For many teachers a spell teaching abroad is the tonic they need to reinvigorate their careers and give them a breadth of experience it is not possible to get by remaining in one country. Wherever you go, and whatever you end up doing there, you will almost certainly gain skills and expertise that will carry you forwards in your blended career.
It is thought that at least 15,000 teachers a year get jobs in schools overseas for a wide range of reasons. For some the driver is to escape the pressures they are experiencing in their careers and yet remain in the profession. For others, there is a motivation to learn from other systems and cultures, and for some, the desire to just get out there and see the world with fresh eyes drives the change.
“Simply put, freedom from bureaucracy and time to teach.”
Julia Knight is a Principal in Bahrain. She left London in 2012. “Teaching had begun to feel impossible as austerity took hold,” Knight explained. “We were a young family and found that living in London with a baby and working full time was incompatible. I was a Head of Year and the job meant working long hours and seeing less and less of my family. The motivation was simply to have an adventure and reassess our priorities.”
Knight and her family are about to spend their tenth year overseas. The decision to leave the UK has been a positive one so far. In her experience, the key difference between teaching in Bahrain and teaching in the UK is freedom. “Simply put, freedom from bureaucracy and time to teach. The downsides are two-year contracts and the lack of security, but that makes you resilient and able to go with the flow.”
“I’ve been able to learn from colleagues who have worked all over the world.”
Ciara Ryan and her partner made the decision to move to Spain in 2007, after Ryan had completed a year as a teaching assistant. Her main priority when moving there was to learn the language and develop her career from there. “I had the intention of moving back to the UK to complete my PGCE,” Ryan explained. “One day I noticed the PGCE(i) international option being offered nearby in the Valencia region in conjunction with the University of Nottingham. I had previously completed some English teaching work (TEFL) at a nearby international school and they were happy to welcome me back as my placement school. I completed the PGCE and was offered a permanent primary teacher position the same year. As I enter my eleventh year at the school, I can say the amount I have learned has been incredible. I’ve been able to learn from colleagues who have worked from all over the world and been part of a community which supports 500 students aged 3-18 from 35 different countries.”
Ryan has not worked as a teacher in the UK so she works hard to form relationships and keep up to date with the curriculum in England. “My school is part of the Cognita group, with over 70 schools across the globe. I don’t feel I am missing out by not being in the UK, there are so many initiatives and opportunities for professional development provided by the company and many projects which encourage students and teachers to collaborate. During the pandemic we have been fortunate enough to work together and support each other. This September I will be starting a new role at my school as Teaching and Learning Lead for Lower School (Early Years to Year 6). I can safely say my intention is to continue my international career with Cognita. This may be in Spain or further afield should the opportunity arise.”
Teaching overseas will inevitably teach you about your profession and offer valuable continuing professional development. For Knight, it was important to accept that it is not possible to control everything (if anything!), but by learning to say “yes” more and understanding that small things do not matter you can relax into your new life. “Family and friendships are important to cultivate and grow. Professionally I have progressed well, been offered amazing opportunities and am now the Head of a small but growing school. The vision and autonomy to shape the ethos is very exciting,” Knight said.
While some teachers do a relatively short stint abroad before resuming their careers back in the UK, others decide to stay. Knight has no plans to relocate back in the UK. “I can’t be certain about anything, however in this moment, we have no plans to return to the UK except for holidays and to visit family.”
Top tips for teaching overseas
If you are considering working overseas for at least part of your career, these top tips may help:
- Knight suggests doing your research and knowing where you would be happiest, “whether that’s glitzy Dubai or slow-paced Bahrain, whether you love the humidity of Bangkok or the colder climes of Russia. The schools you choose need to align with your values and you need to know what your non-negotiables are – school places and medical insurance, for example, are ours. Make sure that if your spouse isn’t working, that you can survive on the salary, and find out if they can work too.”
- It’s a good idea to talk to teachers in the country or at the school you apply to. Find out as much as you can about the similarities and differences between there and the UK. What will be familiar? What will be different? Knight adds, “And above all, remember you can always go home!”
- Retain links with home where possible. Family, friends and former colleagues can be a source of support and familiarity, and if you plan to return to the UK after a few years, it will be good to have strong links to draw on. Fortunately, technology and the internet make this easier than ever before!
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.