Preparing for life as an international teacher
In the first of a series of articles, Orla Redmond discusses some essentials when looking for a job overseas – including all the things the employers/recruiters don’t tell you!
Happy New Year! For many teachers, 2020 will mark their first foray into international teaching. Having had the good fortune of living and teaching abroad for a number of years, here are a number of things to look out for as you research a position overseas.
Securing a position
To secure an overseas position, 2 routes are common – applying directly to a school or via a teacher recruitment agency. Direct applications may be for a specific role (e.g. Physics Teacher) in a named school or for a more general role (e.g. KS2 Teacher or EAL Teacher) in a state school system. The latter means you have little control over where you are placed.
The number of recruitment agencies appears to grow year-on-year. Some charge fees but most are free for teachers to use and their costs are borne by recruiting schools. Many agencies require you to upload a detailed profile before enabling you to browse available jobs; others allow you to view available jobs without registering. A search of the ‘Jobs’ tab on ITM provides links to many school associations and recruitment agencies and is an excellent starting point for any teacher searching for a new role.
Many international schools and systems require teachers to have a minimum of (usually) 2 years’ teaching experience. NQTs (Newly Qualified Teachers) searching for overseas roles will therefore have fewer options and may find it helpful to have a discussion with recruiters. Whilst the lure of adventure after a few years of studying can be very tempting, it is advisable to think long-term about career. It may be relatively easy to secure a position teaching English as a foreign language, but this may not be recognised as valid teaching experience when applying for a position in the future. A recruiter may help you secure a role that will be recognised in the future. This may mean compromising your dream location for a time, however.
Anyone considering an overseas post should investigate potential schools/systems thoroughly and pore over any contracts issued with a fine-tooth comb. Don’t be bashful when it comes to finding out about the salary and benefits, and don’t simply accept an offer because you feel time is running out.
Questions to consider include:
- What hours will you be required to work? Discuss contact hours, whether planning time is provided, obligations in terms of provision of extra supervision/extra-curricular activities, and whether you will be expected to attend events in the evenings or at weekends.
- What curriculum is being used? Discuss levels of resources within the school to support implementation of the curriculum, how many pupils (on average) will be in your care, and whether there are subject specialists available for any subjects (at primary level).
- Is there EAL and SEN support in the school? If applicable, find out whether children are required to have a basic level of English proficiency before being placed in classes and discuss what types of support are available within the school for children with additional needs. Will you have access to a support assistant? Are peripatetic specialists available?
- What percentage of staff are locally-recruited and what is the percentage of local (versus international) pupils? Some international schools may not be as diverse as you imagine and this is often linked to lower pay.
- Is CPD provided? Discuss opportunities for career progression. To do so effectively, you need to have a career path and personal goals in mind.
- How long is the probation period and what is the process if you do not pass it? It is also helpful to find out if there are stipulations regarding life outside school. For example, some contracts have very strict role model conditions such that drinking alcohol, smoking, or wearing a bikini is forbidden.
It is important to consider all these questions carefully. There can be heavy penalties to pay for those who find themselves unhappy in a new location and wishing to break the contract. This may include the costs of recruitment and relocation. As labour laws differ from place to place, some schools have been known to breach their contractual obligations towards teachers. Seeking redress can be very difficult, so ensure you have undertaken detailed research. Quite often a school’s own newsletters will reveal much about the school and provide good insight into the character of its leadership. Otherwise, search online as warning stories are typically shared to prevent others suffering the same fate. These might be dismissed as the ramblings of disgruntled teachers; however, attention should be paid to complaints arising repeatedly.
Schools with high numbers of vacancies or those you notice repeatedly re-advertising posts warrant further research. Is the school a growing one, in which case having lots of posts available is to be expected, or is staff turnover high, suggesting problems exist? Some schools may have to re-advertise posts as the school location is not as attractive as others out there. This is not a reflection on the school, and the location may be perfect for you. Moreover, such schools may offer pathways to promotion not so readily available elsewhere. Identify what you want out of a potential move and gauge accordingly.
Lifestyle and climate
Another factor to consider regarding location is the climate and levels of pollution. If you love to do long-distance running, but air pollution prevents you spending time outside, will you be able to cope? I have found lots of recruiters do not readily volunteer such information, so ensure you ask lots of lifestyle as well as career-focused questions!
Go for it!
All warnings aside, I have found working overseas to be very enriching and would not hesitate to recommend it, so hit that ITM Jobs tab and see what adventures await!
Orla Redmond MA (Ed.) is an experienced educator who has worked in teaching, managerial, and advisory capacities in both independent and government schools, in Ireland, the UK, and other regions worldwide. Her specialist interests include supporting disadvantaged pupils and pupils with SEN. Read more from Orla at dumondeducation.com where she shares resources and thoughts about education.