Tips for visitors who want to teach in England Part III: Moving to and living in England.
Some of this advice actually applies if you're in England and doing teaching interviews or if you're moving there for entirely different reasons.
Tip #1 – Do not rely on the trains to be on time.
I took about two dozen train rides during my summer trip in 2018; half of them were late.
A funny thing happened on the way to my first interview at Salisbury (yes, where the Russians were poisoned)...
I had an afternoon interview (my only one) and there was a change of trains with just a five-minute layover – my first train was four minutes late, so I missed the transfer.
Remember that old BTO song, Taking Care of Business? If your train is late, you can get to work by eight, but if your train's on time, you can get to work by nine? That sort of happened to me.
The next train for the last leg to Salisbury was also a delayed train. However, it was an express train. So, despite the ten-minute delay, I actually reached my destination ahead of schedule. Go figure.
All the other schools I interviewed with insisted on meeting early in the day. This meant I had to either drive for several hours, starting at some ungodly hour, which meant renting a car. Forget the expense; I didn't want to put my life in my hands. So, I decided that I would arrive the night before (by train), stay in a hotel, and do the interview. For all their tardiness, British trains are ridiculously expensive, which brings us to...
Tip #2: Learn about off-peak fares. Use them. Love them.
Oh, and there's a good chance that, on your trip, you will have to go through a dysfunctional labyrinth known as "The Underground" (i.e., the London commuter rail system). That means you'll have to purchase a little, plastic gem known as an "Oyster Card". It's not too complicated but do your research in advance – and keep the card. I had been in London just a few years before, and I still had my card. Yes, it had sat in a drawer, collecting dust, all that time, yet when I presented it to the card reader, it functioned perfectly; so hang on to it after your trip is done. Unlike real oysters, they don't spoil.
Now, here are some other tips about doing live interviews, should you get the opportunity.
Tip #3: Do a bit of research on cost of living.
Now, that said, be aware that living in the heart of any large city can be horrendously expensive. Far and away, there are two factors to look at – housing and transport.
Transportation... Although good cars are relatively cheap in the UK, that is offset by the relatively astronomical price of gasoline (petrol), which runs on the order of $6 per gallon; there are also various fees and the dreaded insurance. Your American license is good for one year, by the way, but be warned that getting a UK licence (note spelling) is no small achievement. There's a lot more to it than reading an eye chart and passing a written exam. Relatively speaking, it is incredibly hard. So, if you're going to stay for more than a year and want to drive a car, get cranking on that from day one. You might even want to consider getting driving lessons.
I lived in Newbury, Berkshire for a year without owning a car. I (and specifically, not my estate agent) found a flat that was a scenic ten-minute walk to work. Newbury also has a train station (actually, two!) to nearby Reading, which is a hub to nearly anywhere in the country. So, if you can, find a place near a train station – but not too close, as they are rather noisy. Check out other places to teach in the UK.
Tip #4 - It rarely happens, but if a school offers you accommodation, grab it with both hands.
As for housing, hop onto any apartment-finder website like Zoopla and you've got a clue. If at all possible, find a place within walking distance of the school. There is the odd company there like Teachers Housing Association who have caught onto this need. If you're thinking very long-term, houses – even those far removed from large cities – are astronomically priced. Think San Francisco. This is slightly offset by the very low rates for mortgages in the UK.
A word of warning – renting (letting) or buying apartments (flats) or houses almost always goes through a particular species of land shark known as an 'estate agent', which we would call a realtor. Despite their 'assistance', the procedure is expensive (be prepared to pay six months' rent up front. Plus deposit. Plus council tax. Plus agent fees. Plus...) and tedious and slow. I'm sure some of them are actually nice people, but I've yet to meet one. Their purpose in life seems to be to extract as much money from you as possible while making the process as painful as possible. Sadly, they are a necessary evil.
Be prepared to spend a month finding a flat.
Now, if you're single, you can get an arrangement called a bedsit. That's where someone will let you have use of a bedroom in their house – although there's a good chance you'll have to share a bathroom. It's loads cheaper than renting a flat. I've had some luck with that, but you have to be careful; however, it can be short term, so it's easy enough to move if things go badly. Oddly, I spent days on websites that specialised in bedsits, yet I found an ideal place by having a conversation with someone I met in a pub.
Some final notes...
Remember that even though you are providing a much-needed service, you are a guest in the United Kingdom. It is a privilege to be there. Act accordingly. Don't be an Ugly American. I've seen that go very badly and it is not pretty.
- Although it's okay to ask questions and show an interest, try to refrain from rendering opinions on politics.
- Try to avoid saying things like, "It would be so much better if you did this like we do it."
- Don't mention the war.
On the proactive side...
As a teacher, you'll probably be dragged into something extracurricular anyway, but...
- Go to the pub, even if you don't drink; contrary to popular belief, you're not actually required to consume alcohol.
- There's a marvellous activity at pubs called 'Quiz Night'. Ask a team if you can join, put in a pound and you'll discover how little you know about cricket (the sport, not the insect).
- There will be numerous school sporting events, pageants, pantos and so on. Go to as many as you practically can. Trust me, it will be noticed that you were present and it will be appreciated.
Of course, that's the whole point of going to begin with – to soak up the culture. Trust me, you'll enjoy it.
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About the author
Frederick Leeper BSEE MSEE PE is an American (for which he apologises) who grew up in Louisiana. An engineer by training and an educator by calling, Fred has a BS and an MS in electrical engineering and is a licensed engineer, as well as being qualified to teach in two countries (if you count Texas as a country). Frederick has taught secondary and post-secondary STEM courses in the US whilst engineering in the maelstrom that is telecoms, and as an instructor for engineers.