Comment Topic Highlight

How much are international schools actually improving themselves?

May 1, 2020


Sometimes it feels like your international school is stuck in a rut. As hard as it tries and how well intentioned the teachers and administration are at attempting to make the needed changes, the school ends up just staying in the same lane doing the same things it has been doing for years/decades.

But many international schools do indeed figure out how to make the needed changes to help their school improve and move forward to be more current and progressive. It takes a lot of hard work and effort to get these changes to come to pass, sometimes it takes many months and more often years.

Maybe it has to do with international schools going through an accreditation process. They do need to go through a self-assessment phase to figure out what they are doing well and not so well. And then, finally after the accreditation is all over, they get an action plan with specific tasks to complete in the next few years. These tasks typically are required to complete with the aim at helping the school move forward and improve themselves.

Maybe the school gets a change of administration. New administrators in a school typically have a number of new goals that they’d like their new school to achieve and they inspire the staff there to join them. However, it is not always easy to get the staff to ‘get on board’ with the new changes.

More likely, it just comes down to the grassroots efforts of inspired teachers and administrators that are not only just doing their job very well, but often they will be doing things a bit outside their task portfolio. These inspired staff will find others to join them in the quest for change and improvement. And with a lot of hard work and figuring things out about how these changes could work, they get small and larger changes to happen. Getting change to occur is always a challenging task. But with an inspired effort and structured plan with clear expectations and purpose, these teachers and administrators get the job done!

Who doesn’t want to work for an international schools that is living their dream and their best self? When your international school is leading the way, it is the best feeling to be a part of that. The students will also want to be at that school as well!

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Luckily, International School Community has a comment topic on our school profile pages related to this topic of the improvements international schools are making. Our members can share what their experience has been working at various international schools around the world. There are a total of 242 comments (April 2020) that have been submitted by our veteran international school teachers in one of the 66 comment topics called – “How have certain things improved since you started working there?”

Here are a few of those submitted comments:

“I’ve been in IAA for a few years now. In that time it has gone through some major and positive changes. Most of it has been extremely overwhelming to most of the staff as they were used to a different way of doing things. In my opinion though, it’s been for the best. Now, we are more organized and structured than before. There’s been tons of professional development and new / higher expectations as well…” – InterAmerican Academy Guayaquil (Guayaquil, Ecuador) – 62 Total Comments

“We’ve added a small coaching team, we’ve begun in-house PD, and we’ve hired more teachers with longer international experience…” – Shanghai American School (Pudong) (Shanghai, China) – 88 Comments

“They have been working on having policies in writing and following those policies with more diligence. Before, things were a bit ad hoc but they’re trying to be more systematic…” – International School of Nanshan Shenzhen (Shenzhen, China) – 61 Total Comments

“I would say one of the biggest changes (at least in my division) has been morale. With a totally new administration team in the lower primary, people are quite happy and there is a nice sense of community. We have had very few vacancies the past couple years…” – Hong Kong International School(Hong Kong, China) – 145 Comments

“There has been an adjustment in salaries which is good for local staff as hyperinflation is a big issue. Recently, local staff have started getting subsidized lunches which helps a great deal. Secondary now has a TA which was very necessary as several students have special needs. This allows teachers to focus on other students and keep the lesson going…” – British School Caracas (Caracas, Venezuela) – 35 Comments

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Comment Topic Highlight

Using Health Insurance While Teaching Abroad: Delightful or Nightmare?

January 19, 2020


Getting good health care is important, especially while living in a foreign country. You get used to the health insurance plan and coverage so much growing up in your home country that sometimes you can’t even think of another way to have it.

Living in the United States my whole life, I thought that it was normal to pay deductibles and co-payments. I even had heard that teachers working at US schools get one of the best health insurance plans (when compared to other professions), so I was quite content. And true to my experience and now looking back on it, I was pleased with many aspects of my coverage.

But living abroad had afforded me different experiences, from socialized medicine to full-coverage private insurance plans. And I would say that both of those experiences had their pros and cons and some aspects were better or a bit worse than my experience living in the United States.

Regardless of the plan that I have living abroad, it is definitely nice to not have to pay out of pocket expenses for my health insurance. So plans that pay everything for you up front are the best ones in my opinion. I also have appreciated having health insurance that has world coverage as we international school teachers do like the travel a lot and of course go back to our home country once or twice a year.

The issue of waiting time often comes up. All health insurance coverages include some time waiting to get seen and for getting an appointment, especially with a specialist doctor, etc. It is true that some insurance plans get you those appointments faster. I know that in some European countries the wait for a specialist doctor can take many weeks, but one way to get around this is to pay a little bit from your pay check for a private insurance. With this, you can get your appointments assigned to you much faster!

Paying for your prescriptions can be a pain on your wallet as well depending on which coverage you have. With one private insurance plan I had in Asia, I didn’t have pay any out of pocket money for all prescriptions. That was amazing! I can imagine though that in many insurance plans, you are expected to pay at least something for your prescriptions.

On ISC we have a comment topic related to this topic in the Benefits Information section on the school profile pages. It is called: “Health insurance and medical benefits. Describe your experiences using these benefits and going to the local hospitals.” There have been 992 comments submitted in this comment topic on 100s of international schools from around the world. Here are just a few of them:

“Medical insurance is through a Chinese company. This is not ideal for several reasons: We live in Viet nam not China, and the package, compared to other countries, is basic. Very basic by international school standards, expect a lot of out of pocket, paying in advance, claiming back which takes a long time as language barrier (Mandarin speakers might do well), and submitting forms makes it a deterrent to claim back or even try.” – International School of Vietnam

“Everyone receives medical card on arrival. This gives you access to local hospital services. In our experiences this is fine for woman bit not for men.
Once you receive your company private insurance you pay QAR 50 for your initial consultation and then the rest s free form there. On larger more emergency cases you sometimes have to pay a deposit until the approval is given from the insurance which can take a few hours. This has never been an issue and always resolved in the teachers favour. Private care is very clean, as is local care. Health care for women in Qatar is very good.” – The English Modern School (Doha)

“The Health Insurance is not very good. It used to be through a reputable international provider and is now through a sub-standard Chinese company. The cover is global (non-US) but is not 100% and is only available at selected providers. If you are in an emergency situation and do not go to a pre-authorised hospital, it won’t be covered.” – The British International School of Kuala Lumpur

“The insurance is quite good in Maracaibo and in the USA. The doctors are trained, but hospitals are not equipped to serve patients right now. The price for medical care has increased by 10 fold in one year. It is a terrible situation for Venezuelans and foreigners who get sick.” – Escuela Bella Vista Maracaibo

What has been your experience using the health insurance benefits at your international school? Please login to our website and share what you know!

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Comment Topic Highlight

What is the dream Professional Development model at an international school?

October 4, 2019


We are lucky working at international schools. In comparison with working at public schools in some of our home countries (USA, for example), we are typically getting more opportunities to go on our own professional development adventures, and very interesting and unique ones!

But it all depends on the international school you are working at, of course. Some international schools offer a fair amount of money to each teacher as a personal professional benefit for them. Other international schools don’t have a PD budget at all for teachers to access, and barely offer any in-house PD sessions for their staff.

Some teachers new to international schools can be in for a bit of a shock when your principal/coordinator offers to send you to Kenya or Malta for a required training that the school needs to have you complete (let’s say if your school was located in Eastern Europe). Can this be really true?

On the flip side, other international schools will offer that same or similar training to you in-house. Is one better than the other? Well, it is not so exciting to just stay at your current workplace to get that training. Although there might be some benefit to working with more of your current colleagues and possibly even will some teachers from nearby schools that have sent them to your school to get that training as well.

The debate is (or has it been decided now?) what is the best way to train their teachers and for the teachers to get the best professional development?

Some people say that ongoing professional development is the most effective, and one-off PD sessions and workshops are not the most effective.

But getting PD is not all about improving your teaching skills and learning better teaching strategies. It is also about networking. Getting to know teachers that have a similar role to you in a similar setting even can really be some of the best PD experiences. It is more what is happening in between sessions that can be quite inspiring and thought-provoking.

Not all PD needs to cost an amazing amount of money either. If you find a school that is doing something you are interested in at the moment, but doing it at a higher level than your current school, it can be some of the best PD to just go and do a planned/structured visit to that school. You might even find out about this school through some networking you may have done at a conference you once attended.

But it all comes down to money, really. Some international schools have a lot of it, and share it out as much as they can to support and train their teachers. Other international schools (and not just for-profit schools) would rather not spend that much money on PD for their teachers and ‘save’ it for other things.

If there isn’t a specific PD allowance benefit for each teacher and you need to apply to receive an allowance, then there are bound to be feelings of inequality. Some teachers will surely be getting their PD requests accepted more than other teachers, and that might be the sense people are having throughout the school (causing low staff morale for some). Maybe some favoritism comes into place, whether that is actually happening or not. One clear benefit of doing PD in this manner is that the school most likely will be spending less money.

If a school willing to let their teachers follow their own paths of learning, will the school only allow their teachers to get trained in things the school wants them to do, or will the school just shut off all opportunities for their teachers and make it basically impossible or really undesirable to even ask for some financial support in getting a PD experience?

Many teachers might agree that the dream school situation is that there would be a specific PD benefit in the teacher’s contract. It is their money to use for their own professional hopes and dreams as a teacher. It is likely that the teacher’s current school and students will benefit from that teacher’s PD experience, but even if it doesn’t directly have that effect, it will help that person grow as a teacher; and probably that teacher’s future school work places will benefit.

On ISC we have a comment topic related to this topic in the Benefits Information section on the school profile pages. It is called: “Professional development allowance details.” There have been 512 comments submitted in this comment topic on 100s of international schools from around the world. Here are just a few of them:

“Very good PD, in my opinion. At least one pertinent course per year (usually with IB). However, it is currently required that these be in-country.” – Qatar Academy (Sidra)

“Over the course of the academic year, the school funds a select number of teachers to attend Professional Development seminars by the International Baccalaureate.” – Aga Khan Academy Mombasa

“Teachers are not given a PD fund. If there is a PD that a teacher is interested in, he/she will have to apply for it at least a month ahead and wait for approval. Out of the 5 teachers that I know who applied for PD fund, only 1 was approved.” – SMIC Private School

“Great PD allowance. I believe it’s about $1200/year. As well, admin will help teachers find and enroll in opportunities nearby and a bit further out. I’d say it’s excellent.” – Shekou International School

How is the PD benefit at your international school? Please login to our website and share what you know!

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Comment Topic Highlight

How much can international teachers actually save?

July 26, 2019


A lot of us have the idea that working at international school is a way to work and then save way more money than we used to working in our home countries.

Is that reality or fantasy?

We have seen and read many discussion boards, Facebook groups, review websites, published books all discussing this topic, and the reality of this savings potential gets confusing and complicating to fully understand or predict.

There are some people that state they are saving upwards of USD 60000 a year at certain international schools. Many other people are stating that they are struggling to save USD 1000 or even USD 500 a month working at their international school. Even others state that they are saving USD 0!

Of course there are many factors at play. Veteran international school teachers will state that if you limit the number of times you go out to eat, travel during your many vacations, ect. then the possibility of saving money is higher. That is obvious, but a large number of us aren’t always willing to do that, at least not in the first few years of teaching abroad.

Another main factor for savings potential is the amount of money you are getting in your take-home salary versus the cost of living where you are stationed. Seems like fewer and fewer schools are getting that “amazing salary and benefits package” that we all hear about, and landing a job at one of those schools is getting increasingly difficult.

There are also many, many other ways to NOT save money while working abroad; many of these factors having nothing directly to do with the school’s salary and benefits package. We have a whole ISC blog series about that here.

But if one of the main goals of teaching abroad is saving some money, then we need something to help us figure out how it all works and how we can set up an opportunity that will help us actually save.

ISC has done their best to create an online community that can help us figure things out easier with regards to saving money while teaching abroad. Besides the comments that members submit about the savings potential on the school profile pages at their international schools, premium members are also able to compare these comments on savings potential using our unique Compare Schools page on our website. The Compare Schools page is really helping prospective teachers figure out exactly how much teachers are saving at those international schools and which school that they would prefer working at in the future.

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Luckily, International School Community has a comment topic on our school profile pages related to this topic of saving money while work at international schools. Our members can share what their experience has been working at various international schools around the world. There are a total of 630 comments (July 2019) that have been submitted by our veteran international school teachers in one of the 66 comment topics called – “Average amount of money that is left to be saved.”

Here are a few of those submitted comments:

“The ability to save changes each day, and has dropped by 1/2 this year. With the current inflation rate, I hope to save about $10,000 this coming year…” –
Escuela Bella Vista Maracaibo (Maracaibo, Venezuela) – 25 Total Comments

“I would be surprised if you can save any money here. But on the other hand – you get to live on the one of the most beautiful islands in the world…” – Boracay European International School (Boracay, Philippines) – 17 Comments

“If staff leads a very humble lifestyle it is possible to save your dollars (approximately 23% of salary). The city provides so much to do, and there are so many travel opportunities and so much time given off that many teachers actually struggle to save any money at all…” – Columbus School Medellin (Medellin, Colombia) – 53 Total Comments

“While the money affords a very nice lifestyle in South-East Asia, saving money for a house or retirement in North America or Western Europe is nearly impossible…” – ELC International School (Selangor, Malaysia) – 48 Comments

“The package is based on the Canadian Dollar, so after you are deducted transfer fees to your bank in the West and you consider the conversion of the CAD to RMB, the savings is minimal…” – Canadian International School Kunshan (Kunshan, China) – 43 Comments

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Comment Topic Highlight

How is the students’ behavior at your international school?

March 11, 2019


“Why don’t you want to leave this international school and try another one?”

“Well, the students here are the best.”

“But there are good/nice students everywhere, right?”

Maybe you have had this conversation before with a “seasoned international school teacher“, but then you decided to move on to a new international school to test out this hypothesis.

Are there indeed good/nice international school students everywhere?

You might just find yourself missing the students at your previous international school.

So, how can students at an international school be so different?

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Many people are quick to say that students at international schools are snobby and stuck-up (because supposedly they are coming from wealthy families).  Though this might be true for many international schools, but it is often not always the case.

There are some international schools where the students are more like zombies; they will sit in your class and not make too much noise. These zombie students will answer the questions you ask them, but they won’t discuss the questions very much and give strong opinions.

There are also international schools where the kids appear to be in charge. These outgoing, borderline rude kids maybe have been influenced more so by the host-country culture of how their students behave in the local schools.

Of course, there are also international schools that have very well-behaved kids, overall.  The question is then how did they become these kind and considerate kids?

What then determines the demeanor or behavior of the students at international schools?  Is it something that is out of the control of the teachers and administration, and an already established culture of the school?  Or is it something that the teachers and administration carefully plan and articulate to the students over a series of years (maybe even from the founding of the school)?

Another theory is that it is possible that the students’ behavior is directly linked to the behavior of the teachers and how they interact with the other teachers/administration and the students themselves.

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Let’s not forget the parents as well!  It is clear that they play a role in this. But with so many parents from potentially numerous countries around the world, it is unclear how the parents, as a whole, could play a direct role in the demeanor of the students at school.

Some schools try different behavor programs to help the behavior of their students. After searching ‘Responsive Classroom‘ using our Comment Search feature (premium membership access needed), we found 6 comments on 4 different international schools. After searching ‘Learner Profile‘, we found another 6 comments on 5 different international schools.

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Luckily, International School Community has a comment topic on our school profile pages related to this topic of new things added at a school. Our members can share what current international schools are doing in this topic. There are a total of 528 comments (March. 2019) that have been submitted by our veteran international school teachers in one of the 66 comment topics called – “In general, describe the demeanor of the students.”

Here are a few of those submitted comments:

“They are very sweet, respectful, and their families instill educational values. Some of the cultural differences do create problems, but this is something to get used to as in any international school…” –
Shanghai American School (Pudong) (Shanghai, China) – 64 Total Comments

“The students at school are nice kids. Very friendly. Very Chinese. There are some cultural hurdles that expats new to teaching Chinese kids encounter like the general passivity in class. It takes adjustments to figure out how to teach effectively. They are, outside the classroom, very chatty, noisy, and sometimes spoiled…” – Nanwai King’s College School Wuxi (Wuxi, China) – 38 Comments

“The student population is majority South Korean, which can cause problems. They tend to speak Korean and teachers and other students are left out of the conversations. The Korean students often times will only hang out with other Korean kids…” – Hanova International School (Xi’an) (Xi’an, China) – 73 Total Comments

“Students are generally polite and respectful. The main student academic issues tend to revolve around organization (or lack thereof). A bigger concern is usually student stress brought on by lack of sleep and being overly focused on grades…” – Washington International School (Tregaron Campus) (Washington D.C., USA) – 31 Comments

“Most students are at the school to get a good education in order to go to university programs in Europe or North America. They are willing to work to achieve this goal. Of course, as with everywhere, there is a percentage of students who what think they deserve good marks because of who they are…” – United World College of Costa Rica (San Jose, Costa Rica) – 108 Comments

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