Teaching in International Schools
International teaching jobs are one way for people that love traveling to satisfy their wanderlust while making an excellent living. There are three types of international teaching positions and each one has positive and negative aspects: teaching English in the many English-language schools found around the world is the easiest way to get a job overseas; teaching regular core subjects such as social studies or math in national schools that have a curriculum delivered primarily in English is the second choice; and teaching core subjects in a fully-accredited international school is the third option.
Becoming an English teacher is a popular option for young people just out of college who want to see something of the world, but don't have the funds to support their travels. There are, however, many career English teachers who are dedicated to teaching and developing their skills and knowledge about teaching. Some schools in some countries only require their teachers to be native English speakers. Generally, these schools don't pay very well, and they have a reputation for providing teachers with poor working conditions and often not supplying legal working permits. The majority of the schools that offer a living wage require that teachers have a college degree and some type of English-language teaching certification such as TEFL or TESOL. The salaries offered for these types of teaching positions vary greatly, as do the benefits. Dave's ESL Cafe is a great resource for both veteran and new English teachers.
Teaching core subjects in local schools that use English as the language of instruction is an attractive second option. Teacher qualifications are often more demanding than those required of English teachers. Generally these schools expect their teachers to have some teaching experience in their teaching area, as well as a college degree. These schools pay significantly more than most ESL positions, but the demands of the job are also greater. These positions are often filled by teachers who either do not have teaching certification from their home countries, or who have not been able to obtain a teaching position with an international school.
Finding a position in an international school is highly competitive. Most international schools attend one of the main hiring fairs which are held at various times throughout the year. You can expect to need at least two years of teaching experience, a college degree, and a current teaching credential. Many international schools are now adopting the International Baccalaureate curriculum. Those schools generally want teachers that have IB experience. Some schools only hire Americans, others only British or Australians, but generally you will find a mix of nationalities in international schools especially in the large ones like Jakarta International School, Singapore American School, or the International School of Bangkok.
The major teaching fairs are run by International Schools Services, Search Associates, the Council of International Schools, and Northern Iowa. These international job fairs can be bewildering for the new teacher. They are often crowded and intense. Teaching couples have an edge over single teachers at these fairs as they can split up and arrange for multiple interviews. However, all reputable international schools have school websites. Prospective teachers can contact schools that they are interested in and request an interview before the fairs are held.
Once you have some experience teaching in an international school, you enter into a rather small world and you have a good chance (if you’re good at your job and have had good experiences with your principal and/or superintendent/director) of getting a job without attending a fair. During my 21 yeas as an international teacher/principal, I only attended one recruitment fair. Networking and developing good contacts at your first teaching job can save you the considerable expense of attending a fair in the future, not to mention the hassle and stress that goes along with these cattle markets.
International Teaching Salaries
Salaries vary widely in overseas’ schools depending teacher experience and qualifications, as well as on the location and type of the school. The small ISS or company schools in remote locations usually pay quite well and have some nice travel benefits. Some school websites have salary schedules listed, but many do not. Some schools take local taxes out of teacher salaries, but most often this expense is covered by the schools. Americans are exempt from US taxes while they are living overseas. While a salary in the mid-40s is good, there are a number of schools that pay anywhere from $60,000 to $100,000. When comparing salaries between schools, and especially between schools in different countries, find out how much teachers can save per year. Because this is really what you want to do – have extra income to save or to use for traveling.
Housing and other Benefits
It's important to have a comfortable house or apartment when living overseas, especially on a first assignment. Most schools provide free housing, or offer a housing allowance. Some schools own houses or apartments which they provide teachers with; other schools rent places and still other schools allow teachers to do their own apartment shopping. A common complaint of teachers is their housing.
Other benefits include a pension fund, free use of school cars or interest-free loans to purchase cars, health insurance, professional development funding, paid transport home annually, and free tuition for dependents.
Life as an Overseas Teacher
International teachers are found everywhere from the most remote jungles to the major international capitals. Some schools are huge with thousands of students and hundreds of teachers, while other schools may have less than 100 students and a handful of teachers. Large schools in major capitals have students whose parents include CEO's and international diplomats; these schools are high-powered and come with a certain level of stress. Middle-sized schools tend to be more relaxed. Some teachers find small schools in remote locations too claustrophobic. The obvious benefits of working in large schools are access to entertainment and a sense of anonymity; small schools offer a family feeling.
International schools are subject to many of the same problems with homework, administrators and parents that are found in schools in the United States. However, teachers are usually free from worry about gang violence, drive-by shootings and attacks from emotionally disturbed students that are all too often found in urban schools back in the U.S. Some schools have a significant number of students that have limited English language skills.
Teaching overseas offers many opportunities for travel. Many schools allow their teachers to attend international professional development conferences. The long holidays give teachers time to explore the country where they are working, as well as other countries in the region. While I was teaching in Pakistan, I regularly made trips to Bali and Thailand. Other teachers there explored the incredible Pakistan countryside and also vacationed in places like Malaysia, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam.
If you're looking to travel and have an exciting and rewarding career, becoming an international teacher may be just what you're looking for.
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