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How to get a job as an international school teacher: the good and the bad!

I still cannot believe that we are moving to Dubai. I have always been a globetrotter and it has always been my dream to live a life moving around the world. If I had not met my husband I would most definitely have taken up a life as a digital nomad, but now we will be travelling through Joshua being an international teacher.

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to my best friend from high school. He was a bit of a slacker and it took him a long time to find something he really wanted to do: teaching. When I mentioned that we were moving to Dubai to teach, he was flabbergasted. He had no idea you could build a career teaching abroad.

But how do you land a job teaching abroad and how do you maximise your chances of getting hired?

Your teaching qualifications.

Almost everywhere in the world you will find international schools. Expats pay big money to send their kids to well-known, great institutes of education. Since these schools often follow the British or American curriculum, their kids will be able to study in the UK, in the USA or in their (parent’s) native country.

Obviously you will not be able to teach without having the right teaching qualifications. The required teaching qualifications will differ depending on what kind of international school you are applying to. The most requested are: PGCE or PGDE for international schools following the British curriculum or Full State Certification if you are applying to an American international school.

Some schools might also accept Bachelors in Education but there aren’t many that do. These schools – often private schools instead of international schools, might have very different packages from international schools (for instance: no accommodation included).

If you do not have a PGCE or a Full State Certification, I would recommend getting one before looking to teach abroad. Why? Getting your PGCE will only take one year, but will mean a substantially larger chance of getting that international teaching job AND you will be able to get better packages.

Also keep in mind that for teaching abroad you will need a bachelor’s degree PLUS your PGCE or full state certification.

How much experience do I need for becoming an international teacher?

When you have your eyes set on a job teaching abroad, you might want to check how much experience you will actually need in order to land the job. I wish there was a simple and logical answer to this question, but there isn’t.

Depending on the subject you teach, the years you teach and the school you apply to, you will want to have anywhere from 1 to 4 years of teaching experience in your country. Having a degree from a well-known university (for instance Oxford, Cambridge or Harvard) might help you to receive interview requests, but in the end, a lot of schools will go for experience.

That being said: everything depends on the subject and the ages you teach. Primary school teachers will find it a lot easier to land a job abroad than for instance say a History teacher in secondary school. A colleague of my husband just taught his first year as a drama teacher. Since he was the only drama teacher in the school – he was also head of drama. With there being a shortage of drama teachers, he was able to land a well-paid amazing job as an international drama teacher in Brazil.

Our search for a teaching job abroad was a lot more difficult. Joshua has a master’s from Cambridge and a PGCE from the UCL which are two of the best universities in the country. I won’t lie and say this did not help him to land interviews, but as said before: a lot of schools will opt for experience over education.

Initially we wanted to move to South East Asia as that is where my heart lies. But we soon enough noticed that getting a job anywhere in that region is incredibly hard. To give you a scale of how hard it is: Joshua interviewed for a job together with 10 other people, chosen from 1500 applicants. No – there is no extra zero. One Thousand Five Hundred applicants.

So how do you get experience? Because there are two kinds of experience: Experience in teaching and experience in teaching internationally. Preferably you build those two teaching experiences at the same time. This means obviously you will want to get a job abroad as soon as possible. One of the regions where it is easiest to get a job teaching abroad is The Middle East. I can highly recommend trying to get a job anywhere in the United Arab Emirates ( so Dubai, Abu Dhabi etc) and Oman. Qatar, Bahrein and Saudi Arabia also offer international teaching jobs – but are obviously a lot more culturally conservative which may have a big impact on your social and personal life.

We received an offer to teach in Dubai after 2 to 3 weeks of applying to schools in the middle east. We had been applying for 4 monts to schools in Asia and South America. Teacher packages might not be as amazing as the ones in big parts of South East Asia, but they are sufficient and overall just a great way to start your career as an international teacher.

Where to find international teaching jobs?

Where can you find international teaching jobs online? The first website to check is the TES.com website where most of the international and private schools will post their job openings. Obviously, there will be a lot of competition for these jobs, but applying and going through these jobs is free. The TES community forum will also give you an insight into the lives of international teachers and you will be able to ask questions about the countries and the kinds of roles you are prospecting. When signing up to TES -especially when you want to use the forum , it is important to stay as anonymous as possible. Use usernames such as Tweety007 instead of let’s say Emma1992 since schools do regularly look through these forums – especially when their school is named.

Teaching abroad is a dream of many young people. And where dreams and ambitions are on the line, there will also be people that ask a lot of money to make those dreams and ambitions come true. These people come in the forms of companies that have lists of job openings and schools for teachers to apply to. Now: will this help you land your dream job? Yes and no. Yes: because obviously – if you have a big list of schools to apply to, you have a bigger chance of landing the position. No: because 98% of the schools on that list will also have posted their job opening on TES. This means you are basically paying to apply to the 2% of schools who did not post on TES and will probably have fewer applicants.

Another free way to apply for jobs is by contacting recruiters specialised in filling positions for international schools. And that is basically how we landed ours. There are two kinds of recruiters: there are recruiters that take your CV and knock on the doors of international schools. These often come with a hefty fee for the applicant (except for applicants living in the UK) and I would honestly stay away from them unless you are VERY desperate.

Second you have the kind of recruiters you would be used to in your own country. The kind that will put up a job on their website and contact you after you have applied. Obviously, they will want to do an intake call – be polite and eloquent, after which they might even put you forward for other positions they have to fill. This is the service we used successfully.

How to find these services? Well most of these recruiters and jobs can be found by simply googling. Other websites you might want to use – specifically for UK applicants, are the COBIS website and the Job section in The Guardian.

The Application Process.

Applying for international schools is almost a full-time job. No – I am not joking. You will probably have noticed that I always speak of “we” instead of “my husband”. I do this because I was incredibly involved in the process. I would spend 2-3 hours a day googling for jobs, looking through school websites for their job openings, requesting information from recruiters and filling out paperwork and application forms.

Application forms are literally the worst. I am laughing when I write this, but looking back on filling out more than 100 application forms, I still shiver thinking of all the hour and hours I have spent copy pasting and typing out letters and filling out little boxes. Almost all application forms are different. This means you will probably spent +- 45 minutes per application form. Not all schools will require you to fill out an application form and you will come to see these job openings as magical unicorns in a field of cotton candy trees. I did. Literally.

I would suggest keeping track of all your applications through an excel document, or even a Google Sheet when you have a partner, friend or parent helping you. Note down the country and city of the job opening, the school you are applying to (if mentioned), note down the link to the job opening, when the job opening closes and when you sent in your application. You can colour code with green and red depending on whether or not you have applied, whether or not you have received a response, whether or not you have an interview etc. It is very important to keep your spreadsheet up to date since you will probably be applying (especially as a beginning teacher) to over 100 job openings.

Since you are applying for a job, it might be a good idea to hide your Facebook Profile from the search results, and to update your linked-in.

Bringing your partner as an international school teacher.

Brining a partner with you as an international teacher is possible – although I would recommend you get married first. I know – I know, this might sound like a big thing, but a lot of schools only accept wives or husbands (and kids) to travel with the teacher. Bummer – I know. But in countries such as the UAE and Oman, you will NOT be able to live together if you are unmarried, nor will they be able to obtain a visa.

Another important detail when taking the plunge with your spouse is to make sure that he or she will not be bored. International schools have a big problem with teachers quitting after a year due to their partner being bored. They will not easily find a job abroad and this can lead to resentment, boredom and ultimately homesickness.

”What does your wife do?” was actually one of the first questions recruiters and schools asked my husband. They are looking for wives and husbands who can work from anywhere in the world. This means that you might want to start your own business (you husband or wife will earn enough to support you while developing your business, I promise), or you might want to apply for jobs that require you to work remotely. Obviously you can also look for a job in the country you are moving to, but generally speaking, if you are moving from the US or the UK for the first time, schools might see it as a negative if you will have to look for a job instead of being a freelancer of having a laptop-lifestyle.

Conclusion

In Dutch we have a saying and it goes like this “Bezint eer ge begint”. It basically means that you have to think before you do. And that is very much true when wanting to peruse a life as an international teacher. It will take a lot of time and effort to get a job, and you need to be 110% sure that this is the life you want. A lot of the jobs offer 2 year contracts. It might not seem that long, but trust me: when you are in a strange country and you basically have to build up a completely new life, those 2 years can be the longest of your life.

Make sure you are organised and you keep track of all your applications. If you are taking a spouse, make sure he or she can work remotely, as a freelancer or can almost immediately land a new job.

I hope this article was helpful. If you have any questions, comments of other tips and tricks, please let me know in the comments.

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