Saturday, October 11, 2008

Blog has moved to

Have decided to move this blog over to wordpress and, whilst I'm at it, change the name to reflect me ... a teacher and old backpacker.

The name of my new blog is BackpackingTeacher and can be found at

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Want to teach internationally?

Want to teach overseas but not quite sure how to go about it? Thought I'd take the time out to post some tips on how you can go about this seeing as I've just been through the process myself. Please note that this post is a little Australian centric as that's where I'm from. Many of the sites though are international recruitment sites though. Also take into account that although I've done a lot of research and spoken to many people who have worked overseas this will be my first overseas teaching position (although not my first overseas job). Thus much of what I say may be wide of the mark - hopefully though it provides some relevant info.

Firstly let me start by saying that this is about teaching overseas for qualified primary and secondary (high school) teachers. This is not about teaching English in English language schools. For information on teaching in English language schools see Dave's ESL Cafe.

Finding the jobs

It seems that most schools want teachers who have some experience in teaching in their home countries. They usually express this as a minimum of 2 or 3 years experience. Some schools will take NQT's (Newly Qualified Teachers) but they seem to be schools desperate to find staff or that pay substantially lower wages. Nonetheless I'm assuming they can be a good place to gain experience.

In trying to find an overseas job there are two main avenues. Going through a recruiter or going direct. I have been to interviews in Australia with both Teacher Recruitment International and Search Associates. Of the two TRI come across as much more personal and friendly. They also seem to be more focused on your particular needs. That said Search Associates seem professional and are much larger and have much larger recruitment fairs (get to those in a second). Search Associates are also more expensive by a few hundred dollars.

While I met with both of those companies (and may still join both of them in the future) I found my position through plain old slogging on the internet. A google search of your particular subject area and limited to posting within the last couple of weeks will often find many positions posted on schools websites.

There are also a number of sites that will post positions available for overseas teaching posts. The three key ones are;

Aussie teachers might also like to try this website that lists many independent/catholic/private school jobs as well as a few overseas jobs

Pay and Salary Packages

How long is a piece of string? The pay seems to range from almost nothing (a school I spoke to in the Philippines was offering USD$800 a month) to a very few positions offering perhaps USD$5,000 a month (Hong Kong, I think).

Overall South America and Africa seem to pay quite poorly. The Middle East pays better (range seems to be about USD$2,000 to USD$3,000 a month) but cost of living is increasing from what teachers on the various forums say. Asia varies but seems to be in the USD$2,000 to USD$3,000 a month range with cost of living varying depending on which Asian country you're looking at. Europe decent salaries but cost of living is high and thus not a lot of money is left for saving.

The key however is not the salary. What you need to look at is;
  1. Do you pay tax or does your school pay tax for you - in a lot of packages the tax is paid for you and this often means your take home pay is substantially higher.
  2. Are you offered accommodation or given an allowance sufficient to give you decent accommodation. If not then this should ring alarm bells.
  3. Is medical insurance included? If not steer clear.
  4. Do you have paid flights home for you and your dependents at the beginning and end of your contract (usually 2 years contracts). Most of the better schools will give you flights home every year.
  5. If you have children then schooling should be provided free (note that having more than 2-3 kids can sometimes be a disincentive when schools hire).
  6. Will the school handle all your visa costs and paperwork (if not steer clear)
  7. Do you have any additional benefits eg. gym memberships.
A decent package leaves you with enough money to travel in the region you're living and put away some money (or, as in my case, pay for the mortgage back home).

A salary of $5,000 in Hong Kong that is not tax free and does not include accommodation may not go as far as a $2,000 salary in Indonesia that is tax free and includes accommodation. A good way to work this all out is to calculate how much you have left every month where you live right now and then calculate how much money you would have left if the country you're being offered a position in.

So when do they recruit?

Most International schools work on the Northern Hemisphere school year. They have a short two week break at Christmas and then a 6-8 week break in July/August or June/July. In addition they have a few extra weeks throughout the year. Holidays roughly work out the same as in Australia at between 12-14 weeks. The benefit for Aussies of course is that the middle of the year break is a nice long time to do travelling in the region you're based in.

The school year starting in July means that most schools start to check with current staff in and around December as to whether they're staying or going. The schools will then post positions on their websites at this time and in January/February. However the main recruitment drive seems to be through recruitment fairs (I have not attended one of these so I am going on information given to me). 

In Australia both Search Associates and TRI have their fairs in early January. At these fairs International schools will interview candidates and may make offers at this time or after they have attended other recruitment fairs in the world (London and Bangkok recruitment fairs seems to be the main ones).

Schools will also post positions that become vacant throughout the year on their websites. This may be a good time to pick up a position as most other international teachers are locked into contracts until June and thus the pool of candidates looking for jobs is likely to be lower.

This post is getting a little long winded now. Time to wrap up. The only way to get a job is to keep looking and then apply when you see something that interests you. I've got a job in Saigon and that's what I was particularly looking for but in the process I saw many other positions being advertised. I would refer to the websites listed above on a weekly basis to check for positions becoming available. If you don't look constantly and apply instantly you're going to be out of luck.

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Saigon: Job Interview

Saigon or is that Sai Gon or even Ho Chi Minh City. It's all a little confusing. I'm going with Saigon though. Actually I'm not so much going with Saigon as going to Saigon.

I've just accepted an 18 month contract to go teach Business Studies in Saigon and I'm excited. It's been a whirlwind of a week. My interview was early this week. Stupidly I'd suggested 3pm as an interview time so I spent the whole day being nervous waiting on the call. It did give me time to do more research. I think I read every relevant forum post on every possible expat website in Vietnam. I also spent hours trawling the TES forums ( a great site for people thinking of teaching overseas) to find out all I could about working in Saigon and about the school I was interviewing for.

So 3pm rocks round and I've got my list of questions ready. The Principal interviewing is friendly and easy going and even though the line is bad the interview goes ok. I'm not entirely sure I've scored a goal though as telephone interviews make it hard to build any rapport or show any of your personality. 

Later that day I get an email back, not quite offering me the position, but talking about the salary package. We exchange emails a few time discussing salary expectations and I'm finally made an offer! I'm excited but now I'm also scared. I have two days in which to accept.

I spend those days talking to family and friends, weighing up my options. The problem is I'm really happy here in Sydney. I work at a great school, have fantastic colleagues, I've moved into a new apartment, have great friends and am all round really enjoying life.  Finally I decide that the opportunity is too good to pass up. The chance of living in another country again is too exciting an adventure. 

I print out the school's contracts, sign them and email them to the Principal letting him know I've accepted the offer. 

The die has been cast. The Rubicon crossed. I'm going to Saigon in January.

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