Working Overseas?

WOULD YOU “BURN IN HELL BEFORE RETURNING”?

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

It is 8am on a wet and windy November Monday morning, the clouds casting their dark shadow over the inner-city Michigan school playground.

The sun hasn’t shone for weeks and the gloomy, depressed mood is reflected in the faces of the teachers as they hunker up the energy to exit the staffroom ‘trenches’ and once more face the challenge of teaching a horde of truculent teenagers.

Most have spent their weekend ‘leisure time’ marking and preparing lesson plans.

The more anxious ones slept fitfully.

They won’t be leaving early today because the Principal has called an end-of-day staff meeting. He’s just been informed that the District are doing an inspection next week. Not least for his own career, if not that of his teachers, he’s hoping the outcome of this inspection will be better than the last.

Meanwhile, he better check how many toilet rolls his parents have been able to donate this week.

I’ve experienced this as a teacher, and many of you reading will have too. It is not fiction, it is fact.

Which makes the following statistics* both verifiable and a disgrace.

• The percentage of teachers that leave the profession due to stress: 35%

• The percentage of newly qualified teachers (NQTs) that leave the UK teaching profession within 1 year: 12%

• The percentage of NQTs that leave within 5 years (in last 10 years): 28%

• The percentage of UK teachers that leave in first five years: 50%

• The percentage of US teachers that leave in first five years: 30%

• The percentage of UK teachers who expect to quit in less than two years: 18%

• The percentage of UK teachers who expect to quit in next five years: 40%

It is no surprise then that mainstream newspapers such as The Guardian, are finally latching on to an interesting global phenomenon, which is that many of these US and UK teachers are not quitting teaching, they are going to work abroad; invariably heading for a teaching job in an international school where “the pupils are delightful, the classes are small, resources are plentiful, workload is reasonable, staff work well together” and where one can perhaps get in a bit of diving, swimming or sailing after school gates have closed for the day.

“Working conditions are better, with sizes that are half of a UK class. It would be insane for me to return to the UK.”

“I remember spending weekends in the UK sat at home planning, marking, assessing, worrying…Now I actually have a life.”

“I would never consider going back to a UK classroom.”

“Would I go back and teach in the UK? I would find it very hard to go back.”

“I’d rather clean toilets in McDonalds’ than teach in the UK again.”

“In the UK, my work was results and Ofsted-driven. We were handcuffed by bureaucracy and targets.”

“I would burn in hell before returning to teach in an English school. Teaching in the UK is exhausting.”

Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

I could fill this article with identical comments from international school teachers (British and American) all of whom have quit their home country for pastures new in schools the world over. During my years of association with international schools I’ve met very few IS teachers who ever return home to teach. In fact, right now, not one comes to mind.

But is working in an international school the ideal job for a UK teacher? Is it all sun, sea, sand and Tequila’s on the terrace? Well, yes, in truth it can be all of that and more besides. But there are other factors to bear in mind if you are intending quitting the gloom of inner-city London for the clear blue of Phuket.

  1. Pensions. You won’t have one as an international school teacher so you’ll need to ensure you make your own provision for retirement. Many IS teachers invest in property. Those who did so in HK a decade ago, and sold before the recent riots, did very well indeed.
  2. Contracts. One or two years is typical, even for experienced senior teachers. So you’ll need a mindset and attitude which can cope with knowing that nowhere you settle is likely to be permanent.
  3. Culture Shock. I cannot help wondering how newly qualified IS teachers who landed a job in HK last year are now coping. My guess is most are looking for out. OK, HK right now is a dramatic example of culture shock, but wherever one goes, expect to experience it to some degree.
  4. Salaries: Overall, you’ll earn more than back in the UK or US especially as you move up the management ladder, but make sure your IS contract includes essentials such as health insurance, free accommodation, flights home, maybe even a yearly bonus.
  5. Inspections: You won’t suffer Ofsted but you’ll still have to be inspection savvy, not least for organisations such as the Council of International Schools.
  6. Politics and Stakeholders: This can be a big one for many IS teachers, and especially Principals; having to handle the often culturally unfathomable world of multicultural parents, local and national politics and related ideologies, and, not least, the bureaucrats from the Ministry of Education.
  7. Owners: Most classroom teachers will rarely meet the school owner. But Principals and senior managers most definitely will. Some IS school owners are enlightened leaders themselves, liberal-minded, empathetic, and driven by educational values rather than the bottom line. As I say, ‘some’.
  8. Corporatisation and Elitism: There are now some big players in the IS world, notably Cognita and Nord Anglia, both of which were, interestingly, originally UK companies. These companies can offer you many opportunities not least because they have schools all over the world. Likewise, many of the top IS schools in Asia originate from the world of elite private English schools. Just remember their world is corporate and elite, by definition.
  9. Students: If you’re newly arrived from the UK then better swot up on the characteristics of Third Culture Kids. Not that there is a problem with them, far from it, but Moss Side kids they are not, especially those whose parents send them to school in a chauffeured Maserati.
  10. Nomadic Global Citizen: This is what you’ll become once you leave your home country. Very few ever return, not least because while they are away their home country changes and becomes more about nostalgia than familiarity. So, expect to be an NGC until the day dawns when you finally settle in one place, hopefully for the rest of your life. I chose Thailand. No doubt you’ll find you own sunny haven.

And if you happen to be reading this article in your UK or US school or university staffroom and thinking to yourself, ‘that’s all very well, but are there any IS jobs left for teachers like myself, won’t they all have been taken already?’ Don’t worry, CIS estimates the sector will require up to 230,000 more IS teachers over the next 10 years.

Your ‘dream job’ awaits.

Dr Stephen Whitehead (opinions are author’s own)

For those interested, Dr Whitehead’s latest book, Toxic Masculinity, can be found here.

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Dr Denry Machin

Dr Denry Machin

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Educationalist. Writer. Sharing (hopefully wise) words on school leadership and management.