Despite the War, Overseas Teaching Jobs in Demand

By Mark Walsh — February 27, 1991 4 min read

Raegen Miller, a mathematics teacher at the American School of Kuwait last year, stayed in Kuwait City last summer to study Arabic and run a children’s day camp at the U.S. Embassy.

When Iraq invaded the emirate on Aug. 2, Mr. Miller became a de facto hostage, surviving for four months in the embassy on canned tuna fish and mackerel until President Saddam Hussein allowed him and other Americans to leave in December.

One might think that the 25-year old Californian had gotten enough adventure out of an overseas teaching assignment to last a lifetime.

But last week, Mr. Miller was anxiously awaiting word of job offers at other overseas schools. Among his prospects were schools in Cairo, New Delhi, and Taipei, Taiwan.

“I am hoping to get some offers this weekend,” he said in an interview from his home in Portola Valley, Calif. “I would probably take any offer that comes along.”

Despite the Persian Gulf war and political turmoil elsewhere around the globe, there appears to be no lack of candidates for teaching jobs at over seas American schools, recruiters and other experts said last week.

Interest in overseas positions “has exceeded all our expectations,” said Mary Rabbitt, director of educational staffing at International Schools Services, a nonprofit organization based in Princeton, N.J., that recruits teachers for American curriculum schools abroad.

Many of these schools in the Mid dle East have been in the news since the Persian Gulf crisis began, with most steadfastly staying open de spite sharply lower enrollments. Even such schools in Israel and Saudi Arabia, which face the risk of being hit by Iraqi missiles, closed for only a few days to two weeks at the outbreak of the war. (See Education Week, Jan. 23 and 30, 1991.)

“We reopened on Feb. 4, but with only 25 percent of the students we had before the war,” said Forrest A. Broman, superintendent of the Wal worth Barbour American International School in Israel, near Tel Aviv. “Many companies and embassies won’t let their families come back until things are resolved.”

The school recently laid off 30 staff members and ordered a 10 per cent pay cut for the others, Mr. Bro man said. Nonetheless, he was back in the United States last week inter viewing teaching candidates on a swing of overseas-schools recruiting fairs.

‘Proceeding as Normal’

February is the prime month for recruiting faculty members for the more than 500 American-curriculum schools overseas, which include independent schools serving the children of U.S. diplomats and business officials and the Department of Defense Dependents’ Schools.

Four major teacher-recruiting fairs for such schools were going on as usual this month, with the last one taking place this week in New Orleans, fol lowing the annual meeting of the Association for the Advancement of International Education.

“The schools are proceeding as normal,” said Ms. Rabbitt of International Schools Services. “Many of these schools have to recruit staff well in advance because it takes a long time to get work permits and other paperwork in order.”

At the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, the school’s 5th annual overseas-schools recruiting fair last week drew the max imum 750 prospective teachers.

“We probably got three times as many inquiries, but we just cannot accommodate more than 750,” said Jo Dorhout, overseas-placement coordinator at the university.

Experts offer several reasons that interest in such jobs remains strong.

For one thing, the jobs can pay well and teachers do not have to pay U.S. income tax on their earnings. Second, many candidates have seriously considered the risks before pur suing a job further.

“I think what it comes down to is jobs come first,” said Ms. Dorhout. “I know with having been in touch with independent schools in the United States that job openings are down.”

Mr. Broman of the Walworth Barbour school said some applicants are attracted by locales that have been in the news, even if they pose dangers.

“For people with only a casual interest in an overseas teaching job, they are not going to choose Israel or Jordan,” he said. “But we get the hardcore
people. If anything, the threat of danger is attractive to some.”

Mr. Miller, the former teacher in Kuwait, returned home and found a teaching job in San Jose. But he wants to go back to teach overseas while he is still young, he said.

He recently traveled to an I.S.S. recruiting session in Boston, where in addition to interviewing for jobs over seas, he gave a talk about his experience in the embassy in Kuwait City. His story did not seem to cause any of the candidates to lose interest in work ing overseas, he said.

Mr. Miller said he would go to Cairo only if he gets no other job offers from schools abroad. But he quickly added that the American school there is “very nice” and the prospective pay package was generous.

Perhaps only half in jest, his mother has threatened to hide his passport to keep him home.

“But I told her the first day I came back I was probably going to go back overseas,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the February 27, 1991 edition of Education Week as Despite the War, Overseas Teaching Jobs in Demand