Agency AnswersJuly 2013
Education Review asks two global teacher recruitment agencies the big questions.
Question: What are overseas schools looking for?
Stuart Birch, Managing Director, Education Personnel Ltd: The key criterion for most international schools is experience. For 90 per cent of schools internationally, they are seeking teachers with two or more years’ experience. Secondary maths and physics are sought after worldwide. Once a candidate’s ability as a teacher is established, then schools internationally value people skills, personal flexibility, and the ability to get on with people from different cultures above anything else.
Many countries have quite strict visa requirements that require teachers to meet certain age limits and can be surprising for Kiwis. For example, it is very difficult to get a work visa for Indonesia if you are aged under 25 or over 55 when you start working there. Many employers have requirements for applicants to have a passport from a certain country.
Lauranne Croot, Teach Anywhere: Schools are definitely looking for teachers who can demonstrate flexibility and adaptability and who are able to settle within the community spirit of working overseas. Being away from family and friends, it is important teachers immerse themselves quickly with the school and surrounding environment.
Teachers who are experienced in the NZ curriculum or the National Curriculum for England and Wales are in great demand as well as those who are committed to working on extracurricular activities.
Question: What do recruitment agents need from prospective teachers?
Stuart Birch: As well as all the usual paperwork, CVs, etc. the key thing is for candidates to be honest with recruiters about what they are looking for and what their personal needs and situation are. Some employers, for example, may only employ single teachers or teaching couples … or want an immediate start. It’s important that any family/personal requirements are addressed right at the beginning.
A good recruiter will talk with you to find all this out anyway. Just be honest with them. Likewise let your recruiter knows why you want to teach overseas – is it for the adventure, as a career move, or for the money? Your recruiter will then be able to tailor opportunities to fit your needs.
Lauranne Croot: If teachers understand what their objective is for moving overseas, what their motivating factors are, it will certainly help an agency when searching for the perfect overseas job. Wherever possible, all factors are taken into consideration and we will be able to advise which type of school and location will be most suitable. We highly recommend teachers do research before contacting an agency; don’t just listen to comments and advice of friends and family. What works for one person will not necessarily work for another. We can advise, but it is useful if you have done some initial reading.
Candidates should be prepared to provide copies of their CV, passport, a passport photo, degree certificate and transcripts – all of which will be required for ministry approval once a position is secured. They need to be flexible and patient when working with school deadlines – it may be up to eight months before the candidate commences their employment; the schools will be in communication as and when deadlines are approaching. The schools are skilled in ensuring their teachers are prepared and arrive on time each year.
Question: What are the most common misconceptions about teaching abroad?
Stuart Birch: A key misconception is that all international schools pay huge salaries. The big salaries usually come from the top tier schools and even then are limited to certain countries. Often the top tier schools prefer to employ candidates who have already had international experience, so first time international teachers may need to start on lower salaries.
I think the second thing that teachers from New Zealand need to be aware of is that there are some very dodgy schools out there in the world. In New Zealand our schools are all of a very high standard and so Kiwis can make assumptions about what they are going to. Everything from class size to accommodation may be very different from what you expect. It is very hard to check out a school when it is 5000km away. Some flexibility is required and you will never get all the details, but a baseline is that you should be confident you will get paid!
Lauranne Croot: A key misconception is that international schools are only for overseas/expatriate students. In fact many schools offer an international curriculum but cater for local students; this offers teachers an amazing cultural experience, while enhancing their skills as a teacher.
Salaries are also a misconception. Often the gross salary will be less than your home country but in many cases it will be your total disposable income as schools tend to provide accommodation or allowances to cover your housing while overseas. Therefore the disposable income for most teachers increases, providing a great saving opportunity, which is a key factor for many teachers.
Question: On what grounds do teachers usually miss out on positions abroad?
Stuart Birch: Decisions for international appointments are often made on the same criteria as teaching jobs in New Zealand. However a number of personal factors like age, ethnicity, and family situation can also be taken into account by employers, which can be quite shocking for New Zealanders. With some international employers, decisions are strongly based on interviews.
Lauranne Croot: It is unfortunate but teachers who are fixed on one location or school type tend to miss opportunities. The more flexible you can be, the greater the opportunities are available to you. Very often teachers who go overseas do not find themselves in their preferred location but are very happy with the choices they have made as they have joined a school that may offer superb professional development or greater saving opportunities.
Question: What should Kiwi teachers be prepared for when they teach abroad?
Stuart Birch: One of the things I usually tell teachers is that they should be prepared for tears from themselves or one of their family sometime before they come home. They could be tears at leaving family behind in New Zealand, tears of frustration when you’ve been trying for six weeks to get an internet connection into your new apartment and can’t understand what anyone is saying, or tears when you find out that the three bedroom apartment you’ve been promised takes an hour to get to as you crawl home in the worst traffic jam of your life.
Resilience, flexibility to adjust to totally different cultures, and a willingness to push through the tough times is essential.
A realisation that there is a ‘normal’ adjustment process people usually go through is key. This has been thoroughly researched with expats. When you arrive in your new home, there will be an initial honeymoon, then a period of missing all the things you lost when you left home, then you will adjust and enjoy life and all that your new home offers. These three phases go at different speeds for different individuals.
And when you leave to come back to New Zealand or travel on, you will miss the things you grew to love. I still miss things about Spain from when I taught there 20 years ago.
Lauranne Croot: Preparation and research is key to minimising culture shock. Try to connect with teachers who are joining the same school, ask the school to put you in touch with teachers who are already working there, and join social media sites that are connected to your location/school – many have local expat clubs that can offer great advice on what to expect.
School holidays may not be in line with those back home, but they are more than compensated by with longer summer holidays and many public holidays throughout the year, which provides the fantastic opportunity for travelling across the region and further afield.
Question: Is the money generally better than in New Zealand?
Stuart Birch: Usually a better living standard is available to teachers internationally, even though salaries in New Zealand dollar terms might be lower than you earn here; usually most of your living expenses are paid. The cost of living in many international countries is much lower than in New Zealand. For example, a three course meal for two in a restaurant in Pakistan is $16.00 and an hour long taxi ride is $2.60, so your money goes a long way.
Remember to always take tax rates into account. Usually these are less than in New Zealand.
Lauranne Croot: In many cases the salaries can’t really be compared to those in New Zealand as teaching in the Middle East and Far East is very often either tax free or low tax and accommodation and flights etc. are usually provided for or allowances given, which means your take home pay is your disposable income.
Question: Why (or why not) should Kiwi teachers consider teaching abroad?
Stuart Birch: Teaching abroad can be incredibly rewarding in so many ways. It enables you and your family to really engage in another culture and country, to meet some amazing people, and discover the world. You will face considerable personal challenges and learn a lot about yourself. You can boost or start your career quickly and easily. You can learn a lot about teaching and education – and the financial rewards can be huge.
Teaching abroad is not easy, but with careful planning, taking some managed risks, and by working with someone you trust, it can be one of the best things you will ever do.
Lauranne Croot: The opportunity of working and living overseas is an amazing one. It broadens people’s knowledge and experiences. Many teachers complete their whole career overseas, others just want to do it for a year or two before settling back home; everyone has their reasons, but from our experience, it provides a great saving opportunity while exploring a new environment and it enhances a teacher’s skill base and enables you to meet and work with like-minded people.