The Journey to School

The Journey to School: International School Basel (Basel, Switzerland)

October 22, 2020


The journey to work is indeed an important one.  The journey though is not so clear for international school teachers when they are looking for jobs at schools in cities/countries at which they have never been.  So let’s share what we know!

One of our members, who works at the International School Basel (Basel, Switzerland), described the way she gets to work as follows:

The road to International School Basel in Switzerland

Getting out the door, I walk through a neighborhood in an industrial area, a low-rise concrete jungle. I walk past Decathlon, a fuel station, a building that doubles up as a mosque and a gym. They must have thought “Mensa sana in corpora sana”. This quirky place always brightens up my day when I walk past it. During summer, the hills in the distance are painted red by the rising sun. In autumn and winter, the mist is often too thick to even see the hills. Winter makes you wish you had a car; unless – like several of our teachers – you’re from the North of Canada and enjoy the “rather mild Swiss climate”.

The walk to the Dreispitz tram stop takes me 10 minutes at most, still I rush to tram 11 before realizing over and over again, that I shouldn’t have bothered because there’s a tram every 3-7 minutes. Very Swiss. As I get on the tram which takes me to ISB, I look for other teachers to talk to or chat with some students. When I’m alone, I stare out the window and watch how the landscape gradually becomes more rural.

The tram first passes the Reinacherhof tramstop right in front of the ISB senior school campus − where most of the teachers get off − before taking me to the Reinach Sud tram stop where I get off after exactly 16 minutes. While the tram heads off to its next stop at the ISB Primary campus in Aesch, I walk past a local farm to the Fiechten Middle school campus, which takes me exactly 4 minutes.

Unlike the other two campuses which are purpose-built for ISB, Fiechten is owned by the Swiss “Gemeinde”. The building looks very much like a Swiss protestant church and stands out because of its grey concrete walls and staircases. What is even more unusual is that the sound of the children’s footsteps is muffled by the carpet in the hallways and in the classrooms. Most teachers have plants and colorful displays to brighten up the place a bit.

The large windows and the view is what makes working on this campus worthwhile. Through my window, I can see the Goetheanum building in the distance. This is by far the most unique place in the area. It was founded in honour of Rudolf Steiner as a center for the Anthroposophical movement at the turn of the 19th century in a time when positivism dominated the natural sciences and humanities. People became aware of a growing interconnectedness between different parts of the world, cultures and religion. One of the main purposes of the movement was to create a new universal religion or philosophy which would incorporate wisdom of the major world religions. Rudolf Steiner conceptualized his teaching philosophy (used in Waldorf schools) based on the principles of Anthroposophy. The center has somewhat lost its function of ‘church’ but it is still a sanctuary for creative ideas. Today it offers theater and classical music performances, Steiner school training programs for teachers, art classes for kids, a bookshop (with books in a wide variety of languages) and a lovely tearoom which serves organic food. The entire hill is covered with buildings constructed in a similar architectural style.

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This Journey to School article was submitted to us by an ISC member.

What to know more what it is like to visit and live in Switzerland?  Out of a total of 33 international schools we have listed in Switzerland, 19 have had comments submitted on them. Here are just a few:

College du Leman – International School (85 comments)
Inter-community School Zurich (69 Comments)
International School Basel (131 Comments)
International School of Zug and Luzern (32 Comments)
Leysin American School (113 Comments)
Zurich International School (59 Comments)
TASIS The American School in Switzerland (32 Comments)

So what is your journey to the international school you work at?  Earn one year free of premium membership to our website if you participate in this blog series – ‘The Journey to School’.  Email us here if you are interested.

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Discussion Topics

Is it stressful working at your international school?

September 4, 2019


You probably had a wonderful, relaxing summer vacation. Weeks of hanging out with your best friends and other seasoned international school teachers around the world can truly be most stressless time of the year.

It is exciting and fun to get back to school though and catch up with your colleagues (or get to know the new ones). Even when the kids start and lessons begin, there is still a good feeling in the air.

But after this honeymoon period of 2-4 weeks, the stress starts to creep in for at least some international school teachers.

So many factors come into play that might cause stress. Maybe the administration has some back-to-school initiatives and some new demands for the teaching staff that are overwhelming the staff. Maybe some of your students’ parents have been filling your inbox with messages that require prompt replies as you are also preparing the next day’s lessons. Maybe even you are meeting with your new teaching team and the discussions aren’t going so smoothly about how you plan be working together this year as everyone appears to have slightly different working styles.

And the list of stress-inducing factors goes on and on…with no real solution in sight.

On the positive side, many staff at international schools do work hard to try and reduce the stress levels of its staff. During the teacher inservice days, some international schools are, for example, taking some time to run whole staff yoga/breathing/stretching sessions. Taking a moment to meditate and connect to your inner-self can truly be a good daily practice to incorporate.

Other international schools cater a back-to-school BBQ for the whole staff during the first few weeks of schools. Relaxing, eating and chatting with your colleagues in such a way can really create the right climate for a more relaxing environment at work.

International schools should be mindful of planning in these types of things to help reduce stress in staff. Not just at the beginning of the school year, but maybe throughout. Additionally, it is important for staff to keep a health work/life balance as well when school is in session. “All work and no play….”

The big question always though is “what would a dream school do?” Is there such a thing as a stress-free life for a teacher working at an international school? Some schools are getting it right it seems, so it is definitely possible to reduce at least some level of stress.

Using the ISC’s unique Comment Search feature (premium access required), we found 58 comments that have the keyword stress in it. Some international schools have good news to share about how they helping teachers to reduce their stress. Other schools are struggling to achieve similar results. Here are just a few of the comment results:

“SLT mean well, but it’s gone past the point where it’s possible to get morale back to where it should be. Most teachers are fed up, stressed and over-worked.” – Smart Vision School (41 total comments)

“With the hiring of the new Lower Primary Principal and Associate Principal, morale has completely turned around in this division (K1, K2, G1, G2). So much is happening to create a positive and happy atmosphere. Many teacher requests to alleviate their stress/work load have been honored (less ad-on activities, meetings…just a reduction to the overall schedule). Also, once a month principals do an activity with an entire grade level so teachers can have that time to meet, or do work. (The kids also really know the principals). Once a month, principals host a gathering on a Friday after school. Whenever, this division has had a particularly busy day or week, our Principal stops by our rooms to check in and tell us to ‘go home’. 🙂 Let’s hope the morale can improve schoolwide.” – Hong Kong International School (136 total comments)

“It’s a true non-profit school. Board is not breathing down your neck. In some ways, it’s quite relaxed (no one is inspecting your lessons, usually.) In others ways, there’s unnecessary stress (poor communication, some teaching loads piled too high.)” – Berlin Brandenburg International School (80 total comments)

“There are 2 days for new teachers to attend at the beginning of the school year, before the other staff return. Given the complexities of the school, this is inadequate and can be a stressful experience for new staff. There are no social niceties or outings organised for new staff, who basically are expected to hit the ground running.” – College du Leman – International School (85 total comments)

“This is one of the biggest stressors at the school. The finance department can be very demanding and expects all forms to be filled out perfectly. It is not uncommon for teachers to have to fill out reimbursement forms multiple times, including getting signatures from 3-4 different admins depending on what is being reimbursed. Get used to hearing the term ‘fapiao’ used a lot. If you don’t have the correct one you won’t get reimbursed. It usually ends up working out for teachers, but the process can be quite rough.” – UWC Changshu China (38 total comments)

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