As many teachers begin to unwind and enjoy the start of their holidays, for some it is the end of a chapter. Many teachers are losing faith in the education system in the UK and newspapers are continuously reporting worrying figures about the mental health of teachers in the UK. If the papers are anything to go by, they are leaving the profession in search of something less draining on their emotional and mental health and in the hope of a better work/life balance.
So, could teaching abroad be the answer?
When I left the UK for Thailand, I went under the notion “how bad can it really be?” Back then, I was sharing a house with 5 other random people, having been forced out of my home due to a relationship break up. I couldn’t afford the monthly costs of living on my own; rent, running a car, food, as well as having enough to enjoy some sort of a life. I endured a miserable year in a shared house in the Midlands before throwing it all in for the sunny beaches of Thailand. Or rather, Bangkok. And I have not looked back since!
That was 4 years ago and since then I have lived in Dubai as well and now am in the process of moving to Singapore.
Here are some of the realities I’ve experienced whilst working in an international school abroad.
- You will work hard. Standards are usually very high, as are the expectations on you to perform well and give 110% to your job. If you like to leave early from work and do the minimum workload, international teaching may not be for you. However, a work/life balance is possible! I have worked in schools where managers would actively encourage you to leave promptly on a Friday and enjoy a work free weekend. Although many international schools have a campus which is accessible all evening and weekends, which can make it easy to just ‘nip in’ and end up spending all of your day off there!
- The parents can be challenging. Paying for an education means that parents expect a lot from you. This can mean you experience some tricky parents with a lot of demands. Usually these parents just want to an open door of communication and so are reassured quickly by establishing this communication early on in the year. However, you aren’t on your own and line managers are there to support you. Ultimately, an understanding of the culture and of the school will certainly help you to relate to the parents you will encounter.
- The holidays are amazing. I enjoy more holidays than I did when I worked back in the UK. Usually speaking, in addition to 13 weeks you have in a state school in the UK, I enjoy an extra 2 weeks. These vary from school to school but they tend to fall in the summer and at Christmas. And there are always those lovely public holidays where a nice 3 day weekend can be enjoyed on a beach somewhere!
- The wages are better. Disclaimer- they have been for me but wages differ from country to country and school to school. Overall though, I earn maybe twice as much abroad as I did in the UK, as well as enjoying some added extras as part of the benefits package provided by the school; Private medical insurance, end of year bonus, housing allowance, shipping allowance and an annual flight allowance. You very quickly get used to a better lifestyle and enjoy eating out, holidaying and many teachers are able to save for the first time in their careers. This is certainly one of my reasons for being abroad.
- It’s an opportunity to travel the world. One of the main reasons for moving away for me was to see the world. And I have! It’s easy to nip to another country for half term or to a beach for the weekend, and cheaper too! If travel is one of your motives for moving abroad, consider where you’d like to visit and perhaps consider a country nearby. That way flights are cheap and short.
- I’ve developed a lot as a teacher. I have learnt so much from working alongside outstanding teachers. It really has been fantastic to share ideas and learn from a wealth of experience. International schools tend to be much bigger than UK schools and so have more staff. Some of the best CPD I’ve had has been through learning from all of the fantastic colleagues both within my department but also school wide. I have also worked in a school where they have paid for external PD opportunities, such as having Paul Ginnis visit the school. However, a PD programme is worth asking about at interview, as schools work very differently from each other.
- Resources beyond belief. I remember being in the UK and trying to make glue sticks last for a whole term (no mean feat!) So when I moved to Thailand and my department had a whole resource cupboard, it was like Christmas had come early! What’s more, I could actually request more pencils, glue sticks and even Blu Tak. It would appear a few days after. Wow! I’ve worked in schools where students could work with wood to make moving models, used canvas in art and had some great IT resources. However, not all schools work in the same way and whilst some have plenty of resources, other do not. It depends on a variety of reasons, some being whether the school is for profit or non profit making and if year groups have their own budgets for resources or if they are dealt with centrally.
I have loved working internationally and as I begin my third post abroad, I am in no doubt that this is the right thing for me. I work hard for my students, and I do work some long hours occasionally, but I also enjoy much more of a life. When I’m sitting on the beach during a long weekend, I know that I’ve made a good decision! I have already booked my first long weekend away and am planning my October half term. Priorities!