The following article comes from Steven Miles, Principal of Doha British School in Qatar.
In 2018, after having worked for twenty-four years in UK schools in a number of roles, my wife and I decided to start looking for jobs abroad. This was something that we’d sort of thought about for a few years already but never ever really got close to doing, until one day we made the call to actually do it. Four years later, I can state with absolute certainty as I write this article from the warmth of a Middle Eastern winter that this was a decision which I don’t regret in the slightest. Indeed, it’s possibly the best call of my professional life so far.
Teaching abroad was sort of a thing when I began my career and I can remember one or two colleagues amongst the hundreds I worked with at the time packing up and leaving for sunnier climes, although they were always viewed with a touch of bewilderment by their UK-based peers. Nowadays, that’s not the case at all and working in an international school in Asia, the Middle East or somewhere equally as exotic is seen as a hugely viable and even somewhat normal option for teachers of all ages. This blog, written for Global School Alliance, is intended as a bit of a guide for anyone who may be thinking of making the move abroad.
Firstly, just like how experiences in different UK schools can feel vastly different, not all international school settings are the same. With this in mind, it really pays to do your homework before you apply because ending up somewhere which isn’t quite what you’d thought it would be is usually a much more difficult thing with which to contend than a similar situation back home. It’s always hard to know everything you ought to before submitting an application, obviously, so it would certainly be wise to look for accreditations and inspections online prior to sending in your letter and other assorted items. Being CIS – Council of International Schools – accredited, for example, is often a sign of a school which is run ethically and which has everything in place, although most countries also have their own inspection regimes with which school leaders must contend. Unlike the UK, however, schools aren’t necessarily obliged to publish their reports online, so you might need to ask schools to send you a copy before or during your application process so that you can get all the information you need.
There are some very obvious pros for working abroad, especially in terms of comparisons with working in the UK, but there are also some cons to look out for.
Typically, teachers tend to get paid more in international schools, especially when you factor in the tax-free element of some countries, and the lifestyle on offer certainly beats anything which damp and chilly British towns could normally offer. Most notable for me, I would add, is the respect afforded to the teaching profession by a school’s community. During my time in the Middle East so far, for instance, I have only ever been treated with reverence, admiration and gratitude for being a principal of a school, and this – just to be clear – is about a million miles away from what I experienced whilst working in a number of schools in various parts of England prior to coming out here.
In terms of downsides, it’s worth noting that there usually aren’t any unions in international settings, so no one’s got your back should things get tricky at any point. The best advice I would give to colleagues teaching internationally in this regard would be to understand that things can move very quickly out here sometimes and that always being prepared to move unexpectedly to another school, sometimes even in another country, is an important mindset to develop.
Source: Doha British School
Once you’ve secured a position abroad (and you will, because there are still so many schools looking for UK-trained teachers), it’s vital to realise that when you’re working in an international school, although there may be many things lifted directly from the UK (the teachers, the curriculum, and so on), you’re not actually in the UK anymore. As obvious as this may seem, this simple perspective is worth adopting from day one if you really want to get to grips with the culture of your new setting. If you think that you can simply copy and paste everything that worked for you in a completely different environment in the UK and make it work abroad, then think again. There will be ways of doing things which seem utterly alien to you at first and which will take some time to become accustomed with but which are suited perfectly for the local cultural needs of your new school. For the first few weeks, watching and learning will be key to both your continued professional success and your personal wellbeing. There are different keys for different doors in terms of what works well for each setting, basically.
So, if this article hasn’t put you off working abroad entirely, let’s focus now upon how to apply for a position in an international school. The majority of schools, and certainly those which are most reputable, tend to still post positions on TES so you can apply directly via conventional routes, but it may also be worth signing up with a few agencies. In my own school, during the recruitment season, we usually go with TES applications first but then mop up any areas where we couldn’t find what we were looking for via trusted agencies. We typically have a lot of applications for each position, so we’re lucky enough to be able to take our pick of the best candidates available. When you’re writing your covering letter, make sure that it’s not just an obviously generic affair which you simply send to loads of different schools. Personally, I like to know that you’ve done your homework on our school and that you are not only certain that you’d be a good fit for us but also that you can demonstrate how exactly this is the case. During the interview itself, if you get that far, I would also recommend that you show as much of your personality as you do your professional expertise because those doing the interviewing need to be convinced that they can work alongside you for the next few years.
Finally, once you’re in a position, stay there for a while. Nothing puts me off more than looking at applications and seeing that teachers have moved around every two years because this makes me think that they’re more interested in backpacking than they are in teaching! You’ll move on and enjoy another setting eventually, but you don’t need to be in such a rush.