How Retired Teachers Can Work at International Schools
Everything You Need to Know to Start an Adventurous New Job or Career
By Kathy Fritts
Not Quite Ready for a Rocking Chair?
You (and your teacher spouse) just retired from a long and successful career in education or will soon, and the thought of garden/golf/grandkids leaves you feeling restless. You fall into the gap between retiring in your 50s yet not quite ready to stop working. You need a change, and the stimulation of teaching in an international school could keep you going happily for another few years. We retired at 55 and subsequently worked in Russia, Dubai, and Thailand before finally retiring for good. You can too, assuming you are a capable teacher with a positive outlook and lots of energy.
Your experience and certification is the key
to adventure, rich new friendships, satisfying teaching, and a
financial boost to your battered retirement account. If you are
healthy, flexible, teach a sought-after subject specialty (and
have a teaching spouse), you might be a prime candidate for an
overseas recruiter. It is probably too late for the school year,
but if you start now, there’s time to make a firm decision,
prepare your family and friends, register with a recruiting agency,
attend a job fair next winter, and start work in an exotic
location by August.
The problem of the “Trailing Spouse”
To a recruiter the most desirable candidates are either single teachers or married teaching couples without children. The expense of hiring, transporting, and housing teachers is the reason. If you are married, it is extremely unlikely you will be hired with a “trailing spouse,” i.e. one who cannot be hired as a teacher. Also, if you are excited about the idea of working in the international schools for a few years but your spouse is not, recruiters will not want to take an expensive chance on you either. Do the necessary soul searching together and make this a joint decision.
What are International Schools?
International schools vary wildly, but with a successful teaching career behind you, you should aim only for the best schools. Instruction is in English and the curricula are American or British. These schools most often resemble an elite private school, which means you could enjoy the most satisfying and challenging teaching of your career. It is quite usual for an international school to have students from 50+ countries, and the typical parent is involved and supportive. Budgets are usually healthy, discipline problems rare, and special education not the norm, except for ESL.
Main Categories of Accredited International Schools
- Embassy Schools—sponsored by the U.S. or U.K. governments and accredited fully. Here you will find top students, and virtually all headed to university. They often admit local students, but the tuition is quite steep.
- International Schools—they come in various types, but just be sure that they are accredited fully. Avoid “for profit” or proprietary schools.
- DoDS—Department of Defense schools are in many ways similar to American
schools. You are hired separately through the Department of Defense, not recruiting fairs.
Teaching in International Schools
“Travel is intensified living.” says Rick Steves, and teaching in international schools is intensified living AND teaching. It is not just a “‘job” but a way of life. You will be thrown into close contact with fellow teachers and parents; for all practical purposes, you are moving to a very small town. International schools typically provide housing, which means you will live right down the hall from your fellow teachers. Consequently, you must get along with everybody, all the time.
A Stimulating Way of Life
3-day weekends might be spent in Prague or Luang Prabang. Spring break could be skiing in the Alps or touring Vietnam. While friends and family back home are in the same rut they have traversed for decades, you are riding an elephant in Chiang Mai or seeing plays in London, or bargaining for carpets in the souks of Damascus.
You will necessarily meet fascinating people with amazing stories. International teaching attracts a lively faculty, and the dinner parties and outings will probably be more fun than you have had in years. You will be expected to pitch in and contribute to the overall social life, so you might find yourself organizing a camping trip into the deserts of Dubai, or a book group in Chiang Mai, or sleigh rides for school families in Moscow, or teaching young teachers how to cook their first Thanksgiving turkey. If you are inclined to just sit home and watch TV, international schools are not for you.
Teaching in international schools can be financially rewarding. The package your school provides most likely includes free housing and utilities, free medical care, flight to and from your school every two years, pension account contribution. Perks vary. Income is free of American income taxes if the amount is below $87,600 per person and you can satisfy the “bona fide residence” test. But the cost of living is by far the more important consideration; $50,000 in Dhaka goes a great deal further than $50,000 in Paris. In our time in Russia, Dubai, and Thailand, we easily saved half our salaries, paid off debt, and traveled widely.
So, should you (and your spouse) teach in international schools after retirement? First do some honest soul searching. Can you go back to work for two years or more? Even with the travel, the money incentive, the quality of students, teaching in an international school is not a vacation; it is hard work. What about your responsibilities and connections at home? Your adult children might not take well to your decision. How much will you miss your grandchildren? Should you rent your house, and what about your “stuff?”
Is there a reliable family member to watch over your house and bank accounts? Even with internet banking, this person’s role is indispensable.
The Recruiter’s Decision
Hiring and housing an overseas teacher is very expensive—often in the $10,000 range. During your 15 minutes in the hotel room at the job fair, the recruiter needs to judge whether you are any good as a teacher, and whether you and your spouse will fit into the school community without causing trouble. You will find yourself answering questions an American interviewer would have no business asking about your personal life. Below is a recruiter’s wish list:
- Fully certified with at least two years’ experience.
- Matches vacancy. Math and science teachers, counselors and librarians are especially hard to find.
- Younger than 60 (many countries cannot hire those older than 60).
- Healthy (you will probably need to pass a physical).
- Proven record of successful teaching and extracurricular activities or coaching.
- Previous overseas living or extensive travel.
- Spouse with a desirable teaching specialty.
- Committed for a 2-year contract, minimum.
- No dependents to cost the school tuition.
- No emotional problems or issues with drugs or alcohol. Solid marriage.
- Ability to get along with all kinds of people; a positive attitude.
- Open to change and growth; flexibility, and a sense of humor
When and How to Proceed
Once you (and your spouse) have firmly decided you want to teach overseas, researched the lifestyle (see More Information below), and prepared your loved ones for this change, here’s the schedule:
- In fall register with one of the larger placement agencies such as International Schools Services or Search Associates. These agencies are selective, so once you are accepted, prepare for the recruiting fairs in February. Learn as much as possible about the international schools.
- Approach possible schools in advance. We highly recommend using some of the websites listed below for their highly practical advice on how to structure your job search.
- Attend at least one recruiting fair in February. If you have done your preparation well and are a good fit, you will be hired. Just be flexible about location; you are likely doing this for the adventure, after all.
- Prepare to move overseas for two years.
- Start work in August.
For More Information
www.tieonline.com —The International Educator has many job listings and quality articles and charges a fee for access to their vacancies and for posting your resume.
www.joyjobs.com — The service costs a small fee, provides daily vacancy postings, and hosts your personal CV web page. Packed with detailed advice; also lists vacancies.
www.iss.edu — offers a listing of the international schools ISS represents in each country. The site is great for daydreaming.
www.internationalschoolsreview.com — International Schools Review is a site for teachers to air their “honest” opinions about a school. The site might help you avoid going to a dreadful school, although of questionable veracity sometimes. It carries a yearly subscription fee.
Study the “Teach Abroad Advisor” section for first-hand accounts of other teachers’ experiences.
Kathy Fritts was a secondary school librarian in Vienna, Moscow, Dubai, and Thailand, besides a long career in public and private schools in Oregon. She and her husband Brad also twice taught a workshop at Portland State University called “Teaching in the International Schools.”