I signed up to the ‘UK Teaching’ subreddit recently to read a self-selecting group focus on the negatives of teaching.
As part of my recent reflection about working as a classroom teacher (rather than a non-classroom administrator), I reminded myself of how many teachers choose to move abroad rather. These teachers come from a range of experiences, but often are state-school trained, and state-school educated, as I was.
These state school educators then teach elite students internationally. That is something to consider in a later post.
Teaching internationally is a dream for many educators who suffer in a state-school system, offering an opportunity to experience new cultures and perspectives. I wanted to explore the privileges of teaching internationally, including higher wages, work-life balance, and opportunities for personal growth. However, there are of course challenges that come with teaching abroad, such as adapting to radically different approaches and the absence of traditional benefits like pensions.
The Privileges of Teaching Internationally
The best benefit of teaching Internationally is a work-life balance. Although there are necessary crunch times for work, the work-life balance is better in international schools than in their home countries. The schedule is more flexible, with noticeably shorter working hours and less workload, which allows for time to explore the new environment and spend time with family. Perhaps in the UK I worked from 7:00-7:30am to 5pm, and then in the evenings and weekends. Just the sheer grind of marking pushes the hours up.
In the place of grinding marking, international schools offer more chances to nourish oneself and family: holidays exist as time to travel, engage in personal hobbies, and rejuvenate ourselves. Work is often interesting and strategic, not procedural and crushing.
Of course, higher wages make a huge difference too. I received a 25% pay rise moving internationally, which has risen higher still. The purchasing power of my income is also better than back home in the UK. In a dual-income world where house prices have risen beyond reckoning, this is a huge benefit.
The least quantifiable but most enriching, element of international schools has to be the diligent and often fun Students. Students anywhere can be these things, but I found in the UK that the few students who were antisocial can dominate the culture of the school more than they should. We cannot escape the cultures that surround us: they determine our sanity. The cultures created in the international schools I have worked in are often enriching, eager and aspirational.
Of course, there are challenges to teaching internationally.
Some schools might have radically different approaches. One highly achieving school required the following of PowerPoints for most lessons with assessments every six weeks for KS3. Adapting to these expectations can be tricky, especially if they curb some of the more enriching soft-skills of teaching.
In some schools, overcoming language barriers is a real challenge. Where there are excellent EAL departments this is more doable.
There are also difficulties with some packages. International schools do not usually provide mortgages for teachers, and this can make it difficult for teachers to settle down. An absence of formal pensions also impacts teachers: the financial benefits of a higher wage can be offset by the lack of a pension.
Teaching internationally offers many privileges, including higher wages, a work-life balance, and the opportunity to experience new cultures. However, it also presents challenges, such as adapting to radically different approaches and the absence of traditional benefits like pensions.
However, if you want a nourishing and aspirational environment that will offer you an enriched perception of yourself, international education can be a great choice. It was for me.