What Expats Must Endure

Chasing our Dream School!!

August 9, 2021


As international teachers, we all left our home country for a reason. The motivations to become an international teacher are varied. Some of us wanted the adventure of seeing the world before its gone.

Others fell in love with a foreigner, started a family, and became an “international” teacher in name only. Others had so much personal debt, that if we worked in our home country, we might be debt-free before we retired. Or maybe we just wanted to be respected in our profession, and we wanted to live in a place where it was still safe for our kids to play ball games on the street in front of our houses. The motivations for international teaching are varied, but all of us are in some way or another. We are not just chasing our dream school, we’re searching for our new home.

           We have all sat down with a recruiter or a Head of School, and listened to their sales pitch on why their school is “THE DREAM SCHOOL”. Unfortunately, 9 times out of 10, it ends up being an illusion. As an international teacher we must endure a lot; we pick up our lives, move two countries over, and settle in for a few years before repeating the cycle. Upon each new recruiting cycle, we hope that we have gained enough experience to finally get into the coveted Tier 1 international school, and that will be our “DREAM SCHOOL”.

           But what do we and our families have to endure along the way? Over my last 10 years of international teaching, I experienced a school that hired and fired six principals in six months. Upon landing in that new country, Principal #7 informed us that all our contracts would have to be renegotiated. Our passports were then taken for “processing” and escorted to our new school compound and prevented from leaving for 13 weeks…”for our own safety”. The school was subsequently banned from ISS and Search Associates, had a 100% turnover of teachers two years in a row, but still received its full IB certification. After everything we had endured, we were escorted to the airport, given a large bundle of cash, and told to not bother applying for jobs in this country again. We took our bag of silver, shook our heads, and left happily.

            International teaching is a balance between precarity and privilege. We accept the unknown and unstable working environment for the promise of a salary and lifestyle we could never have in our home country. When we are young and single, this is a great deal. But as we grow older, and have families, we start to look for more stability. Any international teacher who watched their once happy and thriving child leave a school they love, and then come home crying every day from their new school, understands the guilt and sadness it causes.

            Recruiters and Heads of School are playing a finite game. Their focus is on hiring for this year and getting the best teacher they can into the classroom for this year. Most international teachers only last 2 years in a school anyway, so the “right fit” turns into the “right-now fit”.  As an international teacher, what I have endured is nothing compared to what my family has endured. As I complete another contract and listen to another sales pitch, I am not chasing my DREAM SCHOOL, I’m searching for a home. I’m searching for a school that understands, if you take care of my family, I’ll renew my contract (time and time again). I’m searching for a school that understands, there are no such things as a dream school. We are searching for a school that aligns with our values, prioritizes family, and treats us like a member of the community, and not just a 2-year rental. That is my “DREAM SCHOOL”.

This article was submitted by an ISC member and veteran international school teacher. If you are interested in being a guest author on our blog, please contact us here.