The phrase that every teacher (and student) dreads the most is: Back to School. Probably because these 3 words are usually splashed across every shop window and inside every supermarket aisle about 2 days after the Summer Holiday – that elusive goal that everybody strives so hard for throughout the year – has finally arrived. Yep, that’s right, after all of the detentions, power struggles, boring meetings, endless piles of soul-destroying marking, and planning lessons: when you can finally enjoy an evening and not have to go to bed at 9pm, when you get that deserved reward for all of your hard work and you wait with eager anticipation for your exam results and everything once again seems worth the effort. But then you are immediately confronted with those awful words: Back to School.
I hated it as a student and I hate it even more as a teacher. I understand that parents need to have as much opportunity to stock up on expensive school uniforms and stationery supplies but as the holiday is 6 weeks long could they not leave it at least a full week before they remind us all that it is only a temporary reprieve and that we will soon be caged up in our classrooms for another arduous school year?
Don’t get me wrong, I actually enjoy teaching. But that is because I escaped from teaching in the UK and joined the International circuit where students respect what you are trying to do, value their education and thank you for the lesson as they leave your classroom. More importantly parents are supportive of what you do (of course that may be influenced by the thousands of dollars they pay in tuition fees every year – but hey, it works!). The downside is that due to the financial nature of International schools they are often run primarily as a business and therefore money can sometimes influence decisions but every school has its drawbacks and that seems less of a problem than facing daily verbal or physical abuse from students.
Yesterday I was confronted with those very 3 words for the first time in Sweden. As I headed up to H&M (of all places!) there they were, staring down at me: Back to School. This time it is worse than ever. Only 5 short weeks ago I was gaily waving goodbye to BIS Vietnam and saying things like: ”No marking for a whole year!” and ”Yay! I don’t have to get up at 6am any more!” with far too much smugness. You see, I was planning to go travelling. But that all changed when I was offered a job in Sweden and it was too good an opportunity to turn down. So here I am 5 weeks later facing those words with growing anticipation.
You see, I start the new job tomorrow. Not only will I have to face 6am mornings and piles of marking again but I have to face it 4 weeks early!! It is always daunting facing a new experience and new schools are particularly scary. BIS made it very easy in Vietnam, I was living in an apartment block which was full of other teachers who had started at the same time as me. We spent every evening together exploring our new surroundings and going out for dinner or drinks, and every weekend visiting new places.
Teaching in Sweden is going to be a completely different experience to Vietnam. Firstly, I am not here alone. I have Nicklas, his friends and his family. Unlike Vietnam, Sweden is not really a country that you move to just because you want to experience a different culture and travel – teacher salaries are low and the cost of living is high. If you move to Sweden it is generally because you have family interests in the country as Sweden offers a great standard of living and childcare benefits are good, so many people move here with a Swedish partner. Therefore my social life no longer has to be synonymous with my school life. Although I hope that I do have friends at work with whom I wish to spend some social time.
The other main difference is going to be the school itself as it is not an International School and follows the Swedish system primarily. As it is a bilingual school it is able to be more selective in the students that are enrolled even though it is not a private school. I’m yet to see how this affects the behaviour and motivation of the students. I will be teaching IGCSE English and English Literature so I will be teaching something familiar but I am looking forward to becoming familiar with the Swedish system as this is something that is often held up by British educators as superior to the National Curriculum. I will miss teaching post-16 as I have always had FE classes and I have really enjoyed teaching the IB over the last 3 years. Admittedly, I will feel the relief of a less intensive planning/marking workload.
And so with trepidation I face my first day back to school tomorrow. Thankfully, the H&M display has alleviated my fears somewhat, for instead of facing the staid and stuffy school uniform display of the UK I was faced with a fun & friendly clothing range featuring jeans, hoodies and ‘Hello Kitty’.
Much more appealing 🙂