Expat Teachers: Stories from Teaching Abroad

International education offers professional and personal growth for teachers

The opportunities for teachers to work internationally have never been so good. There are now well over 6,000 international schools throughout the world. As the number of schools grows and as existing schools expand, so too do the opportunities for teachers to live and work in some of the most exciting, interesting, exotic and unique places in the world.

The professional and personal benefits are extensive, as some of the teachers already working internationally explain:

A rewarding experience

Jenny Cleaver taught in the UK for 7 years until 2011 when she made the move to El Gouna, Egypt to teach in the El Gouna International School. “I fancied a change, something that was a new experience and a challenge” she says.  Jenny very quickly discovered that the learning environment was very different from her previous schools in her home country; one that has proved to be very rewarding. “Since working here, I have gained a lot of confidence,” Jenny explains. “Teaching a smaller class, with less stress reminds you why you got into education in the first place. It allows you to focus on teaching, without so much behavioural management and paperwork!”

Anna Coquelin is another teacher from the UK who has also found the experience very rewarding. Anna moved from Edinburgh to the British School of Riyadh several years ago to teach modern languages (French and Spanish) at the British School of Riyadh.

“The school is very different from the school I left in the UK,” she says. “Here it is very very multicultural. In most of my classes almost every child is from a different place: Texas, Canberra, Dublin, everywhere. We have 180 different nationalities in the school. They all use English as the language of instruction. Behaviour of the children in school is very good. I worked in a very tough, rough school on the outskirts of Edinburgh before this and it is nothing like that! The children are also very polite and generally know exactly how to behave. I have a two year contract and I would like to stay here after that if I can. I’m on a good contract. Being here, not having a mortgage, not paying tax, I’m earning very well because of the exchange rate. Everything about it is much better than if I was still teaching in the UK. From a personal development point of view I think it’s very beneficial. I already have a far better understanding of the world and a better understanding of what being internationally minded really means.”

Conal Atkins is a teacher from New Zealand who has taught at international schools in Italy, Vietnam, Austria, Luxembourg and Germany over a period of 18 years says. “You learn to modify your teaching skills and become aware of the language and cultural boundaries that you have to be sympathetic to," he says. "When working in a country which uses a different language to your own, you gain a new understanding of language acquisition which helps you to relate to your students. This is a huge and necessary skill when returning home as there are now such large and increasingly diversified non-English-speaking populations in many English-speaking countries.”  

And Lawrence Diver teaches maths at Parkhouse International School in Doha. “Staff at the school have been extremely supportive and cannot do enough to help, both socially and with regards to work,” he says. “I am enjoying Doha immensely.  Living accommodation is excellent.  I am playing for a local football team and have played games in Qatar as well as travelling to Thailand and Bahrain for competitions. I have visited a number of different countries already which I wouldn’t have a chance to do if I wasn’t here. Personally this experience has already broadened my perspective on life and made me realise that I want to do a lot more travelling.”

Making preparations

Lawrence has now been teaching internationally for three years and loves the opportunities that teaching in an international school has opened up for him. “I feel extremely positive about the move,” he says. “I’ve observed new and varied teaching styles and met a range of people, which has broadened my perspective on life.” And he shares some advice: “For any teachers thinking about moving overseas, consider the move carefully, do the necessary research and ask others already with experience.”

Conal Atkins agrees:  “When considering teaching internationally be a risk taker, but be one prudently,” he says. “There are many international schools, the vast majority are reputable but you need to do your homework and I would recommend applying through a recognised recruiting agency that can support and advise you. Or, if applying directly to the school, check to see if it holds some type of accredited status.”

Andrew Wigford is the Director of specialist recruitment agency Teachers International Consultancy and spent many years teaching and leading in international schools. “Moving overseas can be very rewarding, both professionally and personally,” he says. “My wife, Angie, and I both worked in some fantastic schools all over the world and travelled to some amazing places. There are currently over 295,000 expatriate, English-speaking teachers working in international schools and there’s still a big demand for more. If you have good teaching skills and experience then there are many possibilities for you. It’s an excellent way to develop your career, to work with different curricula and teaching approaches, and to learn from living and working in other countries and with teachers and students of many different nationalities.”

Andrew and his team help to place hundreds of teachers in international schools around the world every year and he offers some very helpful advice to those considering this as a career move “Our advice is research the schools as much as you can,” he says. “Look for accredited schools or those with a very good reputation and get your applications in early. Most international schools start their first round of recruitment in January and February, but there are always vacancies available throughout the year. It is best to get registered with a specialist recruitment organisation as they will be able to guide you through the whole process and will have jobs that may not be publicised elsewhere. A reputable agency will support you with all the details; right from preparing your CV appropriately, to sorting out visas and checking contracts; all of which can be truly daunting if you are dealing with these things alone. Such a service should not cost you a thing; reputable recruitment agencies do not charge candidates.”

Teachers International Consultancy regularly hosts free informational webinars and seminars providing advice about teaching in international schools.