An interview with John Murnane
John is an Australian secondary English teacher. He has been teaching in Brunei since 2014.
CfBT: Can you please describe CfBT’s induction program and how it was for you?
JM: It was an excellent way to connect with CfBT and Brunei. It provided a soft, supportive and happy landing for me and my family to begin our journey of living, schooling and working in Brunei.
The networking and making new friends with my fellow inductees stood out to me the most. These relationships were extremely important since they helped sustain and support us in our initial time in Brunei. We have fabulous lifelong memories of these people and in a way, they become your surrogate extended family as your grow together through the experience of induction.
CfBT: What do you like most about teaching English in Brunei government schools?
JM: In my experience, having taught in three different countries, Bruneian students are the best students I have taught. This is because they truly appreciate empathetic, modern and positive teaching. They are just wonderful people to teach.
I have been very fortunate to have taught the same students two, three or even fours years in a row. In this time you can see a remarkable change from shy students with glaring gaps in their learning to confident and capable students who can reflect, improve and adapt on their learning and voice out what they truly think or feel about their learning.
In addition to this, my Bruneian colleagues are friendly, warm, and respectful, they are a pleasure to work with.
CfBT: Please describe a typical day as a teacher in Brunei
JM: I teach Year 7 and 8 in a ‘typical’ outer city Bruneian government school.
My typical day starts at 6:50am. I do the mandatory four ‘stay backs’ per week, finishing at 2 pm on these days with one early finish at 12:30pm each week. During my ‘stay backs’ I am either doing lesson plans, marking or some other administrative tasks. There is usually one PD or meeting to attend per week where I finish between 3 and 4 pm. Expect a few longer days in the height of the school year. My lessons vary between 25 to 60 minutes. I usually teach up to six lessons per day; roughly 30 lessons per week (about 14-15 hours per week of teaching time).
I have been involved in a variety of Extra Curricular Activities (ECAs) which range from a French language club, to a leadership club and even Darts and Foosball! It really depends on your own expectations and those of the school so it is best to have a flexible and adaptable attitude to this.
CfBT: What are the teaching resources like at your school?
JM: Most departments will probably have one projector that is adaptable to your notebook computer. However, some teachers buy one their own use in the classroom. However, you can get by without one if it is beyond your means. You will find copies of most syllabus material issued by the Ministry of Education in each department. This includes material issued by CfBT. Whiteboards are prominent so some schools provide markers and refills others don’t.
CfBT has a well-stocked library that has class sets of well-known readers for both Primary and Secondary. It provides a photo-copy service, computers with internet access and a helpful and friendly staff. In addition to this, there are lots of stationery shops throughout Brunei where you can buy your supplies at a reasonable price.
CfBT: What type of support do you receive from your CfBT line manager?
JM: My EPM will visit me at least two to three times per term. Messaging is done via reliable social messaging platforms and you can expect a reasonably quick response if not immediate. Usually, supportive discussions take place mostly directed at ways that the EPM can assist me to improve and reach my teaching goals. They are also very good at helping me understand the unique cultural requirements of my school and Brunei in general.
There are designated Bruneian coaches in each school. It really is up to me to use this wonderful resource the way I deem helpful. I like to share and learn new ideas with my school coaches. However, this only needs to occur if the CfBT teacher requires it; there is absolutely no pressure to do this at all.
Mentoring occurs formally through CfBT and informally through networking with other teachers both Bruneian and CfBT. There is absolutely no need to feel on your own in Brunei there is always a willing and helping hand to those that reach out.
CfBT: What professional development opportunities have you had?
JM: Probably two to four sessions per year. The most significant one in recent times was the extensive training offered with the introduction of a Safeguarding Policy. This was excellent and a very good step in the right direction. Otherwise, the focus in recent years has been providing PD in modern teaching methods (e.g. differentiation, assessment for learning); plus, a focus on research and evidence-based teaching.
PD’s at school have similar themes to the CfBT PD with more of a local, school-based interpretation of them. Expect PD about one day per week, depending on the school and usually about 2-4pm.
Luckily, I was allowed to conduct my own self-selected research (conducted a Literacy/Numeracy research project in Year 7). However, this really depends on the expectations of the school administration and the amount of good trust and rapport between them and the CfBT teacher.
I presented the research findings were formally presented to the school. It was decided from this to extend the research into the following school year.
CfBT: What has been the most memorable moment for you thus far?
JM: Celebrating World Book Day! Dress-up and lots of fun activities. Marching in the National Day parade!
CfBT: What was it like to move to Brunei?
JM: The process was challenging, but from the time we signed the contract CfBT was extremely professional, helpful and friendly in their desire to make my families arrival a happy, friendly and safe one.
CfBT provided regular and timely responses to requests and questions. Their experience of providing this type of assistance for a good number of years now allowed for the whole process to go as efficient and seamless as possible.
My advice to all newcomers would be to ask as many questions as you need and know that CfBT’s goal is to make your arrival as happy and successful as possible.
CfBT: What is it like living in Brunei as a family?
JM: Very easy, we treated it like an adventure and were fully excited by all the new things and environment for the first few months.
We settled in very well, my wife is Indonesian and there is quite a large Indonesian ex-pat community in Brunei so she and I could network and make new friends almost immediately with them and with other families in my induction.
You have to drive everywhere in Brunei so for a family with school age children two cars is a necessity. Getting use to the heat took me some time but eventually you become acclimatised. Drink lots of water!
I send my children to ISB. This school has a wholistic outlook and is excellent. My Indonesian step-daughter has been there nearly eight years and she went from a non English speaker to now a student capable of achieving A* in English and Literature in Year 11 IGCSE. My son has been there two years and loves the place. Can’t be more thankful!
There are so many indoor airconditioned ‘kiddies’ playgrounds for my younger son. Plus, lots of cinemas and shopping malls with ten-pin bowling and even an ice-skating rink! Also, opportunities to do indoor rock climbing, play competion basketball, football and netball.
It is a good idea to have a part-time or full-time amah. It is very hot in Brunei and doing housework can be onerous at the best of times. Also, the house and apartments here can be quite big so it makes sense to have an amah. You will hear about the best ones usually through word of mouth via your informal networks. They are usually reliable professional and pleasant.
My advice for other families who are thinking of moving to Brunei would be to give yourselves plenty of time to acclimatise and get accustom to the place. Be kind to yourself and don’t be fearful of making mistakes, we all do. If you build up enough trust and rapport within your CfBT and Bruneian communities you will find this is a wonderful place to live, school and work in for you and your family.
CfBT: What is your accommodation like?
JM: Houses and apartments are typically much bigger here. Since there has been a bit of a building boom in recent years you are spoilt for choice.
I currently live in a 3 bedroom and 2-bathroom apartment in a newly constructed block. In Brunei terms it is relatively small but we love it. It has a games room for the kids, swimming pool and gymnasium.
The process of finding accommodation was a fun and enjoyable challenge that was made all the easier through the assistance of the CfBT Housing. They helped put us in contact with appropriate and trustworthy agents and landlords. Gave us useful advice and were able to negotiate on our behalf at times.
CfBT: What is it like to live as an expat in Brunei?
JM: Your involvement in the expat community is really up to you. There is absolutely no pressure to be involved. Some people get heavily involved with regular weekend parties, hashing, etc. While others are more content to stick with one or two close friends and enjoy a chat over coffee and cake in one of the numerous cakes and coffee shops that are throughout Brunei. People with similar interests usually band together so young ang and single people will do their own thing as will people with young families.
There are plenty of informal opportunities to meet new people, whether it is out and about or even at a CfBT meeting.
My favourite things to do are to read, exercise and catch up with friends. I enjoy going to a nice local Kopitam and read the newspaper or chat with a friend. The work life balance (although the work expectations have gone up in recent years), it is still reasonable compared to other parts of the world. Therefore, I can still do my job and have plenty of time with my family.
CfBT: Please share what the general cost of living is compared to your home country.
JM: Food is a little bit cheaper but it really depends on the way you budget and spend your time between eating out and eating at home. Eating out here is on the whole a lot cheaper here than a place like Sydney or London, that’s for sure! There are a variety of supermarkets from those that are more expensive that stock a lot of imported brands to those less expensive that have a lot of local Asian brands.
Fortunately, the housing allowance is quite strong in current market conditions. It allows you to have a variety of excellent choices.
Petrol is cheap! You can fill your tank with probably half what you pay in your home country. One of the advantages of living in an oil rich sultanate is that the price of petrol has stayed low and constantly the same price for at least the last 20 years.
Block D, Unit 5 & 6, Kiarong Complex
Lebuhraya Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah
Bandar Seri Begawan BE1318