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Newcomer - Questions about teaching abroad at International schools

Discussion in 'Teaching abroad' started by cmalcayu, Oct 29, 2018.

  1. cmalcayu

    cmalcayu New commenter

    Good evening Everyone! I am a newbie to this subject and appreciate any advice and answers you can help me with. My husband and I are thinking about looking into moving abroad in the next few years if we can find a good opportunity overseas at an international English speaking school.

    I am in my 7th year of teaching primary school in North America (4 years in US and this is my 3rd year in Canada). I am a certified teacher here in Canada and the USA, with experience in both the public and charter school systems. I believe I have a strong resume and great references. My husband is an engineer/project manager with about 9 years of experience. We currently do not have any children.

    We are most interested in looking for opportunities in SE Asia and Eastern Europe, but would definitely be open to other areas of the world as well. We would love to live in central Europe and teach there, however we realize those locations quite sought after. We are not looking to chase the highest salary and realize the cost of living in a city is a big part of the equation. As a result, we are not wanting to chase the most popular locations where the salaries are low (and cost of living is high). We are looking for a safe adventure, where we can travel extensively, live comfortably and save some money.

    We have watched a few YouTube videos on the subject, but would appreciate any further personal tips and sharing of resources to make the search and overall process more efficient. Given my professional teaching certifications, I believe we would be targeting private English schools, catering to expats children. If this is an incorrect assumption... please correct me.

    I have read a little bit about a couple of the large recruitment firms that provide a paid service, but do not have an in depth understanding of their value.

    1. What advice can you provide a couple in our situation (experienced US/Canadian primary teacher and a 'trailing' engineer/project manager husband)?

    2. Any suggestions on how to best prepare myself over the next 6-18 months to build the strongest resume possible while here in North America and increase my chances of landing a desirable position in a great school overseas?

    3. Are there any 'how to guides' available out on the internet that are worthwhile reading?

    At this point, we are open and willing to start reading, but would appreciate any advice on how to get started. I am sure I will have many follow up questions down the line, but just wanted to start out with a few basic questions. I really appreciate everyone's time and the willingness to help us out! Have a wonderful evening!
  2. amysdad

    amysdad Established commenter

    OK - so first initial thoughts. You have enough experience that, if you wanted, you could start putting out applications for schools now. However, as you point out, your husband would be the trailing spouse, making you a slightly more expensive hire (schools health insurance usually covers family too.) Given his background, would he consider teaching - particularly in Design and Technology which is an "in demand" subject, or possibly even something like Physics or Maths? That would make you incredibly appealing to schools.

    Where to go? Somewhere safe, easy to travel from, and save money but not fussed about high salaries - that does say Asia to me. Don't rule out China - @the hippo can vouch for the other tier 1 cities better than me, but Beijing is safe, cheap to live in and the pay is good. Travel though is better from Shanghai or even Shenzhen, I think, than Beijing though.

    The schools you'd be looking at would be one where the curriculum is taught in English, so IB schools, American curriculum and British curriculum. They are though unlikely to be primarily expat kids - the number of kids which would fall into this category are falling as companies pull back - but you could have a mix. More likely they will be the kids of the moneyed class of wherever you are, who can afford a private education. That does mean that, to some extent, you will be teaching to EAL kids most of the time, so if you were able to get experience in this area then it would help. You could also look at the IB courses too, but whether or not they are worth doing is debatable because a good school will pay for them anyway when you get there.

    There aren't really any "how to" guides out there, but you could consider signing up to the International Schools Review website, at least to get the free access to their forums. There is some good advice on there - the paid side has reviews of school, but you need to take these with caution as they can sometimes just be posted by a p***ed off teacher!

    Finally, have you thought about approaching some of the recruitment agencies? Search Associates and ISS are the largest, and although there's a fee they can take some of the hassle out of applying. They are not everyone's cup of tea and some prefer to do the legwork themselves, but I have found them at least useful for information.
    Zgasnola, cmalcayu and Ne11y like this.
  3. rideemcowboy

    rideemcowboy Occasional commenter

    My suggestions, judging from what you have said, would be to focus on SE Asia. Target the main well established US or British Int Schools in the major cities. Manila, Bangkok, Jakarta, KL, Hanoi and HCM etc. I would write directly to these schools and contact the Elementary / Primary Principal directly.
    With so many new schools opening it has become a teachers market. If you have the qualities they are looking for they will not see your non-teaching husband as a liability.
    I would see the investment of joining SEARCH Ass has positive. If you are considering any of the 2nd or 3rd tier schools I would also join International Schools Review, but there is no need if you focus on the well-established schools.
    cmalcayu likes this.
  4. the hippo

    the hippo Lead commenter Community helper

    Hello. Did somone mention my name?
    cmalcayu likes this.
  5. Ne11y

    Ne11y Occasional commenter

    @amysdad has pretty much said the key things I would want to say.

    Particularly regarding a lot of the newer international schools in Eastern Europe, it's a key point that they cater for a large number of moneyed locals which can mean you're dealing with a large proportion of EAL alongside normal teaching. Do your research to identify the pupil profile of the school you are looking into.....and start preparing yourself for that.

    Also, the trailing spouse can make you more expensive. If he's not willing to attempt secondary teaching, another option is EFL teaching. It's not great pay but it can add a degree of flexibility to your overall profile as a couple. Not that trailing spouses are a no, but might he not get bored?

    You could, with your experience, apply now for September 2019 easily. However there are always preparations to make and don't underestimate how much initial cost the move will make: even schools which offer big packages will expect you to make payments upfront (visa costs etc) and there are always surprise costs like sudden medical appointments, additional fees when renting (here you often need to produce x3 rent payment upfront, which is a huge outlay).

    As for choosing where to go....start researching a little more closely, especially regarding travel options. Both areas are great and offer a range of locations and experiences you won't regret trying. Start getting down to day-to-day matters, as you will be working, commuting, shopping etc a lot.

    What kind of climate do you prefer? Food? Language challenge? What would you want to do at the weekends? What part of your daily life do you consider crucial to your well-being? Do you want a pet? Do you want an outdoorsy life or more settled?

    Lots of things to ponder I know. But travelling abroad can reveal a lot about your inner workings as a person. The better you understand your own limits and expectations, the better your choice will be.
    cmalcayu likes this.
  6. blueskydreaming

    blueskydreaming Lead commenter

    I can't believe that people are suggesting an engineer/project manager becomes a D&T teacher instead! Surely he could just go freelance in his own field.

    @cmalcayu Do your research about the countries you're interested in. Know your personal comfort limits. Some countries are becoming increasingly hard to live in as a foreigner.
    cmalcayu likes this.
  7. amysdad

    amysdad Established commenter

    @blueskydreaming it's because of the additional insurance / flight costs. He could go freelance, but that might not work for a number of reasons - visa issues, ability to get work locally, not wanting to work away from family for long periods of time, etc. All that would be a consideration for a school as to whether the teacher would stay long term, even if only subconsciously. As for health insurance, if it's not provided by an employer then as an expat your premiums are much higher reducing the amount of savings. Finally, while elementary / primary teachers are pretty common, D&T / physics / maths teachers are harder to find so the combination of the two would make them much more attractive to the sort of school they are interested in applying for
    cmalcayu and rideemcowboy like this.
  8. cmalcayu

    cmalcayu New commenter

    Good evening everyone. Thank you so much for your replies, thoughts and advice. I have a number of follow up questions to each of your posts. Any additional information is appreciated.

    Three additional questions:
    1. Is this the ‘goto’ forum on the internet for overseas teaching or should I also be joining and participating in other website forums? I see the *** website is noted below as an additional resource.
    2. There were mentions above of Tier 1 schools and a growth in the number of English schools overseas. Is there a database or list to browse though to focus in on a number of schools/cities?
    3. Is there a database or excel spreadsheet out there that shows typical salary, benefits, insurance, etc of different schools?


    • My husband would likely consider a teaching position in D&T, but he doesn’t have an education degree. What could he do without having to go back to University? Are there any school positions that could be available to an ‘engineer’? My husband did tutor students in math and calculus in high school and university as a side job so he has a limited amount of experience with that.
    • You mentioned Tier 1 cities. Is there a list of that somewhere that we can study? We have traveled to SE Asia a bit and would prefer to live in a place like Chiang Mai vs. Hong Kong if great opportunities were also available there. We would prefer a city where the pollution isn’t so bad, which has us somewhat concerned about Beijing.
    • We have read about Search and ISS for recruiting and will consider that in our search. If you are quite organized and willing to contact schools directly, do they offer a lot of value? The idea of flying to Toronto or San Francisco for job fairs sounds a bit daunting.


    • Thanks for the advice on contacting the principal of the elementary schools directly. Where are a lot of these new schools opening? We would prefer to focus on the best schools and overall salary/benefit packages. Would this mean focusing on Tier 1 schools, or do the Tier 2 or 3 schools offer comparable opportunities?


    • Depending on the qualifications needed, he would consider working at a school, but I doubt he will want to go back and get an education degree (he already has two bachelor degrees in engineering and economics).
    • Thanks for mentioning all of the good questions/points to ponder. We are ok with a warmer climate as long as our home would have good air conditioning, but wouldn’t want to live in a home without air conditioning.

    • What do you mean by your comment of being harder to live in? Is that in terms of safety for westerners? Or in terms of difficulty getting a visa, etc?
    • My husband would want to keep busy, but might be open to a variety of options. He would consider working at a school to try and maintain similar schedules (for traveling on holidays/weekends), he would also consider engineering or project management work if a visa is attainable. He may also consider volunteer work. Will a school typically pay for a working visa for the trailing spouse… or is that case by case?

    Thanks again to everyone for your help! I look forward to reading your responses.
  9. rideemcowboy

    rideemcowboy Occasional commenter

    Apply for every suitable job and then be selective during and after the interview process. Once they are interested in you, ask to speak to established teachers and do your research on schools and countries once they have shown an interest in you. Otherwise, you will find yourself getting your hopes up and researching schools where you were not in with a show. Tier one school are usually a safe option but you can certainly have wonderful experiences in newer schools or remote venues.
  10. the hippo

    the hippo Lead commenter Community helper

    Some sensible advice from rideemcowboy.

    Yes, apply for anything and everything and see what responses you get. Unfortunately, a lot of schools will not even bother sending a brief e-mail to acknowledge your application. When it looks as though you might get an interview, then you should start asking yourself, "Do I really want to teach at this particular school? Do I want to live in this country?" As regular readers of the pachyderm's online ramblings will already know, I am a great believer in "stepping stones". Sometimes a not-very-attractive post in a not-so-pleasant location can be a stepping stone to something better, amybe two or three years from now.

    cmalcayu, quite a few people have sent me TES Conversations over the years and I do my best to help them, if I possibly can.
  11. blueskydreaming

    blueskydreaming Lead commenter

    For example a gay colleague left a certain country because there was a turn towards a more conservative political ethos in that country.

    In some countries it is becoming harder to get money out.

    Here in China everyone's favourite VPN has been hacked, which means that since yesterday morning access to the outside world is limited. No VPN = no WhatsApp, FaceBook, Google, certain newspapers... And now that the hackers know they can do it, and do it well, they will do it again. And again. Goodbye outside world.

    My list is longer but I won't bore you. Find out about the countries you're interested in. As I said, think of your personal limits. What are you prepared to accept or not accept.

    A working visa for your husband would be a problem in many countries - you need a job in order to get the visa, not the other way around. If he's happy to work in a school that might be possible. But is he honestly willing to give up his career to do that? Is this a short term thing?
    cmalcayu likes this.
  12. amysdad

    amysdad Established commenter

    @blueskydreaming happily that VPN seems to be working again (at least it did on my phone this morning connecting to China Unicom.) It's happened to them before and they fixed it.

    @cmalcayu , to answer your specific questions to me:

    • My husband would likely consider a teaching position in D&T, but he doesn’t have an education degree. What could he do without having to go back to University? Are there any school positions that could be available to an ‘engineer’? My husband did tutor students in math and calculus in high school and university as a side job so he has a limited amount of experience with that.
    Tutoring is certainly an option, and you can make a good amount of money doing that. You just have to be careful with visa obligations, etc. Some schools will find him a job if they can - I suspect they'd be delighted to have a highly qualified technician - but the pay will be on a local contract rate so lower than a teacher's. He could consider going through the PGDE whilst teaching - again, some schools will sponsor this although there are essays, etc to be completed on top of the teaching load.
    • You mentioned Tier 1 cities. Is there a list of that somewhere that we can study? We have traveled to SE Asia a bit and would prefer to live in a place like Chiang Mai vs. Hong Kong if great opportunities were also available there. We would prefer a city where the pollution isn’t so bad, which has us somewhat concerned about Beijing.
    China classes its cities into tiers, so Tier 1 includes Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Chengdu, etc. Tier 2 includes Harbin, Urumqi, and tier 3 is smaller cities still. Tier 1 cities are where most of the better schools are. I'm a wee bit defensive of Beijing, because it's where I am - yes, the smog can still be bad, like last week, but right now I'm looking out of the window at clear blue skies and the AQI today is 21 and has been around that a lot of the time recently.
    • We have read about Search and ISS for recruiting and will consider that in our search. If you are quite organized and willing to contact schools directly, do they offer a lot of value? The idea of flying to Toronto or San Francisco for job fairs sounds a bit daunting.
    You don't have to go to the job fairs to get a job through Search or ISS. Search (I've not used ISS) is great for its database - this includes info provided by the school for things like salary, size, etc. It takes up all the references and then when you want to apply for a job, you click on the link on the site and it automatically sends the application. Schools know that the references have been checked so it's a bit smoother for them; however some still prefer a direct application because this ultimately works out cheaper for them because they don't have to pay the referral fee.

    In terms of some of your other points, there's no hard and fast list of a Tier 1 school and there's lots of debates about what constitutes this. Many argue that these are schools which are non-profit and which have a large number of Western kids - the original international schools. Tier 2 schools can share a lot of the characteristics of a Tier 1 but will be for profit schools, and Tier 3 are schools which are run primarily for profit and where educational needs might (but not always) be second fiddle to the bottom line.

    In terms of forums, this and the *** forum are the two I use and I don't really feel that I need to use others.
    cmalcayu likes this.
  13. cmalcayu

    cmalcayu New commenter

    Thanks again everyone for the replies. The information and tips are continually appreciated. (@rideemcowboy, @the hippo, @blueskydreaming)

    One question that I am quite curious about is the ability for my husband to find a position at a school (where I would be offered a primary education role)? It was mentioned earlier that perhaps he could find a position in D&T, math, physics, etc.

    Is this something he could do with his current engineering/project management background? Or would he need to go back to school for education?

    He does not want to give up his career, but we are open to a variety of options and looking for the best quality of life overall. Another option is that he could look into his field overseas and get a placement and then I find a teaching position in that same city. He works in renewable energy so we hope there may be opportunities abroad in that growing industry.

    At the end of the day, if we can have dual incomes at the same school (with matching vacation schedules), that could be a great option/opportunity for travel and quality of life.
  14. cmalcayu

    cmalcayu New commenter

    @amysdad - Thank you for all the additional answers! I see that you posted this while I was writing my last post. That is great information for my husband’s potential employability, school tiers and the recruitment firms.

    One last question on my husband’s work for tonight. Have you heard much of spouses working remotely in their own profession? Potentially he could follow me abroad and complete contract work back in USA or Canada. Would this be an issue with visas since he would technically be working back in our home country?
  15. blueskydreaming

    blueskydreaming Lead commenter

    11 years ago VPN not required. Then Olympics in Beijing. Then internet blocked. Now it's becoming a battleground - fighting over the great firewall and the ways through it.
  16. blue451

    blue451 Lead commenter

    My advice would be ignore all notions of Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 schools. What's considered a great school by one teacher might not by ideal for another. Seems a daft notion and seems to often be based on 'the size of yer package'. The most 'prestigious' schools can be hellish places to work.

    I overdid the quotes there I think, apologies if I've misattributed any of them.
    blueskydreaming likes this.
  17. adrixargentina

    adrixargentina Occasional commenter

    If my husband works remotely in China, would you suggest he signs up to a few vpns before we go?
  18. the hippo

    the hippo Lead commenter Community helper

    Mrs Hippo and her overweight husband used a VPN in China and most of the time it worked pretty well.
    adrixargentina likes this.
  19. Bill8899

    Bill8899 New commenter

    Yes. He should sign up to a few and - before you leave wherever you are - download the .exe files for as many VPNs as you can. It is difficult if not impossible to download VPN software here.
    adrixargentina likes this.
  20. grdwdgrrrl

    grdwdgrrrl Occasional commenter

    Some schools don’t pay flights and insurance for dependents.

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