Kazakhstan may not spring to mind as an obvious destination for either vacation or career, but for UK teacher Ian Shotter, it's proving so successful that he's hoping to stay for another five years if not more. "I'm really enjoying the opportunities that the position has provided me with," he says, talking about his job as ICT teacher at the NIS school in the Kazakh city of Semey.
Now well into his first year of teaching in Kazakhstan, Ian says the experience is both challenging and rewarding. "We use a curriculum provided by Cambridge," he says referring to the new Kazakhstan curriculum which has been written in association with Cambridge University and is introducing rigorous skill development and progression to the country. "The ideas are sound and we hope that the curriculum format will improve the learning of students here," Ian explains. "The students soak up everything that you are prepared to give them. It is my intention to stay in Kazakhstan for the next five years if there's a position here for me."
NIS schools lead educational reform
There are NIS (Nazarbayev Intellectual School Network) schools in several locations throughout Kazakhstan including the capital Astana and the cities of Semey, Kokshetau, Ust-Kamenogorsk, Taldykorgan and Uralsk, all of which are leading a programme of educational reform in the country. The aim is to develop a new way of educating local Kazakh students and the NIS Network is enlisting the skills of qualified, experienced English-speaking teachers to spearhead the progress. Ian is one of these teachers. He trained as a teacher in the UK and had worked for several years in secondary schools and academies in England which helped in his recruitment to NIS. "The way teachers teach here it is quite different to the UK way and you need to adjust to the language barriers but I think that I have adjusted reasonably quickly," he says.
Ian is teaching ICT in English to local students in collaboration with local teachers. This mentoring process is one of the specific roles for the expatriate teachers and involves supporting the Kazakh teachers with teaching, planning and assessment. Corey Johnson is doing the same as a Geography teacher.
Gaining from cultural differences
Corey is a Social Studies teacher originally from Missouri, USA. "The curriculum is very different from the one I used in America so I had to learn a lot about it very quickly," he says. "Doing this was hard work at the beginning, but I have quickly adapted. The teachers I work with are very diverse, also the students come from a different culture and background and this means I have to be aware of cultural differences, and adapt my teaching to fit my students. Even though all of these teachers and students come from different backgrounds they find a way to work together in harmony, and I think that is pretty amazing," he adds.
In addition to their teaching, both Corey and Ian are enjoying discovering many new social experiences in Kazakhstan too. "Adjusting to life in a new country is always challenging, but it is also rewarding," says Corey. "The food here is great. I was surprised at how friendly and kind the people are; it really helps the transition to living here."
Corey has now been teaching internationally for seven years and says that each time he moves to a new country, he gains more experience. "Saying goodbye is a hard thing to do, but knowing that a grand adventure is waiting for you out there is very enticing," he says, adding that flexibility, adaptability, strength of character, and an adventurous spirit are all necessary qualities for teaching internationally. He offers advice to others considering it as a career option: "Take everything for what it is, and don't compare where you are to your home country. Of course it's not the same; things are different, and some things are hard, but that is the adventure of it all. Enjoy yourself, and you will have a lifetime of memories to look back on after your time is finished."
Increasing options for international teaching
Since taking on his first international posting in 2005, the opportunities available to Corey in international schools have increased significantly. "The number of international schools around the world is growing at a phenomenal rate," explains Andrew Wigford, Director of Teachers International Consultancy. "Many international schools provide excellent learning provision for both expatriate children and for local children who are seeking an English-speaking education. Most international schools have a very good reputation for learning and for the higher education opportunities that they provide, and this is fuelling their growth. There are some regions of the world, such as Kazakhstan where international schools are actually changing the face of education throughout the country. It's a very exciting time for teachers who have good experience and skills and who want to travel. Not always is it sunshine and sand that motivates a teacher to select a destination. Corey and Ian are both examples of teachers who have selected their teaching job for quite different reasons. Being part of educational reform is a compelling, challenging and rare experience and one that they are bound to gain from both professionally and personally."
Both Ian and Corey found their jobs in Kazakhstan through Teachers International Consultancy (TIC), an organisation that specialises in helping qualified teachers find jobs in international schools. TIC is continuing to support the Nazarbayev Intellectual School Network with the recruitment of skilled English-speaking teachers to help progress Kazakhstan's education reform. For more information go to www.ticrecrutiment.com/nis.