A week in the life of an International Teacher.... in Brussels
Megan is a secondary English teacher working in a British School in Belgium. She began her international teaching career in September 2021. Currently, she teaches both English and Humanities to students aged 11-13. Megan is a member of the TTR team.
Monday 10th January
Today was the first day back after the Christmas holidays and, before I had even left for work, I was emailed the ‘Daily Briefing’ which outlined all the staff off due to Covid. Before the Christmas break, we were already in hybrid teaching mode with two year groups at home and two at school, so it will be interesting to see how this term progresses. I leave at around 7.30am most mornings and walk to work, meeting a friend halfway. When we arrived at the building, we were greeted by the lovely school chef, Angela and helped to carry the daily food shop down to the Refectory. Then, it was upstairs to my classroom to get the Christmas decorations taken down before the students arrived.
The school itself is an old townhouse and my classroom is up three flights of stairs on the third floor, next door to the library. Today, I will be launching the Oracy Odyssey from Voice 21 with my English classes. The challenge was intended for October, but we ended up agreeing on January to enable time for all year groups across the school to get involved. The school day goes by uneventfully. I teach my Oracy introduction lesson to all year groups and then have my Y7 form class for PSHEE. They would normally spend the afternoon out playing golf, but their lessons are currently cancelled because of Covid restrictions. This means we get an hour of PSHEE time together to work on their enterprise projects. The school day here consists of six lessons and finishes at 4pm. Mondays are my day to run an enrichment activity. Last term was Model UN but this term I am hosting the media club. The students are creating their own graphic novels for their favourite book using Pixton. After all the students have been collected (by about 5.15pm) I am free to leave for the day. I walk home with my friend Anthony and on the way encounter my first Brussels rat. It is a moment that every city dweller awaits when they move somewhere new and it was finally my turn. I got home just before six. I live in an apartment at the top of an old building. It is, much like my classroom, up numerous flights of stairs so I am ready for a relaxing evening when I get in. I cooked some dinner, caught up on the Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, packed my school bag and lunch for the next day and headed to bed about 10pm.
Tuesday 11th January Another walk to school this morning in the fog. It is so lovely to have company on the walk to and from work. We prepare ourselves for the day ahead and then have time to debrief afterwards which has been unbelievably helpful for managing stress levels this year! For the first lesson of the day, I am on Covid cover for an art class. The students are entering the ‘Looking Ahead’ competition and create mood boards on their vision for the future.
The oracy activities continue for my English classes throughout the day and 4pm comes around quickly. A friend of mine in the MFL department has been very generously putting on French lessons for us every week so we head upstairs after work to the French classroom for an hour. This week we studied phonics and how to perfect our accents. At 5pm it is time to head home. When I make it back to my flat someone has posted handwritten notes in all the letterboxes. I have to ask my friend (and French teacher) Lea to translate the French for me. It turns out it is a beautifully written complaint about the bins. I head outside to be a good neighbour and help sort some of the building recycling.
Finally, I spend the evening reading and sorting through some of the submissions to our ongoing school poetry competition. Then, it’s another early night.
Wednesday 12th January
Midway through the week already! I walk into work again and have to send an uncomfortable email first thing. Due to some confusion with my Belgian and English bank accounts, I am yet to receive my December salary and it has been a struggle. I started the process of opening a Belgian account when I arrived in August. There are so many hoops to jump through to be approved and I have found the process to be incredibly painful. You need to have a Belgian phone number sorted and your Belgian ID before you even consider beginning the process. It can feel like you are stuck in an endless cycle. You also need card readers here to activate and log into your bank account. Conversations about money are always awkward for me and so I have waited until today to follow up. I also spent some time before school starting to put together the poetry anthology of competition entries. I am using Canva which is my favourite thing in the world.
Today I had break duty outside on the playground and spent the majority of it being hounded by Y5 who had been introduced to riddles. On Wednesdays the school day finishes at 2.30pm which is fantastic as you have real time to be productive after work. I head to the supermarket to get the weekly shop done. In Belgium they provide you with an Edenred card which your employer tops up every month. I think you end up with about 150 euros a month to spend on your groceries (including alcohol). It really helps with the cost of living in Brussels and it is incredibly satisfying to do an entire food shop and spend no money!
When I get in, I unpack the shopping, put dinner on and watch an episode of ‘Girls’. Once I’ve eaten, I spend the evening doing some voiceover work for Teachers Talk Radio advertisers. Pack up the school bag and get lunch in the fridge ready for tomorrow and it’s bed by 10pm.
Thursday 13th January
Thursdays are my absolute favourite teaching day because they begin with a stupendous three PPA periods in a row. I am able to get so much planning and marking done on these days and can fit in meetings, so I don’t lose time after school. I open the school library at break time on Thursday so supervised some of the students whilst they read or wrote poetry. On the first Thursday of every month, we have a values assembly. This month we are looking at ‘Kindness’. The deputy head had the teachers stand up one-by-one and comment on something kind another member of staff had done for them that week. The assembly didn’t quite fill the entirety of period five so my form class took time to write kind notes of appreciation to their teachers or classmates. At the end of the school day on Thursdays we have a staff meeting. These are via Zoom at the moment. We were given information about our two parents’ evenings next week, asked to plan our next forest trip and I am now responsible for liaising with a local soup kitchen for our year of service. After the meeting I walked home to drop off my school stuff, have a quick cup of tea (Yorkshire brought over from England at Christmas) and get ready to go out. I met Anthony on the tram to head to the metro which would take us to a small Dutch bar. We met up with our friend Lea and her partner, Tim. The bar is inside a small library and is mainly targeted at the Flemish community in Brussels. It is lovely to get out on a weeknight which is something I never did in the UK. I am home before 10pm and able to prep my lunch and pack my bag for the last day of the teaching week.
Friday 14th January
Lesson one on Fridays is always an assembly. This morning it was led by the Headteacher, Mrs. White. She said good morning to us all and then (in the spirit of our monthly value) the staff were dismissed to go and have a cup of tea and some cake in the refectory! ! It was a gesture that I really appreciated, and we all had time to catch up on our week so far and weekend plans. After a morning of teaching, I was on outdoor lunch duty. A Y5 student was preparing a wasp funeral and I unenthusiastically helped some others set up a plate of sugar water to nurse some wasps back to health. After afternoon lessons we had an impromptu staff meeting at 4pm where we were informed a member of staff had been let go. It was an uncomfortable situation for all involved and a somber end to the week. I then did some Covid-cover for the art enrichment and headed home at 5.15pm. I had a very chilled evening in and caught up on the latest ‘This Is Us’ episode.
Saturday 15th January Today I took a trip to Antwerp with my friend Anthony. The train from Brussels was just €8,50 return and was only around 50 minutes, so we had plenty of time to explore. We started our visit admiring the train station itself (number one on the list of must-dos in Antwerp apparently!). We got as far as the entrance to the zoo but decided the €30 entrance fee was a bit steep. Stopped for hot chocolates on the Grote Markt before we tried to find some wooden escalators and a long tunnel recommended by another friend at work. In a word, we were underwhelmed. The rest of the city was beautiful, and I was even given a bunch of free tulips! Again, it is such a privilege to have time each weekend to travel, socialise and actually feel like I am in my twenties.
Sunday 16th January
Sunday was a lazy day. I continued compiling the entries from the poetry competition and finished writing this account for TTR. I also managed to watch lots of TV and prepare a few meals for the upcoming week of work. Working internationally has its challenges and the workload can still be huge- particularly around assessment weeks or when reports are due. However, since moving here I have prioritised the ‘life’ side of work-life balance far more and would recommend the international teaching life to anyone who asked!