Teaching Abroad is Good For Your Career

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This school year (2009-2010) a staggering 74,000 British teachers are teaching in international schools around the world. They have made that choice for a number of reasons; most for the adventure or the travel opportunities. But most will return saying that it has enhanced their career. That’s what recent research into international teaching has concluded.

A total of 89% of the respondents from the research said that teaching in an international school had benefited them as a teacher. An entire 100% said that the experience had enriched them as a person. 66% had learned a new language during this time and 20% of these had become fluent speakers.

The research, by international recruitment organisation Teachers International Consultancy (TIC) involved international teachers past and present from nine different nationalities with the support of Bath University summer school, Fieldwork Education summer school and the Overseas School of Colombo in Sri Lanka.

And what was it that these teachers liked so much about teaching in international schools? Primarily the level of international awareness, followed closely by the behaviour of the children and also the curriculum. The success of their experiences is tempting many teachers to stay abroad for longer demonstrated by the fact that 57% of them had already worked for five or more years in the international system. Needless to say, a third of the study anticipates returning to their homelands within the next five years and 71% say that they will probably or definitely teach on their return home. That’s good news for schools everywhere: International schools are seeing a rise in the number of teachers extending their contracts, and homeland schools are benefiting from the experiences of teaching in the international school system when their teachers return. And that’s not just because of improved language skills either. 68% of the teachers researched said their overseas teaching experience has significantly enhanced their overall teaching skills.

So what makes a good international teacher? The most important characteristic was flexibility. Being a good communicator and having an international outlook were two other valued qualities, well ahead of having a high quality education and knowledge of a foreign language.

But what about finding those international jobs in the first place? In retrospect, many of the teachers studied said they would not use job fairs or independently hunt down an international job in the future; the majority preferring to work with a specialist organisation or consultant who could advise them on the most reputable, accredited schools to consider, could guide them through the interview process, and who could support them with issues such as contracts and visas.

Mike Brown is Head of Upper School at the Mercedes-Benz International School in Pune, India is an example of this: “There have been a lot of changes in the number of international schools in India recently. Education is big business in this country. The trouble is that there are few regulations in India for ensuring good school standards. Therefore it is really important to do your homework about the school you are considering. Research the school. Find out how established it is and how many international staff it has and how long these teachers have been in the school. If you can, speak to some of the other international teachers working there. Ideally work with an organization that knows the schools and can give you expert, unbiased advice.”

Many new international teachers say that they only find out about international teaching by chance.  Andy Wallace, a teacher from Devon is one of these: “The idea of teaching internationally never crossed my mind.  I was in a situation where I was being interviewed for a post in Devon.  Half way through the day a girl who was also being interviewed got a phone call. It was regarding an international teaching job in Thailand.  Naturally I was intrigued and she explained further.  I thought that was so exciting for her and decided that if I didn’t get the post I was being interviewed for I would contact TIC, the recruitment organisation she was working with. I didn’t get the Devon job due to lack of experience – the job market in Devon is very competitive at the moment - so went home, signed up with TIC and got a call back from Andrew Wigford the next day and it snow balled from there. I am now teaching at the Antwerp British School in Belgium and very happy.”

Director of Teachers International Consultancy (TIC), Andrew Wigford, says he can personally attest to many of the research results. “My wife Angie and I worked for sixteen years in international schools and our skill base, curriculum knowledge and all-round teaching ability grew in leaps and bounds during our time abroad. It was also a massive step in our personal development giving us a greater sense of adventure, complete confidence in travelling anywhere and a much bigger perspective of the world. Almost every single teacher that we see through the international school experience develops these same characteristics.”

Andrew also agrees with Mike Brown about the need for a teacher to use a knowledgeable recruitment agency or consultant. “We personally knew of several teachers who tried to work with schools directly only to experience problems or unexpected pitfalls along the way. The visa process can be very complicated and although many international schools are accredited with very high standards and reputations, there are some unscrupulous schools out there who can give the whole system a bad name. Working with a specialist organisation or representative that only represents reputable and accredited schools will help avoid many of these problems.”

Andrew Wigford is director of Teachers International Consultancy (TIC). For more information about its research and teacher placement support see the website at www. ticrecruitment.com or call TIC at 029-2021-2083. TIC will be hosting a series of seminars around Britain (Cardiff, Bath, London and Glasgow) from October to January offering advice for teachers considering the possibility of teaching in international schools. More details about the seminars can be found on the TIC website.