Between the Lines: Your Cover Letter

November 15, 2018

..Recruiting season is underway and International Educators are asking age-old questions about Cover Letters. “How long should it be? Where does my contact info go? Should I include this? Do I leave out that?” ISR asks:  Why would anyone want their cover letter to be like all the others? 

Without a doubt, your cover letter must be well-organized, concise, and succinctly contain information to spark interest in finding out more about how perfect a candidate you are. Most importantly, to be successful your cover letter should reflect WHO YOU ARE beyond diplomas and work experience. A truly great cover letter will leave a school Director with a favorable impression of YOU, while simultaneously filling them in on the facts.

In a profession where “fit” is everything, it can be that what you say between the lines of your cover letter is more important than the actual words themselves. An excerpt from a long-time contributor to the ISR Open Forum sums it up:

PsyGuy: Most International Teachers are very indistinguishable from one another, there isn’t really much in their backgrounds or experiences that differentiates them from one another, and, as a result, very minor, even trivial differences often mean the difference between the IT who gets the appointment and the ones that don’t. Recruiters aren’t really looking for the greatest IT. They already know you can teach and so can every IT that came before and after you. What they are looking for is “fit,”….. that the IT candidate is going to harmonize with students, parents, the other staff, the curriculum, the ethos, the mission, etc.”

The ‘take-away’ message:  Your cover letter may say you’re a creative, flexible educator who’ll be an asset to the team, but all that is meaningless if it’s filled with clichéd, boring, dry verbage. Landing an overseas teaching position is not just about SAYING you’re creative, flexible, adaptive and a good fit. You need to show it!

The 4-Part Cover Letter

Part 1:  Introduce yourself, succinctly . Save the juicy, interesting tidbits for Part 3. State the position for which you are applying plus the date on which you are first available to fill it.
Part 2:  Match your professional/educational experiences with the stated job requirements.
Part 3:  Highlight some personal information about yourself and how you will “fit” into the school’s overall atmosphere. Illustrate how you will be an asset to the school beyond merely filling the position.
Part 4:  Express excitement about the position. Encourage the reader to review/critique your resume.

Your challenge:  Get creative! Step out of the confines of the typical, uninspired cover letter. Mix in some personality. Choose words that fulfill the basics requirements, while at the same time illustrating your unique personality. Show a Director that beyond qualifications, buttons and badges, you’re the best fit for the job. 

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What’s Hiding in International School Websites?

November 1, 2018

At ISR, we spend considerable time reading School Reviews and looking at corresponding school websites to verify certain information.  After viewing thousands of school websites, we’ve concluded that schools with multiple poor Reviews on ISR have websites that share similar characteristics. As we head into recruiting season, we thought now would be the perfect time to share what we’ve learned:


Under Construction, 404 Pages, No Website at All!
An International School with a poorly functioning website is unacceptable and shows a distinct lack of investment in technology, an antiquated business model and/or an inability to keep pace with the modern world. A poorly functioning, or non-existent website can signal low transparency and a purposeful lack of communication with the school community at large. ISR advises you to proceed with caution.

English-Version Website Non-Existent
Schools catering to an International community should, and must, have an English-version website. Lack of one suggests a school that caters to locals only and lacks an International/diverse population.

Welcome letter not signed by Director. No Staff Directory
Websites lacking a personalized Director/Principal welcome letter should send up a red flag. Be wary of school sites with generic welcome letters or mission statements signed with, simply, “School Principal.”  These schools are frequently represented on ISR by School Reviews that tell of excessive staff/admin turn-over.  

Well-established, well-run schools not only display a photo of the person in charge, a brief run-down of their qualifications, and a signed letter, but also a directory of staff. Admittedly, some schools do not name their staff and/or admin team to protect their identity. As such, this may be a sign of anti-American or anti-European sentiment in the community. ISR recommends you exercise caution when considering schools without admin/staff transparency.

The Same Few Expat Kids Are All Over the Website
Alarms should be going off in your head when you spot the same few expat kids in multiple photos. Chances are the school is trying to look international when in reality it’s made up of a predominately local population. The few expat kids scattered throughout the website are usually the children of the international teaching staff. On the other hand, if you are looking to teach in a school that caters to mostly host nationals, this could be a good sign.

Facilities and Canned Photos Galore
School websites with lots of cropped photos of facilities and stock close-ups of individual kids may have something to hide. Teachers often review such schools by saying they have unfinished construction, unopened sections of the campus, issues with student population, run-down facilities, poorly constructed buildings and/or a non-international student body.

Accreditation Badges Missing
Last but not least is an item we think of as a Yellow Flag. If you see a school website without Accreditation badges, or that does not mention the agency that accredited the school, it’s an indicator further research is needed on your part. Lack of Accreditation badges can mean the school lost its Accreditation for failure to meet standards. In such cases, Reviews of the school usually reflect this point. Many never-accredited schools do, however, receive perfectly fine Reviews.

As always, we remind you:

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Do Corporate Schools Have a Heart?

September 13, 2018

Years ago I returned from a few pleasant years teaching overseas. Recently, however, I decided to throw my hat into the ring this upcoming recruiting season and head back to a life of teaching abroad.

Overseas, I taught in small, independently-owned International schools. Looking around at job opportunities now, though, I’m noticing the trend in International Education appears to have shifted to multi-national educational empires, with names like GEMS, QSI Schools, United World Schools and Nord Anglia.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but there does seem to be advantages to being part of a big, global network of schools:  established curriculums, sister schools that share resources, clear management structures, professional development conferences and potential lateral moves between schools, to name just a handful. The downside for me is this:  I’m not much of a corporate gal (hence the teaching degree) and worry about being a part of a huge, impersonal bureaucracy. Considering the size of some of these education goliaths, I’m concerned the needs and day-to-day affairs of the little guys (i.e. the teachers) might be overlooked. There is also the ever-present threat of the bottom line…Will the need to turn a profit overshadow the needs of the children?

Anyone willing to share their experience with large education companies as compared to smaller, more intimate schools? Are the corporate schools simply money-making machines focused on maximum profit, or are there schools with heart and community that happen to fall under a corporate umbrella? Should I stick with what’s familiar to me and recruit for a small independent school? Or take my chances in finding a corporate school with a heart?

Thanks for your input!

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Hired Without Even a Phone Call

June 21, 2018

   Hello ISR, I don’t know if this is a scam or the real deal. Days ago I received an email from a school in the UAE. The message, with attached teaching contract, informed me I had been approved for a teaching position. The email states: “There’s no need for an interview because your qualifications, as posted on a recruitment website, all check out.

   Accompanying the contract is a request for me to contact a specific UAE-based travel agent to start the Visa process. I did, and received a list of fees that must be paid so they can proceed with my relocating. I called the HR department (from the school’s website) and was told that this is the new procedure. They promised to refund all fees paid and said they’ve previously wasted a lot of money on processing work Visas, only to have the person not arrive. I have never before taken a position without an interview. What’s up with this? Do I believe their promises?

ISR Note: We searched the actual name of the school on Google and utilized their ‘Contact Us’ form in an effort to verify they are sending out Confirmation of Employment letters based solely on a candidate’s online resume. They have not responded to our request. 

We are unable to know: Is this a legitimate school or nothing more than a website designed to extract money from unuspecting candidates? As such, we have withheld the school name. We have, however,  posted the following correspondence received by the candidate, along with the country of location. If you are receiving such correspondences, proceed with caution!

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eMails from school to Candidate:

Name: (Candidate's name withheld)
Xyz School - U.A.E
Jun 3, 2018
Re: School Employment Contract

Dear ——

I am directed to inform you that the Board of Governors of the school have accepted and offered you an opportunity to work at Xyz School.

This is an Affirmation that your experience and qualifications were found successful and satisfactory to secure you the position. You require no telephone interview or further face-to-face interview.

Please find attached your Employment contract soft copy for your perusal and acceptance. Upon review and acceptance of this Contract Agreement Package, sign on the last page and send us the scanned copy of the Acceptance (last) Page.

As a new staff, you shall attend an orientation training Program for 7 days on arrival for work sign-on.

The orientation training program will avail you an opportunty to read and acquint [sic] with the school’s Mission Statement and Values, the staff handbook and your job description.

For the acquisition of your UAE Work/Residence Permit Papers to enable you to live and work in U.A.E., send the signed Copy of the Acceptance page to the Travel Agency by email. Also update us with the process between you and the Travel Agency in case of advice where necessary.

Ensure you provide them all required documents and fees promptly for the fastest process of securing the work permit papers.

Any Expenses you make in the process of registering your documents shall be refunded back to you immediately you [sic] submit your expenses report to us via email.

Be informed that once the process is completed your hard copies will be delivered to you through your postal address. Meanwhile, should you require more information, please feel free to contact us immediately.

Congratulations once more on your successful emergence!

Best Regards,


Mon, Jun 4

Dear —–

Please note that it remains our Official Policy that all Employees will incur the expenses for their Residence/Work Permits processing, as a proof of their seriousness and commitment to join our working team. The Company had to come up with this policy now, because, in the past, we have processed the Papers of Employees, who failed to turn up for work proper.

Also remember that any expense you make for the processing of your UAE Residence/Work Permit Papers shall be refunded back to you immediately you [sic] submit your expenses report/receipt to us via Email.

Meanwhile, I remind you that adequate arrangements has been made by us for your flight tickets, reimbursements and relocation allowances/benefits as soon as you complete the Processing of your Papers through the Travel Agency. 

Be guided accordingly, and do the needful!



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Job doesn’t exist? Send me home!

May 17, 2018

s…Emergency staffing can be a fact of life for International Schools. It happens all the time. For example, a 5th Grade class that unexpectedly fills to over-capacity will dictate the addition of another 5th Grade teacher. Should not enough kids show up to fill a 2nd Grade class, the teacher recruited for that class may find themselves reassigned to the new 5th Grade. Whether or not they are qualified or willing to take the class is not up for debate.

Job reassignments as the result of unpredictable changes in staffing needs are unfortunate, yet understandable, since last-minute enrollments do happen. However, schools that knowingly employ bait & switch tactics to lure unsuspecting educators are unethical & to be avoided. More than a handful of teachers have related just such instances on ISR School Reviews.

Case in point:
(from the ISR Open Forum)

…”I was hired by a school in May via Skype for an administrative role. Upon arrival to the school I’ve been told this position does not exist, but I can teach Grade 2 instead. I don’t have credentials to teach Grade 2. I tried to negotiate to receive a professional allowance stipend for formal instruction/coursework on how to teach Grade 2 & they refused. They’re also refusing to reimburse me for the flights to get here, for the money I paid to obtain my visa, for nights spent in a hotel (the apartment they assigned me was inhospitable) & for a return flight back to my home country.

I’m on a tourist visa. The contract that I signed (which is not being honored) details OSH package benefits that they are now denying me. Example:  Contract says that the school will put me up in a hotel while housing is secured, but they went ahead & finalized housing that was inhospitable, without ever consulting with me & now don’t want to pay for a hotel..I did my part. I showed up to perform the role I signed a contract for. The job doesn’t exist. If I’m not needed, so be it, but then I should be sent back on the next flight out.

I cannot legally stay here & while there might be ESOL work here, I’m at a different point in my career. I seriously need some good advice!

ISR Recommends:

Most schools are well-intended & would never employ bait & switch tactics as a means to sign educators. If you do suspect something is “up,” or have reason (based on an ISR School Review) to be suspicious, you may want to take steps insure your safety. Adding a few lines to your Contract (before you/school sign) should do it. Here’s an example of what to add:

“If the position I am being hired to teach is no longer available upon my arrival, I reserve the right to accept reassignment or consider this contract null & void, at which time I will receive full compensation for all out-of-pocket expenses & a return flight to my home of record at the school’s expense.”

Not many schools would agree to this clause because staffing needs can & do change overnight. But you can learn a lot by watching & listening carefully to an interviewer’s reaction to the suggested clause. People with hidden agendas will respond differently than those who just want to leave an option open in case of emergency staffing needs. Use your best judgement & intuition to stay safe.

When in doubt, RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH & learn from those who have gone before you.

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Getting Started in International Education

April 26, 2018

...So, you’re ready to make the break and begin your overseas teaching career. Question is….How do you get started?

ISR recommends you start by taking advantage of our Open Forum. Thousands of first-time, and experienced, International Educators rely on the ISR Open Forum for advice and opinions. With a huge group of participating members, Forum posts usually receive multiple replies. The ISR Open Forum is a FREE site feature.

In addition to the ISR Open Forum, our ISR Discussion Boards hold a wealth of information on any and all topics related to International Education. To get you started in the right direction we assembled a compendium of ISR Discussion Board Articles we think you’ll find helpful as you begin your foray into International Education.

Index to Article for Newbies: 

ISR Private Messaging for Questions You Shouldn’t Ask at an Interview

February 15, 2018

private messaging iconYou’ve read the school Reviews. You’ve done your homework. Things look good…except for one lingering, personal concern about the school on your radar.

You could ask the school director at the conclusion of your interview, but questions of a very personal nature might taint a director’s otherwise positive opinion of you. Likewise, it’s probably not wise to confide in the school-appointed teacher who’s been selected to field candidates’ questions by email. After all, he/she was chosen for a ‘reason.’

When you don’t want to reveal more about yourself than you should, ISR’s Private Messaging Feature is the perfect alternativeHere’s a chance to connect with teachers who may have the answers, while maintaining complete anonymity.

Here’s How it Works: Log in as usual to the Member Area. Proceed to the Member Forum. Create an anonymous user name “on the fly” and introduce your topic. As other teachers join in you’ll see the option to Private message each individual. Click the PM icon and send a private message. That’s all there is to starting a secure, behind-the-scene conversation that only the two of you can see, all while remaining anonymous.

The ISR Member Forum with PM hosts thousands of topics covering any and all aspects of International Teaching. LGBTQ concerns, personal medical/medication needs, dating, being of color, and, of course, candid discussions about specific schools are just some of the topicas already in progress. You may be able to jump straight into Private Messaging with individuals already sharing information on topics of interest to you. GO to the ISR Member Forum


Note: ISR hosts two distinctly different Forums:

1.) The Open Forum:  The Open Forum is located in the non-member area of ISR. It does not support Private Messaging, posting on certain topics or sharing school Review information.

2.) The Member Forum with PM:  The Member Forum with Private Messaging is located within the Member area of ISR. It was specifically created so teachers could ask and share information on any and all topics in a secure environment. GO to the ISR Member Forum

Don’t Leave Your Career to Chance. International Educators Keeping Each Other Informed is what International Schools Review is All About!

GO to the ISR Member Forum