#15 Things to consider before taking your career overseas
A hugely respected international school head offers advice to teachers thinking about taking their first job abroad.
It might seem odd given recent global events, but at the turn of the year, we were being told that the world was about to enter an era of prosperity and opportunity. Assuming things settle down, what would a decade of prosperity mean for those in education? Is it time for you to leave the UK and pursue your teaching career overseas?
Maybe you fancy swapping teaching in Burnley or Brighton for Bahrain or Brunei, or perhaps you’ve just had enough of Brexit, dark mornings and congested roads?
Whatever your motivation, what questions should you be asking yourself to see if you might be ready to make the leap to teach in an international school? And it is a leap, often into the unknown. It’s not for everyone – but if it is for you, it will fulfill both your professional and personal lives like nothing else. Living overseas is not the same as going somewhere new on holiday. It is a long-term commitment to living and working in a different country and culture. It’s an adventure, and like most adventures, the outcome will not be completely certain.
In his recent article “10 questions from candidates for overseas schools”, Mark Steed, principal and chief executive of Kellett School in Hong Kong, highlights ways in which schools overseas can provide information to help those considering a career change to teach abroad. But what should you be aware of, at a time when some of you may be looking at the job ads and thinking “is this for me?” I think there are five important aspects for you to consider.
1. Make the leap for positive reasons
Don’t do this to run away from the UK. Have the courage to be true to yourself and think about the genuine reasons for your interest. For example, if they are to work abroad because you are curious about living in a different country, experiencing an unfamiliar culture and at the same time making a difference to young people in an international school, this will shine through at interview and give you a good chance. If you are seen to be running away from something, you are likely to be found out and rejected.
2. Think about your family and how this might affect them.
Put yourself first but consider all the consequences. For example, if you have school-age children, will they be able to continue their education uninterrupted? The schools available to you may offer different GCSEs and A levels from those your child has opted for. Or they may only offer the International Baccalaureate curriculum. You won’t be able to see as much of your UK-based friends and family. This is a lifestyle choice. There will be many benefits but there are also going to be some drawbacks. Are you prepared to take the crunchy with the smooth?
3. Know that you will get the most out of the experience if you put your heart and soul into it.
Many overseas schools do offer attractive terms and conditions. They also expect their staff to go the extra mile for their students. Are you prepared to make the commitment to, for example, at least 20 hours of extracurricular activities a year or more?
4. Realise that you are likely to be teaching students from many nationalities who are also away from their home countries, and may need special care, attention and understanding.
You may know your subject well, but the students will be from many different cultures and school systems. They will have some exceptional talents or difficulties that you may not have seen before. It will be your job to help them adjust to your school and cultural setting, nurture their talents and to help them with their problems.
5. Take care to research the schools that could be of interest to you.
Check out how they appear to be run: how professional do they seem? What is staff turnover like? What opportunities are there for professional development? Have they been accredited recently by the Council of British International Schools, the Council of International Schools, British Schools Overseas or similar reputable bodies? Some schools are in big cities, others are in out-of-the-way places where support and the things you may need for your normal day-to-day life will not be found easily. Take time to look into the culture of the country and how you might fit into it. In particular, ask yourself: how will you add value to the students in the school? Talk to others who have been there, worked there or know people there.
If you feel comfortable having thought about all of this, then my advice is to go ahead and apply. Teaching overseas will broaden your mind, should fulfill your aspirations and will be something that you will never forget.
Kai Vacher is principal of the British School Muscat in Oman.