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How does my UK work-life balance compare to overseas?

Discussion in 'Teaching overseas' started by masty88, Nov 5, 2017.

  1. masty88

    masty88 New commenter

    Hello all

    Despite feeling completely fed up with the UK education system, I feel (& am told) that I have things pretty good at my current school in comparison to some other UK schools. I've been warned that by moving overseas, I'm giving up my place in a decent school with decent leadership & that if it all goes pear-shaped abroad, I will have to join a not so desirable school when I return to the UK. Moreover, I'm told that the grass isn't always greener & that things could be just as bad overseas.

    I'm slowly persuading my wife that we should make the move & wondered whether people could weigh in with their thoughts on how my current UK school experience compares to their own work-life balance overseas...

    I'm in school from around 8am until around 5pm & get around 2 hours of PPA time per week plus around 20-50 minutes extra per week when/if the school holds school assemblies. I have to 'detail mark' Maths & Literacy every week & foundation subjects every 2 weeks. Our Literacy & Maths planning is regularly scrutinised as are our children's subject exercise books to ensure that we are planning correctly, following the planning correctly & marking correctly. We have 6 observations per year & behaviour is challenging but manageable albeit exhausting. I regularly work at home for 1-2 evenings per week, along with a large part of Saturday. I am completely drained everyday from managing children's behaviour while trying to tick all of the boxes & spend my weekends simply trying to recuperate energy for the following week.

    As I said, I feel that I have it pretty good compared to many other teachers in other UK state schools but am hoping that those working overseas can provide assurance that life in an international school will be far more enjoyable & manageable. Please weigh in with any thoughts and experiences :)
  2. dumbbells66

    dumbbells66 Lead commenter

    Night and day...there is NO comparison between the two....well in my experience. Yes you can run the risk of ending up in a terrible school, i did, in Spain. But they are short term contracts, if you dont like something, you can move on.

    I honestly cant remember the last time i had to work in the evenings, or at the weekends. I also leave school at 4, and dont worry about anything, because i get more than enough time during the working day to do everything. I must say though, i have only worked in IB schools since leaving the HELL of Spain. You also need to consider that international schools on average get more holidays than UK state schools, so you get plenty of time to relax.

    I would never cope going back to riot control in the UK. and im just thinking if i have ever worked with anyone that has returned home....and i honestly cant think of one.
  3. tb9605

    tb9605 Occasional commenter

    I'm in Spain, in what seems to be a decent school, and loving it. Here's a comparison for you:

    UK: had to be in work at 8am, left school at 5ish. Usually had at least one PPA per day on average. Always spent at least 2 hours per evening (including weekends) doing planning and marking. 3 observations per year, but they weren't linked to PRP and were coaching obs. Summer holidays started 20th July.

    Spain: have to be in at 8.45, leave school at 4.30. At least one PPA per day, sometimes more. Usually work two or three evenings a week, but that may be because I'm a workaholic and HoD getting my mind around a new system. We also get paid extra for any extra-curricular clubs we run. There will be three obs a year (I'm told) but I doubt they will be anything like the UK ones. Summer holidays will start 20th June.

    For the same amount of money we're letting our UK house out for (standard 3 bed semi with garden), we have rented a 3 bed semi with garden in the mountains, with shared pool and absolutely jaw-dropping views over the sea.

    Good luck with whatever you decide.
  4. masty88

    masty88 New commenter

    Thanks to both of you. So far so good...
  5. tigi

    tigi Occasional commenter

    Yes it is better!

    In my uk school I worked 7.30-18.00 and mostly not in the evenings. I worked half a day at the weekend and had no energy for extracurriculars or leisure activities of my own. I worked a lot of the holiday too.

    Now internationally I usually get home at 5ish and rarely take work home - just occasionally if I need to catch up on marking or want to plan some thing new or different. But I do it for me, not because I have to.
  6. masty88

    masty88 New commenter

    Great, thanks :)
  7. masty88

    masty88 New commenter

    How about extracurricular activities at international schools? Are you expected to run a club or something on a weekly basis for a term? All year? Not at all? Or does it depend on the school?
  8. dumbbells66

    dumbbells66 Lead commenter

    Depends, but generally you are expected to do something. Currently i am expected to do something in 2 out of 3 trimesters. We have a very long list of things we can do, or just supervise students while they take activity. Its hardly a bind. At my current school they run from 3pm until 4pm, so im still home pretty early, and im only required to do one activity a week.

    In some schools i have worked in this was a paid activity, and although you arent really doing it for the money, its a nice added bonus. You can also see quite a bit of the world as well if you do these clubs, as schools travel to lots of different countries to compete against each other.

    One thing you want to consider with international schools is class sizes. I have taught everything ranging from 8 - 24 in a class.... even with my largest classes, its still considerably smaller than what i taught in the UK
  9. mermy

    mermy Occasional commenter

    Yes, at my school and many other schools you are expected to do one extra curricular a week. But that's one hour a week. Honestly nothing compared to the workload you won't miss.

    Since working in China I haven't brought work home in the evenings and weekends at all. I definitely have my life back. We also get more school holidays. Win win situation.

    When someone asked me recently if I ever considered going back to the UK I just had to laugh. Not in a million years would I trade the international teacher life back to the one in the UK.
  10. the hippo

    the hippo Lead commenter Community helper

    Yes, masty88, I am sure that there are some schools in the UK that are not as bad as others. However, I think that you will find, among most international teachers, there is the common feeling that teaching overseas is nearly always much, much better than teaching in the UK. Yes, there are some scummy "international" schools and I have taught at one or two of them, but hey ho! You finish your two-year contract and then you move on to fresh fields and pastures new. (In fact, I have met teachers who seem to enjoy boasting of how dreadful this-or-that school was and how happy they are to have escaped!)

    Yes, you do have to work in an international school. There are things like marking, planning and pointless meetings, just as there are in the UK. (Maybe the SLT does not want you to feel homesick.) The good news is that, in most cases, there are fewer stresses and less paperwork. At the moment my school is doing its CIS accreditation and that is nowhere near as bad as OFSTED.

    Here in China, the students are lovely. They are respectful, polite and hard-working. This is even more amazing when you remember that Mandarin is their first language, so everything is much tougher for them than it would be for a typical child in the UK.

    Oh and did I mention that in China we do not have Council Tax?
    Alldone and percy topliss like this.
  11. StrangePanda

    StrangePanda New commenter

    Life overseas is definitely much better for me. Where to start?

    • No awful Sunday evening feeling.
    • I rarely take work home, except at pinch points in the year (i.e. coursework deadlines).
    • Small classes with lovely, open-minded students.
    • Enough PPA time during the day.
    • Lots of savings potential.
    • (Mostly) sensible and caring management.
    • Lots of adventure and traveling outside of school hours/term.
    • Great environment for any offspring on the scene, including an excellent, rounded education (often for free).
    • In many places, employed 'helpers' are the norm; no ironing for me.

    Obviously one still goes to work with high expectations of oneself but it is possible to keep perspective and balance things out more. Also, it is important to get the right school/country for you. As other posters have said, though, it isn't too much of a big deal if this isn't the case to start with as two year contracts are fairly standard and you can move on easily.
    mermy likes this.
  12. hs9981

    hs9981 Established commenter

    I'm considering working (probably for free) for 10 days in January, to use my works excellent facilities for the local community, as our students will be on their hols.

    I am CONSIDERING proposing this to my boss this week, which he will love and say yes to.

    I'm thinking of doing this of my own free will for no financial gain.

    Would I have ever even considered doing this in the UK...............
  13. SPC2

    SPC2 Occasional commenter



    Take your pick!
  14. miketribe

    miketribe Occasional commenter

    It's all true -- except to the usual anti-Spain rant...
    I'm also a workaholic and get to school really early, but I almost always leave before 4:30. When I was younger, I also did after school activities, but that was my choice and it was paid.
    We work on a revolving block schedule. on A days and C days, I have one 80-minute class. On B and D days, I have four. The rest of the time is mine to do what I want with.
    We have one meeting a month. It's usually a waste of time, but at least there's only one!
    We have a very light inspection every ten years but it's never really been a problem. Since it's an international school, there's none of the National Curriculum nonsense, and the paper work is minimal.
    I do bring work home, but never more than about an hour's worth, and, as I said, I'm a workaholic...
  15. miketribe

    miketribe Occasional commenter

    And no, I would NEVER consider returning to the UK to teach -- or even to retire...
  16. englishtt06

    englishtt06 Occasional commenter

    To the OP - your UK school doesn't sound that 'decent' to me: it sounds like a lot of stress and work. These naysayers may well be right that you won't find another school like that if you return - but that sounds like a good thing to me since you are working at home frequently; and are constantly exhausted. I would also question if these naysayers have been abroad themselves? If you went abroad and did have to return, worst case scenario is that you may well have to work in a 'less desirable' setting initially, but then could leapfrog back into a 'nice' school. However, as I said, your current school doesn't sound desirable at all (and yes, I read the Workplace Dilemmas forum so I know there are lots of horror stories out there about UK; but how many wrongs make a right?).

    As you can see from the responses here, the general consensus is that life in international schools is still hard work; it's just the balance is there and we have more room to 'breathe'. I have a lot more time to develop my pedagogy and try new or interesting things with my classes; I am not bogged down by paperwork; and, apart from my first year on the job as HoD, I rarely take home work (just at crunch points such as mock exam week). I have a great work-life balance and am happier, healthier and a much better teacher because I am not stressed or exhausted all the time (as I was in the UK).

    Thinking back to UK teaching, it was around-about this time of year where I would enter the 'tunnel' - dark when I arrived at work (7.30am), dark when I left (5.30pm or thereabouts); and I was only 'human' again in the holidays - term-time was an exhausting gauntlet; weekends a brief reprieve to come up for air! I didn't go to my own high school reunion because I knew I would be tired for school the following week! Now I deeply regret not doing so. But I remember just being too tired to do anything social or see anyone apart from my very nearest and dearest. Often I would get home on a Friday, fall asleep after dinner (about 7.30pm) and not wake up until 7.30am the next day! I haven't done that in a long time....
  17. masty88

    masty88 New commenter

    Thank you all so much. After another weekend consisting of too much school work & a particularly unpleasant Monday at school, I'm just about ready to inform my headteacher that I am 'looking'. I really appreciate every single comment posted on this topic, thanks a lot everyone :)
  18. tigi

    tigi Occasional commenter

    Oh just do it why not? Even though I think I still feel I work hard I resent it a lot less and don't do stupid paperwork or data analysis.
  19. willow78

    willow78 Occasional commenter

    To add a bit of balance, I work at a small independent school in the UK, I start at 8, finish at 4, do one club a week and the occasional meeting, I only work outside schools hours at busy times which is rare, and the odd day in holidays. Kids are nice and no Ofsted.

    So I love my job, however I really miss the lifestyle of living abroad the financial rewards it brings.

    Thet are some great schools in the uk, but in my opinion the whole package of living abroad is the reason I'm looking to move back out again.
  20. karel

    karel Occasional commenter

    In my experience the amount of work needing to be at home in the evenings and weekends depends on the subject being taught and the level. I teach a core subject in the high school, including IBDP classes. Typically I’ve had 4 preps to prepare for. I don’t work every evening and weekend, but I work many of them to one extent or another. I’m sure there are some teachers that don’t need to do as much away from school, for example teachers in middle school have only one prep, and teach the same thing 4 different times, so their preparation expectations will be a lot less. There is no requirement to do any extra curricular activities, but if we choose to do we get paid extra for it. So, I don’t believe it’s a good idea to set about assuming that working internationally will mean not having to work at home. What I have always found to be true though is that the work I do st home is relevant and meaningful, so I don’t resent it.

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