The International School Route
How to Start an Overseas Teaching Career
A school in France.
The opportunities for U.S. citizens to teach overseas are as varied as they are plentiful. From applying for a stint in the Peace Corps to casually picking up work at any of the thousands of language institutes around the
world, there is truly something out there for everyone. For teaching professionals seeking a longer-term overseas commitment, however, a slightly more competitive (and much higher paying) option exists.
Advantages of International Schools
Nearly every capital city in the world plays
host to what I’ll call an "international school." Some, like the school where I teach now, are known as "American" international schools, while others
call themselves "colleges." Despite the discrepancy
in their names, these independent, K-12, U.S.-accredited schools
all have a common goal: to provide a high quality, American-curriculum
education to a primarily expatriate clientele. They boast outstanding
facilities, diverse student bodies and extremely competitive salaries
and benefits for teachers.
The students themselves, though, are the very best reason to teach at any international school. As sons and daughters of diplomats, aid workers, missionaries, and successful business people, the students tend to be well-informed,
motivated and exceptionally tolerant. Many have lived all over the world, and most speak several languages. Simply put, they are a delight to teach.
Quality of Life for the Teacher
But the students are not the only delightful aspect of teaching at an international school. Altruism aside, there is the travel and, of course, there is the money. Over the course of the last school year, my wife, two daughters
and I had the good fortune to explore Thailand, Malaysia, Hawaii, and Spain. Frankly, we wouldn’t have been able to manage this feat if it weren’t for the outstanding financial package offered by our school.
Typically, international educators can expect to make what they might at a private school in the U.S. Bear in mind, however, that your salary will be tax free under U.S. laws, and rarely will you be required to pay host-country
taxes. In addition, most international schools provide their teachers with furnished housing, roundtrip airfare at the beginning and end of each contract, attractive retirement programs, full tuition remission for dependents, and comprehensive
medical coverage. Two of the three schools I’ve taught in even gave me the use of a car.
It is not unheard of for a teaching couple to live comfortably and travel on one salary and bank the other, particularly if they are teaching in a developing country. If you sign on in a city like Paris or London, though,
all bets on saving are off.
Placement Agencies and Job Fairs
The process for securing a teaching (or administrative)
position at an international school is fairly straightforward. The
International Educator, International School
highly regarded placement agencies that work as liaisons between
international schools and teachers looking for jobs overseas.
They organize recruitment fairs in the U.S. every February, and
you can count on at least one fair taking place on the East Coast
and one on the West Coast.
Tips for Landing An International School Teaching Position
- Take steps to ensure
that you are qualified to teach at an international
Generally, schools require that applicants hold a
valid teaching certificate and a bachelor’s
degree in their subject area. They also ask that you
have at least two years of full-time teaching experience.
- Begin your search early. Organizations
like The International
School Services and Search
to fill spaces for their winter recruitment fairs in
the early fall. While the schools won’t know
exactly what openings they have for the following
school year until January, it’s
a good idea to have your file completed by mid-October.
- Contact schools directly
in the late fall by sending a brief cover letter and
a resumé. Don’t expect much more of a response than a "thank you" or a "We look forward to seeing you
at the job fair," since schools won’t know their vacancies yet, but you’d
be wise to get your name and information in their files.
- Do your homework. Learn as much as
you can about schools that interest you by reading about
them on the Internet. Almost all overseas schools have
extensive websites that can provide you with valuable
insights into the school and its community. The Office of Overseas Schools,
which is administered by the State Department, lists
international schools by region and provides information
about teaching overseas.
- Attend a job fair. These
massive conferences are the best way for candidates
to meet administrators face to face. Very few international
schools will hire a first-time overseas teacher without
conducting an interview first. The University of Northern
Iowa hosts a popular job
fair in February, for example, and here are some more teacher
recruitment fair resources.
- Bring a stack of resumés
with your picture attached. Overseas administrators
see dozens of candidates for a single position during
each of the three or four conferences they attend,
so having a face attached to a name can be very helpful.
- Be flexible. If you go into
the process thinking you’ll only be satisfied if you find a job teaching Advanced Placement English in Brussels, chances are you’ll wind up being disappointed. By all means,
target a region or a continent, but don’t discount
other possibilities. My wife and I went to our first
recruitment fair thinking we were bound for Asia, but
we ended up spending a thrilling two years in Cairo.
CORY SCOTT is a teacher and writer living in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where he teaches at the American International School. He has also taught at Cairo American College and The American Embassy School in New