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Top 10 Character Traits of a Seasoned International School Teacher

October 9, 2014


A seasoned international school teacher (SIST) has worked at 3+ international schools in more than three parts of the world (or more).  They know the ins and outs of international schools.  They now have many old friends (from international schools that they’ve worked at) that have since moved on and now live in all parts of the world.  Many teachers say that they originally meant to be abroad for only 2-3 years, but once you get into the international school community, it is easy to get hooked!

DSC_2349 What type of teacher does it take to move around so much, to venture out and work at a variety of international schools in various countries all over the world? These SISTs most likely possess (and sometimes need to have) the following traits:

1. Tolerance
Living in diversity and uniqueness is what SISTs love!  They are open to different cultures and the different ways that those cultures do things.  Doing basic things in the sometimes crazy and annoying way of your new home country can be frustrating, but SISTs take it all in stride.  They understand that things are going to be different from their last country and from their home country.  They accept these differences and try their best to welcome them and react to them appropriately.  SISTs interact with the locals positively and have a good awareness of their ways of doing things.

2. Flexible
Experienced international school teachers know they can’t just walk into their new school and teach exactly how they have taught in their previous schools.  Even if they use the same curriculum and have a majority of teachers from their home country, each international school is different and does things in their own way.  SISTs are able to adapt their teaching to fit the new school’s way of teaching, adding new things slowly when appropriate.  To help make the transition an easier one, SISTs ask the right questions at their interview and gather all the information they can about the school itself.  Knowing things ahead of time is smart as it prepares you better for the changes you experience.  When sudden changes occur, being flexible is the key to happiness at your new school.

3. Decisive
As international school teachers get more seasoned, they know better what they want in a school.  They also know better where they are in their lives and which locations/cities in the world that will help them achieve their life goals. Knowing better which international schools to consider in a job search is beneficial not only to the school but also to the candidate themselves.  SISTs are decisive and make the right decision for themselves, even if the decisions are tough ones to make.  Making the right choice equals to a happier life living abroad.

4. Honesty
When job searching, seasoned international school teachers tell the truth about their current life-situation and their previous teaching experience.  Schools need to know as much as they can about the candidate before they decide to hire them. Likewise, veteran teachers seek out as much as they can about the school.  The goal always is to find the best fit.  The school wants the best fit for their vacancy and school, and international school teachers want the best fit for their life and career.  They are honest with themselves and follow their instincts. Even if a new job opportunity is in their dream country and city to live in, if it is not a good fit, the SISTs will choose to decline if offered a contract.

DSC_20245. Adaptable
Moving around and getting the chance to live in a foreign country is truly exciting for an international school teacher. In one country you are riding your bike to work, in another country you might be taking the school bus.  SISTs can more easily adapt to these changes in routine in their new location.  When they first arrive, it is an exciting time of learning all the ins and outs of your new host country. The culture will have some things that SISTs are used to, but the culture is definitely going to have things that are new to them…and not all these new things will be easy to handle.  When SISTs encounter these culture shock moments, they know better how to respond and react. They are not immune to culture shock, but they know better how to deal with it.

6. Curious
After teaching in a number of countries, SISTs stay curious to everything that surrounds them.  They take time to learn as much as they can about the local language. They also seek about restaurants where they can try new types of food, even food that they wouldn’t normally eat in their previous countries.  SISTs know that they best way to get to know the locals is to get out and make some local friends.  They ask these new friends a multitude of questions to gather as much information about this foreign culture. It is easy to start making assumptions about a whole culture after talking with one or two of the locals, but SISTs know better and continue their curiosity about certain topic areas as the months/years progress in their new location.

7. Independence
Well it is true that you will be on your own when you move abroad. As much as your new school and your new school friends help you, much of the time spent will be on your own.  It is pretty daunting knowing that when you leave your new home, there is a super foreign world awaiting you.  SISTs though love that feeling and go out to explore every day that they get.  They will walk to a new area of the city on their own.  They also don’t shy away from interacting with the locals (at the nearby market for example); starting to make new connections in the community (even if they don’t know the local language that well). SISTs don’t necessarily need the help of another person when they venture out to start-up a bank account, call the phone company to get internet installed in their apartment, or go to the local police department to register themselves. SISTs know that they need to have some alone time as well.  They are comfortable having a night on their own either at a restaurant down the street or at their own apartment to watch a movie.

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 10.31.05 PM8. Resilience
Things can get rough at times when teaching abroad.  Your new school can give you many headaches.  The new administration you need to work with or the new teachers you need to collaborate can, at times, not be the most ideal situation.  Your new city can also bring you down some days.  Not knowing how much things really cost and stupidly spending your money is not fun.  Having a negative interaction with a local on the street is also tough to handle.  The more you live abroad though, the more you can easily understand and cope with these troubling experiences.  SISTs know it is not always going to be perfect in their new city and at their new school.  They have been at a number of international schools in similar situations already and can bounce back faster.

9. Persistence
Getting the job of your dreams doesn’t happen straight away for most people. Securing a job at a top international school is a difficult one, even for SISTs.  SISTs know that it is all about luck and timing.  They also know that they must be persistent to get the job of their dreams.  If it doesn’t work out one year, they you try again next year.  SISTs know that things change every year.  One year the school is not able to hire people with certain passports, the next year they can.  Being persistent is what helps SISTs be seasoned.  Having this character trait also helps their new school.  SISTs might try and help guide a new direction for the school with little success (maybe that was one of the reasons they were hired).  Even if the school staff doesn’t respond well to this new change, they don’t give up easily.  SISTs know better how international schools function and can stay focused on their target.  They have the skills to keep on doing their thing even if others are slowing them down.

10. Happy go lucky
SISTs gotta have this trait because you never truly know what to expect when working in a foreign country at an international school.  They don’t let little things get them down.  Of course there are going to be bumps in the road. But if you spent all your time stressing out about everything, then you are going to miss out on many things.  SISTs strive to be happy-go-lucky when these bumps occur.  They are able to see better the bigger picture and can focus more on the positives (like their really high salary, the yummy restaurant down the street, their own family, their next vacation, etc.).  Also,  no one likes to hang around stressed-out and negative people that much!

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This top 10 list was submitted to us by a guest author and International School Community member.

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