Interview with the Chairman of the New International Committee

Oscar Manero Catala, a teacher at Sønderborg International School, is the first chairman of the international committee in the Teachers' Union for Danish Independent Schools. Here, he talks about his thoughts about the new committee, the challenges you have as an international teacher in Denmark, and about the role of the Teachers' Union for Danish Independent Schools from his perspective.

D 28. marts 2019

af Jesper Fjeldsted, Journalist
International committee

You are the first chairman of the international committee of the Teachers' Union for Danish Independent Schools. What are your thoughts about your new role?
I am very excited, actually. Some years ago, I helped organise the international seminar, and I have been involved every year since. So, it seemed natural to put up my candidacy for the international committee, and I am happy that the other members of the committee elected me as chairman.   

In your opinion, what is the most important task of the new international committee?
I see it as our biggest task to organise the international seminar. It puts the specific questions from the international teachers on the agenda. We are a small group of members in the Teachers' Union for Danish Independent Schools, but at the international seminar, I really feel that I am listened to. I can ask specific questions to Uffe (chairman of the Teachers' Union for Danish Independent Schools) and Rikke (contact person from the executive committee) and get a direct and precise answer. I always get great help from the secretary, but at the seminar you have two days only about being an international teacher and an international member of the union.

Also, the seminar is a unique opportunity to network with other international teachers. We can learn a lot from each other because we have a lot of the same challenges. This year, one of the other participants taught me how to fill in a PPR-report quicker, better and in a more specific way, and that really makes my life easier.

What do you see as the main challenges of being an international teacher in Denmark
Our biggest challenge is to get used to the Danish system. It took me three years to really understand my payslip with the different “tillæg” (supplements) and how my pension was connected to my salary, and so on. I have lived in Denmark for seven years, and there are still a lot of things about the Danish system that I don’t understand.

Another main challenge, in my opinion, is that we don’t know our own rights and duties. Often, when international teachers are offered jobs at Danish independent schools, they feel so happy about the opportunity that they forget to ask about their rights, or ask themselves if they know enough about their rights as an employee at a Danish independent school.

I have had colleagues who have shown up for work, sick with a fever, because they don’t know that in Denmark you don’t have to do that to get paid or not lose your job. Some teachers are so deeply affected by their cultures that even if they are told about the Danish rules, they show up sick again and again.

How do you see the role of the Teachers' Union for Danish Independent Schools in relation to the international teachers?
I believe that the Teachers' Union for Danish Independent Schools is the key for international teachers in Denmark. You don’t have any international teachers  as far as I know in Folkeskolen (the Danish municipal primary and lower secondary school), so the vast majority of international teachers in Denmark are working at independent schools, and they are organised in the Teachers' Union for Danish Independent Schools. But international teachers need to figure out how the union system works in Denmark.

I know how it works in Spain, and I am not saying it is better or worse, I am just saying that it is different. For some international teachers, the Danish union system is very different from what they know in their home country. In some countries, you are considered a rebel or a communist if you are a member of a union.

How do you think the Teachers' Union for Danish Independent Schools could organize more international teachers?
It is my experience that once international teachers understand the role of the unions in Denmark, they realize how big a difference it makes if you are a member. I believe that the Teachers' Union for Danish Independent Schools should ensure that there is a flow of information about the Danish system to international teacher, but you are up against the knowledge and cultures that the teachers have from their home countries.

If people don’t understand what a union is in a Danish context, they often don’t see any point in joining. To me, it made a big difference when we had a representative from the union at our school who spoke fluently English and could answer all our questions. It was a relief.

What do you hope to achieve during the next year in the international committee?
It is my ambition that in 2020 at least one or two teachers from each international school or international department will participate in the international seminar. I think that it is pivotal that all schools get the chance to benefit from the international seminar. At my school, for instance, we have an arrangement which ensures that at least two teachers are attending each year. This could work for other international teams here in Denmark. 

We are a small group, which means that we are getting to know each other very well and that we share experiences about how is our everyday at school and what is going on at the international schools and departments all over Denmark: from Roskilde to Esbjerg, from Aarhus to Sønderborg. Sharing these experiences with other international colleagues has been very enriching. Moreover, in a global world and with families from all over the world settling in Denmark, the natural tendency will be that more and more international departments and schools will be opened and the ones that already exist, will grow. We will become a bigger group in the union.

Chairman of the International Committee

  • Name: Óscar Manero Catalá
  • Origin: Valencia, in Spain
  • School: Sønderborg International School
  • Position: Teacher and working environment representative
  • Years in Denmark: 7

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