“I wondered about the explorers who’d sailed their ships to the end of the world. How terrified they must have been when they risked falling over the edge; how amazed to discover, instead, places they had seen only in their dreams.”
Recruitment season is now in full swing. So it´s time to finally get down to business. But with more than 6500 international schools in the world, where do you start?
To begin, do your research both on the schools, and the country and city where they are located. When considering a location, be open-minded and willing to consider any place. Be prepared to experience (or maybe, in some cases, tolerate might be a better word), the cultural differences and discover the richness of these new cultures. Whether for good or bad, the influence of western culture and commercialization has stretched so far that if you were dropped, blindfolded into a city in almost any place in the world, you might be hard-pressed to figure out what country it was. But peel back that superficial layer of “globalization,” and you will find a place of such rich cultural diversity, that your own life can only be enriched. When looking at schools, look for a school with which you share educational, leadership and lifestyle values. Unless you are going to be in a position to influence it, look for one that has a clear vision for who they are, where they are going, and a well-developed strategic plan to get there. Let´s face it, a teacher teaches. You do what you do regardless of where you are, so that it the easy part.
In a recent non-scientific survey, of educators, teachers were asked, “What questions did you wish you had asked in the interview?” The top six, in no particular order, were:
• What is the average tenure of the international staff? (If the answer is two years, maybe there are issues beneath the surface. If it is ten years, there is a reason people stay.)
• What percentage of the student (and staff) body is international? (This may be completely irrelevant to you, but it gives a picture of the culture of the school.)
• How will the school help me settle in? (If you are left to your own devices, you will almost certainly run into some roadblocks immediately.)
• Tell me about the orientation program (i.e.: housing, benefits, salary) (See above.)
• What are the pros and cons of living in the country, and what are the top challenges in adjusting? (A later article will deal with culture shock, but you WILL experience it.)
• What priority does the school place on work/life balance? (If you are single and a workaholic, there are schools for you. If you´re not, you want to be in a school that recognizes the importance of “downtime.”)
Likewise, administrators were asked, “What do you wish you knew about the interviewee, but might not have asked?”
• How adaptable will this person be in the school and community, cultural values, and with our way of doing things? (A certain kiss of death is to hear, “In my old school, we ….”)
• Will (s)he be an open-minded team player? (If you are not, you and everyone around you will be miserable.)
• Is (s)he willing to make strengthening the school a priority, or is (s)he a teacher-tourist? (Yes, you definitely want to explore the country—that´s part of the whole experience. Just remember, you are being paid to do a job.)
• What will (s)he contribute to the school community? (It´s not JUST a job. What special interests, skills, hobbies do you bring that will enrich the community?)
• If we invest in him / her, is (s)he in it for the long haul? (If you are going into a job knowing that you are there for “only two years,” how will you find the motivation to really give 100%?)
Be prepared to ask those questions and give the interviewer the answers to the questions (s)he has in mind, and you will be setting yourself up for success. If teaching in international education is, to paraphrase a seasoned international educator, “doing an ordinary job in an extraordinary place,” why do it? First, it is, without a doubt, an adventure. Stepping out into the unknown is exciting and frightening at the same time, but approached with the right mindset, it will be a wonderfully positive experience. Secondly, living in a different country, is quite different from visiting it. You will be in a unique position to explore the country, meet the people and learn about their culture. Take the time to do so, and make an effort to learn the language. As you do, you will grow as a global citizen. And above all, you will be able to take the best of all cultures, incorporate them into your life, and have a greater understanding of the world around us.
Step out of your comfort zone, into the unknown, and immerse yourself in it. To say that you understand the world as a traveler, is to only scratch the surface. To say that being in a plane is flying, is like saying you´re swimming, while in a boat. Get out of the plane and enjoy the adventure.
Good luck and watch this space for the next article, where we will look at making the move, and the final article in this series will look at how to deal with culture shock.
This article was submitted by guest author and International School Community member: John Brown.
(John has held both administrative and teaching positions for over 20 years, with the last five being in international education. He is a well respected presenter at regional, national and international education and technology conferences as well as a consultant, who has helped set standards in teacher training and assessment, use of technology in the classroom, curriculum development and effective management practices. A graduate of Tarleton State University in Texas, USA, with graduate studies at North Texas State University and Texas Wesleyan School of Law, he is currently teaching IB Psychology and Spanish at an international school in Portugal. His current projects include development of an online tutoring system for Spanish, consulting on development of a National Language Policy for the United States, and research into the effects of early language learning on brain development. You can contact John at email@example.com.)