How to prepare for a new job as an international teacher

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You may be one of the 15,000 or so UK teachers already planning to teach overseas this year. Even if you are not, the international school sector needs at least 150,000 English speaking staff within the next decade, so working abroad is an option for British teachers in the years ahead. Teaching abroad develops careers, opens minds, expands experiences and boosts the bank account as well as the address book. UK schools appreciate the benefit of staff with international experience, making it almost as easy to come back home as it is to work abroad. There are plenty of challenges, especially at the start, so anyone thinking about it would be wise to prepare fully.

The Visa and your status

British nationals have travel pretty easy when holiday-making and rightly regard the British passport as one of the most valuable in the world. Over 50 sovereign states offer visa-free or favourable entry conditions for Commonwealth citizens and we are used to getting in and out of most countries with no difficulty. As British passport holding visitors in a foreign country we are welcome; we spend money and boost local incomes but as local employees, domestic administrators regard us as immigrants who must follow the letter of their law. So, if a visa requirement is that every page is signed, photocopied in triplicate and authorised by a notary, then do it.

Take none of the paperwork for granted; if you get any of it wrong you risk your application being rejected and a delay or even the termination of your contract.

Don’t panic! Almost everything can be sorted out if you start early and get organised. It is usual for good international schools to have a full-time employee managing visas, work permits and all paperwork. You just need to double check everything, keep in touch with the school and stay up to date with news from the embassy in your destination country.

Bureaucrats may see teachers as immigrants but once we get the visa sorted and start working we are seen as highly respected professionals almost everywhere in the world. International schools are aspirational, high quality places populated by families who see the overseas teaching staff as the very best of British.

What to expect when you arrive

New staff have been recruited at great expense to fit into an existing space, do a great job and be up to speed straight away. If you have this mindset at the outset you won’t be surprised. Also, you should expect to be flown in and welcomed on arrival, provided with accommodation, health care, a well-resourced space to work and time to plan, prepare and organise. Staff turnover is higher overseas than in the UK so schools need academic artisans who can get things going without making a fuss.

Put the social before the professional when you arrive and it’s likely to be a short say.

Once you have learned how the school operates, how you fit and what is expected of you, you can start thinking about what amazing places you can visit and things you can do.

Get to know your contract

In the UK we tend to read, sign and file our contacts and in all possibility never look at them again. The contracts tend to be so familiar and similar as to be interchangeable. Nothing could be further from the truth once you move abroad.

Contracts vary and will reflect the values and beliefs of the school so you should have sight of it and really study it before you say yes or no to an offer.

Some schools will require you give up to 9 months of notice, others might offer an extra month of pay as a bonus every year. Some might not pay a salary in the summer holidays at all while others will impose dress codes. Also remember that not all countries recognise same sex marriages or civil partnerships so check this if it applies to you.

Almost all contracts will be fixed for one or two years and then renewable every year after that. This is normal, it works and is not really anything to worry about, but it is something to check so you know what to expect before you sign up.

It is an adventure

By its nature, working in another country can feel strange at first. It might not always be what we expect and will constantly surprise us but this dynamic international school world is not just awaiting us, it is calling us. An adventure requires to leave behind the familiar and embrace the unknown but as the new becomes normal and the exotic familiar our voyage of discovery seems less daunting and all the more worthwhile and exciting.

For more information, research and case studies related to teaching abroad: Teacher Supply in British International Schools (COBIS)

A female teacher walks outside smiling and looking at her phone

About the author

Peter Hogan has been head of four schools in the UK and overseas. He has taught at and led schools in the state and independent sectors, spent a decade as a schools' inspector and acted as education adviser for organizations including The Financial Times, HSBC and a number of international charities. He has also served as a school and a university governor.

Follow Peter on Teacheroo

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