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Published: March 3rd 2021
After spending 39 years on the chalkface, I am now retired from full-time English teaching. I’ve written about my teaching career, in all its aspects, elsewhere. Today I suddenly got the idea of writing about the circumstances in which I found each of my 10 jobs.
Here they all are in chronological order:
1975-85: Old Swinford Hospital (OSH), Stourbridge, UK
1985-91: British International School (BISC), Cairo
1991-95: International School of Tanganyika (IST), Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
1996-97: St Andrews School, Buenos Aires
1998-2000: International School of Monagas, Maturin, Venezuela
2001-06: International School of Ho Chi Minh City (ISHCMC), Vietnam
2007-09: Lincoln International School, Accra, Ghana
2009-12: American International School (AIS), Ho Chi Minh City
2012-16: Renaissance International School (RISS), Ho Chi Minh City
2016-17: International School of Ho Chi Minh City
In 1975 I left Swansea University Department of Education with a PGCE in English. Now I had to find a job as an English teacher. In those pre-internet days, almost the only way to find a teaching position was to comb the columns of the Times Educational Supplement (TES), which appeared every Friday. I came across a job
advertised at a rather strangely named boys’ boarding school, Old Swinford Hospital (OSH) in Stourbridge, and wrote a letter of application to the Headmaster, Mr Sheppard. In due course I received a reply, inviting me to Stourbridge for an interview.
The night before the interview I drank several pints of beer and woke up feeling dehydrated and not at all in the mood for a long journey. Gamely, though, I donned my smart trousers and new green sports jacket and caught a bus from Hendrefoilan Student Village to Swansea Railway Station. A few hours later, after changing at Birmingham New Street, I was walking from Stourbridge Junction towards the school.
I arrived on time and remember feeling desperately hungry and thirsty. I was 23 years old in 1975, and this was my first big interview. Luckily, the school had already decided I was the sort of chap they wanted (Ray Milner, a senior teacher there, told me this later), so as long as I did not vomit or fart, the job was mine.
I interviewed with Mr Sheppard, with the Deputy Head and with the Head of English. It was less of a testing interview process than
an introduction to the school. Back in Swansea, I received a letter of acceptance, and the rest is history. You can read about OSH in my other blogs.
After ten years at OSH, I desperately needed a change. An exciting holiday in Morocco, in the summer of 1974, convinced me there was more to life than living in England and teaching English boys so, once again, I started scanning the pages of the TES, this time looking for English jobs overseas.
A job at Runnymede College in Madrid caught my eye. I had done Spanish ‘A’ level and thought Madrid would be a fine place to live. I posted my letter and was interviewed at the Spanish Club in London by the Headmaster and his son. This was a more rigorous interview than the OSH one, and I acquitted myself quite well but not well enough to be offered the job. They wrote to me, telling me they had given it to another applicant.
Undeterred, I returned to the TES and found a job at the British International School Cairo (BISC). I posted my letter and was invited to a hotel next to Exeter Railway Station, where
the former Headmaster, Leslie Casbon, and his wife interviewed me. I spoke well and returned home by train. Shortly afterwards I received the letter that was to change my life; I had been accepted for Cairo, thus setting in motion a career as an international school teacher in three continents. I learnt later from Ken Stebbing, my fellow English teacher at BISC, that Leslie Casbon had been undecided whether to appoint me or a woman. It almost came down to tossing a coin, Ken said, but I was chosen. Cairo was destined to be one of my three great jobs.
During my sixth year in Cairo, I felt I was treading water and needed another change of scenery. This was 1991, and now it was possible to get a new job by attending an international job fair. The most prestigious one was the London CIS Fair, held in February. I decided that, after Cairo, which was technically in Africa but more Middle Eastern than African, I wanted to experience sub-Saharan Africa. A colleague at BISC, Paul Jordan, had previously worked at the International School of Tanganyika (IST) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and strongly recommended it, so I went
there for a holiday. I liked Dar es Salaam and resolved to target IST at the London Job Fair. Having visited it beforehand would stand me in good stead; moreover, Paul Jordan, who was friendly with the IST CEO, Niall Nelson, wrote me a letter of recommendation.
My interview with Niall went well, and Paul’s letter probably clinched it. Niall said he would telephone me in Cairo in a week’s time on a certain day. Sure enough, on the appointed day, my telephone rang (the long ringing tone, indicating an overseas call), and it was Niall Nelson offering me the job. “Your word is your bond
” were his words as I accepted. My four years at IST would be tremendous – another one of my three greatest jobs.
My fourth year in Tanzania was my 20th
year as a teacher, and I felt I needed a rest. Therefore, in July 1995, I returned to my house in Reading, UK, and proceeded to get bored very quickly. I was missing the excitement of being overseas in a vibrant exotic culture. Once again, I turned to the trusty TES and came across a job at St Andrews School in Buenos
Aires beginning in January 1996. That was just what I needed – an early escape from dreary old Reading and a job in South America, a place I’d always fancied. The job was advertised through a London recruiting agency called Gabbitas Thring, so off I went to London, where a bright young Gabbitas woman interviewed me. I was offered the job shortly afterwards.
The school in Buenos Aires was prestigious and paid me handsomely, but the students were a handful, and after two years I was weary of fighting battles in the classroom. Because of the South American school year, my two-year contract expired in December 1997, so I returned to Reading for 6 months. My plan now was to attend the CIS London Fair in February and find a job for July 1998.
Jobs I liked were few and far between at that Fair. One job – in Maturin, Venezuela – looked promising, but the salary was disappointing. I decided to interview for it anyway. The Headmaster, Ian Rysdale, whom I knew from IST in Dar es Salaam, was a likeable chap, and I asked him about the salary. The figure quoted on the document I’d been
given, he said, was a mistake; the true salary was an extra $10,000. This made a considerable difference, and I was delighted when Ian offered me the job on the spot.
The International School of Monagas in Maturin was a disappointment but I had a great time watching cricket in the nearby West Indies. After two years, it was time to go, and I decided to return to my house in Reading for twelve months and invent ways to stave off English boredom. I was partially successful.
In February 2001 I once again attended the CIS Job Fair in London. I had a fairly open mind about where I’d like to teach next, but the Far East sounded attractive. By now I was an experienced teacher, well able to handle tricky interview questions, and this Fair yielded four job offers: in the Bahamas, in Malawi, in Japan and in Vietnam. The Vietnam job - at the International School of Ho Chi Minh City (ISHCMC) - was the one I really wanted and was my final interview. I told the Heads of the schools in Bahamas, Malawi and Japan I would get back to them later, and they agreed.
Sean O’Maonaigh, the Head of ISHCMC, asked me only one question: “Why, Kevin?
” he said, not even bothering to finish the sentence. I delivered my prepared answer about why I wanted to teach at his school in Vietnam and signed the contract. The easiest interview ever, the prelude to the third of my three greatest jobs. Thus began my love affair with Vietnam, where I live today (March 2021) with my Vietnamese wife, Thuy.
After five good years at ISHCMC, I had itchy feet and decided to rest for twelve months. In February 2006, I went to the Search Associates Bangkok Job Fair, confident of finding another job either in Vietnam or Malaysia or Thailand. I wanted to stay in South East Asia because I’d become attached to my Vietnamese girlfriend, Thuy. Alas, there was a poor selection of jobs for me and I ended up accepting a job at the Lincoln Community School in Accra, Ghana. John Roberts, the Head, had been one of my bosses in Dar es Salaam. I had enjoyed my 4 years in Tanzania, East Africa, so West Africa was bound to be much the same. Or so I thought. The school was
OK, but Accra was dismal – gridlocked and with little for me to do. I returned to Vietnam every long holiday to be with Thuy, whom I missed very much.
During one of these visits I was on a plane with Thuy (I think we were returning from Bangkok to HCMC) when I struck up a conversation with a stranger, Dr Mark Uerkvitz, who ran the American International School (AIS) in HCMC. I expressed my interest in returning to work in Vietnam, and he told me to contact HR at his school. I did so. Back in Ghana, I had a telephone interview with the HR woman and was offered the job.
I had mixed fortunes during my 3 years at AIS. The students were fine, but the school was badly run. In my last year I crossed swords with the appalling Headmaster, Mario Fiallos, who told me I had to leave because of my age. This was a lie, an excuse to get rid of me, but I saw no future in arguing with him, so I joined Search Associates and hoped something would come up.
It was now May, late in the school year, and
the big job fairs were over, so my chances of finding a job in HCMC were slim. However, I got lucky. In May 2013, Renaissance International School in HCMC advertised through Search Associates for a new Head of English. I applied and was interviewed by the Head and the Head of Secondary. I did not speak particularly well, but it was May and they were desperate to appoint someone, so I was offered the job and, of course, I accepted. A massive stroke of good fortune.
Things turned sour for me at Renaissance during my fourth year. I found the Headmaster and the new Head of English (I had resigned from leading the department) impossible to work with, so I resigned. I was looking for a new job in HCMC, but nothing came along.
Late in the summer of 2016 my friend at ISHCMC, Matt Szweda, tipped me off ISHCMC was looking for somebody to replace an English teacher who had cancer. I applied, had a couple of interviews and was accepted. Another stroke of luck. I worked for a year in what was to be my last ever permanent English position. In 2017 I decided to return
to the UK, sell my house and retire from full-time teaching.
Reviewing my career, I found teaching positions through 1) reading the TES 2) attending job fairs 3) meeting a Headmaster on a plane 4) reading the Search Associates vacancies online 5) being tipped off by a friend. I had 2 years off between jobs and worked for a total of 39 years at 10 different schools. If I had wanted, I could have spent my entire career at my first school in England (as some of my colleagues there did), but I chose to see the world by changing jobs every so often. The number of years I spent at each school is: 10, 6, 4, 2, 2, 5, 2, 3, 4, 1 – much better than 41 (that’s 39 plus the 2 years I spent relaxing between jobs) at one school! I dread to think what I might have been like, retiring in 2017, aged 65, after 41 years at Old Swinford Hospital in Stourbridge: a cantankerous, curmudgeonly, frustrated old man. I would certainly have travelled to various foreign destinations, but would I have climbed the Great Pyramid, seen Victoria Falls, floated in the Dead Sea, scaled Kilimanjaro, visited Machu Picchu, watched whales at Puerto Madryn, walked the beaches on Zanzibar’s East coast, explored the temples at Siem Reap and Bagan, witnessed Lara defeating the Aussies in Barbados or become chess champion of Tanzania? No, changing jobs kept me fresh and enabled me to have some wonderful adventures. And I was never out of work except when I wanted a rest.
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