What’s it like teaching overseas in an international school?

Published on 8th November, 2016 by Andrew Wigford. Published in For Candidates / TIC News

We take a look at how teaching overseas can differ from your home country

One of the most common questions we are asked by teachers who are considering working internationally is “What’s it like to teach overseas?” So here are a few facts to help you decide if it’s for you:

  • The language of learning: At TIC, all the international schools we work with are English-medium. This means that the majority of subjects, if not all of them, are taught in English.
  • Curriculum: The most popular curricula are the National Curriculum of England, the International Baccalaureate Programmes (that includes the Primary Years Programme, Middle Years Programme and Diploma Programme), an American style of curriculum, or the International Primary or Middle Years Curriculum.
  • Qualifications: Students generally study towards IGCSE, A levels, IB Diploma, of the American SAT and Advanced Placement qualifications. All these qualifications are recognised by the majority of universities around the world.
  • Speaking the language: Although you don’t need to be able to speak the local language to teach at an international school, it does help to learn some salutations, words of thanks, and common phrases to help connect with your local community.  Try to pick up some of the language as you settle in to your new life to maximise your experience.
  • Demographics of students and teachers: Teaching in an international school can be quite a contrast to teaching in a national school in your home country. You’ll find many different nationalities of children learning together, and often, several different nationalities of teachers. 
  • Time for teaching vs behaviour management: International schools tend to have smaller class sizes than in state schools, and many teachers say that most children who attend international schools want to learn, which means student behaviour is often better than in state schools. These things combined mean that teachers are able to spend more time teaching rather than on classroom management.
  • Government regulations: You won’t be faced with extensive government regulations at most international schools, however you may still have to meet certain guidelines and you may face inspections or accreditations. Most teachers say there is less bureaucratic paperwork, particularly compared to the British state school system.
  • Teaching and Learning: Most international schools are highly focused on quality teaching and learning, and teachers are encouraged to deliver learning in creative ways.
  • Demands on your time: International school teachers are often expected to participate in extra-curricular activities because supporting the school community is an important part of international school life. However, most international school teachers say they still have plenty of time to socialise, enjoy their weekends, explore, travel and make the most of their location.
  • Holidays and time for fun: Some international schools have shorter school days, or start their school day earlier – and so finish earlier too. Most international schools have longer holidays than state schools; great for travelling and for time to experience your new cultural environment.
  • Salaries and benefits: International schools tend to pay fairly comparably with the state school systems of the UK and the US. However, your money may go further because of the cost of living, and because of the additional benefits that some international schools offer, or because you are working and living in a tax-free location. Most international school teachers do say that they are able to save more, and/or have more disposable income to spend on travel, social life and luxuries.

Find out more from those who have done it: To find out more about what it’s like to teach overseas, read the feedback from teachers who are working (or have worked) in international schools.  These stories speak volumes, they share lots of valuable advice, and within this selection you might be able to find someone just like you:

If you’re single and wondering whether to take the plunge overseas alone, see what Ian Wigley teaching in The Netherlands and Claire Woodhouse working in Doha have to say.

If you don’t want a long-distance relationship, Ian Robertson teaching in Beijing says you don’t have to!

If you’re considering opportunities as a teaching couple read about Ronald Saw and Ursula Inta who are teaching in Vietnam or Robert and Sarah Graves working in Shanghai.

If you’re a family with young children, you’ll find good advice from Sarah Curran working in Ho Chi Minh City and Richard Downs teaching in Bangkok.

If you are already living overseas as a trailing spouse, read about Jane Denby’s experiences in Oman, Brunei, Dubai, Holland, Russia and The Hague.

If you are an empty-nester, find out how Janet Berg is doing in Qatar.

And if you are wanting one final exciting experience before retiring why not read Dulcie Copeland’s story of teaching in Thailand.

If you're ready to start looking for your next teaching job in an international school, register with TIC Recruitment and check out our latest vacancies today.

You might also be interested in these informative articles:
Start your teaching adventure: see in the world through international schools
Follow your dream: how to make teaching overseas a reality
Feeling pressure in the classroom? Try teaching overseas!

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Andrew Wigford

Andrew is Managing Director of TIC. He has been involved in international education both as a teacher and Headteacher for over 25 years and has worked in Germany, Colombia and Austria. He set up TIC recruitment in 2005 to help teachers find great jobs in great international schools.