The full guide to teaching abroad

Hello, dear readers welcome, and or welcome back to my blog!

This post that I have up is going back again to the topic of teaching and one possible career path those who have a degree in education could take.

The topic is all about international teaching, and in this post I would be going through the reality of international teaching, specifically teaching in the in the GCC (Gulf cooperation council) these are all the countries that are in the Persian Gulf and consist of: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar.

go-GCC-flag-map

I had taught in an international English school in Qatar and I wanted to give my personal experience, tips and advice from finding job posts, the application process, what documents are needed, the benefits, the problems and the differences to teaching in these schools compared to teaching students in England.

So if you have ever thought about teaching or working in a school abroad, what it is like, what you need and if you are suitable for embarking on such a big change then keep reading this post, and share with other people who you think this post would be relevant to.

What qualifications, experience and skills do I need?

Firstly, before you even think about looking at international schools, or even contemplate on moving to a foreign, exotic country to live and work in, you must do thorough research into which qualifications, experience, documents etc that are needed for you to be eligible to even apply to an international school.

Most international schools require at least a Bachelors degree in Education or a PGCE (postgraduate certificate in education) from an accredited university or college alongside with a bachelor’s degree that is related to your teaching subject, so for example if you have a PGCE in secondary music and you have a bachelor’s degree in performing arts that would be a good fit. If you do not have a teaching degree then there will only be a small chance of you getting an international teaching job, in such cases the benefits and salary that would be offered to you will not be as good as what a candidate who has the relevant degree would get.

Secondly, most international schools are looking for candidates who have actual experience in teaching. Majority of International schools do state in their vacancy adverts that they require a minimum of two to three years of full-time paid teaching, this does not include any unpaid teaching experience.

Thirdly most international schools are looking for candidates who are fluent in English and who are also bilingual/multilingual, preferably with some knowledge of the main language of that country or showing the willingness to learn that language. For example when I was looking to apply for international schools, I aimed for schools in the Gulf region such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain because I already know Arabic and can speak, read and write the language in addition to my fluency in English that would help me with my chances of successfully getting a job there and adjusting better to my new environment. So I would advise that if you are planning to teach abroad, to look at which countries you are interested in and start learning the main language in advance, there are many free good quality language learning apps, websites and software which you can download and use. You can even watch youtube to learn a language. The apps that I use are Duolingo and Rosetta stone to aid me in my learning in German and Arabic.

Thirdly is the teaching curriculum that you have experience in. Certain schools only teach certain curriculums and thus look for candidates that have the experience of teaching, using or making resources for the following curriculums. For example, if you are interested in applying to an American school in Kuwait that school is looking for candidates who can teach the K-12 curriculum, or if it’s an English school in the UAE then they are looking for candidates that have experience teaching IGCSE (international general certificate of education)  or IBAC (international baccalaureate) . Therefore you must have experience teaching these curriculums or get training in these curriculums if your current school does not offer it. There are independent institutes and colleges that offer training and certification in these international curricula, however, mostly it is done on weekends and school holidays and you would have to pay for it as your current school will not cover these training expenses. 

Next is your long-term commitment to moving, living and working in a foreign country. All international schools invest a lot of money into recruiting their new staff members, from plane tickets, to helping with Visas or citizenship/work visas, paying for accommodation, health insurance and in some cases car rentals.

Therefore international schools are quite careful in who they select to hire, as they have to be able to vision if the candidate could successfully adjust to their new living environment and be willing to overcome any possible uncomfortable changes or problems in the move and be part of the working environment for years to come.

So you will be questioned about any criminal convictions (past or present), job references from your previous employers, your overall health and they will want a health check or review form your doctor as well, if you have any young children or plan to have children in the near future.

It is important to make it clear that for women who are single (not married) and wish to work in an international school in the gulf countries, there are not many opportunities for single women to work in such schools. And in most of the job vacancy posts, the employer would have clearly stated this. Employers very much prefer women who are married and their partner or husband has suitable experience and qualifications to also work in the same school, if not some schools help out by looking for suitable vacancies from local schools or employers in the area for the husband. I would say that in my experience I have found that international schools in Qatar are more flexible in terms of hiring single women, and some of my co-workers were single women from the UK. However the majority of international employers in gulf countries due prefer to hiring couples, or hiring single women only if their partner or husband had a job secured beforehand in the same country. Other schools in the Gulf area state that for a woman to work for them, the husband must already have a job in the same country/city she wishes to work in BEFORE she can apply and then that would boost her chances as well of getting the job.

However there are a few schools that are an exception to this general rule, therefore if you are a single woman who wants to teach in the middle east then you must research the individual schools, and laws of the land and ask questions via email or telephone/video call before applying so that you know what chances your application has.

With children most international schools are very accommodating and give salary bonuses for children, offer a bigger free accommodation to fit the children, they even help pay for private tuition for the children and include them in the family health insurance payment, however most international schools do state that they would only do this for maximum of two children, any other additional children the employee (yourself) must pay for their schooling, health insurance and general expenses.

 

How do I find international school teaching vacancies?

The best way to find vacancies to work in international schools is to look online, there are many sites which show the most up to date vacancies posted by international schools. However do be careful when searching online, as some online recruiters do not check the school or its history in how they treat their staff, and some recruiters are straight up scammers who put up fake vacancies.

Some good sites to use are the following:

https://www.tes.com/jobs/browse/international

TES is a great website which constantly puts up official international teaching jobs, with detailed information on what the employer is looking for, you can even search for jobs in specific countries or narrow down what roles you wish to work in.

https://www.ticrecruitment.com/

TIC recruitment is an international teaching recruitment website, that is very organised and has up to date vacancies posted which you can apply directly to the schools using the site. The site also contains helpful blog posts which range from current news in education to interview tips and surviving working in a new country.

https://www.eteachinternational.com/

Eteach is another recruitment website that has job vacancies from over 200 schools worldwide, not only that the site offers video self help tutorials on applications, CV writing and blog posts full of useful advice and tips.

You can also find jobs from searching in newspapers such as the Guardian as they sometimes post international teaching jobs, you can also ask at your local teaching recruitment agencies if they have international vacancies or work with international schools. There are some teaching recruitment agencies in London and other larger cities in the UK that do have direct connections to international schools and look to hire on behalf of them.

One of the best international recruitment agencies I have ever used is: https://www.searchassociates.com/

Search associates is by far the best recruitment website/service I have used in my teaching career. They specialize in helping teachers and anyone who works in education to find the best and most suitable international teaching jobs. They have over 600 schools in their database from over 120 countries worldwide! They have in depth posts on how to improve your CV, advice for moving to a new country and much more. They even have paid internships possible for those of you who do not have a teaching degree yet or are doing their degree, this way you can valuable experience teaching abroad but also get an idea of what it would be like to live in another country whilst being paid for it. Lastly one of the best services they offer is the teaching job fairs that they offer in many cities worldwide from London, New York, Paris to Abu Dhabi. These job fairs are free to register (you have to be registered a minimum of three months before the job fair you wish to attend), once you fully register by putting up your qualifications, passport scan, work experience, CV and four personal references from your current or previous employers. You will get a login password, and access to your own experienced personal mentor who is an expert in working internationally and in education.

Once you have your password and can login, you are able to search for which regions or countries you want to work in and you are able to see all vacancies, or you can search by role or subject for example you can search for English teaching posts or school counselor or school nurse roles for example. Then you will get the job vacancy details, such as the salary, if accommodation is paid for, how many hours you will work, part time/full time etc and you can click on the schools profile to get even more details to help you in your application to that school. You can even put schools on your favorites list and can apply to the school through the website.

With the job fair, it is usually a two day event, majority of the time on a Saturday and Sunday, whereby they hold this event where many of their partner schools send representatives who have vacancies. You then are able to visit each school, and talk to their representatives and give a good first impression of yourself. Interviews are conducted on the second day if they are interested in you and job offers if you are successful are also made during this two day event. I personally got three job offers, one from a school in Dubai, one from a school in Switzerland and one from a school in Germany.

I would highly recommend that if you are committed and serious about working abroad, that you register on search associates and then apply to one of their job fairs that is closest to you, and then attend the job fair with CVs printed out and in your most presentable clothing.

So now let us get on to the overall plus and negative points of teaching abroad, please note that of course moving to another country and working there will be down to how the person sees it, I am just giving you my experience and what most expat workers say are the positives and negatives, the list below is just a summary and is put here to help you make a more informed decision as to whether working abroad is the right step for you.

 

The advantages of teaching abroad:

  • Gaining valuable career experience in a different country.
  • Be able to experience new cultures, food, languages and traditions.
  • Tax free salary, and the possibility of saving more money than if you was in the UK, some European countries or the US.
  • Learning another language fluently since you will be living in that country.
  • Amazing career progression opportunities through new training methods and from the fact that most international private schools are large in nature, many new teachers have worked their way up into different and more rewarding roles very quickly within the school.
  • Increased possibilities of career progression or development into other roles.
  • The possibilities of going through new training, programs and using new technology in your career.
  • Not paying for rent/housing or health care so you can save more money and have stability whilst you work.
  • More varied holiday destinations close to your new country of residence.
  • Smaller class sizes, so less stress and easier to manage behavior problems.
  • Having more resources and working in better funded schools than compared to most public or state schools in the UK.
  • Lighter teaching timetable or fewer working hours. For example in Qatar I only had five classes and in a week I taught a total of twenty hours!
  • More free time for yourself than if you worked in the UK/US.
  • Better behaved children in general, because their education is paid for by their parents/guardians.
  • The international teaching experience will give you a great boost on your CV and would work favorable for you when looking for future work.
  • Meet amazing people from different backgrounds and form new work relationships or friendships.
  • Less observations and paperwork overall than working in public schools in the UK or the US, thus you have more freedom and flexibility to plan and teach engaging and interesting lessons inside or outside of the classroom!

 

The disadvantages of teaching abroad:

  • That you may feel extremely lonely and isolated, especially if you do not have a partner/friends or family with you.
  • Systems or processes are slower than in the UK/Europe, such as getting your health insurance sorted out, car rentals, Wi-Fi etc which can be frustrating.
  • Disengaged or lazy wealthy students, due to their parents paying for extra private tuition or classes after school.
  • Culture clashes or language barriers.
  • Lack of sick pay in most international schools, because it is a private school.
  • Having only one return flight paid for by your employer a year, so in between you can feel lonely or homesick due to the prices and nature of long haul flights.
  • Sudden changes in your contract or the benefits you get, which is generally difficult to fight against as it is a private school and the lack of unions or other organisations that support workers right in most middle eastern countries.
  • Your job description roles may be changed without your knowledge or consent, for example you may be asked to perform new tasks or take on different responsibilities to what you originally signed up for.
  • Your employer has the right to terminate your contract far more easily than if you worked in public schools or the public sector in the UK/EU. This is difficult as without a job contract you must find another job soon or you can no longer stay in the country.

 

What types of questions you will asked for an international teaching job:

After you have done your research, and you have prepared for teaching abroad and have looked up which schools interest you and have sent off a good application. The next step is an interview, most international schools do interview by skype, sometimes they will send representatives from the school to the country you live to do a face to face interview, but that is not as common.

With the skype interview this is your opportunity to really let the employer get to know  you and to impress them with your knowledge, passion and commitment. Due to the fact that your first meeting with representatives is over video and not face to face there are certain issues that arise that you would not face in a typical face to face interview.   Firstly ensure that the school or employer has the correct skype user id or username that you use. Next check the interview time and date they have given you is suitable by checking in advance with your other appointments or commitments, if it is not let them know as soon as possible and suggest possible dates that are better for you.

Before the skype interview, make sure you have researched about the school, what their aims and visions are, the student population breakdown, which teaching curriculum they use, what types of teaching methods they prefer etc. Of course like any other interview you should look presentable and classy, set your laptop or webcam in a place that has good lighting and check to see if the internet connection can handle an international video call and that your web camera and microphone/speakers are working before doing the interview.

When the interview starts stay calm and take your time (but not too long!) to formulate your answers, and if you are not sure ask them to repeat the question again or just be honest that you are not knowledgeable about that topic. Below I have made a list of the most common questions international schools ask during the interview stage:

  1. Why do you want to teach abroad?
  2. Why are you interested in our school?
  3. Why do you want to move to country X? (e.g Qatar/Turkey etc)
  4. Where do you see yourself in the next 5/10 years?
  5. Give me an example of an outstanding lesson you taught.
  6. Give me an example of a weak lesson you taught.
  7. What would you say that you struggle most with?
  8. Which achievement are you most proud of and why?
  9. What experience do you have in teaching (iGCSE, International baccalaureate/IB, K12)
  10. What three words would your line manager use to describe you?
  11. What experience do you have in bilingual education or teaching students who have English as an additional language? (EAL)
  12. What personal plans do you have to overcome any culture differences?
  13. What is your own personal teaching style?
  14. What can our school offer you in your career development?
  15. What other interesting or unique skills and experience do you have to offer?

Make sure that you have your own questions to ask the employer as well, this will show that you are interested in the school and that you have done your research properly.

You got the job! What to do next:

So you aced the interview and you have a job offer from what you think is your dream international school.

Before you give your answer, you actually have at least 24 hours to think about the offer and give your answer on whether or not to take the job offer. Some employers will offer you 48 hours or a week but nothing longer than that, as they need to ensure that they have filled up their vacancies. If after the interview they are asking or pressuring you for an answer straight away, tell them that you want to think about it for at least 24-48 hours this is a legal requirement.

During this time you must take your time to read through the contract that they should have sent you, go through it carefully and ask friends or family who have experience in analyzing contracts or ask a lawyer to break it down for you. Look at the salary that is also stated on there and convert it to your local currency and then compare it to what the average teacher would be earning in your country and city.                                          You can do this using comparison sites such as: https://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/comparison.jsp you can enter the city you are living now and where you want to live and it would compare the prices from rent, groceries, to fuel, to the prices of oranges and restaurants.

Or you could ask the cost of living to friends or family who you know live or lived in the place you want to move and work in. After you have all this information it is important to make rough calculations based on the salary that was quoted to you and how much you can save, than compared to if you stay and work where you currently live. I did this before I gave my answer to the employer and found that despite Doha being, overall quite an expensive city to live in, that the salary I was getting and that health care and rent was fully paid for I would be making and saving more money than if I continued to work in London. If you find that the salary is not meeting your needs then you can go back and discuss about possibly increasing your starting salary before you give your firm yes or no answer, this has worked for many teachers who were looking to work abroad and I negotiated the same as well and got a 5% increase in my starting salary before even confirming that I  would take the job offer.

If you choose to take the job offer then you are legally obliged to actually travel and work in that country, the next steps is that you must scan and translate all your documents such as your passport, qualifications, drivers license, health check and criminal records. The you must send them off to the embassy before you can get your visa, however your new employer will help you all of that and guide you. Just make sure that you have money enough to pay for this service as it quite costly.

 

My teaching experience in Qatar:

In 2015 I had received a job offer to work as a science teacher in a British school in Doha the capital city of Qatar.  

The school had good reviews online and I heard positive things about the management, school facilities and students from the recruitment agency. My job offer came with a job offer for my husband as well, so we both agreed and after translating and sending off all of our documents and paperwork, we were given first class plane tickets a month later along with temporary/holiday visas to enter the country.

Immediately after landing from our seven hour flight, we were greeted by the deputy head of the school at Doha airport, we were given sim cards so that we can contact them and saved their mobile numbers. After that we were escorted to our apartment, and was shown around and given a little tour of our local area, such as where we can get groceries, the cafe, gym, etc.

Then we were left alone to unpack and sleep. We landed in Doha on a Friday which over there is considered to be a weekend and so people do not work. We had the next day Saturday free for ourselves to recover from the jet lag and get a few groceries and prepare for our first work day on Sunday.

 

Qatar Doha beach pearl fishingQatar Doha Museum international teachingQatar Doha city skyline

On to the first work day we got a tour of the school, school documents such as health and safety, fire drill rules etc, we met some of the staff, where our offices are and we were given laptops to be able to use in school. My husband was given a job in terms of counselling because that was what he was specialized in.

I was given my timetable and found out I only had five classes to teach and none of my classes had more than 12 students! I was also given my teaching hours, in total in the week I only had to teach 20 hours. This was a big reduction in what I was used to teaching in England. At my last job in a London school I taught 47 hours a week, but when I add in all the extra work I do with taking students on trips, after school clubs and revision classes I worked over 58 hours a week! Not to mention I had 11 classes to teach and the average class size was 33 students.

For the first two days I was made to shadow other teachers and observe their lessons, and I also go in school training on EAL, how to use the schools data systems, getting my IT pass etc. In my first week of teaching fully, I had found that my students were actually well behaved, however I found them to overall be very lazy and disengaged from education. It was a real effort to just get them involved in the lesson because they would do the bare minimum. I found that they preferred reading the textbook or just copying notes, but when I posed them with questions, or to do group activities, pair share or even experiments they were very reluctant to take part. That was one main cultural differences I have noticed between the Qatari students and the British students that I used to teach.

I have found that after a few months, that my students got used to my different and “new” teaching methods, and that they became more comfortable with me as they said that had a high turnover of science teachers. Also I learnt that because my students mother tongue is Arabic, that I was initially speaking too fast for them in English for them to really understand everything. This was useful for me to realise as their spoken English was very good, however it took them longer to understand what I would say and their written English was not as good as their spoken English. I made sure to give them regular activities in their lessons to boost their quality of written English such as spelling tests as starter activities with the scientific keywords, or to mark their neighbors long answer and check for the grammar and spelling.

On the average school day I found that I was teaching two lessons, the most busiest teaching day was on Wednesdays  I would teach four classes. So in between my lessons I had ample time to do marking and plan for my lessons next week and even practice new experiments! Having so much free time in my work week meant that when I went home I did not take home work with me which was common in England, as my work week was packed in comparison.

I also noticed because the students were generally well behaved I had to do very little behavior management, so it was easy for me to get through the planned lesson and even more content at times. The few times when I had to perform behavior management, all it took was one phone call to the parent, I find that because I was working in a private school most parents were supportive and respond to your letters and calls, and in turn I noticed an improvement in that students behavior.

So on the teaching side of things, everything was going well, my work was fun and stress free. The problems that I had was on the citizenship side of things and how Qatar generally works.

I found that overall things move at a slower pace in Qatar than compared to in England, that is in terms of paperwork, meetings, appointments, government files etc. It took me almost two months just to get a WiFi router in our apartment because by Qatari law you must be a citizen to get WiFi, before I got my router I had to pop in and out of cafes that offered free WiFi or buy expensive data for my mobile phone and use it as a hot spot just to get work done, check emails or call my parents using whatsapp.

Also flying in and out of Qatar, you need permission from your employer before hand and you must have this in a letter form with your employers stamp and signature because when you are at the airport you will be asked for this document. Compared to the ease I have when travelling between the UK and other European countries this was a bit annoying, but my employer was really good at getting me these documents quickly, however I do know from talking to other expats working in Qatar that some companies are slow or problematic when issuing you with these papers.

Another difference I noticed working and living in Qatar, is that the public transport is not that good, so most people either have their own car, and in the case of expats they rent a car or have their own preferred taxi driver that they use regularly. Using the taxi is somewhat affordable, the biggest issue is that in Doha the roads get so busy and there are traffic jams almost daily, so that can easily rack up your taxi fare.

With expats you are not allowed to purchase a car in Qatar, you are however allowed to rent a car after your status has been approved by the Qatari state (this usually takes between one to two months).  Some employers set you up with a trusted taxi driver for the first month of your job to help you ease into you new home and this gives you some time to find your own driver or to prepare for renting a car, and other employers pay for your taxi fare by giving you your own personal taxi driver! The good thing is that if you do rent a car, petrol is cheap in Qatar (actually a liter of petrol is cheaper than buying a 500 ml bottle of water!).

On to nightlife and things to do, Qatar is quite a small country, and there are nice things to see, do and some historical sites. However me and my husband saw almost everything in just two weeks. I found that talking with other expats they had the same experience and that most expats take weekends away to Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Egypt, etc because of Qatar’s ideal location and how close it is that you are able to easily fly (or drive) to some of these more interesting places.

On one hand it was good for us as going out is quite expensive in Qatar, so that way we could save more money as we had pretty much seen everything. Yet on the other hand there are times when it was quite dull and we just drove to Abu Dhabi to do more exciting things. Overall what I have found is that most expats are working in Qatar because of the very good tax free salaries, low working hours, free benefits that when they add it all up they could make almost two or three years worth of savings from  just working one year in Qatar, so being a bit bored is worth it for the long term monetary gain.

With the local native Qataris I personally found them to be welcoming and warm and most spoke decent English but they took quite a while for them to form a friendship with us apparently one Qatari man said that was because most Qataris see expats come and go so quickly so they do not want to form a friendship but then we are gone the next week. There is a very multicultural thriving community of expats in Doha that we could hang out with and do activities together.

Another point is that I felt extremely safe in Qatar, even when I had to walk the streets alone late at night and no one harnessed me or looked at me in a threatening or weird way. Other European and American expats I had spoken to said they felt the same. In Qatar there are strict laws about theft, harassment, murder and more, also you see armed guards and policemen almost everywhere, and blended in with the everyday public are policemen too. Crime is taken very seriously and people are encouraged to come forward to report anything that they feel is suspicious. I would say there is a problem with some taxi drivers and how they treat expat or western women in their taxis, some are quite perverted and would harass you. I personally have not experienced that and I did take the taxi alone many times, this is known by Qatari government and they have a list of recommended taxi companies to call as their drivers are vetted. These crimes usually happen with private taxi drivers so I would suggest to females working in Qatar to not take these taxis, even though their prices are usually a lot cheaper, it is better to stick with the state recommended taxi companies.

Wow, that was a super long post, if you had read everything and made it to this point I am impressed! I just wanted to make sure I covered as many important points as possible, because this was a highly requested blog post.

I hope the information was useful, and as always if you have any comments, feedback or questions please feel free to leave them in the comment section below or you can email me!

 

Miss Moga

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