In this article, ISC would like to highlight some of your recent thoughts and experiences on the topic of learning the host-country language and the level of English of the locals living there.
Many seasoned international school teachers want to learn the host-country language and put their best effort into taking classes, etc.
However, that is easier said than done. It can be difficult, expensive and often time-consuming to achieve this goal.
Some international schools offer free host country language classes to their newly hired teachers, but this can be optional and sometimes of a low quality.
And because homelife and the workday for international school teachers are often only in English, teachers really need to make learning the host country’s language a priority.
We asked five seasoned international school teachers their thoughts on some or all of the following questions:
• How often do you speak (or need to speak) the local language while going around your city/country?
• Has the level of English of the locals increased over the past 10, 20 years in your city/country?
• Have you taken language classes, for how long and how did they go for you? Did your school provide free host country language classes?
• Have you ever had to pass a host country language test in order to get permanent residence/citizenship, for example? and how was that experience?
• What is the level of your school’s expat staff with regards to speaking/knowing the local language?
Thoughts from an international school teacher who lived in Lebanon.
When I lived in Beirut, Lebanon, I was very keen to study Arabic there, specifically the local dialect (the spoken Arabic of Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Jordan). I had studied the language some prior to arriving and wanted to become more conversational. I worked in a school that had a lot of Lebanese teachers, so I would hear the language every day in school as well as out around the city which helped me to learn. Our school provided some lessons with an Arabic teacher from our school, but this wasn’t ideal because they put all of us together in one class, whether we were beginners or advanced. I ended up taking some classes at a local language school, which was really great. The challenging part was that I had to travel across the city in traffic to get to the language school and then the class was three hours long, 2x per week. Also, all of the people that I was studying with were full-time students of Arabic, so with a full-time job, it was hard for me to keep up with them! In Beirut, most people are trilingual to some extent (English, French, Arabic), so it is possible to get by without studying the language, but of course, it makes the experience of living there much richer if you do. I had a colleague that studied French while she was in Beirut and that also helped her to connect with locals.
Thoughts from an international school teacher on their entire career abroad so far.
I’ve committed to three languages in the past 20 years while living abroad. Spanish, Japanese, and Chinese. [I will be] adding Arabic to the mix when I move to the UAE in August and use my High School/Uni French in my kindergarten teaching (along with English).
Thoughts from an international school teacher currently working in Portugal.
In the school, there is minimal need to speak the language (Portuguese). Since we are an English medium school, almost all staff are fluent or at least functional in English. At times, it is easier to communicate with some of the staff in Portuguese, but that is rare. Since Portugal´ s economy is very heavily based on tourism, English is a required course in public schools. Although many people complain that it is not well done or the standards are not high, my experience has been that a large percentage of younger people in major cities speak English well. I have not seen a huge shift in this over the past 10 years that I have been here.
I took private lessons once per week from a former colleague. Having spoken Spanish for more than ½ my life, there were times when that was helpful. For others, it created much more confusion than help. Some false cognates could be rather embarrassing. Did my school provide free host country language classes? No. there was ongoing discussion of it, but it never panned out.
For citizenship, I was required to prove that I was at an A2 (high beginner-low intermediate) level. Although the design of the test was different from any I´ ve experienced before, it was relatively easy. For the oral portion, it was very much dependent on the level of the other student you were randomly paired with. I was paired with a person who used Portuguese in business every day, and we had a lively and interesting discussion, so it went very well. My partner was paired with someone who lived entirely in a predominantly English-speaking area of the country and had very little experience or skill. As a result, my partner’s score was negatively affected.
Approximately 50% of our staff speak several different languages, and many have picked up a conversational level of Portuguese fairly quickly. Those who don´ t have admittedly not made an effort to do so. One final point I would make is that as immigrants to a country, we have a responsibility to show respect for that country, by at least attempting the language. In Portugal, people are appreciative of the efforts of foreigners to try to learn the language and are very patient with mistakes. An attempt to learn the host country’s language is a sign of respect toward that country, and its people.
Thoughts from an international school teacher on living in a number of countries.
This is an area of high concern for me, and I am rather disappointed in the level of support I have found in the schools I’ve been with. I was on active duty from the mid-70s for 15 years, and in that time, one of the first things I tried to do was learn the language where I was stationed. I was rather successful, as I still speak three of those languages well enough to get by. However, in each international school, I have taught, I have asked if there were host-nation language classes provided for the teachers. Only one, in Manila, had anything. While my current school is in a country where English is one of the national languages, in other countries that wasn’t the case. In one country where the local language was Arabic, the number of people downtown who spoke English was quite limited, making it difficult to do simple things like buying a phone load, groceries, paying for electricity, and even buying gas. While I tried learning the language by myself there, and in Korea, the differences in writing and the lack of cognates to link to my Romance languages left me floundering. This is one area where the schools can easily provide lessons at minimal expense, yet make the expat teachers’ lives much more simple AND help them understand and appreciate the host-nation culture.
Thoughts from an international school teacher currently working in Budapest.
When I was offered a job in Budapest, Hungary, I was excited at the prospect of learning a new language “from the beginning” and even took a few introductory lessons before moving. Once I got to Budapest, many people discouraged me from learning the language saying it was “too hard” and “not useful outside of Hungary – don’t waste your time.” After a bit of time in the country, I decided that I didn’t really love the language, and I thought my time might be better spent pursuing other languages that I had already invested in studying (that I was actually interested in). I didn’t realize at the time that I would stay in Hungary so long and looking back, I now know that it would have been useful to study the local language. English is spoken more and more around Budapest, but it is mostly the younger generation that is learning it in school now (as opposed to in the past when Russian or German was more widely studied). There can be some challenges in not speaking the local language when going to shops or non-touristy places in the city – and definitely outside of Budapest. Luckily the school helps us with everything related to housing, cars, contracts, etc., so that part is not a problem at all!
These statements were submitted anonymously by ISC members. Thanks! If you are also interested in sharing your thoughts and perspective, please contact us here.continue reading
In this article, ISC would like to highlight some of your recent thoughts and experiences getting jobs at international schools in 2022. It is April, so we are getting closer to the end of the hiring season. If you don’t have a position secured, you might be feeling a bit nervous about your prospects.
The landscape for getting an international school teaching position has certainly changed in the last 10 years. And if one thinks about 20 years ago, some people might have the perspective that the power of the international school job market was definitely in the hands of a teacher. The most experienced international teachers would remember these days of glory.
Surely, there are multiple factors that come into play for both the international school and the teacher that affect their decision-making processes. It can be a very rocky past to bring the teacher and the school together in harmony.
A lot of frustration and maybe even confusion can occur for both stakeholders from when a vacant position becomes available to when it is filled. The lack of clarity about what is happening during that process is the most frustrating part, especially for the teacher candidates.
We asked five seasoned international school teachers their thoughts on some or all of the following questions:
• Who has more of the power right now: schools or teachers? and why do you think this?
• How easy was it for you to find your last international school teaching placement? Please explain.
• What advice would you give to a recruiting teacher still looking for a job at an international school in April?
• Does having connections at an international school help and/or having lots of relevant teaching experience help in your job search? Please explain.
Thoughts from an international school teacher currently working in SE Asia.
I don’t like the word power.
So much depends on the candidate’s experience and capabilities, and also on the type of school. Most people are chasing the dream of a beautiful location, great school community, and high salary. Those schools can pick and choose. Other good schools with less budget in more challenging locations find it harder to recruit.
People who have too high expectations, mediocre references, and poorly constructed applications find it harder to recruit. People should be more intelligent about how they use social media and represent themselves. Not many schools are looking for people with self-serving agendas!
Thoughts from an international school teacher currently working in Central Europe.
I was recruiting this year and I signed a contract before the winter break in December. I had a shortlist of schools around the world that I was interested in working at and nearly all of them posted a position between September and December that fit my qualifications. (After I accepted the job, even more positions were posted.)
I was really happy that I had a lot of great places to even apply to, this time around. I had read online in some forums and groups that some people felt there “weren’t a lot of jobs this year” comparatively speaking, but it’s always a game of how many positions are open that are a match for your skills and qualifications. Each year is different.
I would say that a history of working at great schools, and connections/excellent references always help add something to an already great resume.
Thoughts from an international school teacher currently working in Vietnam.
As a maths teacher with PGCE and QTS but no maths degree I normally find I have to wait a while for the market to swing in my favour, normally April or May. This year has been different. I updated my details on teach horizons and 3 schools interviewed me in the first week. 2 made me an offer and the third said I would get a second interview. I took one of the first two and I’m off to Thailand in the summer. All done and dusted before the end of Feb. Very early for me so I guess the power is with the teacher
Thoughts from an international school teacher currently working in Taiwan.
I think for who has the power, it really depends on the individual schools and teachers. I applied to many schools via different platforms this season and had many interviews. It wasn’t easy but I ended up with 2 solid offers from good schools. I accepted in November and that is very early compared to what I have been used to. If one has a solid network of people someone at a school you’re interested in, then that can certainly give you a leg up. For me this time around, I believe it was my subject (economics) and my experience that helped me get interviews and offers. I think if teachers are still looking now, they should be persistent as people drop out of contracts and some very good schools are still looking now.
Thoughts from an international school teacher currently working in Oceania.
How easy? It wasn’t. While I did secure an appointment in May of 2020 for an August start, on the first day of school, the corporation announced our school was closing permanently by 31 December. I had a six-month unemployed period trying to find another posting.
Connections? Vital, especially given my age and experience level (both high). It appears that most heads/hiring officials don’t bother to read introductory letters where I explicitly explain I come with my own health cover and the school doesn’t have to pay for it. I know some schools that are forcing highly experienced teachers out to cut their HR costs.
Issues: Aside from the obvious of a slow return to anything resembling normal, I have had school heads tell me to my face that a certain country has a mandatory retirement age… and while partially true, as a legal resident of that country, I know that mandatory age is only applicable to government workers, not to non-government entities.
These statements were submitted anonymously by ISC members.continue reading
International School Community is full of thousands of useful, informative comments,43153 comments (20 Feb. 2022) to be exact.
Members are recommended to keep their comments objective on our website, and sometimes they need to share how it really is working at their international school.
Back in 2015, we put out the top 12 most controversial comments in this article. However, we scoured our database of comments now in 2022, and we found 12 new comments that stood out to us as being some of the most concerning.
12. Housing Issues
“Document everything in your assigned apartment. Housing seems to be a major issue and both the director and the principals seem to think it’s adequate (which of course, as their housing is way higher quality than teacher housing). When things break or don’t work, it usually takes a long time to have them repaired. Patience is key here…” – International Community School of Abidjan – 82 Total Comments
11. Concerns About Getting Your Full Benefits
“Faculty are wondering if the ‘flights home’ portion of our contracts will be honoured, and that only USD 1,000 will be given as of this date. Financial issues have continued…” – American International School Vietnam (AISVN) – 264 Total Comments
10. Child Protection Firings
“There have been 3 child protection firings in the last 5 years, yet no new trainings or reporting procedures for teachers (just new documents created). There was a massive firing done over COVID when teachers couldn’t get back to school. Most of us believe the compassionate thing to do would have been to keep people on as long as they were supporting students or curriculum. The majority of administrators are leaving this year. Not a controversy, but it’s unusual. The candidates recruited for the Head of School position included 2 white men and one BIPOC man who currently only had experience as a principal. It was a huge controversy that 1 of the white men had overseen a child-protection scandal at his last school and that he was being presented as a top 3 option to us by the board. Luckily, they selected the white male who had head of school experience and no child protection scandal, but it has been a lingering issue for the staff…” – Shanghai American School (Pudong) – 197 Total Comments
9. People Resigning Because of Covid Restrictions
“Covid related issues – teachers resigning as they wanted to be able to see families outside of China. Not too much the school could have done…” – Utahloy International School Guangzhou – 70 Total Comments
8. Not Getting Accredited
“The school hopes to become CIS accredited this academic year. The previous attempt at CIS accreditation was unsuccessful due to issues with the management structure of the school and the frequent changes in Head Master…” – The English School (Bogota) – 67 Total Comments
7. Problems with Changing the Contract After Signing
“The teaching contract is a bit of a touchy subject-be sure to KNOW and see which contract is passed from HR to Foreign expert bureau when you are taken to complete your visa-mention any anomalies that you may notice. Some people had issues with the terms that had changed on the contract itself AFTER signing-but really, it was nothing of consequence unless you are a ship jumper…” – Guangzhou Huamei International School – 65 Total Comments
6. No Raises on Teacher Salaries
“No raise last year and I believe no raise this year as well…. Makes you wonder if the school is having some issues…” – Seoul Foreign School – 220 Total Comments
5. School Climate Survey
“A recent school climate survey was administered to the staff. It was supposed to be useful and anonymous. One issue that arose immediately, was that in order to complete the survey, staff had to log into Microsoft Forms, which automatically attached name and email address to every response. Second, the majority of the questions, written by a staff member, were too broad to provide any useable data from which to develop a plan of action to address them. Even with the lack of confidentiality, a number of staff added specific and direct comments about the state of affairs, and one shocking statistic was that approximately 40% of the staff had considered leaving at some point in the year. In the final weeks of school, Board members met with staff who were leaving this year, in part, to determine their reasons for leaving. It would seem that this would be a pointless effort at that point because nothing had been done during the year to address staff morale issues…” – Oeiras International School – 214 Total Comments
4. Tech Issues
“Sadly, technology is a bit of a joke. From one day to the next, and depending on where your classroom is located, you might have great wi-fi … or none at all. If you had been part of the last day of school this year, you’d know the issues we face. It was a joke; videos wouldn’t play or they were super laggy, people couldn’t hear on Zoom, etc. It felt like all of the crying, heartfelt “Goodbye!” moments were nothing but faces and voices on your Zoom screen, trying to get anything to work…” – Concordia International School Hanoi – 32 Total Comments
3. New Teacher Orientation Concerns
“The induction program for new teachers remains a challenge area for the school. The administration is aware of the issue, however, it seems to be cultural ingrained…” – Santiago College – 74 Total Comments
2. Unqualified Teachers & LGBT Teachers Getting Fired
“The majority of teachers at this school are Georgian and do not have a background in education (no formal schooling in education and no teacher qualifications). This school is absolutely not LGBT-friendly for staff or students. Teachers are explicitly told not to discuss LGBT issues in the classroom and staff are reminded regularly that the school will not support such discussions and that staff have been fired for being members of the LGBT community.” – European School Tbilisi – 54 Total Comments
1. Toxic Positivity
“My first impression of the school was that it was warm, welcoming, and compassionate. I thought I would truly matter as an employee – I was eager to find a school with a family-like atmosphere that I could make home. The family-like atmosphere is a total illusion. Employees are expendable. HR put out a health survey to prepare for Covid-19. Anyone (local staff and teaching assistants) seen as expendable that marked that they were at a higher risk of Covid on that survey was fired at the end of the school year. The motto for the year was “We Are One.” The irony was not lost on the foreign staff with this. Generally, the moment you have a differing opinion, an issue, or a criticism, you are treated like garbage. This school is the epitome of the term “toxic positivity…” – School of the Nations (Brasilia) – 41 Total Comments
If you have a concerning story at your international school that you would like to share, log in to International School Community and submit your comments. For every 10 submitted comments, you will get one month of free premium membership added to your account!continue reading
There seem to be a lot of teaching vacancies being posted at 1000s of international schools this recruiting season. These positions are in many countries around the world (although MANY of them are in China it would appear this year).
But even if there are 1000s positions available and (most likely) 100s of those in positions that you can apply for, it seems to be quite difficult to get an interview, and even if you get that, getting hired is another big hurdle!
It is understandable that a teacher just starting out in their international school career is not getting called in for an interview, but why are many seasoned international school teachers not even getting the school’s attention?
Let’s say there is a teacher looking for a new position for the coming school year. This person has worked at three different top-tier international schools averaging around six years at each one. This person has also received glowing reviews from their supervisors, and they are looking for another international school of a similar curriculum and similar status in the international school community. But after applying to a select few, and after even having one interview at one of them already, this person is not moving forward to the next rounds of the interview process.
It can be really frustrating for this person. Why is this happening? Why aren’t these highly sought-after experienced teachers finding it easier to get the attention and support of these international schools?
Back 15 years ago, it seemed that the power was truly in the international school teacher’s hand. Sure there was still competition, but you could get many interviews at the recruitment fairs and also get multiple offers to consider.
Today, it is a different story for sure. There could be 100s of applicants applying for just one position. One teacher at an international school in Zurich said 400-500 people applied for just one position! The power is surely back in the hands of the international school as the candidates simply outnumber the number of positions available. This situation is definitely the case at the top-tier international schools in desirable locations. It is unclear if that is also the case at lesser-known international schools in less desirable locations.
Getting a job at a good international school or at any school really is always all about being at the right place at the right time. It is all about luck and timing. Sometimes, it isn’t even really about how your CV looks or what you said in your cover letter. With international schools getting 100s of CVs for one position, there sometimes just isn’t time to read that many cover letters.
So how can you get noticed? How can you increase your luck so that you are at the right place and the right time? Some say having a connection at the international school can help, and maybe for some, it does help. But with a lot of strict interviewing guidelines that many international schools have adopted, having a connection to the school does not always get you noticed or to the top of an admin’s list of people to interview. The position also might be just filled internally in the end or filled locally for that matter. A nightmare situation for a recruiting international school teacher.
The key is just to keep your hopes up knowing that the right position will present itself to you when the timing is right. Do your research, fill out everything the school requires for an application, and stay in touch with the right people at the school. Keep in mind that if they don’t have any new news to share with you, that is why they are not getting back to you or they are just not that into you.
This article was submitted anonymously by an ISC member.
Nobody was fully prepared to deal with the lockdowns international schools have been experiencing.
Some international schools experienced teaching from home, doing remote learning. And though many international schools are back to in-person learning at the moment (with or without masks), others are still in the throws of remote teaching!
It has been hard on all stakeholders, and it continues to be hard on the international school community. Most of us are subjected to the rules and regulations of our host country, which can be comforting and also stressful. And international schools must make plans to follow these (sometimes ever-changing) rules.
We all want to do our part to get this pandemic over and done with. But the reality is that it has been very stressful constantly making changes to how we teach. And even if an international school teacher is getting into the groove with their current setup, there is always a sense that a new change is coming soon.
Adding to the stress and anxiety, the truth is that some international school teachers haven’t been back to their home in over two years because they have not been allowed to leave their host country!
How then have international schools made these decisions to teach during the COVID 19 pandemic? How have they made their decisions to teach in a safe way, and how were those decisions perceived and experienced by the staff?
Luckily, ISC was designed to help international school teachers find the information they are looking for. We have a comment topic called, “How did this school handle the COVID-19 situation?” and here are 11 comments that have been submitted in this section:
“The school went above and beyond on the covid-19 situation in helping families, setting up robust online learning. Some teachers took advantage of this, so things have tightened up a bit. Online learning has greatly been minimised due to extreme government caution but everyone is still masked and subjected to frequent test requests / inspections etc. Travel is severely hampered and is totally unpredictable…” – Western Academy of Beijing (76 total comments)
“The school did a great job following the government’s guidelines…” – International School Saigon Pearl (103 total comments)
“Terribly. They furloughed most of the teacher assistants and cafeteria workers. They fired someone very last minute, claiming low enrollment when she had already signed a contract for the following year…” – Ruamrudee International School (Ratchapruek) (45 total comments)
“Not well. When 40%+ of the faculty was trapped outside china (along with much of the families) the school furloughed/fired a huge chunk of them even though all of us who weren’t furloughed/fired eventually got back in. The school then hired replacements for the classrooms. It was clear that the people that were fired were people the administrators wanted to get rid of (i.e. tougher personalities). It felt like the school used COVID, instead of normal improvement plan processes, to part ways with people. This left many individuals stuck in countries that weren’t their home with no job and no income – it was devastating to many. Most of us wish they would have kept everyone on at reduced pay for 1 year (supposedly we had the money to do so) with knowing that they would need to make reductions the following year. It would have been compassionate to give everyone time to figure out what they needed to do…” – Shanghai American School (Pudong) (197 total comments)
Thailand (Chiang Mai)
“COVID has had a huge impact on the school, its managers, teachers, parents and students. Parents and teachers have been critical of some of the things the school has done but generally, everyone accepts these are intolerably difficult and unique times and that management does not have a crystal ball and is generally reacting well to the latest whims of government policy…” – Lanna International School (LIST) (55 total comments)
“In March of 2020, the school followed government guidelines and transitioned to remote learning mostly synchronously. This was initially meant to last for a few weeks, but in the end, we never returned to school. Our spring break was shortened so that we could end the year early, and this was generally appreciated. With a rigorous testing/masking/distancing regimen in place (and a general ban on parents entering the building), we were able to return to in-person classes for the entirety of the 2020/21 school year. There were always a handful of students who attended in a hybrid mode, and small categories of students were occasionally excluded and moved to virtual mode for short periods of time depending on testing results. Graduation was held in drive-in mode on campus for the classes of 2020 and 2021, which was an excellent concession. The protocols continue to be followed this year (though hybrid students are generally not accommodated for except in extraordinary circumstances) and things feel as close to “normal” as one could hope for…” – American School of Warsaw (167 total comments)
“Brilliantly. Paid for flights and quarantine costs for all employees stuck outside of China. Will do the same for the next summer break as well…” – Shekou International School (109 total comments)
“We were very lucky to have only 1 month of online/remote learning in which the Head of Tech Integration was able to set up the online program for teachers, students, and parents…” – Hope International Academy Okinawav (76 total comments)
“Really really badly although the CEO is convinced otherwise. During the last lockdown, staff was close to breaking point (and still are). Laurent and his minions decided the stick approach was best so forced staff to work from campus and remove lunches, remove the ability for staff to buy their own, and remove coffee. Then they decided that it was a good time to do appraisals, observations and hand out personal criticisms. You honestly couldn’t make this shXX up. Every single one of his remaining decent staff members is now looking elsewhere. He has fundamentally damaged the core of the school-his staff and does not appear to see this as a problem. In 18 months this school has gone from ‘has potential ‘ to ‘RUN’…” – Berda Claude International School (39 total comments)
“The school has an online learning plan when it is necessary to implement. Macau has been a very safe place to live and work during COVID but with that safety comes very limited movement. Getting into Macau is very difficult and when you are here it is basically impossible to leave. This has made life very hard for expats…” – The School of the Nations (Macao) (28 total comments)
“China, and especially Suzhou, is lucky to have been open most of the time during COVD-19! SSIS was forced to have a delayed start to the school year this year by the local government due to COVID-19 which has affected the calendar a bit by shortening staff vacations…” – Suzhou Singapore International School (147 total comments)continue reading