5 things to know before going to teach abroad

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I am about to start my 7th year as a teacher, and 1 of the key reasons I love it, is that it is different every day. While the job is challenging at times, it is never boring.

I currently teach at a private international school in Mexico City, and I worked at a public school in South Carolina for four years before this. I have learned so much from both of these experiences, and while there were some similarities, there were also great differences. So here are some things that I wish I had known before going to teach abroad.

1. Hiring for international schools starts much earlier than in the US.

I started applying for jobs in early January for the next school year, but quickly found that many international schools start hiring in November, as visas can take time. So be prepared.

2. The buzzwords will be different

In the US I was an accomplished teacher who was up to date on what was happening in education. While a lot of this translated into the international experience (best practices are still considered best practices by most schools), I was not as familiar with IB or IGCSE curriculums as I would have liked to be. If you haven’t taught these curriculums before don’t worry; just do your research and familiarise yourself with the basic philosophies before your interview.

3. Be prepared for different interview questions, and don’t be shy to ask a few of your own.

Because you are moving to another country the school may get a little more personal than you expect. They will likely ask about your family situation (are you moving with a spouse or children?). They may ask about your mental health specifically; this is more common in Asian schools where mental health care may be more difficult to access. They may ask you how you plan to deal with any culture shock, or teaching students from a different background from your own. How will you deal with the language barrier? These are all good questions to consider personally before you decide you want to take a job abroad.

The interview is also your opportunity to ask important questions. Gather information about what matters to you and your own teaching practice. Find out what resources the school has. What professional development does the school offer? How will you be evaluated as a teacher? What is the mission of the school? Is the school run by the owner, a board, the parents? Is the school for profit or nonprofit? Do students have to take an entrance exam to be admitted? How does the school handle behavior issues? All of these questions can give you some insight into the culture of the school and host nation, and if it is going to be a good fit for you personally and professionally.

4. You can negotiate your contract

In the US if you are working for a public school they tend to have a transparent pay scale that is based on your experience and your qualifications/degrees. This is not the case in most private international schools. Everything is negotiable to some degree, from the amount of contact hours (teaching hours) that you have with the students, to your pay, to housing and benefits. This will depend on your school, but overall most schools are willing to negotiate. Do some research on the school and what they have paid teachers in similar positions in the past, and the cost of living in the area. Whatever you end up negotiating make sure you have it in writing and signed by the school before you leave your current job.

5. There is a big difference between traveling and living in another country.

I had already spent time travelling in the Caribbean, Central America, and Africa before I took my job teaching abroad, so I thought I would adapt to my new environment pretty quickly. However, there is a big difference between traveling in another country and living in another country. Be prepared to feel like an adult baby for the first 6 months in your new home. Everything will be new, exciting, terrifying, and overwhelming all at the same time. However, after a few months, you will start to settle in and get the hang of things and enjoy the experience. I have learned so much in the past two years about myself, the city and my curriculum. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.

If you are ready to make a change in your life then going to teach abroad can be a great way to do that. Make a list of things you are looking for in a job and try hard to stick to it. There are some great schools out there just waiting for an adventurous teacher.

About the author

AvatarTaylor is entering her 7th year of teaching. She currently teaches IB Psychology and Theory of Knowledge in a private international school in Mexico City.

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