What to look for when recruiting international teachers

For school leaders looking for new staff, is there a particular persona suited to teaching abroad? International educator Liz Free gives her opinion (first published in the Times Education Supplement 11th September 2020)

How often do we hear about the perks that come with working internationally? Beautiful locations, amazing packages, tax-free allowances, annual flights, and no Ofsted…

While the reality can often be very different, the truth is that millions dream of teaching overseas for various reasons, and millions do. According to International Schools Council (ISC) research, there are more teachers working internationally than in the whole of the UK, totalling nearly six million.

These teachers are making the move both professionally and personally to embrace a global life and to leave their current lives behind.

This climate offers rich recruitment pickings. But how do you recruit great teachers who are truly willing to commit to your school?

Try to spot the tourists

When I was a headteacher living in Boston, US, we lovingly began each recruitment drive with the “duck tour” sift. Our aim was to remove the applications from those wanting an extended gap year. History had shown us that these touring teachers would arrive at the school, do the duck tour in Boston Harbour and then off they’d go to their next posting.

While we recruited many fabulous teachers during my time at the school, these duck tour teachers cost a fortune to recruit and repatriate and were not wholly committed to the endeavour of the school.

Being a great teacher is a prerequisite to international teacher success, but much more is needed. Great teachers with a deep commitment to international education and the school community are crucial.

What’s my motivation?

What other drivers are there for an international school career? In the last few months, I have been contacted daily by UK teachers thinking about making the leap. My first question is always: why this and why now? 

The answer increasingly is that they are fed up with domestic education pressures and want greater balance. Sadly, the wanting-to-escape driver is increasingly the motivator.

In 2019, more than a third of teachers entering the international school sector (36%) were thinking about leaving the profession before taking an international job (up from 32% in 2018).  As school leaders, this offers us rich pickings, but also great challenges in ensuring that we chose the right staff for our schools.

Is running away the right motivation for potentially great international school teachers? Is international education the panacea? Is it the perfect life destination or the perfect escape?

Target the team players

Part of working in an international school means going the extra mile for students, your colleagues and your community.

One great example of this is when one school I worked in was in an area where it was a nightmare to get accommodation without having lived in the country. Consequently, the school would organise the accommodation and furnishing for the first year for all new expatriate staff and their families.

We had one year where we welcomed 19 families in the space of 24 hours. For these new families, the relief of having housing sorted was brilliant…but there was a cost for everyone else. We all gave up three days of school holiday to put Ikea furniture together before the August return date for staff.

This activity could never be found written in a job description. But while it’s a tiny example, this exemplifies the all-in commitment. Life internationally is professional, and it is deeply personal.

Acknowledge that this isn’t for everyone

When it comes to recruitment, I am looking for evidence of who the candidate is, and how they already “show up” in their work, and in their community. This offers a good insight into their potential.

It is not a life for everyone but if you are curious and up for this exploration, come ready to embrace and learn. This may not be the easiest of rides, but it will be the ride of their life.


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