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Do You Really Know Your Child’s Teacher?

September, 2008
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School age children spend more waking hours with their teachers than they do with their parents. While parent-child exchanges are mostly about organization or discipline, children and teachers are usually sharing information and thoughtful discussion. Your child’s teacher will have a significant impact on his/her development. But do you really know how this person was selected to influence your child?

How do the thousands of international schools hire their teachers?

The minimum usually required to be hired as a teacher by a reputable international school is to have a valid teaching license issued by a government Department of Education and two years of successful and relevant teaching experience. With these and three reliable recommendations, a teacher can apply to teacher clearing organizations, of which there are three main players: The Council of International Schools, Search Associates and International School Services, and request to participate in their recruitment fairs. It is recommended that teachers begin their job search by the end of October to seek a position the following academic year.

There are a variety of factors a candidate for an international school will consider before applying to a specific school These include geo-cultural environment, salary, taxes, cost of living, housing, tuition for teacher’s children, employment opportunities for a spouse, safety, quality of the environment, size of school, academic program, for profit or not-for-profit orientation, opportunity to work in new areas of the curriculum or in extra-curricular activities such as sports, and the school’s reputation. There is a website call International Teacher Review to which anyone can subscribe for a fee, which is an open forum where teachers and administrators express their candid opinions about the international schools at which they have worked. Reading it is like being at the gossip table in a school’s staff room.

Teachers may apply for a position directly to a school, which may be followed by a video/telephone interview, a visit to the school, usually at the teacher’s expense, or candidates meeting with schools at the job fairs. There are many fairs held around the world. The first fair to recruit for the following academic year in the northern hemisphere is held in Bangkok between Christmas and New Year, followed by the largest fairs on back to back weekends in London in February. Other fairs are held in Boston, Iowa, Sydney and Vancouver.

Here, the forces of supply and demand are in raw evidence, and competition can be fierce. The schools set up their recruitment tables in a convention center hall and prominently display their school’s name and list of openings they must fill. The experienced teachers have done their homework. They have already made contact with their preferred schools and have agreed to meet up for an interview with their target schools.

At a given hour, the doors are opened for the teachers. There is a rush for the most sought after schools where long lines of nervous candidates form with stacks of freshly printed C.V.s. At the next school’s table there may be no applicants. The initial interview may last 3 to 5 minutes, during which both parties decide if they want to set up a more extensive interview, usually held in the hotel room of the school recruiter later on in the day. The next two years of a teacher and his/her family’s life may be decided in this initial three minutes! As the morning wears on recruiters take thick black felt tip pens and cross off available openings when they think they have a number of good candidates. Teachers fill up their appointment sheets much like debutants at the ball. There is a real buzz of excitement. There are bubbly teaching couples out to explore the world and willing to be paid in sunshine for the experience and older teachers looking for a change and a way to pay off the mortgage on the retirement home or their children’s college tuition. Schools on tight budgets seek young teaching couples with no children. Schools with a high local population may want couples with children to add to the international face of the school.

By noon, the main hand of the game has been played. The winners on both sides go to lunch to evaluate their pickings. In-depth interviews begin in the afternoon. These may last a few minutes to an hour or more with more interviews to follow as the two parties weigh their options and favored candidates in disciplines such as math and sciences sign on at other schools. By the end of the day, the hotel bar is a jumble of excited teachers with signed contracts, hopefuls waiting for a note on the bulletin board and the disappointed. The next day is essentially the same process but without the previous day’s excitement. Here are the recruiters who need to have teachers in their classrooms in the fall and teachers who need jobs. The negotiations continue. In forty-eight hours it is all over. Success means going home and sharing the good news with family and friends who really don’t want you to go and colleagues who don’t really want to hear about the exotic place you will be teaching in.

Then it is passports, visas, medicals, packing, shipping, saying good-bye’s and heading out for a two-year commitment to a place you have never been, with a language that, in spite of studying for four months with cassettes, you still can’t understandably pronounce “hello”. The school’s housing agent often welcomes incoming teachers at the airport and drives them to their new accommodations where a cursory inspection is done to ensure all is in working order. The teacher with blood shot eyes signs the acceptance sheet, and the school rep is gone with the teacher standing in the middle of his/her new home with bags all around when the silence is punctuated by the irregular drip of a leaky faucet. So begins the new life of an international teacher.

Once hired, a teacher may be fired at the school’s discretion. The administrations of the vast majority of international schools, like Wal-Mart, do not encourage any collective representation on the part of teachers. Parent-Teacher Associations have been replaced by a parent organization that liaises with the administration rather than with teachers. The transient nature of the staff also does not favor solidarity. A teacher has little leverage when up against the school’s local lawyers and little recourse if the administration decides for whatever reason to fire a teacher. The teacher’s work visa is dependent on the job, and once the job is terminated so is the visa. Occasionally a teacher will break contract and leave with or without notice.

However, in the vast majority of schools the system works well. With globalization, international schools are popping up everywhere to serve the needs of the families of employees of multinational enterprises and mobile independent professionals. The international school environment may be the most beneficial experience your child is ever privileged to be a part of. International school teachers are, in the vast majority, highly trained and dedicated professionals who love their work and care for your child. They are also human beings, often in an unfamiliar environment, who have thousands of decisions to make every day and sometime make the wrong ones. Their lives are increasingly stressful as the struggle is fought to maximize academic performance while at the same time developing the whole child.

Get to know your child’s teacher. Develop a personal relationship. You will benefit by gaining a more informed opinion from information you may hear from the school’s administration, other parents and your children. You will be in a position to better manage your child’s education and insure it will be a happy, productive experience.


By Sebastian Alexander

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