Overseas Postings

Friday, December 17th, 2004

I have to say I’m quite tempted to work abroad for a bit. I’ve been thinking about the USA or Canada. (New Zealand and Australia would be favourite but have you seen the size of the spiders they’ve got down there? There’s no newspaper big enough to squash those buggers!)

Canada appeals more than the US I think – just about everyone I know who’s been seems to go on and on about it and the other day I caught a TV programme in which two Brits went property hunting and were turning down huge houses with mountain views that cost a pittance compared with what I’m paying in rent for my one bedroom flat (£600 per month in case you were wondering). I wouldn’t say no to the USA of course – except I’d worry about health and dental care (contrary to popular myth we Brits do actually have dentists…)

But apart from a job in Savannah that appeared last year (far too hot for my Anglo-Saxon complexion) nothing that’s appeared has applied to me because of the USA’s employment laws (how is it we’re over-run by Americans over here? Not that I mind – just seems a bit unfair 😉

But today some jobs in Toronto appeared and though I’m not an ideal fit qualifications-wise (no PhD – like I can afford to do one of those, I’m tempted to apply as I think my teaching and publication record is good, and it’s easier to emigrate to Canada to teach.

But two or three things stand in the way of jobs in the USA and Canada. The first is the need to see samples of students’ work – it’s the students’ work, not mine so how should that help me get a job? Anyway I teach away from the studio now so it’s even less relevant. Minor point, and one I haven’t got a problem arguing.

The second is a desire to see examples of my work. I haven’t practised for five years so have no portfolio – when I moved in to teaching I moved all the way. Plus as I’ve said before I happen to think the quality of your design work has no direct relationship to your abilities as a teacher (I mean, my design is mediocre to say the least – god, I hope the same isn’t true of my teaching!)

But the third one is the killer and probably says a lot about the difference between the UK and north America: you have to send three letters of reference with your application. Well that’s it right there. Can’t do, sorry.

In the UK it’s traditional to apply for jobs in absolute secrecy and to invent a sick relative so that you have a convenient funeral to go to on the day of the interview. Applying for a job is often seen as disloyal – I remember in my first job I was in a dilemma about whether to accept a post in Liverpool and asked my boss (who I thought I could trust) for some advice. A few weeks later after turning down the other job I had my annual review and was berated for my lack of commitment!

It’s a lot different in schools over here – friends of mine who are teachers are quite open about going for other jobs and references are sought before interviews, and replacement teachers brought in to cover the day. There it’s accepted as part of a teacher’s career development that they will apply for jobs and, occasionally, get them.

But in post-school education while it’s freer than industry there’s still an element of risk involved. For one thing if you apply for a position that your current employer thinks is too high for you there’s a risk they’ll see you as overambitious. Secondly if you don’t get it there’s a risk your current employer will question your judgement and wonder what it is the other people spotted about you that they should be worried about. Thirdly in an age of short term contracts (my teaching contract is termly, my admin contract is renewed annually) there’s an added risk that they might just view you as not really committed to the job and let you go, job or no job.

Fourthly, what employer is going to give you a glowing reference while you’re still employed by them? It stops them being able to get rid of you later. It’s just not done. In this country, references are only provided (and only sought) after the job is offered – you have to suspect anyone who goes to an interview with glowing letters of recommendation 😉

The fifth reason is a practical one. Given it sometimes takes months just to get paid, what’s the likelihood I could coordinate three references to be sent directly to the university by the deadline?

Well I might consider Canada and canvass for references after the Christmas break (I know a couple of ex students who’ll write a testimonial – that should help).

But it’s cold there, right?

I may not like the heat but I’m not keen on the cold either. Even though Toronto is at a similar latitude as where I used to live, we’ve got the Gulf Stream to keep us warm – that’s why there’s no polar bears in the Lake District over here and why, contrary to the Dickensian images you may see of traditional English Christmases, it actually only snows very rarely in the south (although that’s probably more to do with global warming than the Gulf Stream – although I’m not sure Mr Bush would agree*).

No, what I need is somewhere more temperate, that doesn’t want a PhD, nor to see any of my students’ work, or indeed any of mine, and is happy to offer me a job without references.

What are the odds?

* And comments like that, of course, are another reason I’ll never get a job in the USA. I bet I’m on some database somewhere…

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