The market then
When Nick and I graduated from teachers’ college in the late ’80s, jobs were not easy to find. We had to send out resumes and network with other educators to start our careers in teaching. Once we started teaching, our friends stayed in their local area and settled down.
The market now
Now, when we attend university career days, Search Associates is just one of the many companies looking to entice graduates to work with them. It seems that there are not enough teachers to go around! Different states of Australia are competing for enthusiastic teachers, along with tutoring companies, relief teaching companies, and those who want to get teachers started working in the UK, US etc.
So many decisions for a teacher to make!
Firstly we think it’s healthy to move schools. We’ve known teachers in private schools who have stayed there 20 years and complain about their working conditions, as they don’t know any different.
We suggest taking advantage of any opportunity in your home country to broaden your experience and knowledge base. Working with a wide variety of different socio-economic groups and educators hones your teaching repertoire and widens your perspective. It prepares you for the big one – teaching overseas.
Not only do you have to have to be a great teacher to be able to hit the ground running in a new country with little preparation time, but you need to be able to navigate supermarkets and find your way around, in many places where English is not widely spoken. Schools employ huge HR departments dedicated to onboarding new hires and help with airport pick-ups, banking, and mobile phone plans, housing, etc when you first arrive.
Once you get to this stage of your career in teaching you may be wondering how long the average teacher stays overseas.
As part of the ‘getting to know you’ activities at our first international school in Hong Kong (through Search Associates), we were asked to order ourselves in terms of years of service at the school. There was only the tiniest group of teachers who were there over 10 years; the majority had been at the school from 2 to 5 years. We thought we would work our way around the world, but found ourselves still in the same school 10 years later!
We returned home eventually to indoctrinate our sons into their home ‘culture’ which included football and family, (not to mention to solidify their accents) and give them a sense of ‘home’. Nothing had really changed back in Australia since we had left.
After four years at home, itchy feet took us to the opposite end of the globe for another contract, this time in Egypt. We planned the timing of this contract around the boys’ educational needs and the health of extended family members. The idea of introducing our boys, who were by now a little older, to travel and other cultures was too irresistible for us to remain in our comfort zone.
Often family and friends try to discourage people from taking the leap to work overseas. ‘Why would you leave your home country?’ ‘Is it safe?’ ‘How can you take your kids to China, Indonesia etc’ ‘Are you teaching English?’ And some people take one negative comment and ignore all the positive aspects of a new school and location. Or, people don’t like you doing something different. We were very lucky that our families supported us in these moves overseas and were able to visit us wherever we were.
We think there is a ‘boomerang effect’ for some teachers i.e. they come home for a few years after their first posting, slip into their old routine with friends and family, and slowly start to feel the pull of adventure again. Before they know it, they are off on another contract overseas. Other teachers skip the trip home entirely and move straight onto their next adventure. Mick Green an experienced international school teacher says:
Everyone starts thinking they’ll spend a few years overseas and then come home. And then there’s that feeling you are ‘missing out’ by being home. We did that. Four years overseas, came back to Melbourne. Bought a newsagency in Elwood, realised it was very boring and two years later we were back overseas teaching.
The latest research
Recent COBIS research on the topic of the amount of time spent teaching internationally, (specifically dealing with British teachers teaching in British international schools) and based on more than 1,600 survey responses, provides concrete data about the profile and motivation of teachers entering and leaving the international school sector.
- 77% of outgoing teachers are happy or very happy with their international experience; 81% of new international school teachers are happy or very happy with their experience.
- Teachers choose to work internationally for many reasons. The main motivations are travel and cultural exploration (71%); and enjoyment and challenge (63%). Other contributing factors include dissatisfaction with the home education system (47%); career growth (45%); salary (44%).
- Many teachers return to the UK after working abroad, with family commitments (44%) and a desire to return home (45%) cited as the main reasons. 26% of returning teachers worked internationally for 3-4 years; 71% leave the international sector within 10 years.
- Returning teachers bring with them a wealth of experience and skills including cultural awareness (79%), global outlook/international mindedness (76%), adaptability (58%), and renewed enthusiasm for teaching (53%) as well as EAL experience, resilience, and professional development opportunities.
- Nearly a third of teachers entering the international school sector (32%) were thinking about leaving the profession before taking an international job.”
For the majority of teachers, time overseas is a short chapter in their teaching career that enriches their lives and leads to greater cultural understanding. (There are of course exceptions, such as those who end up meeting their life partner and who never return home again, except on vacation).
With our recruiter hats on, we advise those who are thinking of bunny hopping their way around the world every 2 years (which is the length of most contracts) – to stay at each school on average 3-5 years. This gives teachers long enough to acclimatize and learn the ropes of the new country and school, and to add value there before spending the last few months preparing to move (whilst still focussing on the kids, of course!)