Five myths about teaching in international schools

More teachers left the country last year to teach in international schools than there were students completing PGCE courses. With increased accountability and pressure in schools, is it a surprise that so many staff are looking for an escape? In 2012 I packed my life into several suitcases and uprooted my family to a tiny tropical island community in the Seychelles to be headteacher of an international school.

I suppose it wouldn’t surprise people if I were to say that I’d been driven abroad by the constant meddling of politicians, the exams fiasco, or Ofsted. In reality, however, ever since entering teaching, one of my ambitions has been to experience international education. International schools have a unique ethos and approach. They are rich in diversity and I wanted to experience the celebration of different cultures in an environment where the values of global citizenship are promoted and developed in young people.

After returning to Britain, I’ve realised there are lots of misconceptions about what it’s like to teach in an international school. Here are the most common beliefs about teaching abroad – and my verdict on them. Not true – work is work, regardless of where you are. Having said this, I did find that my work-life balance was far healthier abroad. If you work in a British international school you will follow the English national curriculum, but you will be free from bureaucracy. You are not confined to certain systems and procedures, for example, completing unnecessary evidence for Ofsted, which can inhibit a teacher’s creativity and increase their workload. Instead, I had more time and energy to be a real dad to my son.

A Tesol (Teachers of English to speakers of other languages) qualification isn’t necessary for most jobs. As a qualified teacher from the UK, you will be attractive to most international schools so it is unlikely they will demand extra qualifications. Plus, if you are working in a British international school then the spoken and written language will be English. That said, working with staff, students and parents from a different background can be challenging, especially if there is a language barrier. It is important to learn about the different cultures or communities you will be working with and be sensitive to them.

This will take time to understand, so make sure you are open and ask other teachers or the school’s management team for support – some schools provide a handbook to help your transition.In any school, in any context, there will be some demanding parents. But it is sometimes true that if parents are paying, the dynamics can change. Even in UK, the fact that state schools are financed by taxpayers can mean that everyone feels they have a say on how children should be taught. This goes up a notch when the schools’ expensive fees come directly out of parents’ salaries. As an effective school you need to engage with parents and have a close working relationship, but there were times when I had to remind parents that I, as the headteacher, and the governing body, made the key decisions.

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