10 Reasons to Become an International School Teacher
Things don't look especially good for
teachers in the United States these days. Yet another wrong-headed
policy from Washington is being implemented that continues to stifle
creativity, while using standardized test scores as a measure of how
well a school or teacher is doing. The collective bargaining rights
of teachers are being taken away in a number of states. State budget
cuts mean layoffs around the country. According to the New
York Times, New York State plans to raise the retirement age and
increase teacher contributions to their pensions. Teachers are often
considered a part of the problem rather than a part of the solution
to the “crisis” in education.
If I had to decide on a career now, teaching would probably not be at the top of my list. Still, there is a great alternative for the teacher who wants some adventure as well as a rewarding career where s/he's respected, has good working conditions and gets rewarded financially. What's that alternative, you ask? International teaching. I spent 20 years working as an international teacher, and it was a great ride. My only regret is that I didn't start working overseas earlier in my life. So what are the reasons for becoming an international teacher?
Working conditions. The working conditions in international schools vary, of course, but overall, they are far superior to what many teachers have to deal with in the United States. The overwhelming majority of us who have been teachers in the U.S. have had to pay for some of our own supplies due to tight budgets. Wouldn't it be great if you could work in a school where there were plenty of supplies and all you had to do was ask for them? And preparation time? Teachers get from one to two free periods per day for preparation, meeting with colleagues, and professional development work. Teachers in younger grades often have a teaching assistant to help with a variety of things from grading work to working with small groups of children. International teachers are viewed by the school community as professional educators, not babysitters.
Class size. Class size varies from school to school and country to country. In my research on international schools, the maximum that I've discovered in 200 international schools is 24 and that's for high school classes. A majority of schools keep their class sizes down around 15-18 students. Some smaller schools in remote locations have class sizes as small as 3 or 4 students. I had a homeroom of 3 students during my last year of teaching at Batu Hijau International School.
Professional development. PD is something that all teachers need in order to keep up with our areas of specialization. International schools usually offer teachers an array of possibilities for professional development. For example, Singapore American School provides teachers with the opportunity to take graduate courses, attend the yearly EARCOS international teachers' conference and attend in-school workshops. Other schools give teachers a professional development allowance of up to $1,500 that they can use for professional development activities of their choice.
Salaries and Savings. While salaries overseas vary greatly according to school size and geographical region, it's common for established teachers to get a starting salary in the $40,000 range, and this is usually tax-free. The International School of Islamabad offers salaries in this range, plus an initial $8,000 hardship allowance and a $4,000 signing bonus for teachers who extend their contracts after the initial two years. But, the size of the salary is less important than the amount of much money that a teacher can save annually. When I worked in Lahore, Pakistan, I was able to save 40% of my salary in addition to supporting my family who were living in Bali while I was in Pakistan. Teaching couples commonly save one salary while using the other to live a very comfortable life of traveling extensively during their vacation periods.
Travel. Working overseas gives the international teacher a chance to travel extensively. Sometimes this is local traveling. For example, a teacher working in an international school on the island of Java in Indonesia can easily travel to the famous tourist island of Bali. Teachers working in one of the Southeast Asian countries, Singapore, for example. can easily travel to the Philippines, Vietnam or Thailand for a refreshing vacation on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It's common for teachers to receive an annual travel allowance for trips back to their home country. Some schools give teachers a travel allowance after the first year of their contract, others give an allowance annually after the completion of the initial two-year contract.
Perks and benefits. Schools offer a variety of benefits including free medical, car loans, free housing, a settling-in allowance, a shipping allowance and a pension, among others. Bangkok Patana School offers teachers a retirement pay of 9% of their base salary. Lahore American School leases cars to teachers for $50 a month including insurance and gas. Free, or subsidized, housing is a common benefit in international schools. Some schools have school-owned housing, often on campus, while schools in large cities either have apartments or houses that they have rented on a long-term basis, that they assign teachers to, or they give teachers a housing allowance and allow them to pick their own housing.
Career Opportunities. Professional development opportunities give teachers an avenue for learning new skills and techniques that can enable them to move on to other positions in other countries. Early in my career, I was fortunate enough to be able to take coursework in educational technology. This allowed me to move on to exciting positions as a technology coordinator in several international schools in Asia. Some schools like the American Embassy School in New Delhi offer teachers sabbatical leave after six or seven years of service. The chances to develop your skills (and have it paid for) make international schools an ideal place for the teacher who wants to branch out and seek new adventures.
Colleagues. International school positions are highly sought after and the top schools will have hundreds of candidates applying for one position. Thus, schools can be, and usually are, very selective in their hiring of new teachers. Working in an international school gives teachers the chance to work with the best and brightest in the profession. I've had amazing colleagues during my international teaching career who taught my most of what I know about the field of education and the art of teaching.
Personal enrichment. Working overseas gives a teacher an opportunity to learn new languages, experience vibrant cultures, and visit treasures of the ancient world, such as Borobudur in Indonesia, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, or the pyramids in Egypt. Teachers who choose to work and live in Europe have the great museums available to explore.
- Students. The mix of students in international schools keeps a teacher always on his toes. Like anywhere else there's often a mix of ability levels, but it's the experiences of international students that make them such a delight to teach. Many have lived in several countries and are experience travelers. They may speak several languages and are often far more mature than their counterparts back in their home countries. They can be challenging, demanding and maddening; they are always interesting.
New international schools continue to be opened and old ones are increasing in size. This is a great time to consider the world of international teaching.
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