I know of a brand new international school in Bangkok that has a great building and no teachers or students yet. I know they want to hire two or three great kindergarten teachers who are certified in North America. If you are reading this blog and you would like an adventure where you could really make a difference, please write me.
I got this article from TIE online magazine. For those that want to teach in China it might be quite helpful.
Alongside the growth of the expat community and the middle class, international schools are now a boom industry in China. According to a 2015 report, there were 597 international schools in the country in 2015 and China has become the country with the most international schools worldwide.
The schools offer experienced foreign teachers a range of job opportunities and hundreds of teachers have uprooted themselves and their families to come to China to work and enjoy a different culture.
Jeremy Schuitman is a high school math and physics teacher at the Concordia International School Shanghai. Before coming to Shanghai, he taught math and physics in a public high school in Battle Creek, Michigan for 14 years.
A different culture
He told the Global Times that he and his wife wanted to show their three young daughters a different world and culture, and this was a big reason for them moving to Shanghai.
"We wanted them to have an experience outside of the city they were living in. We feel it is very important that their best friends are from a wide range of different countries," Schuitman said.
Apart from the cultural aspects they also wanted to bring up their daughters with more languages, especially Putonghua (Chinese). "It's great fun to watch our kids interact with simple Putonghua on the streets of Shanghai," he said.
He knew about the school from friends who had worked there and applied online for a position there.
Jan Austin is a kindergarten teacher at Concordia and said she left her previous position and country because she wanted a change in her life.
"I have always wanted to teach overseas. My children were grown and I realized that I could chase the dream that I had had in the back of my mind," she said. She had been teaching kindergarten students at a private Christian school in Tennessee, the US, for 16 years.
She founded her current position online and said the school had helped make the transition to China relatively easy.
"They took care of a lot of details including the health certificate, visa applications, securing housing, and furniture rental, and made it easy for me to step off the plane and focus on my new job instead of my initial living needs," Austin said.
Angel Vilchez has been teaching Spanish and French at Wellington College International Shanghai since August 2015. He told the Global Times that the opportunity of living in different countries and experiencing different cultures was a key reason for him choosing to become an international teacher.
"I think part of the experience of teaching abroad is that you can choose to live in different countries. And then if you want to move to a new country, it is easier for international teachers, as you can just apply for a teaching position somewhere else," he said.
Before coming to Shanghai, Vilchez taught in Spain, England and Dubai. He left the UK because he could not cope with the weather there. He also thought that for the work they do teachers in Britain were not well paid or respected.
He worked in Dubai but found the lack of culture there discouraging - the place was beautiful but there was no culture to explore. "Everything is shiny and splendid, but behind that, there is little left. I felt life in Dubai was boring, and the only thing I could do was spend money," Vilchez said. "I love Dubai, but it is more like a place to go on holidays."
One tangible reward for Vilchez in Shanghai is an improvement in pay. He told the Global Times that if he was teaching in Spain, or the UK or in Dubai, his salary would probably be below average, but in Shanghai his salary was above average and his salary package here was better than that in Dubai.
The other teachers, Austin and Schuitman, agreed that salaries in China were a big attraction. Austin said she has a larger earning potential in China, and her current school has a generous expat package that allows her to save and still be able to travel.
Many of the overseas teachers in Shanghai report that they earn more here than they could in their home countries. Karl Hayward-Bradley is the director of studies at Wellington College International Shanghai and said the packages for overseas staff were very generous at his school, and for many included accommodation, flights and bonuses which made it even more attractive to work here.
As well as earning more, some of the teachers noted that teachers had more respect and trust in Shanghai than back home. Vilchez said that it often happened in Spain when a child didn't like a teacher, the parents would blame the teacher but in China if a student complained the parents would not automatically take the child's side.
As well the move to Shanghai has improved the career prospects for all three of these teachers.
Schuitman said his school offered in-house training courses throughout the year for all the teachers and brought in experts to work with the different departments throughout the school. His school has a specific budget for the professional development for the teachers.
"This encourages teachers to seek out seminars and courses that will directly affect their teaching in their classroom immediately," he said.
Austin said her school was in a project of the Teachers College, Columbia University and trainers in reading and writing workshops would come to the school twice a year. The Teachers College, Columbia University is one of the oldest and most prestigious educational institutions in the US.
"The trainers that run the workshops are working with each grade level team to improve their teaching. Plus, they work in my classroom with my students. I get to see their strategies for the effective teaching of literacy first hand," she said.
Vilchez said he was sent to Bangkok for training courses in September 2015, which expanded his vision as an international teacher. Currently, he is also undertaking a master's degree at a city university.
He said if he was still teaching in England, he would not have this opportunity as his previous workload tended to be 50 percent more than his current demands.
Another appeal for teachers working in international schools here is the diverse cultural backgrounds of their students and fellow staff.
Austin said she now teaches a wider range of nationalities and more English language learners than she had before. Vilchez said that most of his students had already been exposed to several different cultures and could speak three or four languages.
"Here in a class of 15, you can have 12 different passports," Vilchez said. "Some kids have a mom from Korea, a dad from America, and they live in China, so they speak Chinese, and go to an international school, so they speak English."
As a language teacher, he felt it was a great experience to teach students who could speak more languages than he could.
Austin said she is now working with a more international group of educators with varied backgrounds — all of the teachers in her last school were Americans and their backgrounds were in public education.
While foreign teachers at these schools enjoy many benefits, they also face challenges.
Schuitman said it took him and his family quite a long time to adapt to the food and customs in Shanghai and sometimes he really struggles to understand situations.
Likewise, Austin said her biggest challenge was with the language as she still has only a basic Chinese vocabulary and needs to learn more.
And because most teachers come here by themselves, they have to be independent and be able to cope with any problems by themselves.
Competition for teaching positions at these international schools has become intense over the past few years. Wellington College's Hayward-Bradley said there were a growing number of applications every year and the school can choose the best teachers from a large pool of talent.
Basic requirements, he said, were that applicants be aged under 60, have a bachelor's degree with two years experience, or a master's degree.
"Previous overseas teaching experience is not necessary, and we have a good balance of teachers from the UK system and from various other countries to suit our position as a British school with an international outlook," he said.
The three teachers have no regrets about their move to Shanghai. "I enjoy living in Shanghai and the many cultural offerings available. I also have international travel for leisure more frequently. I enjoy services like massages and a housekeeper as they are reasonably priced and much more affordable here," said Austin, adding that making friends from all around the world is one of the best rewards that her overseas experience has given her.
Beach or City?
What turns you on...beach or city? If you want to have a beach, go to some place like Phuket where you can go to a different beach every night, just to walk around and enjoy the atmosphere. I also worked in places like Singapore, Bangkok, and Ho Chi Minh where you can walk around every night to the throbbing pulse of city life. You can eat dinner on the street, where they practically pay you to eat their food, to wandering around city streets teeming with street activity which includes watching a volleyball or kicking game under the lights, dancing at the Olympic Stadium every night in Phnom Penh, the nightclubs of district one in Ho Chi Minh or the massage parlours of Bangkok...or do you just prefer rural life which you can find all over south east Asia which is undoubtedly a different experience.
If you choose a rural existence, you will have to learn the language. I did learn the alphabet in Thai but that was about it. Because of the six tones, it was impossible for me to say anything that resembled anything Thais could understand. At least in Vietnam they use the Roman alphabet, but in my experience, make no effort to try to understand anything you are saying, even in District One, which is full of tourists. They speak more English in Yangon, Myanmar than Vietnam. Of course, if you want to just speak English, go to work in Singapore or the Philippines, although you might not recognize the English they are speaking in either country. The Singaporean janitor used to ask me every night whether he wanted me to have him "off the lights" in my office and you certainly have to get used to the Filipino accent, especially in the south.
Hey, pretty nice choices to make, right?
How about how you feel about your work? Clearly, if you want to feel good about helping other people, I would choose Myanmar, especially now under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi. I was here when she was still under house arrest and they had the rule of the generals and the country was clearly repressed in every way, from talking about politics on the street or even travelling where you wanted, which would be out of the question.
The other country where you can really do some good, especially if you are a bit older, is Cambodia. Most of the older intellectuals like teachers were all killed by the Khmer Rouge, so the leadership of the country now is around 40 years old. They really need and are looking for people who are older and have the experience of people who might be their grandparent's age.
If you teach somewhere like Singapore, I often feel you might have well have stayed home, since they have such a modern amenities and well equipped schools. Do they really need foreign teachers?
Everyone raves about the hawker stalls in Singapore, where you can have any kind of food you want at a very reasonable price, unless you want Singapore Chili Crab which is really expensive even in the hawker stalls and a Singapore Sling is out of the question, unless you want to take out a mortgage on your house, if you are lucky enough to own a house!
I felt the food in Myanmar had a very Indian flavour to it and you could go to any corner restaurant and eat with your fingers with plenty of towels provided to wipe yourself clean. I never quite got used to that . if you fancy a Western meal with a knife and fork you can always go to a western hotel for a meal. Of course, you can do the same thing in Phnom Penh but you can always get good and wholesome food down by the river. When I was in China, by the way, if I could not figure out how to eat with chop sticks I would have starved to death because I did not see a knife or fork anywhere.
The best food, in my opinion, where there is the best value for money and good taste, is Thailand. They have a unique taste because they mix the four flavours westerners are not used to. No matter where you are in Thailand, you can always have a good meal, although don't expect to be served in the order you might expect in the west. If the soup is made last, it will be served last, and the fish is served whole. The first time I went to a restaurant and asked the waiter t take the fish back and fillet it, I saw all of the chefs laughing at me. They had never heard of anything so silly. You can also get any kind of food you desire in cities like Chiang Mai or Bangkok which have so much variety.
You do have some personal questions to ask yourself about what kind of experience you are looking for and whatever the answer to that, you can certainly find it in south east Asia. I invite you to write in with your experiences and I will post them here if you do. Again, thanks for reading my blog and I do hope it is useful to you.
The purpose of the above slides are to give some colour to Asia and to emphasize one thing....kids are kids. You cannot go wrong teaching anywhere in South East Asia because you will enjoy the classroom work and the children very much. You will have to make your decision about where you want to teach based on criteria like cost of living, what you like to do on weekends, type of accommodation, infrastructure and ease of getting from one place to the next, transportation and so on. Since I have worked all over South East Asia either as a principal or a consultant, I think I can answer most of your questions. If I do not answer any question in this blog, please write and ask. I do appreciate the comments and letters very much and I am very appreciative of those who already bought and read my novel It All Started in Mandalay to get some insight into what is it really like to work in Asia. If you have not read the book you really should!
Cost of Living
The most expensive place to live is probably Singapore and the cheapest Cambodia, but that is like comparing apples to oranges. They call Singapore "Asia Light" because if you are just starting out a teaching career in Asia and you do not want much of a change from what you are used to, Singapore is not a bad place to be. You will get the most money for teaching, but beware that it will cost you the most money to live.What you want to do is figure out how many minutes or hours you have to teach to buy whatever it is you like to eat or drink, like a bottle of beer or a nice juicy red tomato. That is, essentially, what we call cost of living. Note that if you are paying more than 25% of your net salary on accommodation, you know you are living in a place with a high cost of living. When I say net salary, be sure to know whether the school pays your taxes or you do. t could mean a lot of money in your pocket if you get or can negotiate the right answer.
Cambodia is a developing country, so although you will make a relatively small amount of money in salary, it will probably be tax free and I doubt you will pay taxes. The school usually takes care of this in their own way and it is their business how they want to handle it. However, if you are looking for fancy shopping and air conditioned buses, give Cambodia a miss. Personally, I really dislike the air conditioned buses in Singapore because they were way too cold and whenever you walked passed a department store on Orchard Road I was always caught with a blast of cold air which I hated. However, when you are searching for an air conditioned restaurant in Phnom Penh, you might appreciate that blast of cold air.
If you live in a main centre in China, like Beijing or Shanghai, it will cost you dearly for accommodation, as will Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh, but if you choose to live in a rural area, you will make less money but your money will go a lot further. If fact, you will live so cheaply you will for sure bring money home or at least have lots to spend on week-ends for travel.
Of course you are not going to South East Asia to stay in one place and prepare lessons every weekend. You want to get out and see the country and a lot of that will take place on a plane, unless, of course, you live in China where there are 300 kilometer an hour trains that are so much faster to use that airports.
However, if you do want to travel a lot, live in a place like Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur as opposed to Phnom Penh or Hanoi, because Bangkok is an airline hub like Chicago or Atlanta and it is easy to get a plane to anywhere. If you live somewhere like Mandalay in Myanmar you will always be taking a bus to somewhere to get a plane to somewhere else before you can even begin to think about where you want to really go.
Talking about buses, there are some really great buses like Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh ( as long as you use the right bus line) but there are also some really awful routes you should be aware of that will seem like the longest ride of your life. Most of the travel in South East Asia is by bus and you will be very happy when you pay for you ticket. No matter where you live, the cost will delight you since it will be so cheap.
Renting a car is probably out of the question. I rented an old clunker in Phuket and the first day I hit another car parked on the side of the road. You know, when you are used to travelling on one side of the road and suddenly drive on the other side, it is very hard to judge distances. Most teachers buy or rent a motor-scooter but since I have not done that I have very little to say about it. All I can comment on is my observations on Monday mornings when teachers come limping into school with broken ankles and other assorted pieces of bandage attached to different parts of their bodies.
I think I will do more of this "comparison shopping" in my next blog. This is probably enough now to get you thinking and I will add more in the next few daysl
I was very impressed with China and I think it would be a great place to teach. All of the private schools I visited last week were well equipped with the best equipment both in terms of their vocational equipment as well as the classroom. The administrators knew exactly what they were doing and the students were respectful and positive. They could not wait to say hello to me as I was the only Caucasian around. If they could they smiled and continued to talk to the limit of their abilities.
The classes were larger than you might be used to and the practice in their Chinese classes is to "force feed" them like a stuffed goose but in the English classes it did look like you might expect in your class in the west.
I did get a kick of the students who were charged with greeting teachers. They wore a red sash and when teachers walked by on the way to class they were greeted with a welcome teacher in a loud and clear voice. At first I thought it was only two students following us around at every entrance but I learned that students took turns with this duty and were responsible for a two hours a day once a year.
This is the electromagnetic train that you take to Shanghai airport. There were two tour groups from India when I was there just to take the ride on this train. It goes up to 400 kilometers and hour and takes about 11 minutes. All of the highways I was on were well paved and well maintained and were decorated with beautiful e flora and fauna all along the route. However, we mostly took trains because they went at 300 kilometers an hour and were comfortable and easy to take.
I imagine if you were teaching in China and wanted to have a week-end away in another part of China it would be very easy to get there by train and then subways. In Toronto, where I am from, if you took the longest subway ride you could take it might last 30 minutes, In Beijing and Shanghai they have at least seventeen lines each and you could literally be on the subway for days without ever passing the same stop twice. It was very impressive and the people on the subways were all well behaved and polite. They all offered me a seat ( which probably means I look old) but were very courteous nevertheless.
The only time we had trouble with planes not running on time was with planes coming in and out of Shanghai because the airport is so busy, but the terminal itself is well ordered and functions well. It is easy to take a taxi, train, or bus from the airport to wherever you want to gol
I was very impressed with how much time and care is obviously taken on public parks and roadways. Even though some cities in China have a larger population than all of Canada, there are always places to escape to which are aesthetically designed and very peaceful. Even the roadways are designed with calming trees and flowers.
Even though the pace of life seems hectic with Chinese people seemingly driven to accomplish so much, there are many places to just chill out and relax.
I am just sitting in the airport in Phnom Penh waiting to board my plane back to Canada. I have spent the last three months here working in a school as a consultant developing curriculum to set up an international school. Since I did similar things in Bangkok and Phuket in Thailand I think I have a good base of comparison and might be able to offer a few points of comparison if you are considering where you would rather teach , but keep in mind the critical factor....kids are kids so you will enjoy it very much in both places I am quite certain.
If you are going to live like a typical teacher, living in the cheapest accommodation you can find, I think you will find Cambodia cheaper to live than Thailand. Both are cheap, for sure, compared to the west, but you will probably be able to rent a place for about a tenth of your salary in Phnom Penh as opposed to Bangkok, for example. I know some of the teachers where I was working were renting for under $100 a month and now there is an oversupply of accommodation in Phnom Penh so the prices should remain low. Meals are about $5 a person, even in the finest restaurants and of course street food is so cheap they practically pay you t eat it.
There is probably more to see and do in Thailand then in your typical Cambodian city or town where you may end up. The infrastructure in Cambodia is not great, so to get to the beach, for example, if you live in Phnom Penh it will take you 4 or 5 hours even though it is only 221 kilometers since there is only a two lane road.
In Thailand, there are actually highways so you can move a lot faster from place to place. For example, if you want to go to the beach from Bangkok it is only a matter of an hour or two, depending on where you want to go. Going by bus is equally cheap in both places with virtually any bus ticket to anywhere for $10 or less.
Tourism is a business and Thailand does it best. If you want to see "things" like Temples, beaches, museums, interesting shopping and so on, Thailand beats Cambodia hands down, but if you want to see "natural wonders" then you have a fight on your hands which country offers more.
Other than Siem Reap, which is out of this world for interest, places like Phnom Penh offer very little. All of the tuk tuk's carry a list of tourist attractions and there are about five. You could take a year to see all of the attractions in Bangkok, but it is, of course, a much larger city so perhaps the comparison is unfair but if you compare a small city in both countries, you will have more 'formal' things to see and do in Thailand so it just depends what you are looking for, like anything else, I suppose.
There are so many international schools in Phnom Penh it will be very easy for you to find a job if you are qualified. I was only associated with one school so I am certainly not an expert, but if you look at some of the job sites I referenced in many blogs , you will find many jobs and if you happen to be a little older, Cambodia welcomes you because the population is so young.
Thailand also has many international schools where you can work and the pay is higher, but it will probably cost you more to live. If you are idealistic, stick to Cambodia since it is such an emerging country you will be doing a lot of good working there.
If you would like to add anything else, please do so. What have I missed or what would you like to know more about? Again thanks for the letters of support I receive every week. I am glad this blog is helpful t you.
You only get one opportunity to make a first impression ( obviously). I started a new job in Cambodia yesterday, and even though I was probably the only person in Phnom Penh to be wearing a tie, I wore my white shirt and tie to school on the first day. Admittedly, I took it off when I went home for lunch a few hours later, but by then I had made my first impression.
Be quick to learn and slow to judge. For example, school starts at 7 am and ends at 5 pm. with about two hours for lunch from what I can observe. In North America, we would probably say give us fifteen minutes or thirty minutes for lunch and get us out of the school by three to avoid traffic and so on.
However, this is not necessarily the right thing to do. Maybe the Cambodians and the Vietnamese have got something that deserves to be considered, especially in light of the weather when it is so hot, especially at 12 ish. The beauty of travelling is to take the best out of what we observe and when we return to our home countries work with it.
If we thought our ways were the best, why bother to travel? Travel is all about learning
It occurs to me that in over a year, I never really defined what an international education really was and until I do how can we best judge which school to work?
As you can see from the job sites I talked about, there are thousands of schools calling themselves international schools all over the world, but how many fit the following criteria:
Do your homework on the above and if you want to teach in a truly international school, make sure the school has most if not all of the criteria I mentioned above.
But is this enough? One would hope that you desire to teach in a school where you can actually transform students to be players on the world stage.
A truly global citizen would probably have the following qualitites:
Read the mission and vision statements from the schools before you even think of applying. If you just want any job, apply to any school , but if you want to make a difference, do you homework before you apply and look for the criteria outlined here. Good luck and please let our small community know when you have found the jackpot. These schools are few and far between and we all want to teach there.
Most of you will take an airplane, hopefully a little more modern than this, unless you live awfully close to Asia. I live in Canada and just accepted a job in Cambodia, so I have a long way to go and I do not think this plane would make it.
A few things other than cost is important choosing the carrier you want to fly.One criteria is the route you want to take., if you are flying from Canada To Asia , for example, avoid going through the United States because you will have to take you luggage off the plane to have the Americans inspect it. It is really a pain in the "shoulder." Try to only make one stop and it should be in Asia.
Another criteria is how much total time it will take. You should be able to do it within 24 hours if you choose your route carefully even though it can take 30 or more hours with layovers and so on and time is of the essence, ( unless you like airport food!
Another thing to consider is which alliance you want to use because you can accumulate points quickly and you may as well use one alliance for all of your flights so you get get lunge privileges and ultimately a free trip to Asia if you want to go home for the winter break , for example.
I choose a company like Eva Air out of Taiwan because they accept two bags for free which most airlines do not. They also, by chance, upgraded me for free on my flight and I got to sleep in first class. What an unbelievable experience. The toilets were cleaned after each use, you were served your meals whenever you requested them and there seemed to be one steward for each passenger and they knew your name!
I have also been upgraded on Air Canada and had a similar experience but certainly not the same, just similar. Asians know how to pamper. So pick your airline based on cost sure, but also on service, route, number of flying hours to Asia and type of plane. You simply cannot go wrong with an Asian carrier and it will be a great way to start your adventure in teaching in Asia.
And, of course, as I always remind you, don't forget to buy my book It All Started in Mandalay directly from the publisher or your favourite online source or bookstore ( Asia Books). Although it is a novel, it will give you pretty good insight into the characters you will meet overseas and for a few online dollars it will be an enjoyable and insightful read for you.
Be careful what you ask for! It is true that some hiring committees do not even check references, but in any school you would want to work for they do. When I was a professor at OISE, every student asked me if I they could use my name as a reference. If I thought they were great, I told them so and often said something like it would be my pleasure and here is what I would say.
If I did not think they would be a good teacher I also told them that. I said something to the effect that they could use me if they wished, but here is what I would say and I told them exactly what I thought of them as potential teachers. I assume they did not use my name.
Now on the other side of the coin, I am asked to write reference letters for teachers I have had when I was the principal and it is often a difficult task. After all, my integrity is on the line as well as the teacher's future livelihood. I have to walk a very fine line often but an experienced hiring person knows what to look for in a letter and can often determine the quality of the candidate from what is not said as much as what is said so I am not too worried about what I don't say.
Here are the challenges for you. If you are a new teacher wanting to work overseas, who do you give as a reference? I guess the best bet would be to ask your teachers where you have student taught. A novel idea, I think, is to get a few students to write some words about you because they are so much more telling than any teacher would write and certainly more truthful if you can stand the truth.
If you are in mid career, they always need t see the name of your present principal but if that is not going to be so good, you can ask your department head to write something for you or some of your teaching colleagues. In fact, I would actually get them to write something ahead of time and keep a file of reference letters. that you can show or send if they are required. Please read what I said previously about resume writing, because if your resume is no good no amount of letters will help you.
If you are retired and you have no immediate supervisor ( other than your spouse!) you have a challenge. This is where you keep all of your notes and letters that you accumulated over your career and use them explaining that you are retired.
If you want to teach in Asia, the older you are the better it is because age is respected. If you look at TIE online, they actually tell you which countries there are age restrictions so this is a helpful web site.
Good luck with those references. You will see and experience things you simply could not experience in the Western World. Let me know how it goes and if I can do anything to help. I am always available to help and/or hear your stories.
Michael Allan Charles is the first time author of It All Started In Mandalay