Right for you?
Considering international teaching?
Dr. Natasha Ridge looks at 5 questions you should ask about yourself and the school that offers you an interview – or a job.
So many schools . . .
It’s September. Many teachers are heading abroad for new positions or have moved from one country to another. As the demand for teachers on the international school market increases there are now so many schools to choose from. But how do you know which school will be the right fit for you? As someone who has lived and taught in four different regions here are five questions to which you need an answer.
1. School or location?
I think many teachers looking to work overseas often just think I want to work overseas, have an adventure and hopefully make some money. But within this we all have different priorities. For example, some of us care about location, we love the outdoors, or we love the beach so a city location in downtown Hong Kong or Tokyo might not be the best fit. Think about the climate too, if you hate hot weather, the Middle East and Asia are probably not a good fit. It’s obvious, but . . . .
Others want to work in a high performing international school – they want to teach the best and brightest and work in an academically challenging environment. This might mean different things in different types of international schools – is the curriculum UK, US or IB? Be clear about the different approaches.
Few international schools are traditionally selective in an academic sense, but get a feel for its approach from the website – does it come across as ambitious? Is there setting or streaming? Does rigour seem important? How formal does it seem – how British or American? Is PYP or MYP for you? Is it more . . . . or less inclusive? Is EAL likely to be a factor in how you teach?
These are the sort of questions you should ask yourself about the teaching environment. You need to know what you value most and then not compromise on your core needs. There is a place and a school for everyone but you need to take some time and do your homework.
2. What is the school’s financial model?
You need to find out about the school’s financial model: is it a not-for-profit or a for-profit school? Before heading overseas, I had no idea that schools could be run as businesses. In fact in Australia this is actually not allowed by law. However, the international school market is full of such schools run to make money for the owners or shareholders. In my research on the profit status of schools and teacher well-being (see here) I found that not-for-profit schools typically have lower student/teacher ratios, spend more on teacher development and retain their staff for longer. They also tend to be higher performing schools.
Non-profit doesn’t mean the school doesn’t make money, it just means that the money it makes goes back into the school. If you choose to work at a for-profit school, it is good to be aware of the possible extra pressure to deliver profits for the owners and shareholders, which can lead to cost-cutting and a lack of spending on what they deem not to be essential.
That said, many for-profit schools provide an excellent education for their students and care for their staff well – but it is good to know the environment you are entering.
3. How long do people stay?
Staff retention is often a good indicator of working conditions in any school. Most of us know this already but sometimes we don’t take the time to check it out, only to find out when we arrive that half the staff are already planning their exit. How long has the current Head been in place and how long the Head before them? This will give you an indication of how stable the school might be. Turnover is normally higher in international schools than at home – but if people are coming and going too frequently, there is always a reason, even if no one says what it is and you need to think twice before committing to an offer. Look out for the signs, read between the lines and perhaps carry out some discreet research.
4. What about health insurance?
Even if you do not have insurance at home you will need it overseas. In the new world of Covid-19 and beyond one of the most important things you need to look at is the health insurance policy the school offers. What does it cover? What does it not cover? Is there any co-payment required? Does it include counselling or any mental health cover? Also, what is the leave policy outside school holidays? Is there provision for emergency leave? You need to know that you have good health insurance and that should you need to go to your home country for an emergency you can travel. Some schools are great at this, others not so much and good health and well-being are things that money can’t buy. Look for transparency in the information pack as a good indicator of the school’s approach.
5. How important is professional development at the school?
Finally, does the school invest in its teachers and support staff? Is there a professional development budget? Are you going to keep learning here? Does the school believe in creating careers and promotion opportunities? This is definitely a question to explore at an interview and Heads of good schools really like being asked this question.
Remember – start with yourself first and determine your priorities. Then look for schools that value and care for staff and their continuing education. These are the schools where people stay.
Natasha Ridge is the founding Executive Director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in Ras al Khaimah. She has over 20 years of experience working in international education and holds a Doctorate of Education in International Education Policy from Columbia University.
Dr. Ridge will be speaking on a keynote panel discussion at the Outstanding Schools Middle East Conference, taking place on the 12 – 14 October 2021. Find out more here.