how to find an international teaching job

I get a lot of emails with questions about moving abroad to teach. I’ve sent the same response so many times, I figured I should just write a series of blog posts explaining. I myself am not a teacher so I cannot answer all of your questions... but 95% of my friends are teachers, and Husband did assist in the writing of this post. hopefully it will give you a better idea of the process of getting hired to teach overseas. [if this is not something of interest to you, please come back tomorrow for a less wordy post!]

first, I want to be clear that this is only one of many ways to pick up your life and move to the other side of the world. this is simply our experience. second, if you are looking for information on becoming an ESL teacher and going into a program for specifically teaching English [either to adults or at an after-school program for children] this is not going to be helpful for you. if anyone reading this has done that and has information to share, please let me know because I would be happy to point people in your direction!

what this post will give you is: information on how you, as a certified teacher, can find a position teaching American curriculum classes at an international school somewhere else in the world. and all in 5 easy steps... ok, not really that easy but I'll try to break our experience of the job fair and getting hired down for you.

step 1: decide to go

the summer of 2011 was when we definitively knew we wanted to move abroad. Husband was teaching in Philadelphia at the time, and the district was in severe debt and making extreme cutbacks and layoffs. I was stressed out and unhappy at my job and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. we had been tossing around the idea of moving abroad for years, and it felt like the time was right to give it a try.

that fall we started exploring our options. Husband was lucky enough to keep his teaching position [his hire date was one week before the cut that fall] but things were not optimistic for the next school year. we considered several options but decided to go through a group called ISS/ International Schools Services to find a job.

step 2: research schools + locations

ISS reviews schools to ensure they are to a certain standard, and at the time they also reviewed candidates before allowing them access to their full website and job listings. you upload your resume and cover letter to their database where schools can search for teachers and contact them if interested. [as a non-teaching spouse, I was also required to write a letter about myself.] candidates can also search schools and open positions, and contact schools they like.

the initial list that we made of places we would like to go was pretty much thrown out the window once we had access to the job openings for high school social studies teachers. Husband has spent time in Turkey and we had considered it one of our top choices… but there is a law about only Turkish Nationals being allowed to teach History in Turkish-run schools. there was only one school which had an exception. we had also been very interested in South America [where I could use some of my high school Spanish experience] but openings were sparse.

the majority of positions were located in Asia and the Middle East. to be honest, I wasn’t completely comfortable with moving to either of those areas. but the choice was to make peace with a little discomfort, or to can this whole idea. so I sucked it up and we started researching those schools.

one upside to working in Asia or the Middle East is that the ratio of salary to cost of living allows you to save much more than working elsewhere in the world. I would love to move to Europe… but we would not be able to survive on a single salary there. being able to save money for our future was not the main reason for moving abroad, but it was definitely an important factor in choosing where to go.

once we had access to the full ISS site and listings, we signed up to attend one of their job fairs. ISS holds several, usually starting in Europe in December, then in Asia and the US during January and February. the February 2012 job fair was being held in Boston – thankfully within a days drive from where we were living in Princeton, NJ.

step 3: contact schools of interest

one thing that gave us an advantage was to start contacting schools several months before the job fair. I went through the listings and made a master spreadsheet of all social studies openings- including their location and information on salaries and benefits. we emailed every school we had interest in, though not all of them responded. we were also contacted by some other schools that were interested in us.

we emailed back and forth with several recruiters, most of them wanting to meet at the upcoming job fair. Husband did a pre-interview over skype with one school. we left for the fair with three or four good prospects, but open to other opportunities.

when we arrived, we had a bit of a shock. one of the schools we had been in talks with didn’t show up to the fair. they had gone so far as to offer me a part-time job as a teaching assistant… but apparently they had decided to fill their positions elsewhere and save the air fare of coming all the way to the states. there were a few other openings that had somehow been filled, but also a few new ones listed.

the first few days of the job fair are supposed to be for attending school presentations. we went to a dozen meetings the first day. I took thorough notes but it all started to blend together after a while. it was a LOT to take in. we were impressed by a few schools that hadn’t even been on our radar. Husband struck up a conversation with a lady in an elevator and ended up with an interview. we had notes in our mailbox from schools we had never even heard of. every break we had was spent looking up new schools and comparing information. it was... chaotic.

ISS also offers several general lectures and forums on various aspects of teaching abroad. these were informative if not a little intimidating. one thing that they really stressed was finding the right school for you, not just picking based on location. the recruiters have a school that needs to function, and they are looking for pieces that will fit well in their school’s community. as Husband says: the “fit” is sometimes a little snug, but the whole point is that they are looking for individuals as much as teachers are looking for communities. matches can be made, but aren’t always 100% perfect. certifications and qualifications are just the first step to the process, cling too hard or be too rigid over what letters follow your name and a school might casually pass. 

the Q+A panel of veteran teachers and administrators really illustrated this point well. one teacher in the audience was quite dismayed at the apparent lack of opportunity. "I teach IB Business, but only two schools even offer it as part of their curriculum! how am I supposed to find a job?" one seasoned panel member [an administrator who had staffed a school in the Persian Gulf during the first Gulf War] responded best: "it might be time to reinvent yourself then, mate. people who can teach - that's what we want to see."

step 4: interview your face off

on the second day of the fair they held open interview sign-ups. each school set up a booth for interested teachers to visit. depending on the popularity of the school, the lines to speak with representatives were LONG. you might wait half an hour to only have 3 minutes to talk to the school and try to sell yourself into booking an interview. [if this sounds crazy - that’s because it is.]

then the actual interviews started. obviously I don’t want to get into the names of the schools and who did what. so let’s just call them school A, school B, etc etc. school A had done a pre-interview with Husband over skype, and made him an offer when they met in person. we still had interviews with schools B and C, and had been contacted by schools D and E. so we had 24 hours to respond to their offer and get in as many interviews as possible [and potentially receive any other offers.]

Husband went off to interview with school B, but unfortunately they were only accepting teaching couples. a few schools have concerns that as a non-teaching spouse you will not be happy and want to leave, taking the teacher with you. hiring couples for openings means they will both have secure and stable jobs and be more likely to stay… plus if the school is covering housing they save money. we have met several couples who have been successful in finding teaching jobs – usually one is certified in a specific subject while the other is more general [for example, elementary ed] so they can be flexible in where to work. having a couple who are both high school English may not be as beneficial.

the interview with school C ended in an offer, so we had our first choice to make. between schools A and C we decided that we would rather live in country A. so we declined school C, but still had more interviews to go through before accepting A.

school D was in mainland China and I locked myself in the bathroom and had a panic attack while Husband was off at that interview. they were impressed with his work so far, but we ran into another common issue. this school [like many other school at the fair] didn’t typically hire first-time international teachers. they scheduled another interview with higher-up administrators to hopefully come to a decision.

school E had an opening that was social studies, but for middle school. both Husband and the school mutually decided that it wasn’t the best fit. but I mention this to [again] bring up the point that you may need to be open to something a little different. if you pen yourself into a specific niche you will have a much harder time than if you are flexible. keeping an open mind will give you more opportunities.

step 5: accept an offer

Husband went through several rounds of interviews before we ran out of time on our offer from school A. school D was not ready to make an offer yet, so we went with school A.

obviously it isn't guaranteed that you will receive an offer, and you aren't required to accept one if you do. but you should know that backing out of even a verbal agreement can get you blacklisted in the international teaching community. if you aren't sure... don't say yes. we knew this was what we wanted to do, so we accepted and signed a contract.

the experience of the job fair was very intense and definitely stressful, but unless you can get hired directly by the school it is your best chance at finding a job. the good news is that [from what all the veteran international teachers we’ve met since have told us] going through the job fair and the hiring process the first time is the real hurdle. once you have an international school on your resume and the experience and knowledge of going through the process, the next time becomes infinitely easier.

good luck and if you have further questions, feel free to contact me via email!

linking up with Expat Diaries and TYS Thursday

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