The road less travelled? How to decide if you should teach abroad
After a long week, we slumped onto the couch, exhausted, and I asked the Friday night question: ‘What shall we do tonight?’
I was met with the usual answer, ‘Shall we just stay in? We’ve got nothing in the joint bank account.’
After sacrificing a holiday, having too many of the above conversations and struggling to save for a house deposit and a wedding, we started to have a different conversation: ‘Why don’t we look into teaching abroad?’
We’ve all heard the rumours: fantastic salary/packages, opportunities to travel, easier workload, more holidays, experiencing a new culture and a plethora of other benefits. But what other factors should you consider if you’re thinking of taking the international plunge? Below are some tips on making the right choice for you:
Money (that’s what I want)
One of the main motivators for teaching abroad? The attractive salary. Ranging from the disappointing (€1200-€1500 per month before tax in mainland Europe) to figures seemingly plucked out of a hat (£4000 p/m, tax free, in the Middle East and parts of Asia) salaries can range enormously dependent on student age range, school reputation and, of course, location. Traditionally, the highest salaries are earned by teaching in the Middle East, but beware: if you don’t have an accommodation allowance, renting whist teaching in Dubai and Abu Dhabi can eat up lots of that salary and there will be social limitations in other areas due to cultural restrictions (alcohol consumption being one). Always remember that, usually, high salaries tend to compensate for limitations elsewhere.
The cultural opportunities and experiences represent another huge attraction for teaching abroad. Whether it’s riding a tuk-tuk to work while teaching in Asia, strolling through the Champs-Élysées after the homework club of your teaching job in France, or wolfing down a local delicacy before marking exam papers, immersing yourself in the local culture is hugely rewarding. Research will play a key part here – it’s vital you investigate how far removed you’ll be from what you know and love: it’s surprising how much you’ll miss British TV, Greggs pasties or a warm pint on a cold summer’s day. A great way to see what life is really like is to read up on teaching location guides, blogs of expatriated teachers, YouTube video diaries and the plethora of websites giving first-hand accounts of life abroad. Also, always remember there will be a community of teachers wherever you go, so you won’t be alone!
Workload? What workload?
To many in education, a 10-14-hour day is the norm and represents a key reason to teach abroad. This is not to say that working abroad is ‘easy’, or that there will not be challenging (there will be many, on a daily basis), but the worst case scenarios of a heavy marking workload, endless student interventions and revision sessions simply do not exist in many settings abroad. Having said that, there are generally expectations that you will run or participate in extra-curricular activities (teaching in China, I taught guitar and helped out with a drama club), but these could well be some of your most rewarding experiences. The only danger here is the challenging return to UK education!
Around the world in exam days
The amount of holiday you’ll receive will depend entirely on where you decide to teach. For example, if you take a teaching job in Europe, ample time will be given for traditional Christian holidays, however in the Far East it’s unlikely you’ll get more than Christmas Day off at similar times. On the other hand, there is time given to enjoy your surroundings at different times of the year (in China for example, many schools shut from the end of January until March for Chinese New Year).
There also isn’t the extortionate holiday price hike to deal with: prices for flights, trains, hotels etc. do fluctuate, but not to the point of doubling, as they can for UK holidaymakers during school holidays. Again, a danger here is that you may well spend any savings you’ve managed to put away on travelling across the region you teach in!
Amazing opportunities, but choose well
The most important aspect of deciding whether to teach abroad (and ultimately where) is deciding what you want out of the experience. If your sole goal is to save money for a mortgage, wedding etc. you should be prepared to make lifestyle sacrifices and potentially expect lower standards in your school setting. For those wanting to enjoy a rich and vibrant culture, you may well have to pay more for accommodation, travel and living expenses.
No matter where you teach, there are certain aspects of your new role which should be non-negotiable. Make sure that wherever you work, the following are included in your contract:
- Ability to send funds home;
- Comprehensive health insurance;
- Paid return flight;
- Provision or assistance with accommodation;
- A contract which clearly states your roles and responsibilities.
Your eTeach international consultant will be able to secure the most competitive contracts for you and support you throughout the process.
Daunting, exciting, nerve-wracking and hugely rewarding, teaching abroad starts with the above and could well end in the experience of a lifetime.
About the author
Jonny Kay is Head of English and maths at Hartlepool College of Further Education. He has previously worked as an English teacher and Head of Department in KS3/4 and tweets @jonnykayteacher . He also regularly blogs at www.thereflectiveteacher.co.uk.