Should you make the move abroad?
What teaching in an international school is really like.
I qualified to teach 7 years ago after doing a PGCE at Liverpool Hope University. It was tough. I then got a job as an NQT in one of my placements schools. This was even tougher. I completed my NQT year and did a second year in the same school. Still tough. I was beginning to lose my passion for teaching and I had only just begun. I had a thought that maybe it wasn’t like this everywhere, and so with that thought in mind, I applied for a teaching job abroad.
My international teaching affair began in Italy – a place not too far from home, and if I really missed the UK, it was a couple of hours on the plane. After my first year away, I decided to go further afield and move to Abu Dhabi, and it was personally the best decision I ever made. After three years there, I travelled for a short time with my partner, and then made the move to an international school in Thailand. All four schools that I have worked at over the last 5 years have been British International Schools following the British Curriculum.
Everybody has an idea in their heads about what International teaching is like – everybody has heard the rumour that the children are perfectly behaved and the life is incredibly easy… well that’s not exactly true.
Here is a non exhaustive list of the pros and cons of teaching in International schools around the world.
- Extra Time
The thing that makes life a whole lot easier in an International School is the requirement that all schools must also teach the language of the country they’re in. So, for example in the UAE, children had to have an hour of Arabic a day, as well as Islamic studies. That gives the class teacher at least 5 hours of free time per week. Usually in these schools there are music teachers, art teachers and PE teachers. That means you have way more free time to plan, prep, mark, do displays, have an extra coffee, go to the bathroom more than once a day.
- No Really Serious Inspections
Now many schools vary here, but the observations are usually few and far between. We are not governed by Ofsted- there can be a local equivalent but not as strict. There isn’t that much pressure on day to day teaching – which means, teaching can actually be really fun! It really is more about the children’s enjoyment of school than about the teachers having enough evidence/ assessment/ paperwork. Ultimately these British International Schools are about the children learning English. Parent’s are happy to pay the tuition fees as their children are being taught by qualified educators from English speaking countries. I’m currently teaching Year 2 and we don’t have to worry about SATs or TAF or anything other than just following the curriculum (sort of) and enjoy teaching as I see fit.
Again, this varies from school to school, but part of the tuition fees (should) go on school resources. That means there is usually less need for teachers to spend their own money on stuff. I currently have a coloured printer in my classroom – resourced and replenished by the school. Of course, not all International schools are like this – there is a con linked with this which comes further down.
- Work life balance
At long last! With all the free time you get during the school day, there isn’t a need for extra long hours before and after school. When I finish at 4pm, I am free! To go to the beach, or the mall or just enjoy spending time with family and friends. This also directly links with the next pro – the weather! After all, you can’t go to the beach on a rainy day.
- The weather
This was a huge factor for me in deciding where I wanted to go. What is the point of having all that extra time if I couldn’t enjoy at least some of it outdoors. Italy, Abu Dhabi and Thailand – although there are some adverse weather conditions, the majority of the time is glorious (more so Abu Dhabi and Thailand than Italy).
- Job Perks
In some countries, the schools provide accommodation and almost double the wages of the UK. That means you have waaaaaay more money to enjoy the weather/ work life balance and culture of the country you’re in. Oh and it’s also great for my next pro.
Travelling to different countries, seeing more of the world, would be much harder without an International teaching job. For starters, in the UK I was living from pay check to pay check, but working abroad, I actually have some spare cash to go and see parts of the world I had only dreamed of. On top of that, it’s also much cheaper to fly to countries in Asia from a country in Asia.
I have loved experiencing and living different cultures. It really is the key to being happy in life – I am incredibly grateful for all my experiences and incredibly lucky to have been born in the UK. I don’t think I would feel this gratitude if I hadn’t lived and experiences different cultures around the world.
Now for the cons.
At the end of the day, the school are owned privately – usually by a local and their main goal is to have a successful business. Unfortunately, this usually goes hand in hand with financial gain. This means that there can be constant battles with things like resources, or additional teaching staff. I have not had a teaching assistant since I left the UK. In some schools, I was not allowed to print in colour, in others it was closely monitored. The other problem with having business owners is that the parents tuition fees are the most important aspect of their business, and essentially that means you as a teacher are not supported against parents wishes and demands. In this case – the customer is always right rule applies.
I have worked in schools where the people in charge, the SLT, are basically just people born in English speaking countries. That means that its very rare to have an SLT that are trained and experienced primary school teachers, and even rarer to have trained and experienced leaders. They haven’t worked their way up to this position in the UK and then moved over. Unfortunately, occasionally, it can just be, the right place and right time.
- Staff turnover
More often than not, the teaching team are young traveller type people, who, like me, want to explore the world. That means that the whole staff can be replaced every couple of years. International contracts are usually two years long, which most people do, and then leave. Therefore, the schools never feel established.
- Majority EAL
Working abroad means that the majority of your class are going to have English as an additional or second language. However not all – some children have perfect English. They are often of varying levels and abilities, and the gap between the lowest ability child and the highest ability child feels much larger as a result. Children can be thrown into your class (whatever year) with zero English. As there are no TA’s, and usually no SENCO or anybody to provide interventions, it is left to the teacher to juggle the whole class and their abilities.
- No TA/ SENCO/ Safeguarding officer
Some of the major important roles of schools in the UK are missed off in International schools.
- Home comforts
Although this has got better over the last few years – there were some things missing from the countries I lived in – like Salt and Vinegar crisps in Italy!
Like I said, not an exhaustive list. Right now, the pros are winning for me. This could change. But I’m super happy experiencing life the way I am.