Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Teaching in the UK: Q&A with Victoria Westcott

Today I'm excited to have Victoria Westcott, a former teacher in the UK (and now a recruiter for teachers) talking about her experiences in England. Victoria's written an ebook called Guide to Teaching in London that I really wish I'd had when I first came over! She answers my questions about her three years here, what it's like to go back home and how the book came to be.


Would you like more insight into the UK educational system? Do you know someone interested in teaching in the UK? Victoria has three copies of her ebook to giveaway! See below for details on how to win.

Current Location: Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Years in England: 3

Cities lived in: Essex; Bedfordshire; London, England (Islington and Notting Hill)

Why did you decide to come to England?
I graduated from Queen’s University with a Bachelor of Education in 2004 and knew that teaching jobs were scarce in Ontario, so I applied for teaching jobs in England. I had never been, but I heard that they were hiring teachers so I thought I should at least apply. I also applied for jobs in Northern Canada, but quickly realized that I’d rather be in a big city than in a remote location with all that snow. It all happened very quickly. I applied at the end of July and was on a plane by August 24th.

Did you have a job before heading over?
Yes, I did, although I wouldn’t recommend that other teachers do that now. I had an interview with a school on the phone, and accepted right away. It was quite remote (in Essex) and really, I wanted inner city London, but I was nervous about not having a job before I arrived, so I just took it. After two terms, my cousin who is a Deputy Head Teacher (aka Vice-Principal) came to visit and convinced me that I had more than that one option. I quit and moved in with her. After a couple of months I found a job teaching in London and recruiting teachers for the agency that brought me over in the first place. I loved London!

What did you find hardest about adjusting to life in the UK? Any tips for expats to adjust relatively easily?
I’m not a particularly quiet person, and I was “shushed” a few times by strangers. It was random – once in a pub, by a woman that joined our table for lack of seats elsewhere – she told me that she couldn’t hear her friend. I was horrified. Then, another time by someone on the tube. It’s not like I was shouting! I assure you, I don’t yell. I don’t think anyone in Canada would call me loud, it’s just that for British folk, I think I must be really loud. Eventually, I learned to speak more quietly, but not without a few nightmares and a bit of neurosis.

What did you enjoy the most about living here?
My social life. I live on Vancouver Island now, in a pretty small city (only 300 000 people! Is that even a city? I call it a town...) and I run Classroom Canada out of my apartment. So, I don’t get out much. Plus, I’m 33 and single in a city that locals say is for the “nearly dead or newly wed.” Needless to say, when I go to London every year I go out big time. I adore my friends there and am lucky enough to return for work every year, so I get my social fix there. You just can’t be bored in London! Not that I’m complaining about living here – it’s just the exact opposite of London. Here, I walk along the beach and stare at the Rocky mountains. I kayak, canoe, dragon boat and sail. There, I go dancing, out to dinner, to museums and art galleries, travel around Europe...you get the idea I’m sure. You were a teacher here, like me.

What do you think is the biggest difference between the English and North American school systems?
The million dollar question, Marsha! There are so many differences, it’s hard to pinpoint just one, but I’ll go with behaviour management. I think most teachers would say the same thing. Canadian students listen when a teacher tells them what to do (yes, a generalization, but if you teach in London, you’ll know what I mean), and in England it’s just not that easy. Teachers have to earn the students’ respect, and keep them constantly “in line.” It’s a lot more work on a day to day, minute-by-minute basis. At the same time, the lessons are better planned in England so you spend much less time planning than you would “back home.”

Why did you decide to write a book about teaching in England?
There wasn’t one out there. No one had written anything like it, and I knew that I would have wanted a book like this when I went to teach in London. Since I write on a regular basis and enjoy it, why not?

What did you find most challenging about the process of writing a book?
Well, first let me tell you the story of how this ebook came to be. It started with a crazy idea over drinks and dinner with my cousin and sister. We decided to take all of our talents and work together to complete the project in 3 weeks time. I had 7 days to write the ebook (Mantra: “JUST WRITE!”) and my sister, a professional screen writer, had 7 days to edit it and make it something people would actually want to read. Then my cousin, a professional designer, had 7 days to make it look all fancy-schmancy as an ebook. Most ebooks are a designers worst nightmare. As my cousin says “Just because your uncle Bob says he can design, doesn’t mean he should,” and it was important to all of us that it look and feel professional. And, you know what? We did it! 3 weeks later it was up online at http://www.guidetoteachinginlondon.com/. I’m ridiculously proud of it.

So, the hardest part?
Honestly, I don’t focus nearly enough on marketing the ebook. The actual writing part was very easy – I have a niche market, and I wrote about what I know, so really, I don’t think it could have been any easier. But marketing – getting out there and promoting it - that’s where I think I’m not doing enough. Other ebook writers send out thousands of emails and give freebies and the like, but... well, I’m busy with work and so I don’t really do that kind of thing. Maybe one of your readers will have some suggestions for how I can market it better. That would be great!

Any more books in the works?
Yes. I have been writing the American edition of the Guide to Teaching in London for over a year now. Okay, that’s a lie. I’ve spent a few hours over the last year on the American edition. I need to just sit down and get it done – I dream of completing it over the Christmas holidays. Then, the Australian edition and the Kiwi edition and...well, we’ll see how far we get.

You’ve returned back to Canada. What do you miss most about the UK? And what’s the best thing about being home again?
I love my life here in Canada. I work from home, live in the warmest part of Canada (no snow!), choose when I take my holidays and how many I take, and help Canadian and American teachers relocate to London, England. I am fortunate in every way. I get to travel to London as often as I like, and travel across North America with work. Honestly, I wouldn’t change a thing. I miss shopping in London and my social life and every once in a while I’ll have the thought that I should just pick up and move back, but my life here is really great as well. I have the best of both worlds.

Anything else to add?
Thanks so much Marsha! This was fun to write. If anyone wants to contact me directly, please see these websites: http://www.classroomcanada.com/; http://www.classroomcanada.blogspot.com/; http://www.guidetoteachinginlondon.com/; http://canadiansintheuk.wordpress.com/.

To win one of three copies of Victoria's ebook, email me at marshawrites@gmail.com with the answer to this question: True or False: Kids in the UK wear uniforms to school (Hint... they always looks nice!).

Contest ends Friday, December 11th at 5 pm GMT. I'll draw from the entries.


Karen Jones Gowen said...

This was a really interesting interview. I've been thinking a lot about marketing, too, and wanting actually to do an interview with you Marsha on what you did, because I think you have done a lot of things right in marketing your book. I'll email you.

Also, I am so very interested in this ebook idea. How did this happen so quickly? How does one go about publishing in this way? Is there a website that tells you what to do step by step or something? This was all quite fascinating to me.

Nancy J. Parra said...


Great interview. I found it informative and interesting. Thanks for sharing!

Victoria Westcott said...

Hi Karen,
Thanks so much! For the ebook thing, yes, I can help you understand more about the process if you like.

I read an ebook by Joe Vitale called "7 Days to Publishing Your Own Ebook" or something like that. It was pricey, and really needs some edits, but worth the $ in that it taught me how to publish it myself. I think ebooks are great for niche markets, and for people who just want to get on with the process. Plus, the $ is better for the authors!

The thing for my particular ebook is that there's a small number of Canadian teachers who want to teach in London, so it's probably too niche for most publishers, although I never actually tried to publish it. Now that I am recruiting American teachers, I think I could easily do a series, or write one general book for teachers around the world which I would try to publish in book format.

Anyway, feel free to contact me directly if you have more questions about the ebook process. I'm happy to help! victoria at classroomcanada dot com.
Thanks again
Victoria Westcott
PS) Isn't Marsha amazing? Love this blog!

Marsha Moore said...

Victoria, thanks for giving such great responses (and for your kind words!)

Karen, I'd love to speak more about marketing. Email me! :)

Glad you enjoyed it, Nancy.

Cassandra Frear said...

I have wanted to go to England for at least two decades.

Maybe one day . . .

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