Are International Schools Monotone?

Dear ISR,
I would like to know if other educators are in the same position as me. I’ll explain:

Over the past two recruiting seasons I, an American, have come to realize my slight accent stands between me and an international teaching position. Even though no recruiter has come out and said they don’t hire American teachers with ‘foreign’ accents, no matter how slight that accent may be, I’ve concluded discrimination is in fit form in the arena of international teacher recruiting.

I have evidence: After the school year for which I recently recruited got underway I visited the websites of schools that had interviewed me. Reviewing the pages introducing the new teaching staff, accompanied by their educational background and achievements, it is plainly evident that noticeably less qualified applicants are in the position I had recruited to teach. My slight ‘foreign’ accent aside, no one is a good fit for every school, but not to be a fit for any school? What else am I left to conclude?

I hold a Masters in English Literature and a K-12 teaching credential from the University of California, Los Angeles. I’ve taught IB English Literature and Theory of Knowledge in the LA City School District going on 5 years. In Los Angeles, a culturally diverse melting pot, my accent is of no consequence. Apparently international schools are, shall we say, monotone.

I would be most appreciative if I could get some feedback on this topic of concern to me and certainly many other educators.

Best wishes,

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18 thoughts on “Are International Schools Monotone?

  1. “Reviewing the pages introducing the new teaching staff, accompanied by their educational background and achievements, it is plainly evident that noticeably less qualified applicants are in the position I had recruited to teach.”

    You know, I’ve had the exact same thing happen to me. Many times. But because I’m a white male with a standard, Midwestern accent, I’ve been forced to conclude it’s because the new hirees were cheaper, or had connections I didn’t, or could be “trained” more easily by the admin, or I’m simply not very good at giving interviews.

    Point being, as “evidence for discrimination” goes, it’s pretty scant.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What confuses me is that you’re surprised that discrimination seems to exist in international education in the same way that it exists in every sphere of life. Yes, of course some international schools wouldn’t hire you because of your accent, and presumably the skin colour that goes along with it. My very progressive school in Shanghai hires a very broad range of teachers from all over the English speaking world. Yet our website and marketing material feature the same blonde teachers and students most prominently on every page.
    Until the school you’re in appeals to parents that value international education more than white faces, you don’t stand a chance. More importantly, you don’t want to be in a school that sees you as second rate because of your accent. Take the win for dodging a bullet and move on.


  3. I teach where the local teachers’ accents in English can sometimes be so thick that I cannot understand them. I am not encouraged to help fix the student’s thick accents, although I am an English teacher and they often apply to US and European schools. The foreign teachers sometimes have the same thick accent but not all. We have had easily discernible Irish, Indian, US Southern, Canadian, and British accents here.


    1. Accents cannot,and should not be “fixed”. International schools are culturally diverse and as such accents, diversity and all cultures should be embraced and celebrated. Gettin use to different accents prepares our students for the real world, especially as many of them then move on to North American or British universities. Of course, this is all common sense and if you don’t realise this, as an international educator you should be ashamed.


  4. I remember hearing back from a Canadian school that told me they weren’t looking to hire anyone without a North American accent. I am a British citizen. I also had no experience of their curriculum so I’m surprised they didn’t go with that answer instead.


  5. I would say, I am so glad that I have the option to go back to the USA and teach for more money, workers rights, autonomy, job security, work life balance, and less discrimination.

    As an American, international teaching has not been worth it besides the traveling I got to do.

    I’ve never been as stressed as I was with the audiences at the various schools I taught at abroad.

    The standards are lower across all areas..academically, professionally, ethically….sigh.

    Obviously this is regional, but based on international reviews and coworkers from all over…ide say..its more widespread than not..

    … and I don’t even have the worst stories from teaching abroad… mine are actually decent compared to others.. I had fun lol.

    International Teaching seems to be a dying opportunity for teachers to level up financially while boosting their resume and experiencing a new world.



    1. “I am so glad that I have the option to go back to the USA and teach for more money, workers rights, autonomy, job security, work life balance, and less discrimination.”

      I’m not quite sure where this is coming from? Education in the US is in serious crisis mode at the moment. New Mexico is using their National Guard as long term substitutes because they don’t have enough teachers. Arizona and Ohio are letting college kids teach. Salaries have remained stagnant with 9.5% year on year inflation. With the staff shortages and pay stagnation, existing teachers have had their workloads increase exponentially. After what Covid did to the test scores, admin is pressuring teachers to get those scores up no matter what. Covid has also cause most of the students to forget how to behave and socialize with others (they were home for a year).

      To add additional gasoline to this fire, we have gender ideology creeping into our public school system. It isn’t nearly as much of an issue as Fox News would have you believe, but there is usually one or two teachers per district that talk to their elementary school aged children about gender identity. Needless to say, an overwhelming majority of parents (even very Liberal ones) do not approve of this. The fact that it does exist, however, allows politicians to cut the school system’s budgets even more. See Tom Horn’s campaign website for evidence of this.

      Echelon Educational Consulting has reported that, on average, new education graduates are not even lasting a year in the classroom at the moment.

      My little sister is currently teaching in the UAE. She knows full well that when she eventually comes home, she will have to give up teaching.

      My honest advice is that if you want to continue teaching, stay overseas. When you want to transition out of it, come back.


    2. Donochoa you don’t have to understand or agree… it makes sense if you don’t…being that it’s my experience and not yours. Data that you provide is just as valid as personal experience…and my experience abroad has not been as enlightening nor fulfilling economically or professionally as teaching at home in the USA… what can I say. Maybe I worked at superior schools at home compared to the ones abroad. It is a possibility. Your sister and I clearly have opposite realities.

      The entitled mindset you may find littered throughout the middle east..supported by a servant culture, often brings much burden to teachers…. more than you would culturally find in a public school in the USA.

      I missed my bright, responsible, and respectful US students everyday while teaching abroad.

      Thats my experience. I also missed making more money, despite taxes…I still kept more money in the US.

      My reality bubs. 💅🏾👩🏾‍🏫🤷🏾‍♀️


  6. Oh it’s definitely there. Korean-British-Kiwi here, looking for a position in Asia. The implicit understanding is that my Korean surname, my Asian look will be a big obstacle in securing a position, no matter my qualifications or experiences, or how British I sound. Accent? Could definitely be an issue when still, I know for a fact, lots of Koreans still view it as an integral part of fluently speaking a language. Kind of stupid when even BBC is deliberately hiring people with different accents, local and international.


    1. Maybe you were trying to get into Tier 1 school without previous international school experience?

      English is not my first language and I definitely have an accent – but I climbed from Tier 3 to Tier 1 in 4 years. I do have very good CV. Our teaching community is very diverse with various accents.

      To be honest I see being non-native English as a problem if you want to apply for Admin position.


  7. Has anyone actually said it’s your accent? It may be that your advanced level of education would require a higher salary than a less experienced teacher. That’s a reality too..Anyway, I wish you success!


  8. Why does the commenter use quotation marks, as if all British accents are equally intelligible? Some British accents are indeed difficult to understand. Some Alabama & Appalachian accents can be difficult to understand. There is a standard pronunciation that is widespread in movies, television, and youtube. Parents want the best models for their children to learn a standard version of English, particularly in a non-English milieu (i.e. EFL vs. ESL).
    Code switching is natural for most people, but parents want their children to learn a generic/powerful version of English in school.
    Perhaps the writer is trying to conflate accent with skin color, parental origin, or non-English name? Indeed, such biases remain worldwide; but Rishi Sunak and Barack Obama provide examples of powerful and precise speakers that can break down those biases. And we hope recruiters and school-heads are also trying to break down those biases.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jot: Barack Obama is a striking example of how people became even more racist and then voted in Trump who made racism absolutely acceptable!!!!!! IN the field of linguistics it is well researched and established that discrimination happens against teachers who have been born in and only lived in America yet have an Asian name or Asian features. It is also true—as expose right on this site–that discrimination of all sorts takes place. We had a powerful article written by a recruiter who clearly explained that discrimination happens and how they do it!


  9. Depends on the school, in my experience. A decent institution will recognize that people approach language in all kinds of ways, teach that to the children, and lead by example. I was the sole American at a British curriculum school for a few years; we also had teachers from the Caribbean, South Africa, and all over Europe. Yes, some parents complained, but teachers were supported by school leaders.

    Of course, not all schools are decent. One disgraceful school in Beijing fired a teacher from Jamaica only three months after her start date because of her accent. This is not speculation – the principal said as much. I mean, it’s not like she *hid* her accent in the interview. But it wasn’t in his control. The school’s owner made the call, and he had no recourse… allegedly.

    This presents the question: if you are hiring for a school with weak leadership and overbearing parents, is it better for a school leader to screen out candidates preemptively, rather than fire them shortly after they’ve relocated their lives to a new country?

    Certainly we see discriminatory hiring across the international teaching field, and it doesn’t stop at accents. How many teachers are excluded from hire on account of race, religion, marital status, number of children, or sexual orientation? School admins will have their reasons, blaming the parents or budget or the host nation’s culture or laws. These would all be considered egregious violations of fair hiring practices in America but, as I’ve had recruiters state explicitly, fair hiring laws don’t apply at a job fair.


    1. I agree with Deep South Refugee above. I have found that British schools tend to have that bias because they are selling their school on that identity. But I have worked at several great schools in Europe and Asia where that was not the case. I have taught with people from Jamaica, India, Eastern Europe, South America…so not only with an accent in their English but coming from a diversity of cultures. I think looking at the staffing the school web site is a good idea to give you an idea if they are a school that embraces diversity or not. Ask questions about diversity at any interview – it’s not only about you getting the job, but would you be comfortable working somewhere that has a conservative national identity? I also think many other factors could be at play – primary / elementary positions are more plentiful but more competitive than secondary, international teaching experience is a big factor, and in the other direction of diversity – schools that have not, historically been diverse in their hiring practices may now be turning a corner and want to hire from a more diverse pool of applicants. I would not write off all international schools by far, but your research efforts in advance will help you find the right position.


  10. Unfortunately, most schools let their parents dictate teacher evaluations… It is almost a xenophobic approach to hiring; less qualified teachers are considered because they have a “bland” US or Canadian accent.

    Yes, even British accents are deemed “difficult to understand.”

    Liked by 1 person

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