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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Travel Tip: It Is a Terrific Time to Teach Abroad

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger

This is a guest posting from my friend and colleague David Carpenter, who is working abroad as an instructional technologist in Asia. Read his other posts, "An Instructional Technologist Muses on Lessons Learned: The Peaks and Pitfalls of Discovery Learning" and "Building Blocks for Technology Integration: A Strategy for Success."


Chris mentioned that it might be helpful to bring an international perspective to whatever I planned to write about for this post. I teach at Hsinchu International School, in Taiwan, so I thought that maybe I should write about what it means to be an international educator and then move on to a technology topic.

Why does someone become an international educator? My wife Margaret and I are now in our sixth country. Our boys were born in Saudi Arabia and Panama, and they are growing up in international schools with children from all over the world. We love the learning that goes with living in different cultures. The travel opportunities we can organize for school holidays take us to dynamic cities and historical locations as well as very relaxing beaches.

We cannot think of a better educational experience for our children, as they have fantastic, flexible, and dedicated teachers in small-class settings. Having the chance to work with wonderful professionals in schools that are designed to meet the needs of their students but are not constrained by school district or national requirements really makes for a rewarding work environment. It is especially gratifying to be a part of the school community, as most international schools offer community sports and arts programs that bring the families together on the weekends.

An International Community

So, what is an international school? The online newspaper, The International Educator, estimates that more than 900 K-12 overseas American, Anglo-American, British, and international schools exist worldwide, and the number is growing rapidly as globalized economies expand, especially in Asia.

Many of these schools were originally established for children of people who worked at embassies or multinational corporations or who were missionaries. These families, living outside their home countries and likely to change countries as part of their job, were seeking a consistent type of education, delivered in English, at schools from which they could transfer their children to other countries without the loss of academic credit.

In time, local parents also began to enroll their children in international schools because they provide English-language immersion and prepare their children to go to universities in foreign nations (the main destinations being the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada).

Because they provide an American-style learning environment, many international schools offer an Advanced Placement program. However, what's becoming even more popular is the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum. (Learn more about the IB program in the Edutopia article, "Never Too Young: The International Baccalaureate Program Goes Down a Grade.") To find teachers trained in either or both curricula, heads of schools attend recruitment conferences around the world, several of which take place in North America. (These recruitment conferences begin in January.)

The most well-known recruitment agencies are International Schools Services (ISS) and Search Associates. Both agencies provide information about preparing one's résumé, completing recruitment documents, and choosing which recruitment conference to attend. It is a good idea to start setting up your files with them by September. As you can see, the adventure of becoming an international educator starts about one year before you actually travel to your new home.

To connect to and learn more about the international-school community, subscribe to The International Educator, which offers a quarterly newspaper and provides guidelines for those new to international recruitment and overseas life. Visit the Web sites of individual schools to get a better feel for what working and living internationally means. Also, ISS has an online directory with links to a large number of international schools' Web sites.

International Innovation

Now, for the technology portion of this post, with an international twist. Several education bloggers happen to be international educators who focus their writing and reflections on technology, information literacy, and shifting our schools to twenty-first-century learning. Because the international schools are often very well resourced and free from the demands of testing mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act, they can be hotbeds of innovation. They often draw creative and adventurous teachers who are risk takers. The bloggers from these schools also give you an international perspective in their posts. The following is a short list that can get you started:

I invite overseas teachers and administrators reading this post to expand the discussion by commenting with their insights and experiences.

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger
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Comments (12)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

David Carpenter's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Response to questions:

To "C", I am not sure I understand your question about "programs" but maybe you are referring to which recruitment agencies might best meet your needs. The most well known as mentioned in the post are International School Services and Search Associates. There is also a recruitment fair offered by the University of Northern Iowa as well as others that you can find on the Web. An organization called the Council of International Schools has a fair in London in February as well. The first thing to do is to start your research on the Web by looking at these recruitment agencies while looking at The International Educator as another online and print resource.

To Curtis M, there was an article in the New York Times several years ago that documented the increasing number of U.S. citizens making the move overseas to find more economic opportunities. This definitely can be seen in our international school classrooms as we have children from all over the world. I think you would find many of their parents very happy that they made the move overseas at their employers request.

As for U.S. teachers, it is definitely a plus to work at schools where one is paid in Euros or the Chinese RMB which economists predict to continue to grow in value compared to the U.S. dollar.

Michelle D's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I've heard things here and there about teaching abroad, yet never really looked into it much. I teach at a public elementary school in Brooklyn, NY, and one of my fellow teachers left recently to go teach in South Africa. I have always been interested in the idea because I love to travel and think the opportunities are endless. It must be so rewarding to work with children in different countries.

As someone else commented, I hear the same thing about the US- that there is a high need for teachers. I teach in an inner city school, and because of budget cuts, it is difficult to find jobs in New York City. This was recently not the case, but it is getting increasingly harder due to lack of funding. Teaching overseas sounds like a great idea for someone who is looking for a job and a great experience. Which countries are the best to look into?

Laura Light's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

If you are interested in working overseas, please contact International Schools Services! As the Director of Educational Staffing, I can honestly say there is an abundance of open positions in schools all around the world. You asked which countries are the best - and I can say they all have some real benefits. There are certain regions around the world that have more activity, and are looking for more teachers (Middle East and Asia), but as a whole, there are many opportunities out there.

Katie Reifel's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My boyfriend and I are seriously looking at moving to Dubai just for a couple of years because we can both make more money over there then we are here, he is an electrical engineer and myself a teacher (he can actually make double) and we both LOVE to travel. We think it would be an amazing adventure to live some where else for a couple of years and then come back to "home sweet home" when we are ready. We already live in Phoenix so moving to another desert wouldn't be that tough, and we have heard really good things about that city lately. What do you think about that area of the world? I know it is getting a pretty bad rap right now, but do you think it would really be dangerous?

Katie Reifel's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Are you currently working overseas? If so can you tell us a little bit more about your experience. I am getting very serious about trying it!

Jessica OBrien's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Very insightful tips and views on teaching abroad. I have heard wonderful things about this experince. However, I am still wondering how involved are parents aboard? Do these schools have parent conferences and PTA's? I also read that there are things for families to do on weekends at these schools. Does this require more from the teachers?
If I did travel overseas I would want to make sure there was support for me being in a new country and school so I wouldn't become overwhelmed.

David Carpenter's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I will try to answer your questions but remember the best thing to do is to contact one of the recruitment agencies (note Laura Light's response below as she works with International School Services) and to subscribe to The International Educator to really get your research moving. To get more of an understanding for some international schools, check out the school directory at Wikipedia that offers links directly to school Web sites. Best of luck in your pursuit!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_international_schools

Now to your questions...

Each of the international schools where I worked was set up much like an independent school in the U.S. Each school had a school board with dedicated parents who also supported the PTA that each of the schools also had. As for the weekend sports and arts activities, the parents volunteered as coaches while any specialized courses like music and art were taught by specialist teachers from the community who were not part of the regular faculty.

Several of the big schools have their own stable of after school and weekend non-faculty coaches/teachers who provide instruction at a fee for the parents. It is a a nice way to provide co-curricular learning opportunities especially for the elementary students.

The middle school and high school athletes and artists have their matches, plays and recitals during the week and on the weekends just as they would in their home countries. If you are a JV or Varsity coach or art/music teacher, you would be involved in the weekend activities just as you would be back in North America.

As for support by administration and human resources at the schools, my experience has always been very positive. If you attend a recruitment fair, one of your tasks will be to network making contacts with teachers from schools you are interested in. They can really provide insight on the schools and the transition support that is provided.

As for which countries are best to look for more information about, you will need to look at what you are looking for and what your expectations are for style of living, nature of the community, pay and benefit package, etc. Different parts of the world obviously have different pros and cons to what they offer. A lot depends on where you are in your life.

Are you looking to have children? Maybe a place without so many cultural opportunities but good pay to save for the future might work well for you.

Looking for rich culture and language learning opportunities for your elementary aged children? Do you want city culture or an outdoor lifestyle and eco-travel opportunities?

Do you want a very traditional school to teach in that focuses on the American AP program or are you looking for a progressive school with a strong professional development program that centers on a inquiry and project-based in-house developed curriculum?

These are just a few questions to think about as you gather information and ask your recruiting agency to help provide information. And do check out the blogs I listed in the article. While most of the bloggers write about education and technology, you can search their tags for insights about living and working overseas.

Amy G's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have always thought it would be such a great experience to teach overseas as well! Especially since I am young, single, and love traveling! I agree that it is important to have that support system that we have here. I teach in my hometown where I have everyone there to support me and the school, but being in a different country with all strangers could be quite overwhelming!

Melissa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I moved to England for four years and taught there in the public school system through Southampton city schools. This was an experience of a lifetime; I grew so much as a teacher and learned a great deal about teaching, too. I wouldn't change my decision for the world.

I hope in a few years I have the opportunity to teach the curriculum again. I was very impressed with the system, the teachers and the students. I ended up becoming a Nationally Qualified Teacher. As with any other teaching certificate, it was hard work and certainly worth every minute of effort.

Melissa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I can't speak for US American schools abroad but I can for my limited experience teaching in the UK in their schools. There is not much difference from the US in terms of parental involvement. The better schools obviously have more parental involvement. And you'd be surprised how much support is there for you, especially if you are considering an American International School. If you are thinking of a foreign school, then you'd be surprised at how accommodating foreign networks can be.

This link: http://www.expatforum.com/ will provide you with many of the answers you are looking for and may even assist in job locating. If you want more information, or wish to ask me questions directly, you can email me.

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