What is it like teaching in International schools?

What is it like teaching at an International school?

As the number of children educated in International schools around the world continues to grow, the demand for teachers and staff to teach these children also grows. Historically, the go-to place to fill teaching places has been the Western world. Let’s be honest, you don’t have to visit many schools to find an American, Australian, British, or Irish teacher.

So International schools are going to need more teachers in the coming years. That’s the obvious bit. But what do teachers who are thinking about moving abroad need to know? What are the key pieces of information to look for? And what are the main benefits to teaching abroad?

In the latest of our Insight series blogs, we spoke to two current teachers working in International schools in the Middle East and South East Asia to get their thoughts, opinions, and advice.

The need for teachers

International school numbers have grown considerably over the past two decades with almost 11,000 schools based worldwide. As a result of this growth, teaching staff numbers have grown exponentially, with over 530,000 now working in International schools. What’s more, leading industry experts, ISC Research, predict this figure will almost double by 2029 as new schools continue to open.

According to ISC Research, in European schools alone, British and North American nationals make up almost 50% of staff numbers. The numbers present a similar situation across schools in the Middle East, South East Asia and China and North Asia, showcasing the widespread nature of International schools.

These figures aren’t too surprising given the global reputation that the British and American education systems have. Put simply, if a school teaches an English medium or British curriculum, the leaders are probably going to look to those countries when they are recruiting for new staff.

The differences of teaching in an International school

Teaching in an International school is the same as teaching in a local state or government-run school, right? Well, according to the teachers we spoke, “no” is the quick answer!

Whilst both types of school are focussed on educating children, developing life skills, and ensuring they progress, International schools are a business. They have to make money. And they have to satisfy their paying customers: the parents.

This means investment in facilities, investment in equipment and investment in staff. And with investment, comes an increased expectation and, sometimes, an increased workload for staff. It isn’t all bad news though as there are also numerous benefits.

The benefits to teaching in an International school

Leaving your home country to teach abroad is a big thing. Stepping into the unknown can seem hard. At the end of the day, when you move abroad, everything is new. New country, new home, new job and new friends. Throwing in the possibility of a new language as well means that it can take time to get used to a new way of doing things. But for the teachers we spoke to, it was a fairly easy decision.

For one, it was the opportunity to travel the world and immerse themselves in different cultures that clinched the deal. Based in the U.A.E, their school has a large mix of nationalities from across the Middle East as well as families from further afield. This variety provides a unique opportunity for children and teachers to share their different experiences and is a major benefit of International schools.

Whilst travel and exploring we’re important benefits to our second teacher, there was also additional opportunities for professional development and an accelerated career path that may not have been possible at home. Additionally, the challenge of teaching different curriculums was a big draw.

Plus, with a large percentage of teachers in the same boat as highlighted above, there is often a camaraderie amongst teaching groups, helping to make the transition easier.

How to teach at an International school

Each International school operates differently. Each has its own unique culture and you’ll be working with staff from all over the world. According to the teachers we spoke to, being able to communicate clearly and mindfully is essential.

What’s more, in the early days, weeks and months, it’s important not to be too restrictive in your views and teaching style. Something that worked well for you back home for example, might not work so well in your new school and culture. Our teachers said that one of the best things they did was assess, observe and ask questions. That way, they were able to understand why things were done a certain way, learn the local nuances and adapt their style accordingly.

Moving abroad to teach in International schools

So, you’ve read about International schools. You understand the likely differences you’ll face when you move abroad. And you’re interested in the benefits too. The next step? Get more information about the process. To help, we’ve pulled together the below hints and tips based on the experiences of the teachers we’ve spoken to.

  • Do your research. Be very careful on the type of school you join. Make sure you ask around and investigate any school that you are considering looking at. For example, if they have lots of vacancies being advertised, it may be worth looking into why this might be the case.
  • Ask questions. What is the breakdown of pupils? What is the type of curriculum taught across the school? Are there any teachers you could contact to find out more information? Is it an established school with existing routines or younger and still finding its identity?
  • Understand the application process. Unlike local schools, the large distances involved often mean the interview process is a little different than usual. Schools can use a variety of phone interviews, Skype interviews and job fairs amongst others. Understanding the process will help manage your expectations of timelines.
  • Look at associations. International schools are often members of regional or global associations such as the Council of British International Schools (COBIS), British Schools in the Middle East (BSME) or the Federation of British International Schools in Asia (FOBISIA). These associations often have entry requirements which can offer reassurance that a school is of a particular standard.
  • Different schools have different requirements on qualifications. Some do not require them. Others are happy with the qualification you have gained from your local country. Others require you to have a TESOL (Teachers of English to speakers of other languages) or TEFL (Teaching English as a foreign language) qualification. By understanding what schools are looking for, can help you make an informed decision.
  • Take your time. It can sound counter-intuitive to say take your time, especially if you’ve found your ideal location and know which city you want to live in. But don’t rush. The old adage ‘if something seems too good to be true, it probably is’ is still relevant to International schools.

We’ll leave you with the words of one of the teachers we spoke to. “Once you’ve done your research and asked your questions, if the school checks out, then absolutely go for it! It will give you the opportunity to travel, experience new cultures and gain memories that will last a lifetime.”