Teaching Abroad: How to Get a Job in an International School

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I get a lot of questions from friends (and friends-of-friends, and friends-of-friends-of-friends) about how to get a job in an international school. This doesn’t really surprise me – as I’ve said before, I think I have the best job in the world. I get to do something I love and I get to do it in different countries around the world. There’s a ton of information about this online already, but I’ve decided to share my story, as well. Who knows…somebody might find it useful one day!

My best tip: register with an education recruitment company. There are two big ones: Search Associates and CIS. (I’ve only worked with Search Associates, so will be sharing that experience, but I’ve heard great things about CIS, as well.) These recruitment companies work to match teacher candidates with international schools. You have to pay to register, and for that fee you gain access to the job listings database. This in and of itself is worth the fee – many international schools only advertise through Search or CIS.

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When you register, you will be assigned an associate to help guide you through the process. Associates are generally based on your location; I got lucky my first year, as my associate was based in the city where I lived. Don’t worry if your associate is a bit further away, though – they’re great at communicating via email and Skype, and you’ll still feel supported!

However, the most useful resource provided by these companies is the recruitment fairs. These job fairs take place through the year all over the world. Dozens of schools and hundreds of candidates attend the fairs, and they can be a pretty intense experience.

227.jpgThe chaos of a Search Associates job fair.

The three-day fairs are filled with school presentations, networking opportunities, teacher workshops, and interviews. The fairs always take place in a hotel, and I would recommend booking a room, even if the fair is taking place in your hometown. A lot of the networking takes place outside of scheduled events – I’ve had run-ins in elevators lead to interviews with heads of school, and have had informal interviews over drinks or dinner. The fairs are crazy busy for everyone involved, particularly school representatives, and so you really need to make the most of every minute you have.

I’ve attended two fairs – both Search Associate fairs in Cambridge, MA – and have left both with multiple job options. At my first fair, I was hired to work as an associate teacher (essentially a teaching intern) at an international school in Italy. I had exactly zero years of experience in teaching, and was only just finishing my degree. This internship path is a fantastic opportunity for aspiring teachers. They give you the chance to work full-time as a teacher and learn more about what the job entails without committing to training as a teacher beforehand. For many teachers I know, this experience simply makes them feel more certain that teaching is the right career choice for them. For a few of my friends, these internships have shown them that teaching isn’t the right fit. All of my friends agree, however, that their year as a teaching intern was incredibly formative.

IMG_8430_2.jpgMy first international teaching placement.

At my second fair – after my year as an associate teacher in Italy and a year back in California getting my MA in education – I was offered three other roles: a classroom teacher position with a school in Germany, a classroom teacher role in Italy, and another intern role, this time with a much bigger school in Belgium. While I found the decision difficult, in the end I went with my gut and chose the intern role at the best school I could find. This gamble paid off. I moved to Brussels, where I was set up in an apartment with the other interns, and completed a comprehensive orientation program to help prepare me for the year ahead. I met my lead teacher and started to familiarize myself with her classroom. In a rather sudden twist, the night before school started, I received a call from my head of school: one of the pre-kindergarten teachers had to go on immediate maternity leave, and the job was mine if I wanted it.

IMG_3907.jpgMy school in Brussels – not every day was this sunny, but I loved every second of it!

It wasn’t the traditional way to get a classroom teaching role at an international school. This would be my first “real” teaching job. Most schools, particularly those in Europe and Asia, require teachers to have two years of experience before they’re hired. I remember feeling excited, anxious, ready, and terrified all at the same time on that first morning. I had no lead teaching experience, I’d never really thought about teaching pre-k, I’d just moved to a new country,  and I wasn’t close with any of the other teachers. Those first few weeks (okay, months) were challenging – I almost never felt completely confident – but my administrators and colleagues were incredibly supportive and made sure that I had everything I needed to grow as an educator. I continued on in pre-k for another year in Brussels, and then moved to a second grade role – a position I would never have reached so quickly had I not taken the risk and accepted that first intern role.

The great thing about education recruitment fairs is that there are opportunities for everyone, no matter what kind of experience you have. As long as you’re flexible (in terms of both role and location) and you’re willing to take a risk, you have a good chance of finding a job.

Other tips for finding jobs in international schools:

  • Do your research! Look around online at different schools. Register with International Schools Review, a online forum where educators share their experiences in and opinions about different international schools. Look at school websites. You can find out a lot about what schools are looking for this way, and can ensure that your CVs and cover letters are more targeted for the jobs you really want.
  • Be open-minded. Like I said, I didn’t come to my current job through the traditional route. I had to challenge myself to take a risk and make a decision that maybe didn’t seem like the “right choice.” You’ll get a feeling about a role pretty quickly; trust your gut. If something feels right, it probably is, and if it’s not, your contract won’t last forever.
  • Many schools are now recruiting primarily through their own websites. Most will accept speculative applications; if your timeline is flexible, it’s definitely worth reaching out to schools and letting them know that you’re available. You never know when a school will have a mat leave to fill (hello, how I got my job!) or a sudden influx of students just before the start of the school year.
  • Network! Honestly, the best way to get a job in an international school is to know someone who works in an international school. I’ve helped more than one teacher friend get a job, and I’ve had teacher friends help me. Schools are taking a big risk by hiring someone unknown – when you work in an international school, you truly become part of a community – so I think they always feel better when they have someone they trust recommending a candidate.

Are you an aspiring international school teacher with questions, or are you an international school teacher with more tips? Share them in the comments!

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