For the third time in my life, I am in the process of selling most of my worldly possessions. My wife and I live “lightly” to begin with, so it isn’t as if we have much to let go that didn’t originally come from Craig’s List. The process of divesting, however, is always cathartic: it acts as a physical reminder to focus on accumulating experiences and relationships rather than things. They’re much easier and cheaper to take with you.
We have accepted jobs at Frankfurt International School, a wonderful international school in post-card perfect Oberursel. In July we will arrive in Germany with an obscene amount of clothes, a few favorite books, kitchen gadgets Julia Child would envy, and one loving-but-psychotic Australian Shepherd mixed breed.
It is a homecoming. We worked at this school before moving to Boston, and many of our good friends are still around. We own an apartment there, and our German language skills are spotty but passable. Here’s my one joke in German: Ich spreche Deutsch gleich ein blautig Juenger. Not everyone thinks it’s funny, so I’ve got to get some new ones.
Luckily, I will miss my students and colleagues at Beaver Country Day School. I’ve been fortunate. Every time I have left one school for another, it has been on positive terms, and I have always loved each new place. I know I am fortunate.
In this post, then, I want to share some of my advice for why you might want a job at an international school and how you might go about looking for one. My experience comes from an American point-of-view, but I think it could easily work for teachers from other countries as well:
Why do I like teaching at an international school?
- I can learn more. We know that teaching is learning, and I love learning from cultures other than my own. Living in a new culture is like going back to school. It is certainly stressful, but it is always illuminating. The varied viewpoints, experiences, and cultural touchstones that are an everyday part of an international school cause me to reflect on my own beliefs, and I really like being taken out of my comfort zone on a regular basis.
- I can see more. The travel opportunities, especially from a hub like Frankfurt, are unparalleled. We can spend long weekends in Budapest or Paris, and about every six weeks we get one week off. We usually spend that week traveling. I tell people that teaching overseas is like having a semi-retirement while I am still young. Teaching is hard work, wherever that occurs, but I found the school year at an international school provided for more work/life balance. I am working to live and not living to work.
- I can earn more. From a purely fiscal standpoint, I earn about 20% more than in the U.S. Now, I purposefully looked for schools with a good compensation package. Each school is unique, so you must look carefully. The common wisdom is that the most lucrative teaching salaries can be earned in Asia, but even with the high cost of living in Europe, I found it easier to save more of my earnings while living in Germany than in Boston.
What should you do to get an international teaching job?
- Get certified and get two years of experience. Like private schools, international schools do sometimes hire teachers who are not certified or who do not have at least two years of teaching experience. However, you will have a much, much, much better chance of landing a job if you earn at least two years experience and state certification in your subject area.
- Ignore the myths. Feel free to ignore point #1, because it isn’t necessarily true. With the right credentials, personality, or skill set, plenty of people get jobs without having certification or experience. You’ll hear all kinds of opinions about the ideal candidate schools want: single teachers are preferred because they’re cheaper, married couples are the best because they’re cheaper, families are preferred because they are more likely to stay long term…NONE OF THAT really matters. Show up ready to demonstrate the awesomeness-that-is-you and you will be someone’s ideal hire.
- Start earlier. International schools do the majority of their hiring in January and February. I recommend starting your job hunt in August or September. Also, be sure to note the deadlines for job fairs, some are in October.
- Job hunt = second job. I dedicated about ten hours a week for months to researching, writing, and preparation. You should as well.
- Be flexible. The common wisdom is to go to job fairs with two continents in mind. The first time I attended a fair, my wife was working in the business world, so I had a list of 25 cities in Europe and Asia where her company had satellite offices. I looked for jobs in those cities, but you’ll find more opportunities if you’re open to moving to more places.
- Get thee to a job fair. The easiest way of finding international schools is attending a job fair. Each fair works a little differently, but all are pretty much whirlwind affairs that feel more like speed dating than job hunting. Job fairs are stressful and exciting and weird. Be prepared.
Which job fair to attend?
There are many international job fairs for educators and quick search will lend many results. Here are the big three:
I attended the Council of International Schools (CIS) fair in London, England because it was early in the hiring season, and I thought I would somehow impress schools by my willingness to travel from the U.S. Nobody was impressed that I got myself across the pond, but I did find this fair to be extremely helpful. I highly recommend it. I got offers from schools in the Netherlands, England, Thailand, Turkey, and Germany.
Search Associates is the “granddaddy” of international job fairs, being one of the oldest and most respected fairs. You have to apply to attend, and if accepted you pay a pretty hefty fee. The cost and effort are worth it, though. The fair held in Cambridge, Massachusetts is the largest fair, but it is now a little late in the season for my taste. In other words, many jobs are already filled by the time this fair opens. Of course, there are ALWAYS jobs available, especially if you are flexible as to where you will move.
The University of Northern Iowa in Waterloo holds a large international job fair as well. I registered for this fair but did not attend as I found a job at the CIS fair a few weeks prior. This fair seems to attract more schools from South America, but schools from all over the world attend as well. Again, the more flexible you are as to where you go, the more likely you are to leave a fair with a contract.
In the end, your path to an international job will look different than mine…and it won’t be a smooth one. Every teaching job I have ever earned has come at the end of a stressful, serendipitous, circuitous route.
My best advice, then, is to research as much as can before attending a fair but then just trust your gut. Go with what seems to be the best fit for you, not the first offer you receive. Teaching internationally has changed my life in the most wonderful and unpredictable ways. I’m so excited to be moving abroad again, and I hope you’ll consider a similar move in your life.