At a time when New Zealand is desperately crying out for more teachers, with campaigns and initiatives aimed at attracting overseas teachers, many Kiwi teachers are still seeking out teaching positions abroad.
This is largely because they don’t feel valued here, as recruitment agency Teach and Explore founder Garrett O’Dowd recently told Newshub.
“Teachers are feeling the burden and salaries aren’t reflected in the work they’re putting in at the moment, which is why you’re having teachers looking abroad,” said O’Dowd.
One such teacher is Reuben Potaka. From the Bay of Plenty, Reuben is currently teaching at the Australian International School of Sharjah in Dubai. He’s taught there for four years with his wife, Zoe, who is also a teacher.
“Zoe and I wanted to travel basically, and being a teaching couple we found we were fairly sought after in the international teaching circuit,” says Reuben. “We signed up to a recruitment agency and it all happened pretty quickly. Obviously, the money factor made the choice easier, as well as Dubai is very central to Europe, Asia and Africa especially.”
He describes the school as quite “business-like” in terms of how it has been run in the past.
“I wouldn’t say the whole experience has challenged my thinking hugely. Working with a range of students from all around the world has been the most valuable factor for me.”
However, he’s excited about the prospect of some “awesome changes” currently happening at the school with the appointment of a new Executive Principal from a reputable school in Brisbane.
“Great things are happening. Previously, you’d say it is a fairly average school with average management and a high turnover of staff. I am grateful that our new Executive Team have the right idea.”
Teaching abroad has other appealing aspects as well.
While his salary is comparable to what he was earning in New Zealand, the fact that there is no tax and free accommodation means they are considerably better off.
Back in New Zealand, as a syndicate leader and teacher with over ten years’ experience Reuben was earning $75,000 gross and taking home $56,000.
“When you throw $750 a fortnight on the mortgage along with other bills, you really don’t get ahead in a hurry.”
In Dubai, they live in a spacious two bedroom villa with access to a pool and gym. Their only expenses are utilities, food, car rental (NZD $590 per month) and petrol (80 cents per litre).
“We have managed to pay off a few solid debts and do $50k worth of renovations on our house in Tauranga and have the wedding of our dreams in Waihi two years ago.”
“If you are careful and don’t buy into the lazy lifestyle that people get into here, you can do OK.”
They have travelled to more than 30 countries in three and half years and have plans to head to Greece, Africa and a music festival in Budapest before they look to return home to New Zealand.
Reuben says they have mixed emotions about returning to teaching in New Zealand.
“To be honest I want go back to teaching to re-establish connections in my community and get back to teaching a decent curriculum. I won’t lie, I do miss the teaching there.”
“Teaching is New Zealand is without a doubt more rewarding and it takes a bit for the Australians here to admit that our curriculum is ten years in front of theirs!”
“I’ll tell you right now, from my experience here and teaching in London, New Zealand teachers, on the whole, are very good. We try our best to individualise learning, as relationships are key. That is ingrained in our culture. Also, ‘how’ we teach is advanced compared to other places I have seen. We do not destroy young people’s creativity.”
However, despite his enthusiasm to get back to the New Zealand curriculum Reuben says they’re reassessing whether teaching is a viable career for them.
“We are, however thinking about other options with employment moving forward. Two teachers, and with kids somewhere in the near future, isn’t going to cut it financially.”
“Thinking about going back to what we will earn is actually devastating.”