Teacher Profile: Matt - Part 1: Supply Teaching in London
Matthew Beattie is a teacher with five years experience. Originally from Tasmania he studied a Bachelor of Human Movement at the University of Tasmania in Launceston before securing a position at St Mary’s District High school on the east coast of the state. In later years he has continued to teach Phys Ed amongst other subjects at both Primary and Secondary levels on the Gold Coast in Queensland. That was until he loaded up his backpack to travel the world and teach abroad in the UK where he is at present employed as the Head of Physical Education at a secondary school in inner city London.
Matt took some time recently to speak to us about his travels…….
I must admit, as the United Arab Emirates flight descended down through the grey cloud cover over London, I am not sure if I was totally prepared for the hectic early days to come.
I had just spent the previous three months travelling through South East Asia with my then girlfriend Laura and friends Matt Bennell and Meagan Gillard. Those three months were almost responsibility free with the hardest decisions each day ranging from where and when to go scuba diving and how best to hang up the mosquito net at night.
How quickly it all changed, landing at Heathrow, we had a day to find somewhere to stay and get our bearings. I decided that our best bet would be to buy a tube ticket, in the form of what they call an Oyster card and take the next train to the city centre then wing it from there. We found a reasonably clean hostel in Piccadilly Circus and then set off, A to Z of London in one hand, a camera in the other to see the sights. Buckingham palace, Big Ben, The Millennium Wheel, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey and the Tower Bridge were all within walking distance. That first couple of days I was certainly still in holiday mode, but with the pounds running low it was time to re-allocate some time at an internet café to look for work.
I had contacted numerous teaching agencies before leaving Australia and had received several job offers all of which turned out to be a lot farther out of London than I expected. A primo job in reading turned out to be a two hour train ride from the city which was impractical. My girlfriend would be working close to the city so I had to follow suit. My first call was Teachweb. Their website announced they were the highest paying agency in London, with daily rates from £135 to £145 a day that’s $290 AUS; so it seemed a logical place to start.
The prospect of not finding work immediately was making me feel uneasy however Rick and Sharion at Teachweb put me at ease and the next day I was off for my first day of teaching in London.
The Hostel was proving to be an increasingly difficult place to organise myself from, with so many people staying there, the showers were permanently freezing cold, not ideal for London. There were people coming into my room at all hours of the night drunk, tripping over and turning all the lights on. All this would have amused me only a week before when I had been travelling but when trying to get a descent nights sleep before tackling the inner city London kids. It was driving me insane.
After arriving at the school I was totally stoked to have actually got there without getting hopelessly lost. Id used a combination of the Transport for London website and my A to Z of London to navigate my way there.
All the horror stories of London schools came to mind as I approached the gate and spoke to one of several security guards that were checking out the kids for who knows what as they entered the school. The outside of the school resembled more of a prison than the schools I was used to. Added to this I was feeling extremely uncomfortable having ditched my Havaianas, boardies and singlet only days before for a Thailand special, fake Armani shirt, tie, suit pants and closed in shoes. Entering the school I was given a timetable and told “good luck” as I was directed to a classroom at the end of an overcrowded corridor.
These first few lessons went quite smoothly, I can’t say we completed all that much of the dodgy cover work that had been left for me, but I can’t imagine their permanent teacher expected much when all she had left was a boring textbook that pupils were expected to read then copy into their books. Hardly innovative stuff, so it wasn’t long before I turned from teacher to entertainer and told travel stories and answered questions about Australia and Tasmania just to keep them in their seats.
After lunch my senior class was a whole new ball game. Upon entering the class I noticed that just as with the other classes I had, had that day the majority of pupils were immigrants from the West Indies. We seemed to hit a language barrier early whereas despite the fact these kids were speaking English they may as well have been talking Chinese. There wasn’t much of what they said that I could understand.
I am not sure if it’s because these kids were older and had heard all the Aussie cover teacher stories before or if they were just hell bent on not listening to a word I said but this lesson was promising to be a battle from the start. The majority of pupils refused to take out their work. Then these same students refused to take out their diaries so I could check their names should they misbehave. The whole lesson from then started to take a downward spiral when after having exhausted all my behavioural management strategies I sent a responsible looking pupil off to get the deputy principle, of course he didn’t return. So I sent another student, this time managing to get his diary and name beforehand to ensure the job got done. So this lesson dragged on and on and I used all my time putting out spot fires, returning stolen pencil cases, settling down arguments, even breaking up a few push and shove matches. There still was no sign of any support from senior staff and with the perpetrators staying unidentifiable it was clear they would get away with their behaviours.
When the lesson finally finished I felt like I had run a marathon and it was then that I came across the deputy relaxing and chatting in the staffroom with a cup of tea in hand. She mentioned some sort of apology for not helping to sort out my problem lesson. It this stage I didn’t really care if I ever went back to this school again so I just thanked her for the support and kept on my way.
This scenario might sound familiar to anyone who has heard stories or knows of anyone who has taught in the UK. However for me it was really the only negative teaching experience I have had in the 12months that ive been teaching here so I would like to urge people to hold their judgement on teaching overseas until you have experienced it for yourself. As it turned out the next day i was sent out to a Boys Sports College where I was asked back everyday to teach PE for the next 6 months. Then when the new school year started in September I picked up a permanent position as a Head of Phys Ed in a High School literally 50 metres from my apartment. I think the best way to approach teaching in London is to never lose sight of your main motivation for being here. Then whatever experience whether good or bad is just that, an experience, at worse you might have a good story to tell when you get back home.