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.
People always ask me which of the three places (that I’ve lived in) was the best or my favorite. I never let a second past and respond by saying ALL of them!
I can’t pick a favorite. There, I said it! I just can’t. Each previous place that I’ve lived in means so much to me. Based on my experience, I think anywhere that becomes your home for 1, 2, 3, 10… years, will mean a lot to you.
Maybe it is because of all the memories (good and bad) that you have attached to the years you spent there. It is certain that you didn’t even realize that the things you were doing there were going to be such strong memory markers for your time there. The food and food related experiences, the stores your shopped in, the school you worked at and your colleagues there, the day trips you took in and around the city you lived in, the old hobbies you did there and the new ones that you tried, your experiences learning and using the host country language, etc. All of these situations will have strong emotions attached to them, and thus will be the things engrained in your memory.
Now is the test. If you truly think every place is your favorite and felt like your home, then what does it exactly feel like to go back to a place you once lived?
I have been lucky to go back to a place I’ve once lived a number of times, since I’ve lived there. Each time I go back, I have different experiences and feel different emotions. The last time that I went back though I found myself feeling very sad. I really felt like maybe it was a mistake to leave this place. I have such a strong attachment to this city, its people and its culture. Though it has changed here and there since I left, I still feel like it hasn’t changed since I lived there.
I miss the weather there, the mountains and the sea. I miss the sports I played there and the groups that I played with. I miss the friends that I used to hang out with there and the places that we frequented. I miss the really good friends that I had there and celebrated important holidays and traditions with. The list goes on…
With all these things that I miss, I really almost cried while walking down one of the main streets there with my old roommate (who still lives there by the way). Of course, that feeling did eventually pass as my trip there was winding down and then eventually left to go back to my current host country.
The saying goes, you don’t know what you have until you’ve lost it. And maybe that is the case for me when I go back to this city. Though I must be honest and admit that it does seem unlikely that I would ever move back there, but I guess never say never.
Now I did mention that I’ve lived in three places in my international school teaching career. Beside the one that I referred to in this article and the one that I currently live in, there is still one that I haven’t discussed yet. The reason is because I have yet to return back to that country. I haven’t returned because I didn’t like my experience there, but I think I haven’t gone because you do need to pay a hefty price for their tourist visa. It is a poor excuse I guess for not going back for a visit, but that seems to be the reason right now.
I do miss that place as well, but I wonder if I would have the same emotional experience there too while going back there to visit. For this second place that I lived, I do feel so lucky and honored to have had the opportunity to live there. Wherever I meet someone from that country, I always get excited and want to share all I know and remember about the culture and language. Luckily, I teach a number of students that are from that country at my current school and they help me keep those memories alive of my time in their home country.
Surely one of the best parts of living abroad and working at international schools is simply to have the opportunity to get the real inside scoop of the host country people and their way of living. It is an awesome and unbeatable experience. Most would agree it is indeed life-changing.
It is hard to go back to places you’ve once lived, but I think it is important to do so. It can definitely be challenging and sometimes sad during certain trips back, but you also get the chance to remind yourself of your past. Seeing old friends, tasting food from your favorite restaurant, going shopping in your favorite grocery store, and even catching up with relatives are so fulfilling and help you learn to appreciate what you have in your life. It also helps you to realize and appreciate where you are currently living and what you have there as well.continue reading
Why not make things easy?
The all-in-one search bar has arrived on our homepage!
Just enter in your keyword, select either Schools (to search our School List page), Members (to search our Members List page) or Comments (to search ALL 11500+ comments on our website), and then press the Search button.
It is all super slick and fun to use. Who knows what results you will find on the different results page? So, search away!
We are still super excited about our newest search feature, the Comments Search. To our knowledge, it is something no other review website offers right now.
With the Comments Search, you can get straight to the comments that you are interested in reading the most (example keywords for the Comments Search: salary, teaching couple, daycare, masters, etc.) UPDATE – now you can just search a school name (e.g American School of Barcelona) in the Comments Search bar. If that school has had comments submitted on it, ALL the comments will show up in the Comments Search results. So cool!
We’ve also updated the rest of our homepage’s design. We have rearranged a few things to have a fresh new look and make it easier to navigate.
Thanks to all our members for their feedback and advice on our the new all-in-one search bar. Your request has now become a reality! This new search bar will definitely come in handy as recruitment season starts this coming October. Exciting times for International School Community!continue reading
We are excited to unveil the new and improved school profile page! The school profile pages are arguably the most important pages on our website; for they are where you can read and submit useful and informative comments.
Based on member feedback, we have designed a better interface for submitting the comments and also an easier, more intuitive way to submit the comments.
1. The “Show all # comments” link. Simply click here to view the rest of the comments in this comment topic; which will show up almost instantly right below the three most recent comments. No more pop-ups! This part of our website really sets us apart from other comment/review websites because it puts all the information about a specific comment topic all in ONE place!
2. The “Edit/Delete” links. Made a mistake on a submitted comment? Want to delete a previously submitted comment? Only the comments that you have personally submitted will have these Edit/Delete links.
(Taken from the American School of Barcelona school profile page – 119 Total Comments.)
We’ve also add another major update to our school profile pages. Now there are 26 more comment topics! Members can now submit comments on over 65 comments topics in total. The new topics are the following:
– Has the school met your expectations once you started working there?
– What does the school do to create a harmonious state of well-being and high morale amongst its staff?
– Describe the technologies available at the school and how people are/are not using them.
– Details about the current teacher appraisal process?
– Is the student population declining, staying the same or increasing? Give details why.
– How have certain things improved since you started working there?
– How is this school different or the same when compared to schools in your home country?
– What controversies have been happening lately? Please be objective.
– What insider information would you give to a teacher considering working at this school?
– How much curriculum development work are you expected to do? (Atlas Rubicon, etc.)
– Details about the maternity benefits of the host country and school.
– What is the process of getting reimbursed for things?
– Details about new teacher orientation.
– In general, why are people staying at or leaving this school?
– Details about the teaching contract. What important things should prospective teachers know about?
– Describe a funny culture shock moment that you’ve had recently in this city.
– Where did the school take you in the city when you first arrived? What were some staff outings/party locations?
– What is the best part of living in this city for you?
– What advice can you give on how to set things up like internet, phone, experience dealing with landlord, etc.?
– Tell your experience moving your items to this city. What company, insurance policy, etc. did you use?
– Tell about your experience with the local banks and dealing with multiple currencies.
– What are some locals customs (regarding eating, drinking and going out, family, socializing, etc.) that you find interesting for expats to know about?
– Tell about your experiences in the local grocery stores. What can you get or cannot get? Which ones are your favorites.
– What is the most challenging/difficult part of living in the city?
– Are there many teachers that travel during the holidays? Where are they going?
– What are the airports like in this city? (arriving, departing, shopping, customs, etc.)
One more update to mention though, on the new and improved school profile pages, is the “jump links” we’ve added. Now you can get to the topics that interest you faster by clicking on these “jump links”.
Log-on today and check out all these school profile page updates. Also, please take a moment to test them out by submitting your comments in one or all of these new comment topics on the school you work at now or on the schools that you have worked at in the past.
The survey results are in, and it seems as if most visitors and members of International School Community who voted have the Middle East as the region in the world they would most NOT want to move to next.
Well, what is so undesirable about living in the Middle East? The really hot weather basically all year round? The vast difference in the culture in comparison to your own? The local food is not to your liking? It could be any number of reasons why most of our members voted that the Middle East is the place they would most not want to move to next.
Being that many people don’t want to move there may present a problem for international schools in that region. How can the schools find quality candidates to move to their Middle Eastern country and work at their school?
One major attraction for candidates looking for a job at an international school is the salary and benefits package. And it is widely known that many of the international schools in the Middle East (Non-profit ones and For-profit ones) offer excellent benefits with tax-free, very high salaries as well. I guess though that disregarding how high the salaries are or how amazing the benefits package is, many international schools teachers will still turn a blind eyes to an opportunity to interview at a school in this region.
Let’s remember though that there are still many international school teachers that are interested in working in the Middle East; some might even put working in the Middle East as their number one choice. Those who put ‘saving money’ as a top priority are likely to consider working at an international school in the Middle East. Those who also are career-minded will find a number of ‘Tier 1’ school in that region which can even be quite competitive in which to even get an interview.
International schools in the Middle East are also known for their flexibility to hire single teachers with dependents, teaching couples with dependents, and single teachers with a non-teaching, trailing spouse. Not all international schools around the world will be able to hire these types of candidates. Not every teacher with dependents though desires to have their children grow up in the Middle East region (i.e. they will most likely be living in compounds…which is not to everyone’s liking.).
If you are a single teacher, maybe the Middle East is also not the best place for you to move. It might be hard to find/going out on dates there. It might be hard to meet the locals, but it also might be difficult to find other expat people to go on dates with since a high number of them might already be married.
Luckily on International School Community, we have a City Information section in the comments and information part of each school’s profile page that discusses many aspects of the city/region for each school. One major reason to help international school teachers know more about where they would like to move to next is the weather. Fortunately, we have a comment topic related to weather called:
• Describe the city’s weather at different times of the year.
There have been many comments and information submitted in this topic on numerous school profiles on our website.
One International School Community member said about working at : “For six months of the year, the Eastern Province has beautiful weather – from about mid-October to mid-April, ideal for outside activity. After that, it begins to get hot and from July to September it is very hot and sometimes very humid – generally oppressive. That is when everyone is very grateful for the fact everything is air-conditioned. Fortunately, school is out for much of that time and everyone who can leaves the area. From mid-October, the temperature starts to cool off and the Arab winter can be very pleasant, even requiring a few light wool sweaters and socks at night. In years when there is a fair amount of rain, especially when it comes in December or earlier, the desert blooms and everyone with a car packs up their tents and heads out to enjoy the flowers , watch the baby camels, and view the glorious night time sky undiluted by city lights.”
Another member said about working at : “Always good except for rainy season, which changes around each year. It can last for 1-2 months.”
Another member submitted a comment about working at : “From November to April, the weather is cool (22 to 28 Celsius), with little rain and lots of sunshine! You do get occasional thunderstorms though.”
If you are currently a premium member of International School Community, please take a moment to share what you know about the weather in the different regions/cities of the world at which you have worked. You can start by logging on here.
Stay tuned for our next survey topic which is to come out in a few days time.continue reading