Have you ever dreamed about teaching abroad? Wondering how to become a teacher in an international school? Maybe you want to teach diverse, motivated students. Maybe you want to make more money or maybe have a chance to travel. Whatever the reason, this post is going to give you the scoop about the international teacher life and how to become an international school teacher.
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What is an international school?
The term “teaching abroad” can mean a lot of different things. We all know that one friend who took a gap year before college to go travel and teach English abroad. However, teaching abroad doesn’t necessarily mean you are teaching at an international school or that you are even a trained teacher.
In fact, most people that teach English abroad are doing so in private language schools and often teaching adults. Alternatively, many of the well-known ESL teaching programs, like the government program that I taught through in Madrid, place recent college grads in local schools. True international schools, however, will have all or at least most of the following:
- Be nonprofit or private and not associated with the local government.
- Use English as the main language of instruction with other languages available
- Follow an internationally-recognized curriculum, like the IB, AP or the British GCSE/A levels
- Have students and staff from many countries
Note that there are many schools that call themselves an international school because they teach a few subjects in English and have a handful of students from other countries. These schools usually have a national curriculum and lack the student and staff diversity of true international schools. This is especially common in China, where it seems like a dozen new “international” schools pop up every year. Do your research to make sure you’re looking at a true international school.
Becoming a certified international teacher
To become an international teacher, you first need to be a certified teacher. While private English schools are often willing to train native English speakers, international schools aren’t. With a few exceptions, international schools require you to be a certified and experienced teacher. I say a few exceptions, because there are a handful of smaller schools in unique situations that will hire teachers with experience but no teaching certification. There are also schools, especially larger schools that hire for positions like marketing, aquatics director, athletic training, IT or nursing that do not require teaching degrees.
There is no one certification that will automatically make you a certified international teacher. Once you are certified though, there are some graduate certificates and masters programs for international education.
If you don’t already have a bachelor’s degree, you should pursue a degree in your home country. Most international schools accept teaching degrees that are from university programs from English-speaking countries and European countries. Degrees from some countries may require course lists, syllabi and more to make sure that they are appropriately rigorous. If you are looking at an online program, be careful. Some organizations will not accept online degrees.
If you are going into elementary education or middle school education, your bachelor’s degree will likely be in education. If you are teaching high school, you’ll probably get a bachelor’s in your subject area like history or chemistry, and then your teaching license. But this of course depends on your state or province and the program of the university. While not required, if you have the opportunity to get a minor in ESL/EFL/EAL (that’s English as a Second/Foreign/Additional Language), it would be looked at positively in the international teaching sector, since most international students are English language learners.
Some schools, especially in the Middle East, require your bachelor’s degree to be in your subject area in order to approve your work visa. So that means that even though I have a teacher certification in history, because my bachelor’s degree was in French, I wouldn’t be able to get hired to teach history.
Most international schools require at least two years of teaching experience. If you have your teacher certification but no experience, you can apply to be an intern. Some larger international schools, especially those with a boarding component, will hire interns to co-teach, supervise or lead activities. This is how I got started, I found an internship teaching two sections of French 1 plus boarding duties at a school in Switzerland. It was the perfect way to ease into international teaching!
International School Curriculum
While you are getting teaching experience, it is worth thinking about the curriculum you are teaching. Most international schools follow one of the American, British or International Baccalaureate curriculums below.
British – National UK curriculum with GCSE and A level exams
International Baccalaureate – The gold standard for international schools, the IB curriculum can be offered throughout the school or just as the Primary Years Program, Middle Years Program or Diploma Program. The Diploma Program for students 16-18 is the most common.
If you can get experience teaching in an IB school, you will have a considerable advantage when searching for international schools. Not only does it show that you are an internationally minded teacher, but IB experience will open the door to the top international schools.
Searching for an international school job
Once you are certified and have some experience, you’re ready to start looking for jobs.
In the past, the only way to get hired seemed to be to register with a recruitment organization that hosted hiring fairs and attend one of these fairs. Attending a job fair was a big undertaking. It would often require you to take a day or two off of work, buy a flight to another country, get a hotel room, and essentially put all your eggs in one basket. If you came away from that job fair with no job, it would have all been a waste.
However, with changes in technology and video conferencing, and certainly with the covid-19 pandemic putting the kibosh on travel in 2020, many schools are increasingly hiring without meeting candidates at job fairs. You can usually apply for positions directly on their website. In fact, sometimes even schools that are registered with a recruitment organization require you to apply on their own website and not through the recruitment organization.
That being said, registering with an organization will get you access to their searchable database of international schools. This also gives you vital information like estimated salary, benefits, and savings potential, plus hiring practices. Knowing this information ahead of time can help you decide if applying to the school is even worth your time. In the database, schools can see your profile and contact you directly. It also means that your confidential references are in the system and you don’t have to ask your references for separate letters each time you apply for a new position.
One thing that’s different about international school recruitment is that the job search happens very early in the school year. Securing work visas for new staff takes time, and of course preparing to move does, too. Current teachers need to re-sign a contract and say if they’re coming back the following year in October or November, in contrast with public schools which require contracts in May or June. This means that the real push for hiring usually runs from about December to February. Changes do happen after this period, but most of the hiring is done during this time. Consequently, you’re going to want to make sure that you have your resume ready and you’re registered with a recruitment organization by November 1.
Check out this book from an entertaining international educator, Finding the Right Fit, to learn more about recruiting and job fairs.
Start your job search with these resources
TIE Online – The International Educator (TIE) is a monthly newspaper reporting on happenings in international schools and job listings.
TES – TES has teacher resources and international jobs, mostly at British International schools. It is free to view available jobs.
Search Associates – Probably the most well-known organization for international teachers seeking positions
ISS- – International School Services is a non-profit that has been placing teachers for over 60 years.
Carney Sandoe & Associates – This organization places teachers in independent schools, the majority of which are in the United States
Other tips to help you find a job
In addition to teaching experience, there are a few other things that you can do to be a stronger international teacher candidate.
- Brush up on your tech skills, especially Apple products and Google apps. You’ll likely receive a computer as part of your contract and be expected to integrate technology into your teaching.
- Get experience leading activities. Most international schools need teachers to lead after-school activities like sports teams, drama, language clubs and Model United Nations.
- Be open to working in many regions. Many teachers have their heart set on working in Europe, but these are usually older, more established schools and it is unlikely you’ll get a job there with no international experience or an EU passport.
- Learn another language. Doing so shows that you care about other cultures and intercultural communication, and you may settle in to your new country more easily.
- Try to resolve any debts you have. All international schools pay enough to allow you to live very comfortably in that country, but not all allow you to make enough to save a lot of money. If you have student loans or a mortgage to pay in your home country, you will be limited to working in places where you can save money, and this effectively rules out many countries, including most of South and Central America and Europe.
With these tips you should be well on your way to becoming an international teacher! Teaching in an international school is a rewarding, life-changing experience that I would recommend to anyone. Comment below with any questions you may still have, and I’ll do my best to answer them.