Is Teaching Abroad Right for ME as a New Teacher? by: Dr. Barbara Spilchuk, ISR On line Teacher Consultant

choice41516506Each year more and more university students are choosing to go abroad after they’ve finished their Education degree. Many come to me asking the question: “Is international teaching the right choice for me?” This is not a question I can easily answer for young people choosing to make their first teaching experience an international one. All I can do is tell the students to consider the following three questions:

Have you traveled abroad before? The answer to this question may seem unimportant; however, young teachers who have international experiences, even travel experiences with their families, have a greater understanding of the cultural differences they might experience when they go abroad. This greater understanding will set them up for a better chance of success in a country where the life experience is significantly different from what they are used to.

Are you LEAVING or GOING? The answer to this question is pretty critical. If a young teacher simply cannot find work in his/her own country, and s/he feels that an international teaching experience is the only option left to begin a teaching career, this is not the best reason for going abroad. Why do I say this? I say this because when you make a decision about your career, you should make the decision to GO to someplace, not LEAVE some place, for whatever reason. Every time I’ve made a decision to LEAVE some place, it has not been as productive for me as when I have made a decision to GO to a specific place. It is all in the mind-set. Let me explain:

If I am leaving some place for a reason that is not positive (i.e.: I cannot get a job, I’ve had an argument with my family or friend, I’m trying to escape an existing poor work situation), then my mind is not on the future….It is on the past because I have not reconciled myself with whatever the issue was that has prompted me to LEAVE. I have learned that it is better for me to be at peace with whatever situation is at ‘home’ before I decide to GO to a new place. This way my mind is fully situated in the future and I have a better chance of success with no regrets for my past. An exception to this rule is if    the situation ‘at home’ is a dangerous one that you need to remove yourself    from.

Do you have a specific place in mind where you would like to GO?  Have you done your homework on the host country’s people, customs, environment, politics? Not every international teaching location is good for every young teacher…or for every seasoned teacher, for that matter! Knowing something about the country you may be going to BEFORE you accept a contract can help you stay out of difficulty. Customs, traditions, religious beliefs, gender or racial issues or biases, economic demographics, attitude towards foreigners, health and safety issues, just to name a few considerations, should be explored BEFORE you sign a contract!

I shake my head when I get a letter from a young teacher that says s/he feels isolated or unwelcome within their community and they want to break contract. Did you check to see what the situation was in that community BEFORE you agreed to sign the contract? How did you check? Did you ask to speak to teachers already there? Did you talk to someone from your embassy? Did you research online? Did you read the ISR reviews of the school you would be going to BEFORE you signed your contract? Better yet, did you try to find a travel partner to go with? I always recommend that new international teachers go in pairs, either with their spouse or with another ‘newbie’. That way there is a built-in support system in the new location to help with the cultural and isolation transition.

There are so many things to consider when choosing International Education as your first choice when moving into your education career after completing university. I encourage you to think things over carefully and if you have questions or comments, just scroll down and post your thoughts. I’ll be keeping an eye on this Blog and will be more than happy to help you with your decision-making! 

16 Responses to Is Teaching Abroad Right for ME as a New Teacher? by: Dr. Barbara Spilchuk, ISR On line Teacher Consultant

  1. bobbob says:

    I also started my teaching career in an international school. However, I had done several years teaching ESL in private schools in Asia before that first classroom and I studied overseas myself, too. While that teaching experience could never be considered ‘real’ school, it did allow me the time to hone my classroom management skills and get the international living and traveling part of being an expat settled first. In addition, my school set up a newly qualified programme for two years because there were so many of us ‘newbies’ hired, due to rapid enrollment when the school moved to a new, larger facility. Nevertheless, it was a difficult experience in the first year and I shutter to think how much curriculum I didn’t cover or cover very well. Thank goodness for good colleagues and wonderful parents! I mostly agree with the cautious tone set by of most of those above, but, under the right circumstances, with a little life experience and some international living time, starting a teaching career overseas can be successful.

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  2. LonesomeOcean says:

    I actually think a job at an international school can be a great opportunity for a new teacher; my first teaching job was at an international school and it was a great experience.

    International school vs U.S. school were I student taught: smaller class size (20 vs 28 in U.S.); very few discipline issues, so learning the basics of classroom management was a breeze; many classes taught by specialists, leaving a lot of time for collaboration/planning; supportive teaching environment; highly motivated students; good resources; current, relevant professional development. Plus, I was living and working in an amazing place, making good money, and had amazing opportunities for travel and great coworkers.

    At the school in the U.S. where I student taught, many teachers were very unhappy. They were demoralized by NCLB and standardized testing and mandated X number of hours spent teaching literacy (and there was no art program, and music 1x a week).

    Of course it wasn’t always easy my first couple of years, and that international school was not perfect. They were willing to hire new teachers because the pay was relatively low for the region. But I don’t think NOT teaching for a couple of years in the U.S. has made me less successful as an international teacher. I’m now in my 6th year teaching and at my 2nd international school, still learning and growing, and still having great experiences.

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  3. Justmythoughts..... says:

    I am reluctant to comment on this post as after 6 years of teaching (5 home country and 1 overseas), I still find myself a new teacher in this long career path. I went overseas for my 4th year of teaching. The school was comprised of a majority of teachers who were on their first teaching experience. The one thing I noticed was they were willing to accept alot of things (from parents, the board, admin) that were not entirely above board. I also saw greater highs and lows then I did back home which played out in the school.

    In hindsight, my home experience gave me the tools to adapt to the classroom so my energy was spent on the new environment (1 major stress instead of 2 )

    Currently, I work in a job market in Canada where it is challenging to get a job, however, it can be done with time. I find alot of my peers are jumping overseas for the instant classroom, without the subbing or short term contracts which I think would give access to a great number of tools. Teacher education itself, is not consistent between programs, and to assume as a new teacher we are master teachers, would be false. I think if you really want to be an overseas teacher as career, and it was your intention, there are some great schools that offer intern positions with support. However, going abroad to some of the schools out there, really instill some things into these fresh teachers that may lead to burnout, poor coping strategies, or simply bad habits.

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  4. Dr. Barbara Spilchuk says:

    Hello All! Great advice from all who have responded above! Keep those suggestions coming! The more information new teachers have about what to expect from international education, the better informed they will be when it comes time for them to make a career choice!

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  5. Triniteacher says:

    I agree with those posters who stated that teach first in your country then take an international posting. I taught for over 10 years in my homeland before moving to Libya last year and trust me, all those years of experience were quite needed in managing my class, dealing with limited resources and more especially adapting to a new teaching culture. As a new teacher, you don’t have the experience yet of dealing with mixed ability children, coworkers with less than honorable intentions, good or bad administrators and if you then add a new country to that mix, it can make for a very difficult and frustrating first posting. Take time to discover your teaching style, strengths and weaknesses before you go out and try to discover it with foreign kids. That way when you do eventually go foreign, at least you are confident in your abilities. That’s one less thing to worry about when navigating a new county and school!

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  6. James Jaszczak says:

    I agree partially with everyone here, international teaching is challenging. That doesn’t mean that a new teacher can’t do it, it just means that they have to have their eyes wide open.
    First year teaching has so many challenges to it already. I have been in the field 20 years and can still remember my first year as the most difficult one. It was in my home country. It takes about 3 years to get the basics of your craft down for most people. Learning effective classroom management and getting a feel for the mood of the class is more art than science. We’ve all been there. It was long days and short nights. At the end of it I crawled into my summer vacation and slept for 2 weeks.
    Now look at international teaching. You have all those difficulties and more. There is a new culture, language, people, places. There may be the added difficulty of finding a place to live. Shopping for food may be a challenge like nothing you’ve faced before.
    I’ve seen many first year teachers crash and burn because they thought teaching in Central America, my current assignment, was going to be a 2 year spring break. This isn’t a party, it’s HARD WORK! Rewarding, but difficult. I’ve seen just as many be highly successful because they rose to the challenge and thrived.
    Take the difficulty of being a first year teacher in your own country and double it. It can be done, but it isn’t as much fun as you might think.
    On the other hand we have great beaches, mountains and wonderful kids where I teach. It’s a great place to be. I love it and have for almost a decade.
    IN the end, it’s your choice.

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  7. China Teacher says:

    So let’s make it unanimous: No, you should not go abroad in your first teaching job. Yes, are a wonderful teacher, but you are a naive career manager. EVERYBODY is a naive career manager right out of the gate — and that is exactly the kind of person that predatory, abusive “international” schools are looking for.

    The pages of ISR are full of tales of the uninitiated who believed the recruiting promises of a smiling administrators nobody ever heard of, touting miracle school nobody ever heard, and got burned. It just takes some time learning the teaching ropes, meeting experienced people, patiently researching, scoping out the recruiting system, doing some traveling, etc., to figure this game out and make it work for you. And it will, when you do it right.

    Don’t get me wrong — there are many amazing international schools out there who will give you a very productive environment in which you can develop true professionalism and by the way earn a very nice salary and save a lot of money. But they don’t hire brand new teachers because they don’t have to. Just like home, the prosperous districts with high-achieving schools have the first pick of highly reputed, experienced teachers, and the rest go to the ghetto.

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    • Anonymous says:

      I completely disagree. First – how does a new teacher gain experience in their own country If there are no jobs? Second – what if if the teacher got into education for the purpose of teaching internationally? My first teaching contract was internationally and I won teacher of the year my first year teaching. Some of the above comments are insulting to new teachers. Like all careers everyone has to start somewhere and many new teachers are incredible. Support is lacking at international schools and should be something that is improved instead of accepted.

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      • Weebo says:

        The argument that there are in jobs in your own country and therefore going abroad to gain experience only assumes that the experience you get abroad will be relevant and valuable. It may be if the support systems are in place. It will likely not be if it is international education and not foreign state education.
        Your assumption is that any experience is better than no experience and, additionally, you ignore the repercussions you may have had on your colleagues.
        Nice to hear that you won the teacher of the year in your first year teaching, You are clearly exceptional. I’ve never won teacher of the year. On the other hand, I’m not that disappointed.
        While professional support may be lacking in many international schools, I would like to know how you believe this should be done effectively in small schools (which make up the majority of international schools) which generally have tight budgets?

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  8. Hinckley's Friend says:

    There are unique issues to working in specific regions and countries. Presently, I am working in Saudi Arabia and unable to leave for vacation (the school is closed) because my residence visa has not been renewed. In Saudi, you need to have permission to leave (in the form of an Exit/Entry visa) as well as be in possession of a valid residence visa. Until my residence visa is properly processed, I am effectively trapped. Two of my co-workers were refused departure at the airport yesterday, because the dates on their Exit/Entry visas were inaccurate.
    We hired one young teacher, and she is leaving at the end of the year, even though she has a two-year contract.
    For those thinking of working in non-democratic nations, I would suggest the challenges are greater, and not the place for young teachers.

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  9. C1994J says:

    Completely agree. Teaching is a profession – you need to learn what that means in your own culture and how to relate to other professionals and also to administration and parents. When you have that experience straight, you’re ready to go abroad.

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    • Lea says:

      I agree with all of the above. There are too many ‘new’ experiences when teaching overseas for ALL of us, irrespective of our teaching careers. Most schools that I know of overseas, do not hire teachers until they do have some year’s teaching under their belt. Personally, I would never recommend that a new teacher I overseas without experience in their own country. Teaching is so different from anything learned at College/University so that in itself is a huge learning curve without adding a foreign country, isolation, new friends etc into the mix.

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  10. Trinidad says:

    Work a few years in your home country, get some training/professional development while there and then go abroad.

    I took for granted all the wonderful, free professional development offered at my school district statewide presented by experienced individuals. Since being overseas (South America), professional development is severely lacking or just non-existent. The fresh ideas usually come from newly hired teachers coming from stateside. The internet is great for e-learning if you have the discipline and passion, but the hours put in may or may not count for staff development credit depending on your certification stipulations.

    Living and teaching overseas is not a piece of cake; it’s more than just traveling and teaching in an “exotic” place. Remember, you will be LIVING in a new place. The honeymoon eventually wears off, and the problems/issues that you found yourself escaping from could end up manifesting themselves in a different way.

    There are so many variables to consider, so think long and hard before making such a choice.

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    • TheAmericas says:

      I could not agree more with Trinidad. Sometimes, the grass is not always greener. There truly are more aspects to think of rather than the traveling, teaching, and status of being an abroad teacher. I found the Middle East a difficult place to live and work. However, many teachers there did have experience in Korea and felt that the Middle East was ok. As for the continuing education piece for teaching licenses, I found online learning more difficult. For the professional development component, I did have the chance to attend one opportunity outside of my school was fortunate enough that the school did offer one while I was there. I also agree very strongly with the do your research, talk to and email people. There are aspects I am not sure I was prepared enough for while living abroad. I try my best to keep things very real when someone asks me about my experience.

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  11. Weebo says:

    Personally, I think people should never leave their country until they have spent several years in their own education system. Most international destinations offer little or no support for new teachers, and they need a considerable amount of support (even if they feel they don’t).
    I have had the unfortunate experience of working with a couple of new teachers and have met half a dozen teachers more straight out of training in my career and they have all been disastrous for the school and their students. Why they are recruited is clearly because of shortage or their relative cheapness. The newcomers are not resilient enough for the job, or they just do it badly. Despite peer support, it never seems to work somehow as they are not mature enough to survive the knocks. The result is they are unhappy and drag the morale down of their colleagues (or face isolation due to their constant unhappiness or whining). Alternatively, they go on benders in the evening and don’t turn up for work, destroy their own relationships with others (including their own pupils) and have a minimal understanding of how to work in a school environment in their own country, never mind abroad.
    The vast majority of teachers working abroad are professional, fun, relaxed, happy and strive for excellence.
    Sadly, there is a dire shortfall of international educators. It will be a feature of the professional landscape for years to come, and often it will be feeding schools which are sink schools allowing them to perpetuate and cheat everyone.

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