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Dispatches from the International Teacher Job Search

Schools post their vacancies for the following year earlier each year, which can result in a daunting task for teachers contemplating a move.

Jason Simon | @amancalledj
December 14,  2019

Moving on is part of the life of an international school teacher. From my perspective, that’s just fine. People like me didn’t get into this line of work to spend their whole career in one place, even if we do occasionally fall in love with a specific city or school and settle down for a while.

In my case, my wife and I are in the process of moving on after five years from an excellent school we’ve had a positive professional experience at. It’s amazingly well-resourced and is on most teachers’ shortlist of top-tier name recognition Asian schools, and it is, in fact, a really great place to work. I often joke that if I could have the school airlifted and dropped down somewhere tropical and near a beach, I’d end my career there as the erratic old guy in the English department fretting about being too old to get a visa renewal. In truth, though, I’m not leaving the school as much as the megalopolis in which it’s located with winters as cold as those of my Northeastern Ohio childhood. It’s actually not a bad city to live in, with its air quality noticeably improved in recent years, its restaurant and craft beer scene exploding, and its internet…well, let’s not talk about its internet.

Several international teacher recruitment job fairs are held each January in Bangkok (pictured).

Beginning the international school job search is a daunting task. For one thing, the whole process starts earlier and earlier every year as teachers and schools look to lock up many of their positions before the big job fairs in Bangkok and London in January. These days, teachers are having first and second interviews and even accepting offers by late October, a few weeks even before the first proper fair of the job-search season.

Of course, the first question is whether or not to sign up with a recruiter. Recruiters are pretty expensive, and it’s completely possible to find a job without one, but they do make the process much easier with detailed information about salary, benefits, and savings potential as well as curriculum and demographic data about potential schools. For us, we ended up using a recruiter this year primarily for its database of schools and positions, but we probably would have been fine without one.

Once, when I interviewed for a previous school, the principal made a point of telling me that he hadn’t looked at my profile on the recruiting site I was using. I assume he was telling me this because the school had no intention of paying the recruiter a “finder’s fee” after hiring me because I’d been referred by a friend. I could be totally wrong about that, though.

Next, teachers need to decide whether or not they’ll attend an international school job fair. I personally have never attended a fair and have found all my jobs — including the one at that really good school where I currently work — through referrals and by applying directly. Other teachers I know love the job fairs and have had a lot of success and fun making connections and running into former colleagues from all over the world.

Weigh your options carefully among signing up for a recruiting service, attending an in-person job fair, or networking with colleagues regarding potential vacancies at their schools.

Obviously, the most important question is where to go for that next school. For brand new teachers, the best answer is anywhere. Do a few years. Get some experience. Bank some money. Move on. For people with more experience, however, choosing a school requires some strange arithmetic.

There is the city and country, of course. Schools in Asia and the Middle East tend to pay the best overall. Most European schools don’t pay as well but have the draw of being in Europe. There are great schools in Africa and South America too with salaries that range from generous to less so. In our search, we planned from the beginning to stay in Asia. Good money, decent travel options, relative safety.

Some teachers really want the urban experience while others want to be somewhere where they can go on hikes or do some cycling. A lot of the best schools exist in the suburban outskirts of their respective cities, so teachers need to think about whether they want to be close to work or in a cool neighborhood with options for a rich social life. As for me, I don’t have to live in the most happening part of a city. I just have three rules: walkable café, walkable pub, and walkable foreign grocery story (the kind of place that sells cheddar cheese and hint-of-lime tortilla chips).

What characteristics are you looking for in your next international school and city?

The school itself matters too. Some teachers need IB (International Baccalaureate) experience and have to prioritize schools with IB Diploma, Middle Years, and Primary Years programs to pad their CVs for future schools. Others prefer schools that use national curricula programs similar to their home countries: AP, Common Core, A Levels, or IGCSE. I’m at a stage where I’m comfortable with my experience in many of these programs, so my needs are more specific. Basically, I want a school that isn’t so set in its ways that I can actually get involved in creating units and influencing curriculum. I want a school that’s in the process of rethinking its practice and embracing innovations in student agency, curricular co-construction, interdisciplinary teaching and learning, and, most of all, privileging learning over the production of highly prescriptive work. On a practical level, I’m also avoiding schools that are currently in the process of relocating to a new campus, which bring to mind inchoate workspaces, spotty internet connections and a lot of planning for the worse. Not a road I’m looking to travel down again soon.

All in all, uprooting oneself and starting over somewhere else can be a stressful process but also an exciting one. In our job search, everything worked out really well this time. We had a job offer by the end of October at a very good school in a warmer tropical climate and look forward to relocating at the end of the school year. It was an easier process this time than in the past, due I’m sure to the reputation of my current school but, I hope, also my own CV, interview prowess, etc. The international teacher job search is a strange process unlike that of most other fields–it’s closest parallel is probably the university application process–but it’s an exciting and exhilarating aspect of the field I wouldn’t change.

Jason Simon is an international school teacher and short story writer originally from the U.S. and currently based in Beijing, China. Along with his wife Jennifer, he has taught in Egypt, Vietnam, China and the United States.

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