Career Changers – Follow Your Heart, But Not to the Bottom of the Salary Scale

Posted by ISR Guest Blogger

In sour economies like the current one, teaching becomes a popular refuge for its high job stability and, especially among international schools, easy mobility. After a training program, laid-off workers can enter the profession in relatively short order, and certified teachers, who may have been working in other professions, can re-enter teaching when they see their prospects dry up elsewhere. The economy can even be the final spur that motivates people to change directions and act on a long-held desire to teach.

The trade-off is, of course, money. Would-be teachers considering a switch from a higher-paying profession balk, or at least should balk, at the idea of taking a $25,000 starting salary at a second-tier international school. Poor economy or not,  such numbers are insulting to any serious-minded professional. Recruiters will never fail to emphasize how much you can save given the cost of living in many countries. Still, some quick math, generally corroborated by reviewers on ISR, will show that the savings are rarely all that much when working at the bottom of the salary ladder.
So what can career changers or those returning to the profession after a long absence do to sell themselves? First, let’s consider the advantages older candidates bring to international teaching. Those in their 30s and 40s (hopefully) bring a greater reliability to their duties. It’s less likely that these will be the faculty members coming into class bleary-eyed after an all-night binger. Second, older candidates have probably already withstood significant job stress which can make them less likely to become “runners” when things don’t go as planned abroad. Most importantly, older candidates can bring related professional skills with them that school heads would be wise to note. For example:
Candidates with management experience often make great leaders at the department or administrative level. Those with athletic prowess can be inspiring coaches. Those coming from IT are likely to be far more agile in classroom technologies than the average instructor. Those who have experience in foreign languages, or with a specific foreign population,  should highlight how quickly they would adapt to X, Y or Z country or situation.
How much related skills are worth in real terms is anyone’s guess, and many school heads have blinders on to everyone but the most experienced candidates, but whatever added value you can communicate in your profile might give you a step up on what would otherwise be a very tall ladder. Career-changers and others,  ISR invites you to share your thoughts on this topic.

15 thoughts on “Career Changers – Follow Your Heart, But Not to the Bottom of the Salary Scale

  1. To Sarah

    As an NQT just starting off your experience as a fully trained teacher, you may find that your choices on where to go are limited. This is not necessarily the school’s desire but more to do with visa restrictions placed on them by the country’s government.

    Within a British International school you will usually need to have at least 2 years teaching after you have qualified. Ask questions directly to the school about how they are able to do this, and go onto the TES forum for further help and advice.

    Be aware of schools offering you a school offering you the ability to complete your induction year abroad. So far to my knowledge this is impossible to have recognised in the UK as the school may not fully follow the National Curriculum. The only poossible exception to this ruke may well be British Army schools in Europe


  2. I’d agree with Simon, as his advice against attending a fair strongly pertains to people in Nichole’s situation. However, many schools will take teachers with a gap in their CV’s. You just won’t find many of them at the fairs. You’ll find them on joyjobs and davesesl and craigslist. I call to witness the handful of “second-tier” schools I’ve worked with in the past. I’ve worked at schools with people who have no teaching qualifications or experience whatsoever.

    That said, schools like these will do nothing to develop Nichole professionally. They will help her reset her teaching foundation though. Recruiters will see a three year start, ten years of international experience, and then two years (hopefully) of international teaching. That will help. It’s only at this point you might consider attending a fair.


  3. I am sorry but the Guest Blogger here clearly does not have a wider understanding of the international school market. His last comment proves this. Nichole without wanting to be disparaging about your experience, many schools will not take on a staff member who has been out of teaching for ten years.Things have changed considerably over the last ten years and whilst international schools may be a little behind the current trends in say for example the UK or US, the big reason for hiring international staff is to attempt to bridge that gap. Giving advice to spend 100s of dollars to go and attend a fair where you may have little or no chance of gaining a post is just reckless. If you are really serious about working overseas again and you have not done this , then your best bet is to try and find work in a school again. I know that especially in the US this is easier said than done, but you need to show that despite the gap since you last worked, there is still value to what you bring to the table compared to a teacher with a similar amount of experience but straight out of their school. Shame on you for even suggesting this.


  4. You might start with a recruiting fair. Search Associates, ISS and University of Northern Iowa are the big ones. They kick into high gear in January and run through the spring. With three years experience, you should look more than attractive to schools. Read around this site for reviews of specific schools as they run the gamut from great career-advancing experiences to gigs that will literally rob you blind.


  5. Thanks for an excellent blog topic..I am exactly what is described…a professional just starting the PGCE with the aim of international teaching as an NQT straight off. Any tips on good schools (for example those with support for NQTs) or what to look out for as an NQT in the international sphere would be greatly appreciated.


  6. I’ve often been surprised at what $25K (or less) can get me in Asia. I’ve worked for a number of, let’s say, “second-tier schools,” all of them offering salaries in the $25-35K range. That’s less than I’d be making in the US, but factoring in what the school provides (housing, airfare, and sometimes utilities), as well as a lower cost of living, it’s not too shabby. Not a huge savings potential, but enough to where I can eat out most every night, travel about the region, and party it up on weekends.

    Unless the school can show you a transparent salary scale, negotiate, negotiate, negotiate! Also factor in money you might need to send home for family, student debt, etc.

    At a job fair a few years back, an interviewer took care to ask me a few questions about debt back home, then calculated those numbers against the salary and cost of living in the host country. As it turned out, I’d have had a hard time living there, financially speaking. Tip of the hat to that recruiter for being so forward.


  7. I agree with Sarah. When I started in Turkey, I was only making 20,000 a year. But I actually did pretty well on that–paid off bills at home and did some travelling. That was back in the late 90’s. If you don’t have any bills, and are some place with low COL, $25,000–while not great–is not the insult ISR is implying.


  8. I don’t know … $25,000 in a country with squat cost of living where you receive housing, medical, home leave and other benefits can add up to a tidy little package in my book. Certainly much better than working at Starbucks.


    1. Much better than working at Starbucks, true, but I’m not sure a menial job with little potential for growth is the best point of comparison. This kind of “it could be worse” attitude among international teachers creates the perception, among those paying us, that there will always be a teacher who will accept less. This needs to change in a major way. Raising teacher salaries is central to the conversation on education reform in the US and other countries right now. It should be no different in international schools.


    2. Absolutely agree with Guest Blogger. Last time I checked, teaching was supposed to be a profession, and as professionals, we should be compensated accordingly. As someone with over 25 years experience in education, what I miss most in the world of international teaching is the fact that not everyone I work with is well qualified and experienced enough to work with children, especially in demanding environments that some international schools, without reservation, are. The NQTs (and yes, I recognize that schools will hire anyone who can breath, so I should be thankful for anyone who is qualified) who decide to go directly into teaching overseas, rather than stay within their own system for a couple of years (at least) to learn the ropes, do many of their colleagues, themselves and their students, a disservice, and it doesn’t really matter if they are 22 or 52 years old. I get tired of not only having to do my job, but more often than not, their job
      as well.


    3. I began my international career after starting with 2 years at home. Unfortunately, in my home state, landing a full-time teaching job is increasingly impossible due to budget politics. A colleague who graduated the same Masters program a few years after me had to go straight into the international sphere. As mentioned in the topic header, today’s economy forces some of us teachers into refugee status.

      Hiring under-qualified teachers can be a problem, but with a solid administration and supportive faculty like swissmiss, they can become bona fide teachers in a year’s time — as is the case with new teachers at home. The biggest problem I’ve seen in the int’l sphere is, unlike in schools back home, administrators needn’t have any qualifications whatsoever (we’re talking about “second-tier” school here). You can have a faculty of highly qualified, well experienced professional educators, but if the administrator knows nothing about best practices, the school can become a very toxic environment.


    4. Interesting post. I’m one of those you slam for having made my career, quite consciously, as an international educator. While I would not want to make sweeping generalizations, like you have, there certainly have been times when I wished that teachers who had spent most of their careers “at home” would just get over it! I get so tired of hearing some variation of “back home we do it like this”. I AM a professional, and nobody has ever had to do my job for me.


  9. I agree, a foot in the door is a step in the right direction. Once you have experience on the international circuit, the world opens up for the better paying jobs. As a mature couple with 3 years of international teaching/management behind us, we have become a viable package deal. We look at the saving potential to weigh up best deal. We are in Saudi Arabia where you can save most of your pay because there is very little to spend it on!


  10. Certainly the biggest consideration when looking at salaries, is saving potential, services such as this website and Search Associate database allows potential applicants to assess the actual saving potential of their salary in a given school. It pays to do your homework.

    Often a ‘foot in the door’ is all a teacher or teaching couple needs to do, particularly if you want to teach in an IB school like mine.


  11. There are many other advantages to teaching overseas IF you can find a school that’s worth working for, once you get certified. Many schools will hire people without teaching credentials If they have a professional or technical degree.
    In a bad school,all the money in the world can help you hold your nose only so long and eventually, sooner than later in most cases, you’ll want to seek greener pastures. I started overseas at the age of 52 and after 20 years in education in Canada and 12 years in business I tried the overseas life. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner!
    Some countries are notorious for offering very low salaries while others offer very attractive packages. Mexico and some other Latin American countries can be very low paying but the lifestyle and cost of living are so attractive that it is almost worth it. The Middle East usually pays very well but there are serious problems with owner managed schools and the Muslim culture doesn’t suit everyone.
    Europe rarely offers housing but the lifestyle is ultramodern and very easy to accommodate to, and the travelling is marvelous and cheap.
    When it comes to getting hired, if you are a newly qualified teacher, it is always best to be able to work in the STEM subjects but as well student support and related services (LD, Spec.Ed.) are in great demand.


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