What motivates a teacher to look overseas for a job? Are you prepared for change and how can you be sure that reality mirrors expectation?
I’m off! Getting to the point of no return, actually resigning from your school and making enquiries of an agency for positions abroad can sometimes be a sudden, even impulsive action but typically it’s a measured decision borne of long nights of angst and much thoughtful contemplation. A teacher’s motivation for seeking change is crucial to making the adjustments necessary for success in an international setting. It’s important to be honest with yourself and your agency about what is propelling you to look beyond the domestic teaching market; financial benefits, tax free salary, bonuses, free flights and housing? The prospect of travel and adventure in places never explored before? Professional and Personal growth opportunities? Aligning your motivations to actual vacancies, finding that ‘best fit’ school, country and/or region requires honesty with time spent in research (minus those rose-coloured glasses) in addition to guidance from a Trueteaching consultant. Expectations may need to be reset if personal attributes, qualifications and professional experience aren’t in fact a match for that perfect job!
Competitive employment package
Teachers choosing an international placement should look carefully at the employment package offered and how it compares to a standard international package in the region under review. Trueteaching will be able to provide guidance in this respect. Other factors are equally as important; a tax free salary in a developed country with high living costs may not have the savings potential of placement in the developing world with subsequent lower living costs. Complications with banking services and government restrictions on moving money overseas should also be a consideration. Be realistic if building a nest egg or paying off a hefty mortgage is a real consideration; schools typically offering highly competitive employment packages hire teachers with several years of international experience, give preference to holders of a Master’s degree and experience with international curriculums such as the IB. Established, premier international schools do hire teachers without international experience but not typically; your chances of finding a placement in a very good school that permits you entry into international education is a more likely scenario if you haven’t previously taught internationally.
Most creditable international schools will offer a very good salary with a standard overseas employment package offering housing, flights, medical insurance and in some cases payment
of utilities. The vast majority of international schools have a salary scale that factors in a teacher’s needs on a daily basis, the necessity to save while still having travel funds available for vacations. Salary scales would also have varying entry points depending on past experience and qualifications. Stipends would typically be available for positions of responsibility and bonus payments, settling in and out allowances in addition to travel allowance should be part of the employment package.
The Prospect of Travel and Adventure
Choosing a teaching position in a European city may not be a good choice if combing the dusty backstreets, alleyways and passageways of cities in the developing world is more to your liking. Accepting a placement well north of the equator is equally as questionable if you genuinely suffer from the cold or depression through lack of Sunshine. Make a levelheaded judgment about what demographic and school is a good fit for you while keeping an open-mind as to what limits you feel you can endure to experience and appreciate the unfamiliar! With few exceptions you’ll be intrigued with the seemingly endless tangle of cultural and religious experiences often well within your grasp. Location for some is not an issue. More important is the potential to explore the immediate environment, to connect and be a part of the local community, learn the language, reach out and find new friends. Adventure is a matter of perspective in an international context.
Personal and Professional Growth Opportunities
The measure of personal growth depends on a teacher’s level of interaction with what the host country has to offer. Teachers who embrace new experiences, welcome opportunities to build relationships across cultural and religious boundaries are open-minded and prepared to challenge preconceptions subsequently evolve personally as a consequence. It is not difficult to live in an ‘expatriate’ bubble whilst living overseas, interacting almost exclusively with compatriots at clubs and selected events, eating imported foods and having little contact with host country nationals beyond house help and school personnel. Finding the courage or motivation to accept experiences that are unfamiliar, that initially may appear challenging or uncomfortable can be a deciding factor in determining levels of personal growth from any one international school placement. Certainly, there are environmental and human elements of most
overseas locations that demand patience and oodles of tolerance; this in itself shapes personal character, heightens levels of cultural understanding and brings on all manner of attitudinal change, hopefully for the better!
International Schools typically offer teachers significant professional growth opportunities. The school’s location and/or curriculum framework may by its very nature, dictate the opportunities on offer. Schools offering any of the IBO programmes for instance are obliged to offer annual professional development experiences for teachers both internally and through a schedule of workshops and conferences held throughout all regions. Often times schools in isolated areas go to some effort to factor in professional development for staff and school budgets are typically developed to ensure that isolation is not an issue when meeting school and professional teaching goals. The advance of online options for educators to upgrade their teaching skills has been significant in recent times and support is just a Skype conversation away. As a candidate, it is well worth questioning an administrator during an interview about the size of the professional development budget. The answer can be a valuable indicator of the overall level of support for teachers at the school. Good schools will want to invest in their teachers and retain their services over the initial contract. Professional development may include a sizable contribution to university studies and/or purchase of up to the minute IT equipment such as an Ipad.
Growth opportunities also include being encouraged to take on responsibility; lead a curriculum area, provide an extra-curricular experience for students. Grasp opportunities for internal promotion particularly in smaller schools that require multi-tasking. Small international schools are a good avenue for aspiring school managers as opportunities to undertake middle and senior leadership roles are typically more accessible. While schools may offer generous external professional development incentives for teachers, there will always be a need for teachers to share expertise within a staff and take advantage of the considerable experience across a broad range of ages and subject matter. I was always genuinely impressed by the depth and level of educational experience unearthed when speaking with colleagues. It’s a matter of being prepared to learn and benefit from a considerable toolbox of acquired teaching expertise at your fingertips.
Resetting expectations when necessary
Aspiring international teachers need to be open-minded, flexible and adaptable. Without exception, when asking school managers what attributes they desire in a candidate, it is ‘all of the above’. When the power goes out, you lose internet access or the sick child is receiving questionable care, you need to be rational, practical, think on your feet and believe tomorrow will be a better day; because likely it will. Don’t leave your sense of humour at home in a box! Diary entries of misunderstandings and mistranslations make great reading after the event and the stories you collect keep family and friends enthralled over a lifetime.
Being positive is more than just an implement in your armory of daily challenges, it’s an essential tool for survival. If you don’t possess a character that can ‘roll with the punches’, a ready smile when the going gets tough, then expect your overseas experience to be taxing to say the least. International teaching isn’t for everyone but for those of us who choose it, teaching abroad is the best decision you’ll ever make!
Your recruitment consultant in a prescreen interview will guide you as to what is a reasonable match for your background and qualifications. Ask relevant questions but be prepared to listen and keep an open mind. Bringing teacher and school together in a perfect union takes honesty and trust but when an ideal match is made, the rewards are immense and resonate not only with the teacher but through the entire school community … with very tangible results for students.