How Shanghai restored this school leader’s joy of education

Parras Majithia

Parras Majithia is an experienced UK school leader and governor now working at Nord Anglia International School in Pudong, Shanghai. He is a teacher and exams officer, and is also the director of Santosh Education Ltd. Among his achievements at the school so far was leading them to achieve grade ‘Excellent’ at the unannounced Cambridge English Examinations Inspection in June 2017.

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Website: www.nordangliaeducation.com Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Image credit: Flickr // Lue Huang. Image credit: Flickr // Lue Huang.

This article will look at my transition from UK Secondary SLT to becoming an international school educator. Having spent over 10 years working in UK education, with a wide experience-base of whole school, pastoral and SLT responsibilities in different school contexts, as well as two concurrent school governor roles, the following outline pattern may paint a familiar picture to many other senior educators out there:

  • 18hour+ working days.
  • 6-7 day working weeks.
  • Lack of sleep.
  • Lack of ability to fully unwind during the holidays.
  • Traffic / commute adding to the stress levels.
  • Some health-related concerns.


These, amongst a series of other compounding factors, forced me to stop, think, listen to my body, as well as messages that many friends had been giving me over the previous five years. This led to a re-evaluation of my life.


Rationale


I felt that I had reached a crossroads in my career. As I took some time to re-think my overall life direction, I also utilised this opportunity to reflect on the career direction that I could take, ready for the “Some consider the move I made to be career suicide.”2016/17 academic year. I eventually narrowed down the options to looking for deputy head roles in the UK, continuing with my consultancy roles, or something totally different, and take into account my love of travel and food!


I decided on the “something different” route, as, quite honestly, part of the logic for making the decision is that life is too short!


In many ways, some consider the move I made to be career suicide. However, I am also of the opinion that there is more to life than just work, so shifting my mindset from one of ‘living to work’ to ‘working to live’ was also a strong motivating factor to make the change. Additionally, I viewed the move as simply changing my career path, and using my wide experience base from the UK to see how this could add value to a different setting. Furthermore, I viewed the move as another opportunity to learn.


The Process


Arguably, there are the two usual methods of securing a teaching job – apply direct to a school (following an advert on any of the well-known online agencies), or work through a recruiter.


If approaching the international scene, it is probably worth noting that schools do appear to favour prior experience of at least 2-5 years, along with the usual pre-employment requisites of a clean criminal record etc (makes work visas challenging / impossible otherwise), as well as full credentials, which often include university transcripts. Forewarned is forearmed and all that!


Having not had previous luck applying direct, I decided to approach a couple of the larger branded recruiters. Some were better than others, and one of said companies came up trumps. They offered me a selection of interviews with a variety of different schools / school groups in China. I narrowed the options down to the places that I wished to explore further, and then proceeded with the first choice. As luck would have it, this one worked out, and here I still am!


My general research into schools and school groups (around the world, not just in China) had taught me quite a bit about the different “types” and “tiers” of institutions on offer. The type of school is really important. I was only looking to move to a Tier 1 city and school group in China. This “The type of school is really important.”brings some basic guarantees about the quality of accommodation provided, regularity of salary payment, support with securing visas etc. I have heard horror stories from colleagues about places where they have previously worked, and some of the basics (such as being paid every month) that they did not experience, when working at an institution with a lower reputation / brand.


It’s definitely worth doing the research, and this is even more important if planning to head out with the family. The school itself then becomes even more important, as staff normally receive school places as part of the compensation package. It is worth looking carefully at the extracurricular provision, as well as the style of curriculum delivery itself. These all vary between schools, however there is also significant grounds for competition between them!


I am fortunate that new staff are provided with initial accommodation within 20 minutes walking distance of the campus (or under five minutes on an e-bike!). This was also a swaying factor for me, given the fact that I did not wish to rekindle another commute!


Making the move


Once I had accepted my offer and signed the contract, the whirlwind started. I was appointed quite late in the day, therefore the visa process had to start immediately. I also chose to head out to Shanghai during the May half-term holiday to do a reccie. This transpired to be an excellent decision, as I had time to see the school, meet people, and find out about the local area as well as the city itself. If it is possible, I would thoroughly recommend a pre-visit.


I arrived in Shanghai with a few suitcases, and some essentials. Travelling light was possible, though I fully appreciate that with a family too, this might be less feasible!


Year 1


In terms of the first year, it was certainly a new experience! Every school has its own personality, and where I am is no different. I knew I had to get to grips with different curricula (four different specifications) and a new city in a new country. That’s all without factoring in a new language and way of life!


Was it easy? Of course not! Do I look back and wish I hadn’t taken the plunge? Of course not! Colleagues, buddies and people in general were fantastic (everyone has been there once, haven’t they) at helping me to settle into the area. The best way I can probably describe the experience is like arriving for your first year of University at the start of Fresher’s Week. You find yourself bonding with people quickly, and, as you work and socialise with many of the same groups, you familiarise yourself with others relatively speedily.


I also used my first year to explore my passions (travel and food), taking opportunities during the long weekends and holidays to explore places around China, as well as a little further afield. It was great to head into lesser-known areas of the country and try to embrace the local culture with indigenous people, to try and find out more about the development of the nation, whilst tasting different regional foods.


One year on


I would describe myself as settled. Shanghai feels like home. Naturally, I miss friends and family around the world, however social media and modern technology means that we are only a few hours’ time difference away. FaceTime calls, messages and videos are easily arranged with a few clicks. The real gutter is not being able to attend all the weddings and gatherings, or not physically meeting new babies until several months after they are born.


I also make sure that I maintain my subscription to a well-known online greetings card retailer, which means that birthdays, anniversaries and other key events never go forgotten. It is decision time now, as the initial two year contract comes to an end after this academic year. Safe to say, I really don’t want to leave Shanghai!


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