My fiancée, Ms. A, and I have received a lot of questions from other teachers about how we went about attaining our overseas teaching positions. In honor of our acquiring our visas for China, the Last Big Hoop we had to jump through, here’s the story:
My interest in international schools was piqued years ago, when I visited one in Japan. The idea lay dormant through my TFA years and then resurged in force last summer, when Ms. A and I strolled by the American School of Paris. When we came back home, we plunged ourselves into investigations of our different options.
We started, actually, with Department of Defense schools for the overseas dependents of soldiers. This seemed like the ideal placement for us, as it features a student population more similar to the one we teach now, represents meaningful national service, and offers locations throughout regions we were interested in: Western Europe and Asia. We speedily finished our applications but then read the fine print: DOD schools do their hiring in May and reserve the right to reassign you anywhere in the world. We probably could have swallowed the latter clause, but the former meant that we would have to leave ourselves and our current schools in the lurch about our job next year long past the usual hiring season, both an unprofessional action and a personal risk we were unwilling to take.
This pushed us to look at the different options for getting jobs in private, international schools. These schools are for the children of expatriates, overseas businesspeople and diplomats. Often called “American schools” abroad, they hire credentialed American teachers to offer American curricula in countries from France to Uzbekistan. (Yes, I am aware that if we went any further from The Trenches we'd be teaching at Exeter. No, that's not the point.)
According to one source I agree with, if you are set upon teaching in one particular region or country, you’re best off applying directly to the schools there. We were more open-minded. Medical necessity knocked a few regions off our list, but we knew we could be excited and enthusiastic about wherever the winds of fate blew us. Young teachers, specialized in a very different kind of school and student, we didn’t think we’d get to be choosy. Consequently, it made sense for us to work through a placement agency. My research found three big ones, Search Associates, International School Services and the Council of International Schools. They all perform the same service, matching IS teachers and schools, and they all seem reputable and capable.
We picked Search Associates because they held an information session and hiring fair in San Francisco, driving distance from our work and home. The application process was extensive, requiring three supervisory recommendations, two from parents of past students (Aiiii!!!), a statement of philosophy, a personal introduction, a resume, and a lengthy online application. We pushed ourselves to do as much as possible in the summer, before school restarted, because we knew that anything unfinished would wait until Winter Break. By the end of December, all our materials were complete. This gave us access to the Search Associates’ database of international schools and their openings, and more importantly, an invitation to the hiring fair in February. It was very easy to link Ms. A’s application and mine, as teaching couples are preferred by almost all international schools and a large part of the faculties of many.
As February approached, Search published their list of schools attending the recruitment fair. We researched them and developed a priority list. When the fair finally came, we found that some schools we were excited about no longer had openings for our levels (Spain!) and some new ones did. (Beijing!) We also found that many schools had done their research on us, and we received several invitations to interview with schools we had not originally anticipated. (Moscow! Ningbo! Seoul! Singapore!)
The whole year-long process was wonderfully ripe with potential, as it seemed equally likely that we could end up in the snowy reaches of Aomori, Japan, or the tropics of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. At one point, we had to put up a world map at home so that we could keep track of where all the schools we were considering were located and not embarass ourselves in an interview with a geo-gaff. Quick - Could you talk about the climate at the International School of Vilinus?
The first night of the fair we circulated a large room filled with recruiters, scheduling a list of interviews for the next two days. We had no idea whether or not we were competitive with the two hundred other candidates there, so we signed up for nearly twenty interviews, starting at 7:30AM the next day.
The next day, we quickly found that we had underestimated ourselves. After four interviews, we had three offers, all from schools at the front of our list. A school in Costa Rica had given us only until 12:30 to commit, so at 11:00 we canceled the rest of our interviews and went to lunch to decide whether we would spend the next two years in Costa Rica, Korea or China. It was a wrenching decision. Gaining Spanish fluency had been a motivating factor in our original thoughts of moving abroad. However, our school in China was, simply, in China, a nexus of excitement in the world today. Further, Ms. A was hesitant about her teaching placement in Costa Rica, a special class between K and 1 for lower ELLs. She was anxious for a break from the demands of ELL instruction and hoping to see her expectations reset by two years of work with native speakers. Finally, we were persuaded by the financial realities of the situation. Working in Costa Rica meant foregoing the opportunity to save money for our return to the pricey Bay Area, while working in China meant returning with nigh on a down payment for a house. We decided that we would find another way to learn Spanish and signed with a school in Shanghai for the next two years. Jittery with excitement and exhaustion, we drove home and called our friends and families to tell them the news.