Top 3 Mistakes Teachers Make When Going Abroad for the First Time

By Diane Jacoutot

When teachers decide to teach abroad for the first time, the main issue they face is that “they don’t know what they don’t know” and I find that this simple fact leads some teachers to make poor choices the first time around.

top 3 mistakes teachers make when teaching abroad

Mistake 1: Focussing on a particular location because you have/had friends there

Let’s face it. Nobody likes being the ‘new kid’ in school. What if you don’t make any friends? How will you find your way around? How can you make a trip into the unknown a bit less scary? Often teachers on their first trip abroad will hone in on a particular country or city because they have some kind of a tenuous connection – a friend of a friend, a distant relative, an ex-colleague or simply because they have heard a place is popular.

The problem with this tactic is twofold. First, you will be passing up other possibly better jobs in different locations that might better suit your individual needs. Are your friends/acquaintances exactly the same as you with the same career aspirations, teaching style, hobbies, likes and dislikes? If not, then how do you know that what suits them is what suits you best? If you wouldn’t let them choose your wardrobe, a long term partner or a new flat for you, why would you let them choose your next job location? Be self-aware and brave enough to make your own choices on what suits you best.

Second, international schools are vibrant, ever-changing work places and a typical international school turns over 25% of staff each year. They are always welcoming new employees and you will quickly meet like-minded people who are from all over the world and who are on the same adventure as you with the same hopes and fears. Dive in and meet new people. Don’t cut yourself off from learning and growing as a professional and as a person.

Mistake 2: Thinking of teaching abroad like it’s a holiday

Of course travel is one of the many attractions of teaching abroad but many first-timers fail to think deeply enough on the professional aspects. Rather than focusing on how far the schools is from the beach, focus on the working environment because frankly this varies much more than you can imagine. Is it an enjoyable place to work? Will you have access to quality professional development? Are you aware of the culture of the students, parents and school leaders? Is the school ethos a good fit with yours? You will be spending over 6 hours a day at work so it should be more than an afterthought. And if teaching is really a vocation for you, you will often be considered by a better quality (and often better paying) school outside of the most popular and and therefore most competitive areas: Dubai, Abu Dhabi City, Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai. Don't be close-minded.

Mistake 3: Not understanding the marketplace

Teachers understand their place in their local market – what a teacher with their experience should make, what positions are reasonably available to them, how they fare against the competition, what housing they can afford and what their take home pay will buy. But moving abroad means that you will be competing on a global scale in a new playing field. Don’t assume you will get paid the same, nor should you assume that your current take home pay will have the same buying power abroad. You can read our advice on this here.

To understand your marketability, first realise that international schools want to avoid risk. They want to avoid the risk that you won’t adapt to a new curriculum so they prefer teachers experienced in their curriculum (eg US, England/Wales and/or IB which account for almost all of the market). Schools will obviously need to hire teachers who can get a visa- so you need to have the right qualifications, age and teaching experience required by the government. And remember that rules change all of the time so what was okay last year might not be ok this year.

Schools often prefer teachers and leaders who already have experience working abroad, especially in their local market. They prefer teachers with a proven track record of academic results, teachers whose CVs show they don’t jump around between jobs because it shows resilience, and teachers who know about their school and region who have done good quality research. On top of that they want teachers with good, valid, recent teaching references. From a family perspective it’s less risk if a teacher is single or if their partner already has found a job, and those without children are less risky because there are fewer people who need to adjust and settle.

Finally, teachers or school leaders who have unrealistic expectations, think they know it all, require special treatment, are demanding and appear to be prima donas are more risky because they are less likely to be happy overall, and are more likely to offend fee-paying parents, children and other staff members.

Teaching abroad can be scary because of all the unknowns but getting good quality advice and guidance can make a huge difference. Every one of the recruiters at Edvectus has taught and lived abroad so why not let us help…. from one teacher to another? Register with Edvectus for our free service at today.

- Diane Jacoutot is the Founder and Managing Director of Edvectus International Teacher Recruitment with offices worldwide including Europe, Americas, Australia, New Zealand, and the Middle East.



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