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As the new school year begins tens of thousands of international teachers the world over have a decision to make: do I stay or move on? Our profession is dominated by contracts of two or even one year’s duration leading to an annual cycle of conversations, reflections and the agony of decision-making. It is not unusual for international schools, particularly in developing world locations, to have annual teacher turnover of 20% or more. Needless to say, the impact of such levels of attrition on school and teacher finances, school culture, institutional memory and – most importantly – student learning is far from positive. Constantly changing schools and countries is draining on teachers, their families and on the communities they leave behind. The irony is that it is almost counter-intuitive for international educators to stick around. After all, the travel bug and sense of adventure that made them head overseas in the first place often become the thing that makes them itch to move on. So what can teachers do to feel more comfortable about staying longer?
Here are five things international teachers can do to give themselves the best chance of finding a longer-term fit that works for them and for the schools where they teach.
1. Talk to the boss
How do you know if you want to be part of a school’s future if you don’t know where it’s headed? Any self-respecting school director will relish the opportunity to share their vision of what they hope lies ahead. Book a time and ask the question: where is the school going? As importantly, ask a second question: how can I be a part of the journey? One of the most powerful motivators is having a sense of purpose. You owe it to yourself to know what that purpose is for the school and how you can play a role.
2. Be intentional
I meet so many educators who seem to let life blow them hither and thither. Be better than that. Commit to taking control of your career and being intentional in your work as a professional educator. There is so much that is in your control yet all too often teachers seem to feel that control over their own destiny is one thing they lack. If you haven’t done it already, sit down with your director or principal and start the process of identifying what you want from your career. It is hard to be intentional about anything if there is no focus to the intent. You may be surprised how much professional growth is possible if your director knows what it is you are looking for.
3. Plant a tree
Not literally, though I guess it wouldn’t hurt. Invest in a horizon goal in the school that takes you beyond your current contract. It may be a particular level of achievement for a student, or a project outcome, or something else down the track. The key is to see yourself as being instrumental in achieving that outcome on a longer time frame. You’ll be amazed how your sense of the now shifts as a consequence.
4. Be relevant
To be honest, this one is true regardless of whether you stay or go. To be relevant as an educator is to be meaningful in the lives of others. Find ways to enrich the lives of the students and families whom you serve. Be that teacher who you always wanted to have as a child. I don’t know about you but I don’t remember a single work sheet or test from school, but I do remember the teachers who were relevant to my life, who knew me as a person. Also, be relevant in the professional lives of your colleagues. When we become relevant to each other we build community – and that is hard to walk away from.
5. Only connect
At the heart if all happiness lies connection. The first year in any international posting is hard. New locations, new climate, new cultures, new challenges, new colleagues and a new community all demand time and energy. But the connections we make are like money in the bank. They are investments in our future selves. We draw strength from our connections and find meaning in being part of something larger than ourselves. The success of the second year is directly related to the investments made in the first, and a successful second year opens the door to that deeper sense of fulfillment that lies in the magical third year. Don’t skimp on those connections.
There will always be some international teachers who prefer the here-today-gone-tomorrow lifestyle that comes with moving on every two years. But most educators want more than that. They want to make an enduring difference, to really matter in the lives of young people and to be a genuine member of the communities who welcome them into their homes and cultures. Instead of asking the question ‘should I stay or should I go?’ perhaps the question you ought to be asking is this: should I stay and make a difference?
This article was submitted to us by guest author and international school community member, Nigel Winnard.