but then he would not have been there to help with the recapture of Toad Hall.
    As for me, I do have a wonderful souvenir of my wanderings in foreign parts. She is called Mrs Hippopotamus.
  12. David Getling

    David Getling Lead commenter

    A bit of well meant advice Liz. If you only graduated 18mths ago then you are probably quite young, with plenty of time before you end up regretting missed opportunities. If you can secure a position abroad then all well and good. However, I'd want a lot more than 18mths behind me before I just gave it all up. Competition for teaching jobs is intense, and not just in the UK. So, to compete successfully you need a few more years on your CV. Also, a gap might not be regarded too favourably - especially if it ends up being longer than you initially planned.
  13. Of course no hard feeling thehippo :) I appreciate anyone taking the time to help me think through the various options ahead of me! Such a big decision and every time I think I have come to one conclusion, I change my mind and think something else is a better idea!
    I think that idea of 'always wondering whether this is what I really want to do' is the thing that is haunting me at the moment as I feel the timing is potentially the best it will ever be for a career break. Currently single and with posts at my existing school definitely available for Sept 2013, I know there would at least be a job I could apply for (and - I hope! - stand a strong chance of doing so successfully) if I was to take a break to travel. I really don't want to find this opportunity passes me by and I end up always wondering if I missed out on fantastic experiences
    I think I have been lucky to have some very wise advice form folks on here encouraging me to think about whether I want to work overseas or simply travel and then to investigate the practicalities through speaking to the head and checking my terms and conditions. So that is what I am going to focus on next! lizbrook, I may well PM you if I decide to go down the volunteering route - thanks for the offer :)
    Thanks for the advice everyone!
  14. I worked for 7 years as an MFL teacher (and HOD) in UK and then left for to "travel" for 2 years through South America, Australia and SE Asia. My Head said that they could offer me a job on return, but not as HOD of course as they had to replace me. I had paid of my student debts so that made it easy. So off I set in September 2000 - and haven't made it back yet... and not sure I ever will. I agree with whoever said that your priorities change when you start working overseas. I'm now in UAE, but have also taught in Bangkok, Sydney and Brisbane. South America was a blast!
    There used to be a voluntary teachers overseas organisation - can't remember what it was called. I know someone who worked in Africa for 2 years on a voluntary basis and then returned to London to teach without any hassle. Of course that was a few years back, so who knows??
    Finally don't be too hng up on stayin at the same school. there are lenty out there and if you are a good teacher with good references you'll always get a job I'm sure... :)
  15. gulfgolf

    gulfgolf Established commenter

    You've been getting good advice here. So many things to think about before you decide.
    Please let me reiterate the massive difference between a short-term experience and a longer placement.
    Volunteering or taking a job for the short-term means you would be able to contribute much less to the on-going mission of whatever organization. You could fill a gap and certainly contribute to day to day doings, but you wouldn't be asked, or even be able, to build the program, take it to the next level, set things up that would be fully running and institutionalized for perpetuity. This means you might be very valuable to an organization that is running on a shoestring and barely meeting critical daily needs, but of very limited value to an established, well-funded and organized organization which is already functioning reasonably well and needs to look further into the future. The first type probably wouldn't have the means to pay for all your needs (flights, housing, medical insurance, enough wage to buy food, etc), and the second type would be hesitant to pay for all those things knowing that you'd be leaving. Why wouldn't they just hire a permanent person? This could be why many of the charitable organizations charge you for the privilege of volunteering - it's expensive for them to have you. You might find a job as a substitute teacher in one of those international schools for rich kids, but that doesn't seem to be what you're after.
    That's from their perspective. From yours, a temporary placement is also very different. If you're short-term, you can sleep on a sofa, eat catch as catch can, not worry about really setting up housekeeping. You wouldn't be living somewhere, you'd be backpacking, taking a holiday with a purpose, and your concerns would be more similar to a holiday maker than to a homesteader. Everything is just a jolly, and you can just pick up sticks when you're bored or frustrated.
    If you take a long-term placement, you have to really move there. Get an apartment, a bank account, a cell phone, set up internet access and turn on the electricity, get a residence permit. The adventure changes significantly when you're not just on holiday, but setting up a real home and a real life that you can't leave whenever you decide. I love the adventure - my story is similar to Hippo's except I left home a handful of years before he did, and I'm no closer to going home. But it's a completely different adventure than when I go on holiday and/or volunteer somewhere.
    So you need to figure out what it is you really want to do. Take a holiday, see the world, volunteer in places that are desperate to have you (Sudan etc), or take the plunge and move somewhere for at least a year (and probably more since most schools want an initial two year commitment).
    Good luck.
  16. the hippo

    the hippo Lead commenter Community helper

    I think that gulgolf has summed up matters very well. An excellent post, gg.
  17. gulfgolf

    gulfgolf Established commenter

    Aw, shucks. [shuffles feet and blushes]
  18. c84moose

    c84moose New commenter

    I decided about this time last year to quit my teaching job of three years and go travelling. I'm off next week for 6 months!
    I saved a lot of money to be able to do this (the golden handshake helped!), and have decided not to work while i'm away. It does cost a fortune though, so bear that in mind.
    I'm in Australia for just under 3 months, and you can easily get an online tourist visa for 3 months. They link it to your passport number, so no need to send it off. I think it cost about £20.
    I've booked a lot of stuff through STA, but they're not always the cheapest. You can also get a teachers discount card through them (ITIC) which might be useful if you do decide to go.
    Good luck with the decision!
  19. Hello,
    I'm 28 and in my fourth year of teaching in a state comp and felt that I needed a break as was reaching burn out. I spent a long time weighing up the ideas and being uncertain about whether to leave the school and seek supply work on my return, or whether to request a sabbatical. Having called supply agencies, it appeared that there wasn't much work, especially at the start of the year and also due to job cuts etc.
    In the end, I decided to approach the headteacher and just explain that I felt I wanted to experience more of the world before getting into mortgages etc. I explained I wanted to go for 3 months and, following consultation with the govenors, I was granted a 3 month unpaid break - leaving in May once my exam groups went on leave and returning in Sept. I didn't work / volunteer, but I travelled in 3 months from Singapore, Oz - GBreef and Sydney, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. I encountered a few places that were brilliant for voluntary ops in Laos and Cambodia is desperate for teachers - there was a voluntary school in Siem Reep (beautiful lovely place) where teachers have to sign up to 4 months and it's not paid (I don't think) but would be a fab opportunity. VSO (voluntary services overseas) or Raleigh International may also be able to put you into contact with places that don't involve the same fee? I felt the time out really enabled me to get some perspective about what I wanted to do.

    Hope that helps?

  20. Angelil

    Angelil Occasional commenter

    Have you considered a teacher exchange, OP? I know someone who did this about 10 years ago, but I'm not sure how he arranged it. He went to Australia for one year, while an Australian lady teaching the same subject came to his school in the UK. They both returned to their original locations after one year. So that could be more appropriate for you than what you are currently proposing.

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