Becoming An International Educator 

So, you think you might want to teach internationally? If so, you are starting in exactly the right place. I am going to “start at the very beginning” and help you to understand exactly what international schools are all about.

This article is intended for certified educators considering teaching outside their home country in schools that follow American, international, or another country’s curriculum (e.g., Canadian, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Australian). There is also a pathway for Americans to work in Department of Defense Schools (DODs), but this article doesn’t cover that route to teaching overseas.  Similarly, we are not talking about going overseas to teach English language skills. 

I will also point you to our podcast episodes, resource library, and elsewhere to grow your understanding of the What of international schooling. We will then move on to the How of becoming an international educator. 

International schools come in several shapes and sizes, with the traditional model having its roots in expatriate parents, sometimes with embassy connections, coming together to start not-for-profit schools, typically in capital cities. A not-for-profit school is based on the idea that all surplus funding goes into school infrastructure and materials.

An excellent place to learn about how some of the original international schools got their start is to listen to our Foundational Series, Part 1 of the two-part show, Nature of the Beast: What Are International Schools? The Part 2 episode covers the array of international schools with shorter histories, delving into their often-autonomous nature, management hierarchy, and varying clientele.   

A considerable increase in the number of international schools in the past couple of decades means a great deal more competition between schools not only in capital cities but in secondary cities as well, along with the growth of for-profit schools.These are schools that are run like corporations, with the profits going to the school owners. ISC Research reports having over 13,000 international schools in its database, with over 80% being for-profit. 

Legitimate international schools generally share some commonalities: They are accredited by a valid accrediting body, hire foreign teachers, have a set mission and follow a set curriculum, and are not government-financed. 

International schools come in all shapes and sizes. The students can range from host country nationals to students from all over the world. There is a wide range in salaries and benefits among these schools. Do note that experienced teachers often are not given credit for their years of teaching experience. This means starting at a lower step on the pay scale. For example, a teacher with 12 years of experience might start off at Step 5 if they move schools. There are also niche schools and specialized curricula. These attributes place schools in an unofficial hierarchy regarding their reputation and quality of services. 

How does one become an international educator? Administrators and recruiters say that one really must be certified as a teacher and, in most cases, have at least two years of teaching experience in an accredited school. Two administrators and a recruiter all gave me the same advice when I asked about my son Maxwell, who was just finishing his graduate studies to be a physics teacher. They knew he was earning his certification, so their advice was more practical to his professional growth. They felt the most important focus should be on learning to be a teacher first, and then he could think about recruiting to teach overseas. It was clear that his teaching in a public school with a strong onboarding program with mentoring would be invaluable to set him up for success as a teacher. After two years, he would be a much stronger candidate, especially for international schools higher up the hierarchy. 

The timeline to start recruiting begins about one year before you board a plane in late July or August to fly to your new overseas school. The first step involves preparing your documentation for the recruitment process. The process involves updating your CV, preparing a cover letter, possibly constructing a webfolio, and deciding which recruitment agency you want to work with. Listen to our episodes First Steps, Recruiting and After Signing with Jaqueline Mallais, international education consultant, for more information on the recruiting process. Also, check out her webinar on how to find an international school position. Jaqueline’s blog post on finding an international school job is also helpful!

Deciding which recruiting agency to work with might seem daunting for a newcomer to international recruiting. Choosing a recruiting agency involves a few factors as in cost, when and where their job fairs take place, and which schools will be present at the respective fairs. There are a few places where you can reach out to get advice from veteran international teachers to help you with this decision. Check out the Facebook group links on our resource library (link) to join these groups and then search through their posts on recruiting agencies, recruiting fairs, etc. You can also go to the Subreddit listed in our library to do the same. 

Once you register with a recruiting agency, you can see how much support they offer. An possible additional step, especially for first-timers, is to hire an international teaching consultant to coach you through the recruiting process and to help you prepare your documents and game plan for the fair(s) you attend. As noted earlier, you can listen to the episodes with Jaqueline Mallais to get a feel for what a consultant can offer. 

The next step is to use your recruiting agency’s database to learn about the different schools that are offering positions for which you are qualified. This includes reviewing their profiles which usually include the number of students, student and teacher nationality make-up, salary and benefits, how much money one can save, and other data. You can also research countries and cities where your wish list schools are located. I find that YouTube is helpful, along with the Numbeo cost of living website, to help paint the picture of living in another country. 

Preparing for and attending recruiting fairs is a biggie! I cannot begin to cover this topic here, so I strongly suggest you listen to our interview with Greg Lemoine, the author of Finding the Right Fit: Your Professional Guide for International Educator Recruiting Fairs and Amazing Stories of A Teacher Living Overseas. His book covers step-by-step how the fairs work, so think about getting a copy! The often-humorous vignettes in the book’s second half give you a taste of what it means to be an international educator.  

This overview provides enough information and insights to get you started toward becoming an international educator. Search under “recruiting” on our website to listen to podcasts, read blog posts, review the resource library and view the going global videos to deepen your knowledge about international schooling. 

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