So you want to teach overseas eh?

Oh the allure of teaching overseas, the travel, the students, and the people who you’ll meet while teaching overseas, but is it as alluring as what people say?

To start, I have taught internationally on 3 different occasions at 3 very different schools. The first one was when I taught kindergarten in Hong Kong as a “Native English Teacher”.  This was before my formal teaching education, and was really just doing it to make ends meet.  But it was also the reason why I came back to Canada to finish my formal education degree. My second time around was immediately after my education degree, where I taught at a Canadian accredited school in Ghana. And my last and most recent one was in Malaysia at a U.S and faith based international school.  I’ll fill you in with my experiences, what I’ll look for the next time around, and what to expect because it isn’t as glamorous at it is when things don’t work out right.

First off, teaching overseas is amazing! It was the reason why I got into teaching, and the experience you’ll gain from just being away and working abroad is something that can never be learned back at home. It will broaden your horizons and perspectives inside your classroom, and your understanding of different cultures will be immediate connecting points with your students. Based on the various places I have lived, and different cultures I have interacted with, they have undoubtedly helped me in connecting with my students of different cultures.

Types of overseas teachers

Oversea teachers are not just english teachers contrary to what a lot of people think. A lot of people still think that I taught English when I taught in those places, or that I taught in a some school in the country as what many people believe when teaching overseas.  There are many types of oversea teachers that can help you make a living when teaching overseas.

  1. English teacher

This one is easy, and the most common. You are hired by a school, government, or a recruiting company to be the go-to english teacher at the school. Depending on the age group (most are kindergarten to gr.6), you are expected to carry out conversation classes, songs, rhymes, and play a lot of games with your students. You primary goal is to be the teacher that will expose English to your students.

How do you become hired?

Being hired as an English teacher could be 1) directly through a school, 2) government recruitment 3) Recruiting company 4) Word of mouth.
Recruitment directly through a school isn’t that popular as most schools rely on a recruiting company to recruit based on the fact that turn over is quite high. But if you do get recruited through a school, the bonus is that you are paid directly from the school, and any negotiations could be done through the school instead of a recruiting company. Most schools will post their employment on their school website, but this is more common for an International school than a local school since local schools would be publicly funded, thus, government funded through the government recruiting method. This leads us to government recruitment.  Places like Hong Kong, UAE, and Japan hires their English teachers (not all) through the government. That means that you apply through a government website, and apply and interviewed by a government third-party.  Once you have been accepted, you will be placed in the ‘accepted’ candidates pool where schools select the candidates based on their needs. The pros of going through the government route is that everything is regulated, and clear in the expectations. There wouldn’t be any hidden costs since it’s through the government. The pay is usually pretty good with housing stipend provided as well. The cons of being recruited by the government is that since it is through the government and the pay is great, the selection criteria would be more stringent.  Instead of having a basic online TEFL certificate like what some recruiting companies might accept, you must have an accredited TEFL diploma from a recognized institution. It wasn’t as strict before since I have met a lot of people who just finished their TEFL online, but with the popularity of teaching English overseas in the past 10 years and with mediocre quality of English teachers, recruiting practices have been stepped up.

The last one is recruiting companies. This is probably the worst, or the best depending on what you have and want. Recruiting companies are the wild west of English teaching world. They are basically hired by the school, and will look for candidates for the school.  They get a cut from the teacher’s salary (or the school), and will do all the processing for you.  The plus side of going with a recruiting company is that they will process all the visas for you, look for a school for you, and most likely not as stringent with their requirements since they can just find a school to suit your needs.  If you are just traveling and wanting a taste of teaching English or needing a job, recruiting company might be for you.  But if you have a formal education degree, and wanting to find a job in International school, this might not be it.  There are some larger and reputable recruiting companies such as Search Associates, which may work but with more conditions.  The down side of going with a recruiting company is that they realistically don’t care about you.  You are just a number that helps their business by teaching at a school. Some places will squeeze every ounce of money out of you as this was what I experienced in my first gig in the system.  I had gotten a raise from my school of $500 HKD, and my recruiting company said that they are taking $300 from it leaving me with $200HKD from the raise every single month!  Maybe I was young, and naive, I didn’t make a fuss about it but that’s what some of these companies can do.  Some of their contracts also states that for whatever reason you leave the job prematurely, you will have to pay back the VISA costs, recruiting costs, and 2 months wage. At this point, I would never go with a recruiting company unless … nothing.

How much do you make?

Your salary ranges but should be sufficient to survive living abroad. If you are young and willing to do extra tutoring sessions, you can build a pretty good name for yourself to earn a lot more. I have met a lot of people who end up staying abroad and tutoring instead because you get to set your own hours, and your own clientele. If you are recruited by the government at a school, your salary is quite good as they will provided a housing allowance in addition to your salary. Most government jobs will provide a end of contract bonus as well. As for recruiting agencies, they are probably the least lucrative, because after all, they will take money from you.

2. Teaching at an International school

This is probably the best option for anyone who has their formal education degree and is ‘actually a teacher’.  You will be hired as a subject teacher at a school, and will teach students who are usually eager to learn and English speakers as well. The school will function like how a school function similar to your school back home.  The pay for working at an international school is usually higher, and there is always a housing allowance, and airfare provided.

The challenging aspect of teaching at an international school is getting into one.  There are hundreds if not thousands of international schools around the world, but with that, there is always the top notch ones, and there are the not so top notch.  When you see an international school with a high turn over rate year after year, that should be a warning bell to tell you that something is up with that school.  Issues such as administration, head of school, mission of school, or living conditions can be the source of hardship once you have accepted and signed the contract.  As appealing as having that opportunity to teach overseas, you have to remember that once you are living overseas, you are living under the ‘rule’ of another country or school norms.  Different countries have different ways of doing things, even if you are at an international school. Most of the time, there is always a local person who is in charged with all of the official government papers. Furthermore, different schools have different school objectives, or missions of what they want to do at the school. Schools can suddenly implement this new strategy and you will have to buy in 100% even if the technique is out of date, or implausible. Lastly, because you are now in another country, with different norms, you could be stuck with a terrible administration where bullying occurs.  This is common as the people who are in those administrative positions have worked their way up after years at the school, so what they say and do is what you must do, otherwise your time at the school will be miserable. I have seen and experienced bullying in schools where administration was vindictive to staff members who spoke out against the ‘system.

Another point of international schools is that many sought after international schools are IB, and because of that reason, they are really difficult to get into as a starting teacher without IB experience. The catch 22 of teaching IB is that you need IB experience to teach IB but if you don’t have IB experience, how will you ever get IB experience?

How much do you make?

Teaching at an international school will be comparable to your salary or to the living standards of the country.  All of the international schools I know will provide airfare, and housing / or allowance for foreign teachers.