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Teaching in a Boarding School

This week @teachwith.missh shares her wisdom on what it's really like to teach in a boarding school!

When I turned up to interview at the private boarding school in my clapped-out car with my tattoos and piercings, I had already told myself that I hadn’t got the job. So, when the Headmaster called me that evening to offer me the position for Teacher of Business, I couldn’t believe my luck! I was even more surprised when he could offer me accommodation on site (my own 3 bedroomed house that backed on to a lake) at a heavily reduced rate. I definitely had to pinch myself!

Before my first day, I had all these expectations. The children would all be perfectly behaved. The classrooms, all well-resourced. And the food would be Michelin standard. Well I got one thing right. The food was to die for! I put on a stone in weight in the first term!! But the children were normal. I had come from an academy in a very deprived area where children’s aspirations were low, as were their life experiences. But the children in the boarding school were very cultured, would hold the door open for you rather than slamming it in your face and would say thank you for teaching them at the end of every lesson. BUT they would also talk when the teacher was talking, bully each other and have normal teenage dramas just like any other school in the country. And the classrooms. Well, some of them had been renovated (obviously the ones on the main corridor that were more visible to visitors) but the classrooms in the darkest corners of the school (this of course, included the Business department, like in most schools!) had bare brickwork and archaic designs (small rooms and low ceilings) that often struggled to hold the growing numbers on roll. They did however, all have Smartboards and most students had their own iPad, so digital learning was advanced here. And the school facilities? Well, they were out of this world! An Olympic sized indoor pool, a shooting range and an 18-hole golf course! Students would also pride themselves on their sailing (on the lake behind my house), equestrian and musical abilities. The school concerts in the Chapel where the choir and band would perform the most beautiful of hymns were spine-tingling and the inter-house competitions gave such a warm community feel. It really was a beautiful place to work!

Upon applying and securing a position at a boarding school (I’ll refer to private ones similar to where I worked as you may not know this, but there are state boarding schools too!), I found the following helpful to prepare/remember:

  • Be yourself! I was so worried about being a ‘commoner’ that it almost threw me off my game at the interview. Actually, if I’m being honest, it always stopped me from applying in the first place! When I got to the interview, there were 3 other candidates, one of which was a previous Head Girl of the school and the other two both had experience in schools in affluent areas. Yet, I got the job. Yes, me. Little old me, who grew up on a council estate and had to work full time through university just to be able to fund it! So, don’t let Imposter Syndrome kick in. You might be just what they’re looking for!

  • Familiarise yourself with the specifications that you’ll be teaching. If parents are paying for their child to attend school, you can bet they want good value for money! They will have very high expectations of the school and of you. So, even when you are faced with a diverse class with ranging abilities, you can guarantee that every parent will want you to get their child an A*! With a background in customer service, this didn’t faze me too much, but I found that a large part of my job became managing pupil and parent expectations. By knowing the specifications inside and out, you can be more confident with your lesson planning which helps you to build lots of opportunities for challenge into your lessons (which can later be evidenced to whoever needs/wants to see!). This leads me nicely onto my next piece of advice…

  • Gather your stretch and challenge resources. A lot of the students at the school I worked at were strong Oxbridge candidates. There were lots of parents who were entrepreneurs and businessmen/women so they often wanted their children to follow in their footsteps. I made a strategic move to this school in order to develop my S&C skills as these opportunities were very scarce at my previous school. I had to learn quickly because what I thought was S&C, these kids could do in their sleep!

  • Think EAL! Another group of students that you will most likely need to cater for are EAL students. Lots of international students attend private boarding schools in the UK. And although they do an English assessment upon entry so that we can best support their needs, I found that often they didn’t have the skills that their scores reflected. It turns out, their English coaches at home can often support them a little too much with these assessments. So, I had to really work hard to employ my EAL strategies to help these students not only learn basic English and essay writing skills but also some technical, subject specific language.

  • Time management. School will be your life during term time. And even if you are the most organised teacher on record and you’ve had years of learning to juggle your work commitments and your personal life, you will learn very quickly that all that goes out of the window. It is hard during term time. I rarely saw friends or family and frequently missed birthdays or celebrations. What you lose during term time, you make up for in extra holiday time. This sounds amazing BUT you have to spend lots of the holidays recuperating from a long term AND no one else has these really long holidays so it can be very lonely (unless all your friends also work at private boarding schools…).

Myth Busting

All boarding students are rich.

WRONG! Lots of students at the school that I worked at had scholarships or bursaries. In my last year there, they had just started another initiative which sponsored 2 students a year from deprived areas to come to the school (fully funded!). I love that this gives a more diverse range of children the opportunity to better their education but it was hard to watch when all the associated costs started to appear (like a three week tour of China or Rugby uniforms)…

The children are like robots.

WRONG! I thought this too! But they all had such lovely personalities and basic manners (which I think can be lacking at some schools!). Underneath their privileged background were individual characters, each one just looking to find their own identity and place within society. From budding musicians (and not just classical as expected, but DJs and rappers too!) to aspiring fashion designers and even bloggers; that school really did have it all!

The holidays are extra-long.

TRUE! Okay, so this one was true! However, teachers did work Monday – Saturdays plus one night a week on duty in a boarding house until 11pm and then the occasional Sunday as well. So whilst the holidays were longer than normal, they were definitely needed as terms times were intense!

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