Teaching Abroad

By Liana Loewus — September 11, 2008 4 min read

Whether for experience or adventure—or both—many teachers seek short-term positions in foreign countries. This can be a practical option at times when the teaching job market in the U.S. is tight, particularly for educators in need of some resume building.

International Schools Services (ISS) is a nonprofit organization that helps develop and manage more than 300 schools worldwide. Teachers and other qualified candidates looking for opportunities overseas can establish a professional file with ISS and attend interviews with school administrators at International Recruitment Centers (IRCs). All applicants are subject to a screening process and notified when a position for which they are qualified becomes available. Laura Light, director of educational staffing and publications, recently answered a few questions for us about teacher placement through ISS.

What percentage of qualified applicants are offered international positions?

Approximately 60 percent of our candidates are offered international positions after they become a candidate with us. This number is steadily rising, though, as more schools are looking for more teachers! Schools that are already established are growing, which means the school heads are actively hiring more teachers, and new schools are starting all the time. There are exciting things happening in schools all around the world—and the time is ripe to consider teaching abroad!

How long does the placement process take?

The placement project is generally about a six- to eight-month process. We recommend teachers contact us in September or October. The creation of a dossier does take some time (as we need transcripts, letters of recommendation, etc.) before moving ahead. Once we have all the paperwork, we do encourage people to attend our conferences held each January and February. These conferences are hiring conferences where the heads of schools come in from all around the world looking for teachers to fill open positions they will have in the following school year. Last January and February, we had well over 160 schools looking for teachers and administrators -and there were many opportunities for people wanting to teach abroad! The heads of schools do like to meet teachers or administrators wanting to work in their schools, so we do encourage attendance at one of those conferences.

Are teachers with particular qualifications more likely to find positions?

Schools overseas do really like to see teachers who have at least two years of experience, but even that is changing. ISS is now accepting candidates who are recent graduates from colleges or universities. These schools want qualified teachers, who are up to date on current teaching practices, and are excited about teaching.

How do you match teachers and schools?

We do not really “match” teachers and schools. We are a facilitator who bring people together. We vet the teachers and schools to make sure we are working with quality candidates, but the interviewing and contract process are all done between the teacher and the school.

I understand that most teachers are on a two-year contract—is it possible for teachers to stay longer?

Yes, most contracts are for a two year period—but staying on is not a problem at all! Schools do like to have teachers commit to more time. I have taught overseas for many years—some of my contracts ended when I wanted, after two years, but I stayed as long as seven years in a place I loved! This is something each teacher or administrator needs to talk about with the school they are interviewing with. But, I know that schools will say they do encourage teachers to consider more years.

Do teachers receive training before heading to their host country?

Each school handles the transition differently—but I do not think any of them offer any training. Schools will work with new teachers coming to their schools and give them a huge amount of information. Teachers currently working at these schools often contact the new teachers to help guide them through the process.

How do international standards and curriculums compare to those in the U.S.?

The standards at each of these schools is generally very high! The curriculums do vary, considering the school you are going to be working in, but almost all of these schools are college preparatory. These children often return to the United States to enter a college, so these schools worldwide know they have keep the standards very high. It is a hugely satisfying place to work, in one of these schools, as there is always a lot of administrative support, great parental support, and a great team to work with inside the school walls.

Are teachers generally satisfied with their international teaching experiences?

Honestly, a huge percentage of teachers absolutely love working abroad. There is a general comment about how “it gets in your blood” and how teachers stay in the overseas circuit. Yes, some people do find that it is not for them—but most people really find it a great scenario to be in. The schools are incredibly supportive and well run, the travel experiences are fantastic, and the people you meet are top-notch. It really is fun to work in a place where you feel valued, where you have some outstanding colleagues, and where you feel like you are really making a difference.