This is a guest blogpost written by Aoife who runs the teacha_efa instagram page. Aoife returned from teaching in Australia (for the last 5 years) last Summer and has just welcomed a beautiful baby boy to the world.
Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?
Leaving behind our life in Australia was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. It has been my home for the last five years and will always have a piece of my heart. My partner and I were wrestling with the decision to stay/leave for the best part of a year and in the end, we decided that it was time for us to come home. For us personally, as soon as doubt started to creep in, that’s when we knew it was time to make the journey back home. Up to that point, neither of us could envisage not being in Australia and we did all we could to stay longer and renew our visas. However, we didn’t have a pathway to permanent residency or citizenship, and we knew we were just biding our time for the sake of an extra few months in Oz. We both had turned 30/31 respectively, we got engaged the previous year and in the midst of all that were faced with the added challenge of a worldwide pandemic! Home felt further away than ever and neither of us felt comfortable with the feeling of being ‘trapped’ and not being able to get home, if we wanted to or needed too. We had collectively decided on going home before COVID-19 really took hold and before we found out we were expecting our first child, so we were really happy in a way that we very much made the decision and it was not made for us, as was the case with many other emigrants around the world, who did not have a choice but had to return. This allowed us to say goodbye to our second home and to our friends-who-became-our-family at our own pace, give notice to our respective employers and enjoy all that the Land Down Under had to offer before we made a life for ourselves again back in the Emerald Isle. I’d advise others in a similar situation to listen to their heart and their gut, “when you know, you know” and if it’s right for you, you’ll find your way back home once again.
Nil non tintéan mar do thintéan féin
Once we finally decided it was home for us, all the relocating fun and games began in earnest. It was time for me to whip out my notepad, make some lists, laminate them twice and get organised for the next big adventure… the move home.
I had ALLLLLL the questions about moving home and several ex-pat teachers/others reached out to me on my Instagram platform to give amazing advice and reassurance about the process. Therefore, I’d love to ‘pay it forward’ with this blog post, it might be of help to someone if they find themselves in a similar scenario down the line.
Did you know that incremental credit may be awarded to qualified primary teachers in recognition of relevant teaching and non-teaching service for relevant experience for the purposes of progression on the incremental salary scale? It is worth checking out if you are eligible or not, as it can make a significant difference to your pay when you return home! Teachers must complete the relevant application forms attached to the circular dealing with incremental credit.
Forms must then be forwarded to the previous employer(s) for the service to be verified. In the case of a claimant who is employed in a primary/ secondary/ community/ comprehensive school, the previous employer must return the form for processing to:
Department of Education, Incremental Credit Unit, Teacher Special Needs Assistants Terms and Conditions, Athlone, County Westmeath, N37 X659.
Remember: If you have more than one previous employer (different schools/systems/countries), then a separate application form is required for each claim. The form is 8 pages in length, so it does take some time to complete, make sure you leave yourself enough time to do it properly. Each form needs to be filled out, signed and stamped by your employer(s) overseas. If you have had multiple employers, like I did in Australia, this can be a very difficult process to do retrospectively when you are home in Ireland. I’d recommend that as you leave each school/finish a contract etc. ask them to fill out the paperwork there and then and keep a copy of it yourself. This will be helpful in the case of you moving State/Territory (Australia) or management/principalship changing hands etc. in the time you are away. Alternatively, make sure you leave yourself enough time to get around to/in contact with all your various schools before you leave the country you were working in. I posted my part of the forms off to the relevant address above and left the address with my various schools to post off their section too. As I knew I was returning to a full-time, permanent post, I did this immediately upon my return home to Ireland, but usually you cannot send in your paperwork until you are in receipt of a DES salary/secured a job.
Many teachers primary/post primary contacted me on Instagram to offer their experiences of this process and many said that they brought home all the forms and just posted them from Ireland (even the school sections) and their Incremental Credit was approved and awarded. Conversely, many other teachers told me that sadly their claim had been rejected when sent in like this. It seems to have been a very different experience for many different people. I was too nervous to post everything from Ireland, as I didn’t want mine to be rejected for some reason. The boost in terms of salary and pay scale is quite significant, so I didn’t want to jeopardise my chances of being fully eligible to receive it in anyway. I contacted the DES who told me via email the following information:
- For Audit purposes, our office only accepts original hard copy and the application form must come from the previous employer (application procedure as stated on page 8 of the Incremental Credit Application form).
- However, due to Covid-19 restrictions we are making exceptions for claims coming from countries outside the EU. These forms can now be emailed to us from the valid school email address. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Due to current workloads on hands, applications for Incremental Credit are taking up to 20 weeks from receipt in the Unit to the issuing of a decision. Applications in respect of more than one previous employer will take longer to process if they are received separately.
If you are applying during the time of the COVID Crisis, I would email them again to clarify that email copies are still being accepted and I would keep a hard copy of all forms for reference/in case of them being misplaced. Good luck and I hope that your service/experience overseas is recognised as it deserves to be.
Luckily for me I qualified, was ‘dipped’ and taught in Ireland for five years prior to traveling and living overseas, so I already had an up to date Teaching Council Number and a Garda Vetting Certificate. If you have these to begin with, it is so much easier than beginning the arduous process from scratch, which can be a long road. I would recommend paying the extra few Euro each year to keep your Teaching Council Registration renewed. It’s well worth it! If you are already ‘in the system’ they will notify you when it’s time to renew your Garda Vetting too. The Teaching Council is now commencing the re-vetting of all registered teachers on a three-year cycle. This will ensure that all teachers will hold recent vetting should the Minister for Justice and Equality announce a cycle for re-vetting for all persons working with children or vulnerable persons. Teachers who hold a National Vetting Bureau Disclosure which is three years old will be issued a re-vetting request on a scheduled basis. Make sure that you do comply with the vetting request in a timely manner, (I was emailed all the details about mine) as registration may not be renewed if you do not, which will mean you cannot receive your State funded salary when you do begin teaching again back home. I was able to do all of this from Australia with minimal fuss or effort. If you need to obtain these two things for the first time, here’s the link you’ll need to all the information required:
Police Clearance and Written References
A Police Clearance is easiest to obtain whilst still living in the country you are currently teaching in. Obviously, each country is different, so applying for police clearance will vary, depending on where you live, so be sure to do your research before you leave and aim to get it sorted before you leave as it’s much easier that way.
Luckily, for me I was returning to a full-time permanent post and I had my Garda Vetting and therefore did not need this after all. However, they are very handy to have as many other jobs require them and are far more difficult to get when back in Ireland. Keep track of all your previous address when living overseas and store them somewhere safe.
Australia is hugely difficult to get hold of with the time difference, this can make it difficult for your most recent referees on your CV to be called/emailed, so I would also recommend asking your previous employers for a written reference before you leave. I have about five written references from my time in Oz and did the same before going over with my employers from Ireland and I found it very useful.
Transfer of Money and Belongings Home
I used Currency Fair and found the system to be very reliable, fast and helpful. Their support team are also easy to contact and extremely helpful to deal with. I set the exchange rate amount notification and it let me know when the best rates were to transfer my AUD to EURO. I wasn’t in a huge panic for every cent of my money upon returning home, so I was able to leave some savings in Australia too until the exchange rate picked up. This might be an option for you too, if your overseas back accounts remain open for a while after you come home. This allowed me to get the maximum out of my savings.
In terms of my belongings, I sent everything back to Ireland using Send My Bag and Aus Post. These were by far the most reasonable in terms of prices that I found. I didn’t bring home any furniture/big items, mainly just clothes, some school bits and sentimental pieces. I sold/gifted/donated everything else before leaving. If you were bringing more, a shipping container (part-of) is often a cheaper choice.
Applying for jobs from overseas
I did not need to apply for work before I returned home as I was able to take my five-year stint abroad as a career break and I was in a very fortunate situation to be returning to my full-time permanent teaching post. I did need to notify my school principal and Bord of Management of my intent to return. My partner looked for work back in Ireland and began the process of updating his CV, gathering his written references and applying for several jobs across multiple industries about two/three months out from returning home. He updated his LinkedIn platform and made it clear he was open to work/offers/opportunities. He spent a great deal of time networking, interviewing and applying and as I was not looking for my own job, I was in situation that allowed me to help with this too. Many of the applications seemed lengthy and frustrating, as some employers were still looking for Leaving Certificate results. It was difficult going weeks/months without any feedback, with COVID-19 there was a natural delay and being overseas didn’t help matters either. However, I would certainly recommend starting the process early, it’s worth it and it pays to be organised and to be ahead. He had several interviews lined up via phone/zoom when we were self-isolating and managed to secure a job in early September, which meant both of us were back earning a decent wage a few weeks after stepping back on Irish soil, something we were very grateful for in the current economic climate. Don’t be afraid to sell your experience and knowledge from your time overseas, it is very worthy and sought after. You need a bit of ‘hustle’ about you, as Ireland can still be very much ‘who you know’ and it was good to even hear of opportunities of jobs here from friends/family or friends of a friend. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Same would go for me if I were applying for teaching posts or any other job upon returning. We had to be realistic that our salaries would be a ‘step down’ from what we were accustomed to, but in the grand scheme of things it was all relative as the cost of living was much higher in Australia too. We were pleasantly surprised to find the job market was certainly not as doom and gloom as people would have you believe.
Covid 19 and travel
We flew home with ‘Emirates’ and at the time of travel all passengers travelling to, or through the UAE must have had a negative COVID-19 PCR test certificate. The test had to be taken a maximum of 96 hours before departure. We flew via Brisbane-Dubai-Dublin. I urge you to check all travel requirements/bans/restrictions/rules before booking your flight and before going to the airport. It’s so important as it is changing all the time and you need to stay informed so you can be prepared and organised. We went for our COVID-19 tests the day before departure. The planes/airports felt very safe. Our certificates were requested at all airports, our temperatures were checked prior to boarding, face coverings were worn at all time (except eating or drinking), we brought on our own hand sanitiser/disinfectant wipes etc. and regularly cleaned our area, as well as fully washing our hands with warm soap and water when we got up to stretch our legs or use the bathroom etc. Everyone on board both flights were respectful to others sense of space and tried their best to keep their distance. The flight from Dubai-Dublin was very small and there was ample room to spread out and be far away from others. The airline staff were incredible, wearing full PPE gear for the duration of the flight and being incredibly safe and kind. I felt at ease flying, despite knowing I had a little Australian/Irish surprise in my tummy for everyone at home!
Covid 19 and self isolation
My incredibly kind and generous friend offered us her stunning home in Dublin for the duration of the two weeks of our self-isolation period. This meant we could have our own space, be comfortable and safe, recover from jet lag, get our heads around being home and most importantly protect us and our loved ones from any possible germs we may have carried with us. I found this great little app for online grocery shopping too: Buymie, so handy!
I felt so much more at ease returning home-home, having known we undertook the 14-day quarantining period. Before, my friend offered us her home we were looking up Airbnb’s as a solution. I was relatively untouched by COVID-19 in Brisbane in comparison to Ireland. It generally remained very safe there, in fact I never even wore a mask until I boarded the flights home! The reality to settling into a life back home, and a life with COVID-19 was a daunting one and one I am still trying to navigate.
Career Break – Maternity Leave
I started back teaching in my original school when I returned. After my self-isolation and return home-home, I was teaching back in an Irish setting, as week and a half later! Crazy! It’s been a whirlwind to say the least. Before, I returned to school and after I had shared the happy news of my pregnancy with my family (it was a big surprise for everyone at home), I shared this news with my school principal too. He was very happy and excited for my partner and I, as were the rest of my school staff. I felt a bit nervous returning from my career break and being pregnant, knowing I’d then need to take maternity leave down the line, but such is life! No one can put their life on hold due to school/a job. There was no need to be worried in anyway, however, as everyone was just overjoyed with the news. I asked friends/colleagues for advice re: maternity leave and requirements. They were a great source of help, as you don’t have a clue, especially with your first! I’d also strongly recommend getting in touch with INTO who were immensely helpful to me in terms of figuring out my best dates for leave, helping to explain the process in detail, reminding me of my entitlements for scans/check-ups/appointments and assisting me to fill in all of the paperwork too. They have a dedicated Maternity Leave number and they are a wealth of information once you get through to them. The INTO Query Line operates 9am – 5pm, Monday to Friday, on (01) 804 7700. I found loads of information here too: INTO FAQ Maternity Leavea nd of course for comprehensive details of the maternity leave scheme, INTO will recommend and refer you to Chapter Two of circular 54/2019, published 1 September 2019.
Adapting to life in an Irish classroom
It has been an immense change and challenge to go from teaching in Australia to teaching in Ireland once more. I felt absolutely overwhelmed my first week with 32 little faces looking up at me! I genuinely felt like an NQT all over again, despite teaching for nearly over a decade! Even with all the COVID-19 restrictions, stress and anxiety my wonderful colleagues found time to check in and support me. I asked so many questions and reached out for help when I needed it. The entire new Language Curriculum was entirely alien to me, as were other new programmes we had adopted at school. I honestly felt so out of my depth. I was used to having a full time Teacher Aide, planning/correcting time out of the classroom, specialist teacher support, collaborative planning with a significantly larger staff, an entirely different curriculum and sunshine! Slowly, but surely, once I got a few weeks under my belt and had my plans sorted and in order, I felt back to my old self and felt confident in my teaching abilities again. Personally, not being organised stresses me out and the fact that I didn’t have plans ready to go and that were taking me ages to complete once again, didn’t sit well with me. Once this was rectified and a routine was established, I felt much more at ease with the content and the inner workings of the school day. I began to love the fact that some of the children remembered me/heard about me from a big brother/sister/cousin/parent (in the ways that only rural schools can), I could suddenly hear their little Irish accents and smile at their turn of phrase (wise beyond their years) and appreciate their innate manners/respect and exceptional behaviour shown in class and around the school to myself and fellow teachers. You cannot compare like-for-like as both experiences are so entirely different. I’ve adored my time travelling, exploring, making memories and friends for life in Australia, as well as furthering my teaching pedagogy, methodologies and enhancing my experience. However, home is home at the end of the day and home is always where the heart is. I’m excited to begin the next exciting chapter of life at home here in Ireland and to see what the future holds. If you’d like to ask me any further questions about my moving home experience or anything teaching related, feel free to reach out to me via my Insta account teacha_efa, I’d love to hear from you.