Comparing the Schools and Comments

Comparing the Schools and Comments: Working in Abu Dhabi

March 7, 2021


Around the world, there are cities (like Abu Dhabi) that have more than one international school. Many times there is an American school, a British School, and an international school that uses an international curriculum.

The big question always is…how do the comments about each school compare to each other?

This blog series looks at comparing some of these comments, all coming from international schools in the same country.

Abu Dhabi

Currently, we have 21 schools listed in Abu Dhabi on International School Community.

11 of these schools have had comments submitted on them. Here are some that have the most submitted comments:

Abu Dhabi International Private School (43 Total Comments)
American Community School of Abu Dhabi (30 Total Comments)
American International School (Abu Dhabi) (97 Total Comments)
Emirates National School (Abu Dhabi) (15 Total Comments)
GEMS American Academy (Abu Dhabi) (37 Total Comments)
Glenelg School of Abu Dhabi (31 Total Comments)
Raha International School (28 Total Comments)

Amount of Money Left to be Saved

Some teachers are putting aside at least 10000 AED a month. Saving potential is big here, but if you travel a lot and go out drinking a lot, then you won’t save as much…” – GEMS American Academy (Abu Dhabi)

“If you budget and don’t get a car you can have 2K saved per month…” – Emirates National School (Abu Dhabi)

“A family of 4 will not be pleasantly sustainable with one income. You will receive a deposit very close to $3400/month. Utilities are covered at 50%, so you may pay up to $300 for water and electric (have heard of some teachers having $700 bill). Internet is expensive, $100 will get you medium speed internet, but the best package is obviously higher. Basic but adequate groceries (avoiding western products and cheapest produce) is $400/month. This does not include “junk food” or carryout or dine-in eating…” – American International School (Abu Dhabi)

School Campus

“Way too crowded. Campus is in villa area in city center. Old dated classrooms…” – Raha International School

“There are four campuses for the school. One in Abu Dhabi and three in the western region. I work at a school in the western region however, all of the campuses are very nice and well-manicured…” – Glenelg School of Abu Dhabi

“The campus is new, modern and mostly fully equipped. Good sport installations. The kindergarten wing is very inviting, with lots of color and open space and childrens’ work on the walls everywhere…” – GEMS American Academy (Abu Dhabi)

Housing Information

“If the First Party does not provide accommodation, a monthly accommodation allowance shall be paid to the Second Party, amounting to AED 2,500. In case a married couple employed by the First Party, a family furnished accommodation or a monthly accommodation allowance shall be granted only to one of the married couple…” – Emirates National School (Abu Dhabi)

“Housing allowance is grossly inadequate for any single person to get even a studio on their own without tossing in around aed10-20K…” – American International School (Abu Dhabi)

“Housing allowance is 2000 aed a month so you MUST take the school accommodation with is not great but is in the city center. Emsons building and Tourist club are the two main locations but if you are a couple or a family you will get a 2 bed apt near Wahada Mall. Must pay for own utilities 150 aed month. Not great housing but not horrible either. Housing is furnished and has lots and pans, etc. low-end furniture but acceptable…” – Abu Dhabi International Private School

Benefits for Teachers with Children

“35%tuition discount for 1st child, 30% second child. Double tuition discount for teaching couples. Insurance provided for kids but NOT visas or flights…” – Abu Dhabi International Private School

“2 children: free if 2 parents teach; 50% if 1 parent teaches…” – American International School (Abu Dhabi)

“If you are a teaching couple you can get up to two children to attend for free. You also get a flight for your child, one flight per teacher…” – GEMS American Academy (Abu Dhabi)

Are the Expectations High of Teaching Staff?

“High. This is a top school…” – Raha International School

“There are ECA for elementary. High workload. Many teachers are teaching between 24 to 30 periods per week. They also have assigned duties…” – Glenelg School of Abu Dhabi

“Teachers have to do an hour a week of after-school activities for 2/3 of the school year. Some staff are giving leadership positions with a paid stipend…” – GEMS American Academy (Abu Dhabi)

(These are just 5 of the 66 different comments topics that are on each school profile page on our website.)

If you work at an international school in Abu Dhabi, share what you know. Consider becoming a Mayor for unlimited free premium membership!

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Information for Members

So Many International Schools WITHOUT Retirement Plans!

February 28, 2021


It is on all international school teachers’ minds. How am I helping to contribute to my future now (for when I retire/stop working) as a current teacher in the international school community?

Not that everything is all worry-free if you just stayed teaching and earning money in your home country, but living and teaching abroad can sound pretty risky to some people (maybe even many people).

If you are working at an international school that has an amazingly high salary with equally amazing benefits, then that is one story. Even if this type of school doesn’t actually offer a nice retirement plan benefit, you still have the opportunity to save a lot of money.

But if you are working at an international school and receiving a salary that helps you ‘just get by’ along with very average benefits (for example, there is not a retirement plan benefit that is on offer to you), then international school educators need to consider if the experience working at this type of international school is a good fit for their future plans.

Does an international school that doesn’t offer a retirement or pension plan benefit immediately equate to being a bad decision for your future? Not necessarily. If you are only planning on staying there for one to two years, then it shouldn’t make that big of a difference. If you receiving a high salary along with paid housing, not having an established pension plan benefit shouldn’t make that big of a difference because your savings potential is high. Hopefully, you have a laser-focused investment plan for all of that money saved.

But for those of us that are not so smart with money and don’t have the expertise to manage our own savings/retirement plan, it can definitely not bit a good fit to accept a teaching job at a school that doesn’t offer retirement plan benefits.

We did a keyword search on our Comment Search feature and found a number of comments related to international schools that don’t offer a retirement or pension plan benefit.

We found 26 comments when we searched the short phrase: “No retirement
Here are a few of those comments:

Amman Baccalaureate School (16) Total comments
No retirement plan right now is on offer as a benefit.”

Canadian International School (Tokyo) (93) Total comments
No retirement plan for teachers.”

International School Ho Chi Minh City (93) Total comments
“Unfortunately there is no retirement plan.”

We also searched the short phrase “No pension” and found 85 comments.
Here are a few of those comments:

Zhuhai International School (121) Total comments
“There are no pension plans from the school (included in the contract) although if you wished to establish one the office staff would be able to assist you in establishing one.”

Varee Chiang Mai International School (117) Total comments
“There is no pension provision, but an end-of-contract gratuity is awarded in lieu.”

Stamford American International School (307) Total comments
“There is no pension, but this means you can invest your money as you see fit. There is a 15% allowance that is paid monthly with your salary. This is “in lieu of CPF” which is paid for Singaporeans and PR.”

On the more positive side, we had a quick search for this key phrase “matching” (30 comments) hoping to find comments related to international schools that match the pension plan contribution of the teachers.  
Here are a few of those comments:

American International School Vienna (81) Total comments
“Under the newest contract, teachers now have 10% matching for retirement fund commencing at first year. Certainly better if you’re there short-term, though perhaps not if you’d plan to stay 30 years.”

Hong Kong International School (151) Total comments
“I spend a lot of money here because I love to do eat out a lot, travel, and there are many things to do in the city. With that being said, I save about 1,300 USD a month, not counting the school severance/matching scheme which is another 1,300 USD.”

Cairo American College (196) Total comments
“The pay continues to be good. There is now a higher matching for retirement. The cost of living is still very inexpensive in Egypt.”

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Comment Topic Highlight

Giving birth while teaching abroad: what are the maternity benefits like?

February 21, 2021


It’s true. International educators are having babies while working at international schools around the world.

But is it better to have your children back in your home country or while living abroad?

It depends maybe on what the maternity benefits are, and let’s not forget also about the paternity benefits.

Many international schools are obliged to follow the laws of their host country. Other international schools decide on their own benefits.

You are lucky (really lucky!) if your host country gives you even better benefits than your host country. It is nice to know that you are living in a country that truly values paid parental leave.

But then again, having a child in your host country often means you are having children away from your close family like your parents and your brothers and sisters. You want them to be a big part of your child’s life, and so do they. It is nice too when they are around to help out and help raise the child.

The fact is many international school teachers have babies while living abroad and have experiences that are both positive and negative. If you are planning to have children while working abroad, then it will be beneficial to do a bit of research ahead of you moving there.

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Luckily, International School Community has a comment topic on our school profile pages related to this topic of maternity benefits. In this comment topic, our members can share what their experience has been working at various international schools around the world. There are a total of 170 comments (February 2021) that have been submitted by our veteran international school teachers on this specific comment topic (one out of the 66 in total) called – “Details about the maternity benefits of the host country and school.”

Here are a few of those submitted comments:

“BFS follows Korean law which allows female employees up to 90 consecutive days of maternity leave, 45 of which must be taken after childbirth. Male teachers may take up to 15 days of paid paternity leave and an additional 15 days of unpaid leave following the birth of their child…” – Busan Foreign School (Busan, South Korea) – 9 Total Comments

“From July 2020 onward there will be the possibility for partners to take six weeks of almost-fully-paid leave. If you are employed when you get pregnant you are entitled to 16 weeks of maternity leave (zwangerschapsverlof). This is true even if you’re self-employed! You are also allowed to decide when you start your leave. However, make sure you tell your employer a minimum of 2 weeks before you intend to take your maternity leave in the Netherlands! Taking your maternity leave in the Netherlands can be done at any moment from 6 weeks before the due date (34 weeks of pregnancy). However, in all cases, it is mandatory to take leave by week 36 (4 weeks before birth). Also, leaving at least 12 weeks of maternity leave after the baby is born. In special cases (eg. premature birth) the leave starts counting from the moment of birth…” – The British School in the Netherlands (The Hague, Netherlands) – 66 Comments

“Women’s maternity leave is still 12 weeks at 80% pay. As of this year, there is a 5-day paternity leave for male teachers, which can be distributed throughout the leave with permission from the division head….” – Zurich International School (Zurich, Switzerland) – 62 Total Comments

“After your first year, the school provides 3 months of paid maternity leave. Leave starts from the day of birth, or earlier if you choose. Paternity leave is 3 days, and follows the same guidelines…” – Bandung Independent School (Kota Bandung, Indonesia) – 120 Comments

“Right now, it is 10 weeks maternity leave for the female and the male getting 3 weeks paid leave. The 10-week leave can sometimes be extended without pay dependent on the discussion with HR…” – Shanghai American School (Pudong) (Shanghai, China) – 106 Comments

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Discussion Topics

Are international schools more likely to hire teaching couples?

February 14, 2021


Most of us have been in the situation while job hunting for a position at an international school when the topic of our relationship status comes up. Of course, it is none of their business and a very strange thing to ask at a job interview. But in the world of international schools, it is quite common to ask this and important information to know from the school’s perspective. 

International schools have this idea that teaching couples are the ideal hiring choice as they try to fill their vacancies. It is like a 2-for-1 deal. It is a dream for an international school to find a teaching couple that consists of two top-notch teachers with lots of experience. The general observation though is that the school often hires one top-notch partner first who is a really good fit for a certain position, and then finds a vacant position for the spouse who might not truly be their first choice for that role. 

Regardless of finding the perfect fit for those positions, teaching couples are supposed to be more stable. They can support each other better when adapting to a new country and culture. No international school likes it when a teacher arrives and within the first few months can’t handle their new situation which leads to their prompt resignation, or even a no-show. If a teacher is already living with someone familiar, this person will automatically have the feeling of home which will lessen the sometimes harsh effects of culture shock making it more manageable for them to settle in. Also, when partners go through some of the negative parts (and positive ones) of culture shock together, these experiences become nice bonding moments. With those shared experiences, teaching couples potentially could indeed be more stable.

Another reason international schools like to hire teaching couples is that it is cheaper when they are handing out the housing allowances. Usually, the housing allowance is a bit more for teaching couples, but it is definitely less than two single teacher housing allowances combined. But if teaching couples want, they can even get a smaller apartment that is cheaper and could save the difference (not available in every school). In turn, teaching couples can often save more money than single teachers. They can even save one partner’s whole salary in some situations in certain countries. If one can keep saving more money, teaching couples may stay longer at that school.

The truth is, though, that not all teaching couples have these same positive experiences and advantages. Moving abroad as a couple can be just as unpredictable as going as a single teacher. Imagine a teaching couple that has moved from a spacious apartment and now has to live together in close quarters. This situation can create not-seen-before tensions. Additionally, maybe you are a new couple and haven’t experienced living together for that long. Add on culture shock and adapting to a new work environment and that can be a recipe for disaster.

If a teaching couple hasn’t worked together in the same school before, then the couple could find it challenging to establish the balance of work and life as their life and community become part of the work. This gets even trickier when maybe their children are being taught at the same school! It could also really get on the teaching couples’ nerves being together all the time, every day. However, odds are that this is not so challenging because many teaching couples don’t really see each other that much especially if the teachers are teaching at different grades or departments.

And there can be also downsides for the international schools themselves when they hire teaching couples. For one, it is often a difficult task to fill two vacant positions using a teaching couple. Then when a teaching couple leaves, it can be quite the challenge to easily find their replacements (like another, similar teaching couple). Many teaching couples are often on the market longer because of this quest to find the perfect match. Of course, both parties can be flexible, but this flexibility can lead to a less than perfect fit. It is recommended for a teaching couple to address these expectations early in their job-seeking process.

If an international school is going through some tough financial times and needs to let some staff go, it can get complicated when they have to sift through the staff while also thinking about whether they are part of a “package” or not.

Certain international schools are now specifically stating that they prefer single teachers to hiring teaching couples. So a single teacher just needs to find the right school for themselves, and also have a bit of luck and good timing on their side. It’s a pity when an international school has interviewed a single teacher and has told them they are a really good fit and then just before handing out their contract, they respond that they have given the position to a teaching couple. This situation has happened so many times to single jobseekers and has created this sense of “I need to be in a teaching couple to get hired at an international school”. However, this idea is simply not the case for all international schools. The reality is that at one school teaching couples are favored and single teachers can actually be more desirable at a different one.

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Discussion Topics

The Native English Speaker Teaching Scam #2

February 7, 2021


My previous blog post (The Native English Teaching Scam #1) described the deceptive and possibly racist distinction between Native English Speakers (NES) and Non-Native English Speakers (NNES) in international teaching job ads. Even if this distinction could be rectified, what advantage does an NES have over an NNES teacher in an international school? Four common and interconnected excuses are used by stakeholders:

  1. Parents, the customer, want NES teachers
  2. Schools require NES to market “internationalness” to parents
  3. Recruiters can’t or worse, won’t, recommend NNES to schools
  4. Some countries have regulations restricting visas to NNES teachers

The first excuse is either a genuine concern about the quality of the language of instruction (English) or racist attitudes held by parents. Qualifications like IELTS are internationally recognised and allow teachers to prove their English language capability. Racism from parents requires schools to lead their community and educate parents about the benefits of diverse staffing. The parent is the customer but racist attitudes cannot define the makeup of the faculty or, most distressingly, imbed negative worldviews in their children.

The second excuse deals with the historical image of White, Western teachers being fundamental to an international school. The irony of international schools defining themselves in this narrow, anti-global way defies the meaning of ‘international’. The missions of accreditation agencies IB and WASC state international-mindedness is a core value, demonstrated by diversity and inclusion, in the classroom as well as the staffroom. While accreditation agencies could and should do more to enforce this mission, schools can take the lead now, rather than perpetuate an outdated image of international schools.

It has been well established that recruiters are facilitating discriminatory practices, mostly, they say, to meet client demand. An influential recruiting agency, Search Associates, admitted after the George Floyd protests in 2020 that they needed to review their own practices. They have removed the NES requirement from all their job advertising and are working to increase diversity within their business model. If it is simply easier (and therefore more profitable) to place White teachers from the 10 “approved” NES countries, recruiters must examine how they can overcome this unfair and profit-driven motivation.

The final excuse is the most difficult to address, particularly during a pandemic. Despite the 10 NES countries having laws outlawing discrimination on the basis of country of birth, hiring practices in the global context follow the countries in which they operate. Countries, like China, can have hard to change regulations, particularly when they wish to protect and promote their local citizens in the education industry. However, enough pressure from all stakeholders can change regulations, as some Chinese provinces have already done.

I believe international schools and their leadership must guide this change. They can strongly influence parents and recruiters, as well as eventually the countries they are located in through best practice and promoting equity. Does your school have tolerance, respect, equality or global mindedness in its mission or values? These don’t just apply to the students. International schools can start through a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) statement on their website. Great schools and recruiters like here, here and here already do.

Oliver Escott is the Director and Co-founder of Staffroom, whose core purpose is to help teachers create a job and life they dream about. We provide international teacher career coaching and support services. Our products include the $1 Job Club, a curated list of progressive international schools and recruiters. We are active advocates of NNES teachers and are passionate about creating the same job opportunities for all international teachers. 

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