For teachers in the UK considering an international move, one question you may have is how working in an international school differs from a school at home.
Much has been written about the lifestyle changes, opportunities for new experiences outside of school, and salaries which can often afford a teacher much more in terms of luxuries, such as regular meals out, trips to the beautician, and mini-breaks.
However, what is different in terms of working in the school? In this article, drawing upon my personal experiences, I point to some of the main, general differences between international schools and public-maintained schools in the UK.
Surroundings and environment
Depending on where you choose to work, your school may have access to far more resources than those at home. This can be in terms of physical classroom resources, the building itself (many international schools have swimming pools, makerspaces, and gyms), and also in terms of staffing.
International schools can offer teaching assistants throughout primary schools. Both primary and secondary schools will often employ English as an Additional Language staff, enrichment staff, councillors, and special support staff. These staff are often limited due to funding in the UK, therefore this can be a huge advantage to supporting both teachers and childrens’ particular needs. Furthermore, having more staff within a team allows for more contributions to planning and extra hands for resourcing.
In terms of classroom resourcing, depending on the intentions of the CEO and/or director, classroom resources can be provided either every year or throughout the year. When budgets are provided, provision is not limited and teachers have the freedom to follow the interests of the children. However, this is not the case for all international schools, as some focus more on profit, therefore, may be less willing to resource.
When selecting your international school, be sure to check the demographics of the students as this will influence the pedagogies you will use in your role.
For example, the “original” style international schools were comprised of diverse, expat children. The commonly spoken language was English therefore, pedagogy could be similar to the UK. However, modern international schools are likely to include a much greater proportion of citizens from the host country, who can afford higher fees for private, western education. Some schools request that the students have one international passport, however, the language spoken at home will be likely the native language of the country.
“In the Early Years and Key Stage 1, the children begin to acquire English as their second or even third language.”
Therefore, in these modern international schools, the pedagogy will need to be responsive to the needs of the children. For example, in the Early Years and Key Stage 1, the children begin to acquire English as their second or even third language. The school may operate a bilingual system to this end or offer an enrichment programme of native language lessons within class time or after school.
As a mainstream teacher within these schools, you will need to differentiate your curriculum, language, texts, and resources to support EAL or ESL children. For example, EYFS teachers need to develop activities that focus on language within experiential learning. Texts are chosen to support the development of basic phrases, which are read many times and practiced with the children. Every lesson and discussion during child-led learning will have a language development focus.
Culture of an international school
Aspects of working in an international school, such as meetings and planning, may feel very similar to home. However, there are some very clear differences.
Firstly, your colleagues usually become close friends, as do their families. When you first arrive these teachers are your network. They experience exactly what you do, not only in terms of the workplace but also your experiences out of school. You are very likely to have a lot in common with these teachers, as they have made similar decisions to leave and travel abroad. Therefore, it can feel easier to connect and as most international teachers will agree, they become your family away from home.
“Some schools require staff to cover one another’s sick leave and perform after-school activities.”
Just like home, the “ethos” of a school can be very much felt in an international school. International schools, if they choose to be, are regulated by paid-for accreditation services, rather than the standardised Ofsted regulatory service of the UK.
As international schools are essentially private schools, the managerial team can develop their standards and culture which are different from what you are used to. For example, some schools require staff to cover one another’s sick leave and perform after-school activities, whilst others hire support staff and buy into professional after-school providers. The CEO and SLT team shape a school.
There is a greater emphasis on “global” citizenship in international schools. This is part of the curriculum but also manifests in “special” days which can be quite frequent, such as “Peace Day”, “Children’s Day”, “Book Day”, and “International Day”, for example.
“There is a greater emphasis on ‘global’ citizenship in international schools.”
Staff are expected to join in with these days and show their support, which may include working some weekends. Furthermore, there may be cultural expectations for the staff. School dress needs to adhere to the country’s “norm” and activities such as singing the national anthem can figure as part of your day.
In addition, with staff relocating from overseas, especially in times of Covid, some international schools have prioritized the well-being of their staff. For example, a colleague who worked in a Kuwait school travelled home for Christmas and the school went online for two weeks after Christmas to allow their teachers to quarantine. Some schools offer “wellbeing” days and have a committee to raise any issues.
Finally, as well as the students differing in demographics to those in UK mainstream schools, parents are very likely to have different expectations. In many international schools, parents pay a high premium for their child to be educated by an international teacher.
“Professionalism is necessary in response to any unreasonable or inappropriate comments or requests.”
Parent information evenings, parent conferences and reporting, and the frequency of parent contact can outweigh that of the UK. Furthermore, parents may voice their opinion, at times unfairly, if they perceive the teacher as not what they imagined (in terms of ethnicity, accent, or gender). Professionalism, above all else, is necessary for international schools in response to any unreasonable or inappropriate comments or requests.
Jess’s recent book Becoming a Successful International Teacher, takes aspiring international teachers through each step required to launch their teaching career overseas and how to settle and adjust once they arrive. This can be purchased from Amazon Worldwide and viewed on Kindle Unlimited. Visit Jess’s website at jessgoslingearlyyearsteacher.com.