Teaching in International Schools
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Are you feeling stuck in a rut? Have you had enough of the stress at work? Maybe you’re just ready for a change? If you haven’t already, consider teaching in international schools. International teaching jobs give you an amazing opportunity to live overseas and really get to know a different region of the world while you earn a steady income with some great perks! Keep reading for information on how to get the teaching job of your dreams in an exotic location of your choice.
An extension of my earlier post, How to Teach AND Travel, click to read 10 different ways you can travel more as a teacher.
If you are newly graduated or don’t have a permanent contract what are you waiting for?? Even if you do have a contract it is very likely you will be able to take a voluntary leave of absence for one or two years. In our board, we are allowed up to two years and still have our job to return to. You need to apply but in our experience it is almost guaranteed to be approved.
If you have a family you’re probably thinking that sounds great – for someone else. We have a number of friends who have done exactly this WITH their children. Friends’ children ranging in age from 3 to 16 have lived overseas while attending an international school and have thrived from the experience. Sure it makes it a little trickier but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible!
This post will outline:
- why you should consider teaching in international schools
- how to get a job
- how to interview for an international teaching job
- preparing for the move
Why You Should be Teaching in International Schools
Our first experience of teaching in international schools was at the American School of Tampico in Mexico. We were blown away by the difference from home. Of course, it comes with its challenges and getting used to a completely different school system and student population was frustrating at times. However, the benefits far outweighed these issues.
A few things we loved:
- most international teaching jobs include benefits such as return annual airfare, basic healthcare and housing are often included in the package
- if you have dependents, schools usually offer free or subsidized tuition for teachers’ children
- a contact person in the school to make your arrival and transition a little easier, and less scary!
- an immediate camaraderie between other foreign teachers made for great friends and great travel opportunities
- students were serious about their education and cared about their grades
- parents were more respectful and supportive of teachers
- far less stress and pressure placed on teachers
- more teaching resources available
- school day ends early (usually also begins earlier but at the beach by 3pm in January…)
- learning about a different school system, curriculum and strategies can only help you grow as a professional
How to Get a Job Teaching in International Schools
There are a number of resources available to help you find perfect international teaching jobs. You can also sign up for online databases or apply directly to schools that are hiring.
There are plenty of recruitment fairs all over the globe throughout the year. If this is your first time, probably the best option for you is to sign up for a recruitment fair. This list is certainly not exhaustive but should give you a good start with a few of the major ones.
TORF (Teachers’ Overseas Recruitment Fair) at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario – this is a three day fair in late January that hosts a variety of international schools worldwide. After registering you will have access to a website listing all attending schools as well as some handy information about the jobs and country.
UNI Overseas Placement Service for Educators (University of Northern Iowa) – this fair is held in early February and hosts a large number of American schools from locations worldwide.
International Schools Services – host a number of job fairs annually world-wide for ISS schools. Dates range from November to March and include virtual hiring events as well as job fairs.
Council of International Schools (CIS) – hosts fairs for schools within their group. Educators must be CIS-approved candidates before attending a fair.
Association of American Schools in South America – hosts a recruitment fair during the first week of December in Atlanta. As the name suggests, schools from Latin America, South America and the Caribbean are included in these events.
Each recruitment fair will have different criteria for entry so click on the links above to find out more. As a guide, when we registered for the TORF fair, the package included resumes, teaching philosophy, references, teaching evaluations, university transcripts and of course a registration fee. It took a bit of work to get it all together so start early!
Online Database Memberships
These allow you to monitor international teaching job vacancies year round and apply to each posting individually. The bonus is that you do not have to travel to a specific location during specific dates, saving potentially significant travel costs. This is a great option if you are making teaching in international schools a more permanent role in your career. If it is a one-time adventure, then you may find the other options favourable.
TIE Online – this website has a huge database for international teaching jobs as well as resources and newsletters for people interested in, or already, teaching in international schools. Registration ranges from $39 to $88 depending on location and options selected for a one year membership.
Teach Away – according to their website, their database includes not only vacancies for teaching in international schools but also government programs, university and language colleges in over 40 countries.
eTeach International – provides job listings worldwide and allows you to search by region, role or workplace.
Teacher Horizons – this is a FREE website that allows you to create a profile, plug in qualifications and interests and emails you job matches (as well as being able to search on their site).
Apply Directly to Individual Schools
After attending the TORF recruitment fair before moving to Mexico, we decided we didn’t need to spend the time and money on the job fair our second time around. This method can be incredibly time consuming but it is completely free. It is best if you already have some idea of the country or region that you are interested it. For us, we knew we wanted Latin America, Caribbean or Southern Europe.
Create a solid resume package that includes a cover letter, references, photo, teaching philosophy, university transcripts, police record check and certificate of qualifications. Each international school has different application requirements so I created a complete package and then delete pages that weren’t needed for individual applications. Write an introductory email message that you will use to send the attached packages. Make small adjustments for each school and save yourself some time.
Create a spreadsheet to keep track of your applications. I know, I’m a nerd, but this was really helpful as responses started coming in. Initially I would get a response but have no idea what positions I’d actually applied for! I tracked school, positions, contact information, date applied, responses received and a few other things. This allowed me to know exactly who was responding, and send a follow up email if I didn’t hear back. Click here to get a blank version of my spreadsheet ready to fill in with all your school applications!
Get online! We typed “International School of” or “American School of” into Google and saw what came up. Once you have a location of interest, you can also zoom in on Google Maps and click on any schools that appear. Most will have their websites listed. You can also search for international schools in a specific country.
Apply for Vacancies
So you’ve found a school you’re interested in. How do you know if they are hiring? Some schools make this easy with an ’employment’, ‘vacancies’ or ‘work with us’ tab right in their menu. Others make you work a little harder. I found most in a sub-menu, often under ‘About’ or ‘Contact Us’. Occasionally you have to scroll right to the bottom of the page and find the link in the footer. These pages will usually list the specific vacancies they need to fill. If you can’t find any of this information on their page send an email to the ‘contact us’ page explaining that you are interested in employment and asking if they can forward the correct contact person.
How to Interview for an International School
We were woefully unprepared for the interviews when we arrived at TORF. In our previous experience, an interview was a chance to sell yourself to the prospective employer and shine above all other applicants. We had spent hours thinking of what to say when asked about special education, classroom management, differentiation and other hot topics. In Ontario, teaching interviews are behavioural which means you are asked multiple challenging questions about how you have dealt with specific questions. For us, there was even an essay component. Stressful! We didn’t ask too many questions, certainly not any ‘difficult’ questions, and tried to sound as flexible as possible.
However, interviews for teaching in international schools are quite unlike any other. We discovered that the schools were actually trying to sell themselves to us. In one particular interview it was apparent that asking us questions was secondary to making sure we wanted a job with them. You are in a more powerful position than you realize. Ask questions. Make sure you know exactly what the contract includes. Negotiate anything you don’t like. Of course each school is different and smaller schools may not have the budget to offer more. Accepting an international teaching job is a big deal and should not be taken lightly. There are a number of factors that can affect your enjoyment and success when moving overseas. You want to give yourself the greatest chance of success. Take your time, gather lots of information and make sure you take the job that is right for you!
You’ve been hired by an International School! Now what?
Congratulations! In just a few short months you will be teaching in an international school. Now begins the hard work preparing everything for your departure. You will find yourself making long to-do lists and feeling overwhelmed at times. Remember your new school has a contact person for you so be sure to use this resource.
If applicable, make sure you apply and get approved for your leave of absence. Benefits will also need to be dealt with. For us, we postponed everything except long term disability and life insurance. This required a few emails and some paperwork.
The vast majority of schools will sort your work visa for you. They will give you a long list of documents they need to process the visa and you will need to get this to them ASAP. Some of this you may already have gathered for applications but there will likely be a few things that take some time. For Trinidad, a police fingerprint check was even required.
What are you going to do with your current home? If you are renting it is simple but if you own, will you sell or rent? We sold our house before moving to Mexico. We didn’t have the stress of dealing with tenants while out of the country but we returned with the pressure of needing to find a home and discovered housing prices had boomed in our two years away. When we moved to Trinidad, we decided to rent our house out. We like it and wanted to return to it and didn’t want to ‘lose’ all that money like before. We hired a property manager to take care of issues while we are gone. There is no right or wrong answer. It entirely depends on your house, area, comfort level and financial situation. Either way, this is a big question mark that you will need to answer quickly.
Start making a packing list. How much will you be able to bring? When we moved to Mexico we drove down in a minivan. For Trinidad we each had two suitcases. Talk to your new school and find out what will be provided for you both in the school and your housing. Research climate, school dress code and cost of living. Decide what you will really need, what you can get down there easily. We packed jeans and then found it so hot, we couldn’t wear them! I took my snowboarding jacket to Mexico and, unbelievably, wore it on a number of occasions.
You will obviously need to figure out what to do with the rest your belongings. Will you rent a storage unit? Take up space in family basements? Sell stuff? Again, we did a mixture. A lot of our bigger pieces were hand-me-downs or used. We gave away things that we figured we would want to replace soon anyway. Threw out or donated LOTS. Luckily we were able to put what was left into our parents’ basements.
If you have a vehicle this should be added to the list. Again, what you do with it is entirely a personal choice but don’t leave it to the last minute. Driving to Mexico meant that we knew exactly what we were doing with our vehicle that time. Moving to Trinidad, we opted to sell our car before leaving. I was really tempted to leave it at my parents’ but since cars never really appreciate, it didn’t make sense to us.
Consider what, if any, vaccinations you may need. Book a check up with your doctor before leaving. Stock up on any prescriptions. Get a final dental check up and cleaning booked. If you have extended health care benefits like chiropractic, massage, physiotherapy etc… you may want to consider visiting regularly before you leave. It’s highly unlikely any of this will be covered once you’ve left. In the unlikely event that your new job doesn’t provide basic healthcare benefits you should also look into health insurance. We have World Nomads health insurance this year. It was really easy to get a quote, and book, and the prices were the best we found.
Start thinking about your new home. Do you need to find accommodation or is it provided? You can choose to find something from afar (most real estate websites have a rental section). The benefit of this knowing you have a place to go immediately after you land. Alternatively, many people choose to book a hotel for a few nights after arrival and spend some time looking once they are in the country. The benefits here include being able to see exactly what you are getting and possibly finding better options than seen online. The negative of this option is the added stress and insecurity of not knowing what you will find, where you will live and having a time crunch to accept something.
Will you be using public transport, walking or buying a car? Depending on where you are moving to, and for how long, each option holds its own appeal. Where we were to live in Trinidad we knew public transport was very limited and it wasn’t a walkable area. Car prices are high but they maintain their value for retail. Friends there were fine without a car but we wanted to be able to explore the island and enjoy our adventure. We opted to buy a cheap car and sold before we left.
Teaching in international schools is an amazing life experience and such a great way to see the world without having to eat through your savings, or wait until your next vacation. There is no better way to get to know a country and culture than to live and work in it for a year or more. We honestly could not recommend this more! However, it is imperative that you do your homework and prepare carefully so you can enjoy your time overseas fully!
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Have you ever taught overseas? Where did you teach? Tell us about your experiences.
Have you always dreamed of doing this? What’s stopping you? We’d love to hear your thoughts!
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