How does one learn about teaching positions overseas?
There are really two basic categories in overseas teaching: teaching English to non-English speakers, and teaching English or other subjects in an international school. I don't know much about the first category as I am not trained as an ESL or EFL teacher, nor have I ever done any of that type of teaching. That being said, when things were uncertain in Pakistan just after 9/11, I began researching becoming an English teacher in Bangkok. There are a lot of positions in this field in Bangkok and elsewhere around Asia. The pay is generally not very good in comparison to teaching in an International school, but you can make a living and do some traveling if you don't really want to save any money. Generally schools in Taiwan, Korea and Japan pay better than teaching in Thailand, but Thailand does have its attractions. Some schools in Thailand expect candidates to have teaching experience and a credential from a school that trains ESL/EFL teachers; others hire just about anybody. You can generally expect to have more luck getting a job with credentials and experience. There are many excellent web sites that discuss teaching in Thailand. These are just a few of the ones that I regularly visit just for information about Thailand and teaching:
Ajarn: This is an excellent site that has up-to-date teaching positions listed along with salaries and benefits. You'll also find information on living in Bangkok, how to rent a house/apartment and all sorts of other neat things.
Bangkok Mouth: This creative and informative site is run by an English teacher who has information about living in Bangkok as well as teaching information. Excellent information about life in Bangkok, but note that there is also material about some of the 'seedier' sides of life available there.
Dave's ESL Cafe: This site calls itself the "The Internet's Meeting Place for ESL/EFL Students and Teachers from Around the World!" Lots of information here for the aspiring ESL/EFL teacher including a job center and places to obtain a TEFL certificate. There are also forums for students and teachers.
Finding a position in an international school is generally more difficult than getting a job teaching English. The overseas teaching field is highly competitive. Most schools attend one of the main hiring fairs which are held several times a year. You can expect to need to have at least two years of experience and a current teaching credential. Many schools have IB programs and want IB experience. Some schools only hire Americans, others only British or Australian, but generally you will find a mix of nationalities in international schools especially in the large ones like Jakarta International School, Singapore American School, or the International School of Bangkok.
The main teaching fairs are run by International Schools Services, Search Associates, the European Council of International Schools, and Northern Iowa. I only have experience with ISS and at that I only attended one fair in 1989. Fairs are usually quite crowded; teaching couples have an edge generally on single teachers as they can split up and cover twice the ground. Single parents are at an extreme disadvantage when looking for jobs overseas. Even singles without children are not hired by some schools. A lot of this has to do with housing considerations. You can find specific information on each of the organizations mentioned above on their web sites along with online forms that you can fill out or download. One other site that you may want to consult in your search for teaching positions is TIE - The International Educator. TIE publishes a newspaper that has job listings as well as articles about teaching overseas. You can also use their online services.
Once you have some experience teaching in an international school, you enter into a rather small world and you have a good chance (if you're good at your job and have had good experiences with your principal and/or superintendent/director) of getting a job without attending a fair. I've obtained my last two positions this way: once by having a former principal hire me directly, and the second time by having him recommend me for another job. This saves you the considerable expense of attending a fair, not to mention the hassle and stress that goes along with these cattle markets.
How much do overseas jobs pay?
Salaries vary widely in overseas schools. Generally teaching English pays considerably less than working in an international school. English positions in Bangkok run from around 20,000 baht per month to 50,000. At the current exchange rate of about 40 baht per U.S. dollar, that means you would be making from between $500 to $1250 per month. Not a whole lot of money. As I mentioned before, jobs in Taiwan, Korea and Japan pay more.
International school positions pay more for 'travelling teachers', but there is a wide range in salaries depending on experience and location. Generally the more favorable the location, the lower the salary. Schools in South America and Africa usually don't pay as well as schools in the Middle East. The small ISS or company schools in remote locations usually pay quite well and have some nice travel benefits. School ads in the ISS and TIE newspapers often have salary ranges listed. In some countries you have to pay local taxes on your salary; this is often picked up by the school, but occasionally it isn't. Americans teaching overseas don't have to pay taxes on the salary that they earn outside of the country. A nice overseas salary would be something in the mid 40s range, tax-free of course.
Housing is a big issue for overseas' teaching. Housing is usually provided or at least compensated for. I have lived in small bachelor type apartments, ranch style type houses that you would find in a US suburb, a really dingy flat in Pakistan and then in a much nicer three bedroom one while working at the same school. One of the most common complaints from teachers is about their housing.
Some schools offer free cars, some will provide interest free loans if you want to purchase a car, while others have no transportation allowance included. At LAS, we were provided a car for $50 a month which went for service, insurance and fuel costs. Health insurance is usually provided for, and some schools offer retirement benefits while many don't.
Are there positions in developed countries or only in remote or "dangerous" locations?
There are international schools just about everywhere in the world. All of the major capitals of the world have international schools and most of them are quite large. Jakarta International School, for instance, has several thousand students and hundreds of teachers. My current school has 53 students and eight teachers. As I mentioned above, some of the remote schools pay quite well in order to attract teachers. Schools in Pakistan pay well because of the problems of attracting teachers to a country that is considered by many to be dangerous, although this is far from true.
What is it like teaching overseas?
That varies from place to place. Big high-powered schools in major capitals with a student body whose parents include CEO's and diplomats tends to be fairly stressful from what I have heard, but working in small schools can be just as stressful because of close parent contact and high expectations and demands. I've worked in a middle-sized school and three small schools, and I've enjoyed both experiences. My own preferences led me not to want to work in the larger schools, but I know teachers who have spent decades working in large schools and love it. There are certainly many more opportunities for entertainment, night life and shopping when you live in a large city.
Generally you can expect to have many of the same problems that you would have in a school in the States with homework, parents and administrators. You can also expect not to have to worry about gang violence, crazed people coming in off the street to shoot up the school, and all the other traumas of urban existence in the U.S. Some schools will have a large population of non-English speaking students. Drug problems may exist in larger schools, but are generally absent in the smaller schools.
Some schools follow a U.S. curriculum, others have an international one, and still others have a mix. Lahore American School followed a U.S. curriculum even though by the time that I left the school our student population was almost entirely made up of wealthy Pakistani students.
Teaching overseas offers a lot of opportunities for travel. For example, while I was teaching in Lahore, I would go back and forth to Bali on vacation and usually transited in Bangkok which I really enjoyed. Many of the ESL/EFL teachers there explored the incredible Pakistan countryside and also vacationed in places like Malaysia, Burma, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam which were all quite accessible from Lahore except during the war in Afghanistan.
Thanks are due to the author Dr Bruce Pohlmann, full time teacher and long-time resident of various Asian countries, for his permission to reproduce this article.
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