INTRODUCTION TO GETTING A JOB AT AN INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL
I was fresh out of teachers college and itching to move abroad. I thought that there would be no better way to do it then to work at an International School. But I had no idea what I was getting into. More importantly, there was little to no direction apart from the polite emails telling me that I needed two years experience before I could work for such-and-such International School. The problem was that there were no teaching jobs anywhere ( including my hometown). So how in the world could I get the 2 years experience without a single teaching job available?
I walked most of the way to work while living in Moscow and that included those bitter cold days. It bore much fruit though. A colleague and I had many discussions, some of which included this very topic. Below, I am going to tell you how to get a teaching job at an International School without those 2 years experience that MOST schools require you to have.
THE UNOFFICIAL HIERARCHY
Having searched for subsequent teaching jobs since my first gig in Moscow, it became clear to a colleague and I that there is a kind of hierarchy within the International School world. It is unofficial, and I’m sure some would deny it but it is there.
The question is: What does that have to do with getting a job?
The truth is that when I was first searching for a teaching position I went about it all the wrong way. I was constantly looking for the best schools, in the best locations, with the best salaries and the best benefits. The bests. Those are the top tier schools. The ones where most of the teachers have 10+ years experience. Being an ESL teacher for a few years will not help your odds at getting a job at one of these schools.
It was common sense that I shouldn’t just apply for a select number of schools so I reached ‘lower’ and as a result my applying to middle tier schools ended with little luck. Mostly, I applied to them at the wrong time, but more on that later. These schools have good standards, generally good reviews, and standard pay with good benefits.
At the time I didn’t know it, but there are also bottom tier schools—The ones with high turnover rates where it is much easier to get a job. This is where I started, and where 90% of prospective teachers will start if they don’t already have 2 years experience. The pay and benefits seem good, and they are, but they are nothing in comparison to the higher echelon of the International School world. And the word education is key. Many of these schools are newer so they are testing curriculums, skimp on resources to save on costs. Others act like cash cows where they charge a reasonable rate for tuition but besides the teachers, the parents/students aren’t getting what they paid for. It’s unfortunate, but most International Schools are businesses after all.
This is not to discourage any prospective teacher. One’s students are the reason we go into teaching in the first place and that aspect of the school doesn’t change no matter what school you teach at.
That brings to mind another point on the lower tier schools. The high tier schools and many of the middle tier schools have entrance exams so they either only accept the ‘best’ students, those that speak English well, or the ones that are certain to pay the tuition in full. As a result there are many interesting challenges for prospective teachers at lower tier schools.
THREE APPROACHES TO GETTING A JOB AT A LOWER TIER SCHOOL
Many universities have job fairs and this is a good starting point to getting a job at an International School. EVEN if you graduated several years ago and are still looking to teach abroad, GO to a university job fair. Do some research! Certain International Schools and organizations only go to some universities. Check to see which ones those are and make a trip to them. It’s worth it. I didn’t do that and I wish I did. My roommate went to some good ones and he got a job very quickly as a result.
SIMPLY APPLY TO LOWER TIER SCHOOLS
Do some research! Look for up-and-coming schools, schools that recently opened, schools with mediocre reviews, schools in the countries that most teachers don’t have in their top 5 lists to teach at, and APPLY TO THOSE SCHOOLS!!! If you don’t want to teach there, too bad, apply anyways, and hope that the better job you applied for also hires you because if they don’t at least you’ll have this job and in two years time once you’ve built up that TWO YEARS experience, than you can get in to a better school.
MOVE TO THE COUNTRY YOU WANT TO WORK IN BEFORE YOU APPLY THERE
Having no luck with 20 or so applications I emailed out to big schools in Japan, Moscow, and China, I decided to move to Moscow and hoped that would put me in a favourable position to get a job. It did. If you already live in the country you want to work in, it saves schools a lot of paperwork and they will consider that when hiring. In my case I taught ESL for a year and aggressively applied to most of the schools in Moscow where I was living. To top it off, you get an in-person interview, which is much better than Skype. Trust me.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
I probably could have gotten into a better school sooner if I had known when schools were accepting applications. It all depends on the ‘tier’ that it is in. The top schools will require you to submit your application in October-December (If the school year begins September 2017, then hiring season begins Oct./Nov. 2016). I didn’t apply until February. The next hiring season is usually January of February. The third hiring season is for the left over schools and it takes place in February to when the school year begins.
There are circumstances when teachers drop out, etc., so you could get lucky with a job posting for a top/middle tier school.
LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION
I was truly blessed in this regard. I really wanted to live in a country that not a lot of people want to live in—Russia. And that is key. Usually people want to work and live in countries like Japan, Germany, or France. That means there are a lot more applications going through those schools and most certainly there are going to be at least 5 teachers applying with more experience than a prospective teacher. Again, do research. Research ‘poorer’ countries. Countries off the beaten track. Countries you know a lot of people don’t want to live in. Apply for jobs in those countries. It’s how you’ll get experience as a teacher and then eventually you can move up and work in any country you want.
PROFIT VS NON-PROFIT
It is important to keep in mind that the International School industry is split on this front. Some are for profit and thus many of the decisions made or in the schools interest and not in the students/teachers. Other schools are non profit and are either poor and lacking in resources, or the parents who pay more to see their dollars invested in their children think they have more to say. I say think because some times what they want is a good thing, other times a bad thing, and too often simply impossible.
CAVEATS ON LAWS
It’s hard for a teacher from North America to get a teaching job in Europe. In fact there are laws against it. There are ways around it and if the schools like you enough they will take those measure. BUT. Those schools will only do that for teachers with the experience. So again, if you don’t have the experience, don’t put your hope in a European school. Apply elsewhere too.
One note is that if you are from North America and when you do research, don’t get disheartened when you read that there are laws in place that prohibit you from being a teacher in Europe unless you have an EU passport. I know teachers that don’t have an EU passport and work as a teacher in Europe. Trust me when I say it, if they want to hire you, they will. They have the means to get around the law. If they email you saying that you don’t have an EU passport and therefore they can’t hire you that just means they found someone else. Don’t worry. Work somewhere else for a few years and when you have built up experience, apply to those jobs you want in Europe again.
The last thing I wanted to briefly talk about are the organizations that will help you find a teaching job. If you can, try to go with some of them. They will help you find a job. Just make sure you do it in time (like mentioned above). You can only get in touch with some of these organizations at job fairs so do some research and investigate where you want to teach, which organizations work with those schools in the country you want to teach in, and aggressively search out these organizations. There are other big organizations too where you are more or less guaranteed a job like SEARCH ASSOCIATES but this one in particular requires you to have 2 years experience and there is a $200 membership fee (It could have gone up since I’ve checked it out).
SOME TIPS FOR RESEARCH
Get on google and look up different boards that review International Schools, or just schools in general. You will read a lot of feedback from parents and former teachers. Some good. Some bad. In either case, good for you since it will help you in making a plan for your future.
I’ve been teaching abroad for several years and if there is one thing I’ve learned from my own experiences and talking with others is to never give up if you are adamant about working at an International School. If I had known about this ‘hierarchy’ I may have been working as an elementary school teacher a year before I got to. So I hope that the information in here will help you a little bit on your journey.
DID YOU HAVE A DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE GETTING A JOB AT AN INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL? LET US KNOW IN THE COMMENTS BELOW. AND IF YOU HAVE ANY OTHER QUESTIONS OR NEED CLARIFICATION FEEL FREE TO COMMENT BELOW AS WELL.