Top 10: Tips for expat teachers

Opportunities for foreigners teaching in Myanmar are increasing at a staggering pace. On the streets of Yangon, you can hardly walk a block without finding another private school promising to propel your child to success through improving their English. For an aspiring foreign teacher, this is a great opportunity. Parents are prepared to pay a premium for their child to be taught by a native English speaker, and schools are often eager to oblige. The demand for foreign English teachers exceeds the supply.

While this presents opportunities for the intrepid who wish to make Myanmar their home, it also presents challenges. Which schools should I consider? Which should I avoid? What qualifications do I need? Where should I find a job? This article seeks to address these issues and more. Here are the top 10 things that all aspiring expat teachers in Myanmar should know.

1. Be qualified

In your home country, you’d likely need a Bachelor of Education, PGCE, or state-issued teacher certification to teach in school. While the requirements aren’t as strict in Myanmar private schools, you should still come with an appropriate level of education. Would you want to be taught by a high school dropout? Neither will your students! Have at least a Bachelor’s degree in the subject that you wish to teach. Prior experience is valuable, but not strictly necessary at many schools. If you weren’t an English major, and wish to teach English, consider gaining a Cambridge CELTA or Trinity Certified TESOL to become more qualified and confident. If you wish to extend your working visa in-country, you’ll need at least a university degree.

2. Know yourself, and know your school

Reflect on what you want from a school. Do you want to teach an international school that could compete with the best in the world? An English language teaching center? Local private schools? Business schools offering MBAs from little-known foreign universities of dubious repute? We’ve got them all. Reflect on the work environment you want, and research them accordingly. Check online reviews to get an idea of the institution’s management style. Pages of complaints from disgruntled former teachers on online forums are a good indication that a particular school is best avoided.

3. Don’t apply online (usually)

There are a plethora of opportunities for teachers in Myanmar, both local and foreign, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find many of them online. Unlike China and South Korea, English language teaching isn’t yet an “industry” in Myanmar. There are certainly some job vacancies posted online, but they represent a small slice of the total opportunity. Your best option is to visit the country before you decide to work here, and network with some expats already teaching. This will beto your benefit anyway, since it will allow you to decide if Myanmar is right for you.

4. Research the managers – especially if they’re foreigners

As with any job, your school’s management may either enrich or destroy your experience. Get to know them well before accepting a job. The job interview can be a great chance to find out who you’ll be reporting to, and to get a feel for their personality. While many foreign managers in the country will help and support you, some are dubious characters who would likely be unemployable or incarcerated in their home country. Do an online search for the names of your prospective management team. Involvement with projects which align with your interests and values is a good sign. Criminal convictions or scandalous press coverage is probably a sign that they’re best avoided. Remember, you have options. The demand for foreign teachers in Myanmar far exceeds the supply. If your gut instinct tells you you’ve stumbled across a job you wouldn’t thrive in, listen to it and find another.

5. Know the labour laws – and use them to your advantage

Rare is the expat teacher who hasn’t been cheated by at least one unethical school. Don’t be one of them! Myanmar’s labour laws protect all workers; locals and foreigners alike. You cannot legally be terminated from your job without 30 days’ notice, three prior written warnings as well as a verbal warning. Even then, you are entitled to severance pay. The labour laws also entitle you to paid leave, a maximum number of working hours in a week, and double overtime pay if required to teach on holidays. Familiarise yourself with these laws before agreeing to work at a school, and ruthlessly negotiate your contract accordingly.

6. Socialise with your local colleagues

International school office politics can be as cliquey as a high school lunch table. Some expat teachers socialise only amongst other expats. In some cases, the reporting structure of the school implicitly encourages this, with local teachers and foreign teachers reporting to different managers. This is a pity, as Myanmar teachers often have a wealth of experience in dealing with students, and will usually be happy to help you manage your class more effectively. You’ll likely find yourself quickly making friends at work if you leave the expat bubble as well.

7. Don’t learn the language (or learn it secretly)

Learning Burmese is a great way to make your daily life in Myanmar easier. This, however, does not apply at work. Expats who are fluent in Burmese are as rare as an obese sidecar driver, but they all have one thing in common: their language skills often work against them. Expats who speak Burmese at work often have the unenviable duty of relaying messages to non-Burmese speaking colleagues, and may be given more unpaid tasks at work. In addition, some international schools may even discipline employees for speaking Burmese at work. For better or worse, there is usually no expectation that expats speak the language. Rare indeed is the job posting which requires expats to be proficient in Burmese. Learn the language to the extent that you wish to, but don’t let your secret out at work!

8. Be flexible

Institutional culture varies from school to school, but is generally quite different from the way a school functions in your home country. It is not uncommon for a student to come to your class as much as thirty minutes late, or for a class to be canceled with no advance notice. These may be shocking in your home country, but they are everyday events in Myanmar classrooms. You’ll quickly learn to live with this, or just as quickly burn out. These different cultural norms work both ways, though. There is a good chance that Myanmar students are a fair bit more respectful and attentive than students in your country of origin. If you can adjust, you’ll thrive.

9. Don’t leave your ethics at home

Your western ways won’t get you far in a Myanmar school, but that doesn’t mean you should compromise on your principles. Everything you’ve experienced in your life has informed your ethics, professionalism, and personal boundaries. Use them. As a teacher, you need to be a moral leader, not merely a source of information. Perhaps some of your colleagues are comfortable sharing the answers to exams with their students before the test, or adding young students on Facebook. That doesn’t mean that you need to be. Know your limits, and stick to them.

10. Know when it’s time to move on

You’ve done what you can. You researched your school, negotiated a favourable contract, and been the educator that your students deserve. None of this, though, matters if you have a toxic boss. If your manger shouts, uses profanities, gossips about you to colleagues, or makes you feel uncomfortable, it’s time to give your 30 days’ notice. No amount of money is worth more than your well-being. Leave your abusive boss. The ample opportunities in Myanmar means that they need you far more than you need them. After leaving, you’ll have a new teaching job in a matter of days. Despite what your boss may try to tell you, you don’t even need a new visa. Work visas aren’t connected to individual employers in Myanmar, and they can’t cancel yours. Move on, and find a place you deserve. You hold the power.

Izaya Fleming is an educator by choice and passion, who has taught in Myanmar for more than two years and plans to continue for many more. He has lived in Asia for all of his adult life, and holds a BA in English and Environmental Studies from the Royal University of Bhutan. Izaya is pursuing his MA in Education,specialising in Leadership and Management from the University of Derby.

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Source : Myanmar Times

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