Takeaways from My Past Year Teaching Overseas

Let sleeping dogs lie. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Any port in the storm. Proverbial phrases all share one thing in common — they’re all profound commentaries on life & each came about through lessons learned, usually the long, hard way.

International Teaching is certainly no exception when it comes to learning lessons. If asked to reflect on YOUR past academic year overseas & to distill that experience into one or more concise proverbial takeaways, what would that look like?

For me it looks like this:

New-found faculty friendships are like an egg teetering at the edge of an unstable table. 

Clothes don’t make the wo/man nor do professional titles make a school leader.

There’s no such thing as a secret at an International School if more than one teacher knows it.

Of course I didn’t arrive at these takeaways within days, weeks or even months after arrival to my new school. As the school year progressed, however, repeated incidents, experiences & observations soon jelled into solid conclusions about life at this overseas school. It was an eye-opening year & I’m all wiser for it.

ISR Says:  Now it’s your turn. What intrinsic understanding of the overseas teaching experience did you glean this past year overseas that can be distilled into concise proverbial wisdom & passed on to colleagues, some new & some not so new to the overseas teaching experience? Please Share!

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14 thoughts on “Takeaways from My Past Year Teaching Overseas

  1. The thing I have learned teaching internationally: Be the change you want to see in the world. It’s tough to remain idealistic when you have purposefully put yourself in a country whose language and culture are foreign to you; it’s easy to become suspicious and imagine that all the people around you are pickpockets and thieves; however, these types of suspicions are rarely true. Sure, international schools expect you to work hard… not as hard as American private, nonprofit, boarding schools… but hard enough that you’ll occasionally complain. My advice: Remember that you are a part of the school where you are working. If you deride it, criticize it, pick it apart, you are also deriding, criticizing and picking apart yourself. After all, you took this job. And after all, the next employer who interviews you may check ISR to see if your last school was a quality place. What are they going to think when they learn that the school has been shredded on ISR? Look for the good in your situation then try to add to it. You’re a teacher for God’s sake; you’re fighting against ignorance with the full knowledge that ignorance, intolerance, stupidity and foolishness are the universe’s only inexhaustible natural resources! You signed up to teach internationally because you wanted an adventure, because you loathed a life lived in cubicles and, eventually, corner offices, because you wanted to make a difference in the lives of young people… how on earth can an employer you disagree with take any of that away?


  2. As my old headteacher once told me, ‘you can’t polish turds!’

    Despite having had a disastrous year, I’ve not been put off and am starting at a new school on a new continent. Lies, cheating, deceit, unreasonable requests on time and ability have all been thrown at me. What I’ve realised is that this often happens when those around you are worried that you’ll discover what they’ve worked so hard to keep hidden – they are terrible at their job!
    So, don’t give up, be yourself and keep your principles and morals – it’s what set you apart from the rest.

    Good luck next year everyone!


  3. Ironically, both a ccollegue and I were accused of posting a negative review on this site. Both of us were threatened with negative recommendations and told that we had to leave after the current school year was done. We both landed on our feet but those accusations haunt us, keeping one or both of us out of some pretty great jobs, still. Truth is, a FAMILY MEMBER of one of us posted a review based on what they thought was despicable treatment (and, they were right.) Neither of us had knowledge of the author of the post for years. But, it still seems to follow us, just based on the false rumor that we (one of us) posted it. I say this, not to be negative about this site, which I love. I just want to point out that when someone in power’s weaknesses are exposed, those people can be ruthless in seeking revenge. Unfortunately, my friend and I experienced this, first hand, and continue to do so…


  4. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. This was my first year as a full-time administrator (of a brand new high school).


  5. I believe the students definitely enjoy studying in this type of school. Behind the screen, there rolled up a curtain to show labor exploitation and discrimination against non Caucasian looking from Western English countries.

    It’s sad that a country I entered with a purpose of serving it and getting acquainted with it due to partial heritage with that country, made me to embrace its heritage with difficulty and reverse decision of telling others to contribute to the welfare of the country.


  6. Most overseas schools are big business and cater to the families that can afford it unless you are with the Peace Corps or working with a mission, or an NGO. That changes things a lot to the western mindset about what education is. I have learned to accept it because I love teaching overseas and all the challenges and opportunities it offers. Two sides to every coin. Love it or leave it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I got fired with no due-process because one student whom I attempted to hold accountable for cheating went to the owner. Bottom line about international teaching, they will ALWAYS side with the money over the people. We are imported labor, nothing more and nothing less. My breakfast has never tasted so good since moving back to North America.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Your Chinese supervisors or “coordinators” [the latter only making confusion even more confusing] will often advice, in their cheating & sneaky way: WHEN YOU SEE A LIE, WHY WORRY WHAT LIE IT IS or HOW IT IS TWISTED??!
    If terribly upsetting to a Western mindset, please still mule over it. It might help a lot in saving your own sanity!!
    While a pure sense of right & wrong; legal & illegal; just & unjust will get a foreign teacher FASTER to a madhouse!!!

    B., USA


  9. For all the shine once you scratch a little you see the truth!
    The outside of a new school may look lovely and tick the boxes for visiting parents etc but underneath and unseen turmoil is just waiting to get out!


    1. I worked in the U.S. for 8 years before going overseas. I am a lateral entry teacher, and had a career in Corporate Markeitng before becoming a teacher. The same holds true for corporate America. Buyer ALWAYS beware, no matter who you work for. There are good and bad schools, just like companies.

      Liked by 1 person

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