How to Find Jobs at International Teacher Recruitment Fairs
The Inside Story from a Teacher Candidate
By Joseph W. Keleher
I wanted something different. I wanted a taste of the exotic. I wanted a location to create the next great unpublished novel. These were the thoughts that lead me to the University of Northern Iowa’s Overseas Placement Service for Educators’ Fair (U.N.I.).
Right up front I need to make a confession. I did not find a fit. For whatever the reason—timing, karma, or bad decisions on my part—the perfect job for me wasn’t there; however, because of U.N.I.’s listings, I eventually found and accepted a teaching position at a school in Bahrain.
U.N.I. provides plenty of tips and pointers for the big event. But, what’s it really like to attend one of these overseas job fairs for the very first time?
Do Your Homework
In early fall I went through all the paperwork, made hotel reservations (it pays to make them early), got airline tickets, cleaned up my portfolio, and got my interviewing clothes together. I made my intentions to pursue an overseas teaching job clear to my current employer. I felt ready. I felt with it. I felt confident.
I called an old friend who had taught overseas. He gave me some tips and thoughts on what I should expect. I also made use of the Internet and school webpages to learn what I could about schools I was interested in. I emailed a number of administrators and found responses and non-responses informative.
Day 1: Jump In
5 a.m. It’s early morning and I’ve just reacquainted myself with tying a tie. My jacket (a $2 acquisition from a thrift store) has a notice from the last funeral I attended in the pocket. I hope it isn’t a sign.
The hotel breakfast doesn’t open until 6 a.m. I walk the half block to the convention center. The cold winds wake me up and, luckily, I arrive just as a janitor is opening the front doors.
“You’re the first one here,” he tells me, as I step inside. File folders with our names in alphabetical order line a table. I find three notes in my folder from interested schools. One is from an administrator I had already communicated with, one from a language school, and the other from a school I hadn’t considered. I put the yellow slips in my pocket. By now, some of the U.N.I. workers have arrived on the scene. One lady walks up with a “Here you go, early bird” and hands me a current listing of vacancies. Another lady offers advice: “The map is on the back of the positions listing. Strategize.”
I look over the listings quickly and start to prioritize as I walk back out into the cold. By the time I return to my hotel room, my adrenaline is pumping. I decide to get notes and copies of my resume off to each of the schools I am interested in (each school has a hanging folder at the Ramada).
7:25 a.m. The convention center is swarming with well-dressed folks. The official person at the door says, “Take your white package and look in your folder for notes from schools.”
Observe And Take Notes
8 a.m. A general orientation presentation takes place upstairs. A number of speakers give advice. But two quotes, repeated by several speakers, stick in my mind: “Don’t rule anything out” and “You’re about to jump onto a roller coaster ride.”
One recruiter tells me it is more like “a high stakes poker game.” As for myself, I find the unfolding experience to be somewhat like stepping into another culture (it may just be the anthropologist in me).
Roller coaster ride, poker game, or Margaret Mead experience: whatever it may be for you, all of the candidates with whom I spoke found the fair interesting but exhausting.
One speaker mentions “interviewing the interviewer.” I had planned for this already and had a list of questions for each interview for when they asked the obligatory, “And what questions do you have about our school?” Mine included: What is the role of your principal or head of school? How are field trips handled? Is there a budget for classroom supplies? What does the weekly schedule look like? What does the annual schedule look like? How long does the teaching staff stay on the average? What are the advantages and disadvantages of the location? What is the housing situation? Tell me about the salary and benefits.
11 a.m. I wait outside the doors of the round robin room. I mention to another candidate that “I now know how those mice feel before they’re set free in the maze.” The doors open and a swarm of people move inside.
Look For A True Fit
1:15 p.m. I return to my hotel room. My head is spinning and my heart pounding. I review in my mind and in my notes what has happened: I got through the doors quickly but to no avail. My number one school came off as cold and uninterested (I had been warned it could be this way). One recruiter told me up front he was looking for a female teacher, another only couples, and some appeared to say “get lost” in as polite and professional a manner as possible.
I was feeling very humble and wondering what was wrong with me. Had I wasted a bunch of money on a weekend in Iowa? Was it worth it?
Trust Your Instincts
5:10 p.m. The interview I have for one country turns into an interview (sort of) for another country. The guys interviewing me hurry through their questions. They remind me of used car salesmen.
I try to show them my portfolio. One pushes it aside. “You are a good fit for_______,” the other says. There is more talk, but I can hardly remember a word of it. I feel like who I am my experience means nothing. I leave the table wondering if I have been offered a job or not.
Share Notes With Others
7 p.m. There is a social for the candidates and recruiters. I sit with a group of other candidates, and we all share notes. The others say that their interviews were preliminary—none were offered jobs. I feel lucky to have had any offer, but I don’t feel especially good about it. We all agree things are not what we expected.
The two interviewers see me and say they will write up an offer. I ask for the email of the school’s principal so that I can find out more about the school. They give me his address (this ends up being a former principal’s address who tells me he is no longer at the school).
7 a.m. I head to the computer room to email the principal at the school for which I will be getting an offer. I then check my hanging file and find a rejection note from one of the schools.
8 a.m. The round robin room is much quieter this morning, and I feel more comfortable. I line up two more interviews for the next day.
8:50 a.m. I sit waiting for my morning interview and talk with other candidates. Everyone is exhausted. We all agree that making quick decisions in such a state of mind will not be easy.
9:05 a.m. My first interview goes quickly. I inquire about the pollution level at my prospective school in Thailand. I find out it is high. The interviewer and I agree that I’m not a good fit. We shake hands and wish each other well.
10 a.m. I sit in on a presentation for a school I am going to interview with shortly. The school looks great. It’s on a beautiful campus and the housing is only a 3-minute walk from the classrooms. I am excited about the upcoming interview and hope it will go well.
10:30 a.m. There is an offer to teach in China in my folder. The pressure is on as the offer expires at noon. I feel very uncomfortable committing to the school under such pressure.
Finding A Fit Is A 2-Way Street
12 noon. I just finished my interview with my top choice. The interviewer explains that he is interested but can’t make an offer for a week or two. There are complications related to housing, my being certified elementary, and the possibility that “say a physics teacher comes along who is married to an elementary teacher.” He would be able to place them both. I am impressed with his honesty and thank him for his time. I have one more interview today and then I will finally eat and get well deserved R&R.
12:55 p.m. I am in one of the halls of the Ramada waiting for a 1 p.m. interview. The school has posters and yearbooks for candidates to look through, so I pick up a yearbook. Most of the students and staff do not look happy; in fact, they look miserable. (At 10 p.m. this evening, this school will phone my hotel room with an offer, which I will decline.)
Take Care of Yourself
9 p.m. A group of four of us go out to dinner. Only two of us have accepted offers. I declined one offer, and the other teacher had no offers (she would email me several weeks later, though, to say she got and accepted an offer). I am ready to be done, but somehow it feels like this might just be the beginning. Tomorrow I have two interviews lined up.
Day 3: Focus on What You Are seeking
7:30 a.m. A friend gives me an astro-forecast star scroll before I leave. The quote on the top is fitting: “If you put a small value upon yourself, rest assured that the world will not raise your price.”
I had made the decision before I came to the job fair that I would accept only an offer with a salary equal to or greater than my present salary. I’ve stuck to this.
11:15 a.m. I have one last note in my folder requesting an interview. It’s a school on a tropical island that I hadn’t considered (in part because I felt the location would be too competitive). I get into the round robin room and see that the interviewer is with another candidate. I arrange for an interview with her at 1 p.m.
Get All Offers on Paper
1:30 p.m. I’ve just finished my final interview. The administrator tells me she is interested in making me an offer. She asks if she can contact me in about one week. I am excited but incredibly tired.
6 p.m. I meet up with several acquaintances. One is a recruiter and she makes a comment about another school that would offer me a job instantly. She explains that I wouldn’t be happy at her school because of my age. Their teachers are all younger. I thought this was odd (considering a teacher’s needs before his or her abilities); then I remind myself that this is a 2-way street. Most schools do have candidates’ best interest in mind. (Who wants an unhappy teacher.)
When The Fat Lady Doesn’t Sing
Two weeks after the job fair I have not received any official offer from the school that had offered me a position verbally. I’m confused and angry. I email and phone the school. The school’s head is either busy, doesn’t want to talk, or both.
Two months after the job fair I finally get an email from the school offering but not really offering me a job. The administrator explains that she returned to the school to a stack of highly qualified candidates. She says that all of their positions have been filled, but she will consider me if something becomes available.
Postscript to the U.N.I. Job Fair
During the summer a school in Bahrain contacts me. They have found me through U.N.I. and wonder if I would be interested in teaching at their school. After a late night phone interview, they offer me a job.
Joseph W. Keleher is now back in the U.S., where he lives and works in the Four Corners area of the Southwest. He is an accomplished writer, educator, archaeologist, and artist.