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How to Find and Land the International K-12 Teaching Job You Have Always Wanted

As someone who has recently made the enormous leap all the way from U.K. teaching to international teaching in the tiny sultanate of Brunei, I find it interesting to retrospectively read the endless questions cluttering expat and education forums across the Internet, such as, “Where do I start when it comes to finding a job in an international school?” In my opinion, the most important place to start is by asking oneself the fundamental question, “Why do I want to teach internationally in the first place?”

In my case, there was an eagerness to spend this period of my life on a continent with which I had started to fall head over heels in wanderlust, and I had a shortlist of countries firmly etched in my own mind. South East Asia it had to be. Having taught EFL in China—both north and south—18 months previously, I had enjoyed the opportunity to travel around Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and some of China itself. I knew that I could live comfortably in any one of those countries, and that was one of the most important factors when considering a minimum 2-year contract—which is the least commitment that most international schools will normally accept—while uprooting my life in order to venture to the other side of the world. The last thing I wanted was to feel trapped in the chosen country during my stay.

One lesson learned from previous TEFL experiences is how surprisingly easy it is to take things for granted while in your home country. Going to withdraw money and finding out that the banks are shut when you expect them to be open, or being forced to watch helplessly as a Chinese hairdresser grins inanely at you and starts thinning your already thin hair, while looking totally bemused by the crazy foreigner jabbering away in a totally unfamiliar tongue, can seem like a disaster of epic proportions when you are so far away from home. Another lesson taken from my TEFL experience was to try to maximize my earnings capacity. After researching the possibilities for such a future career and talking to several expats in Beijing who were earning at least three times my salary teaching in American, British or International curriculum schools, I returned to university in 2005 and completed a year-long post-graduate qualification for teaching in a primary school to students grades one through six.     

Having edited my final draft of preferred countries to work in for my first job teaching an international curriculum, it seems somewhat ironic that my first foray into the expat scene has taken me to a country that I had never set foot in, and until relatively recently, could not have pinpointed with total accuracy on a map. I like to think I was slightly better informed than some of my close friends and family, most of whom were convinced that Brunei lay somewhere off the coast of Dubai and reached for an atlas, wearing a rather sceptical expression, when I told them that in fact it is on the island of Borneo, some three and a half thousand miles further east of Dubai.

And this leads neatly to my second piece of advice; be flexible. I began my search for international teaching positions convinced that finding a job at a British curriculum school in Vietnam was the only possibility with which I would be entirely happy. But when I started actively researching the positions available, I began to realize that this limited my options. Add to that the fact that my husband and I were looking for two positions in the same school, one teaching elementary and one teaching High School Design Technology, finding two positions that we could even apply for matching our exacting requirements proved nearly impossible. Even though I initially did not wish to commit two years of my life to a country I had never visited, Brunei seemed like a calculated and minimal risk. After hours of searching the Internet—the patience and time to do so proved to be an invaluable tool when researching my move abroad—I was hard-pressed to find a negative word about Brunei, apart from the fact that it is a dry country and therefore nightlife is of the “do it yourself” variety.

If money is a primary motivator and location is firmly on the back burner, look towards the regions of the world less popular with the budget traveler. The Middle East has a reputation on the expat circuit for paying higher salaries in general than Asia—comparable to the U.K.—and a quick search on the Internet will give you an idea of what to expect. Every region has schools with high salaries, but I would be very surprised if any continent did not also have its fair share of disreputable or unreliable institutions. A big salary is of no use at all if you are not paid on time, or at all, or if promised benefits fail to materialize. Although thankfully I do not have any personal experience with such dishonest schools, a search on the Internet will turn up a more than a few horror stories under the general heading of, “Don’t touch these schools with a barge pole.”

Once you have found a school with a salary suiting your requirements, take a close look at the cost of living for an expat in that country. Many countries have—often unofficially—a 2-tier pricing systems in place, and it is rare that an expat in Asia can live on anything near the same income as a local, however frugal they may be. The salary offered by a school is usually reflective to some degree of the cost of living in that country, as most people looking to make a big move abroad will not leave their current situation if there is any risk of being worse off financially. Look at how much it will cost you to live comfortably, and then add on a financial safety net of 25% to allow for discrepancies in individual life style choices. An idea of the cost of living in any country can be found in most guidebooks and their websites, or when you are lucky enough to start progressing through the interview process, you may ask the school directly. My school provided an itemized shopping list for all new staff before they were asked to accept the job offer, right down to the cost of mosquito coils and cans of baked beans.

Finally, be prepared to adapt your expectations. Most International schools will hire and interview candidates from all countries, even if they have not taught their curriculum before, so look at the demographic of tjje staff and students to get an idea of the nationalities a given school prefesr to hire before you apply. The key to a successful interview in an area with which you are unfamiliar is to do your research and see how your skills and qualifications match those for which they are asking. The International Baccalaureate, which covers ages 3-19, is not affiliated with any particular country, so individuals of most nationalities are able or likely to be hired by IB schools—depending upon the schools’ individual requirements. You may even have the chance to expand your resume and gain valuable professional development, enhancing any future job applications. Remember, your first international job may be so fabulous that you may stay there for the next 20 years of your life, or it may be a stepping stone to other opportunities. I have come across both types of expats on the circuit so far, and as long as you are prepared to take a calculated risk, do your research thoroughly, and plunge into the whole process with an open mind, the opportunities are almost endless.           

For More Information  

Useful Websites:

backpackingteacher.wordpress.com — an interesting survey of pay and benefits for South East Asia. 

community.tes.co.uk — This teaching overseas forum from the Times Educational Supplement is the equivalent of staffroom networking, only with access to thousands of colleagues worldwide.

www.eslcafe.com — primarily an ESL/EFL site, but some interesting information on the forums .

www.ibo.org — information about the International Baccalaureate and schools offering the program.

International Schools in Asia teaching an American Curriculum:

www.isb.ac.th — International School in Bangkok.

www.laschina.org — Livingston American School China.

www.saschina.org — Shanghai American School.

www.tas.edu.tw — Tapei American School.

www.ise.ac.th — International School Eastern Seaboard, Thailand.            

* Please note that I cannot vouch for any of these schools personally.