What does it take to be a good international school teacher?

A sense of adventure and an open mind are just two of many qualities you will need to teach abroad, writes Jess Gosling

Jess Gosling is an international school teacher

The international school teacher who thrives and succeeds abroad will have certain personal and professional characteristics, and inevitably develop more as they live overseas. Below I list what I feel, as an experienced international educator, are some of the most important characteristics required for teachers contemplating a move abroad.

Be adventurous, and open to new experiences

An international teacher will be motivated and excited by adventure. They won’t be put off by planning and prepping a relocation and will be eager for the new experience. Aspiring international teachers have very likely travelled abroad previously, “caught the bug”, and have been itching to return. One of the huge advantages of living overseas is that, depending on where you move to, fantastic locations can be right on your doorstep.

“An international teacher will be motivated and excited by adventure.”

They will understand, as with most new ventures, that overseas experiences can be both enjoyable and challenging. At home, these teachers will often feel quite bored and unfilled with the “status quo”. Settling down is not a priority for them, and it may never be. Often they will seek out adventurous experiences, travel and hobbies.

Personality wise, an ideal international teacher is friendly and approachable. Part of the international experience is relocating to new countries, where new contacts and friends are there to be made. Therefore, they may be seen as adventurous in a crowded room, as they are able to mingle and connect with others easily.

Show resilience

Unexpected difficult events or situations can occur both within a country, and within the school. For example, I have lived through the Arab revolution in Egypt, and an earthquake in Japan of M6.8.

An international teacher therefore will need a certain amount of resilience and the ability to problem solve in these situations. This does not mean, however, that a teacher will be alone in the situation. International teachers find support amongst one another, through the school management team, and support networks. In these situations, an international teacher can cope and will seek out the positives and look for the silver linings.

Be independent

An international teacher must be independent. Although the school is likely to offer a lot of support for settling, there are many tasks a teacher must be comfortable organising for themselves. This includes, setting up their home, filling in necessary documentation, phone contracts and getting ready for the school year. To ensure support, often single teachers connect with one another quickly, or teachers apply for roles with a partner or in schools where their friends are based. One sure-fire way to establish independence is to learn the local language, as so much more will become accessible when a teacher is able to communicate to native speakers, especially in countries with less English.

Be able to persevere

Particularly initially, times can feel tough for new international teachers. This can be due to culture shock, learning new school systems and curricula, finding a place to settle, and especially when missing loved ones at home. However, an international teacher must commit to where they work and be aware, that the longer they persevere the easier the difficulties will become. By surrounding themselves with close friends and networks, international teachers find support. In every country I have lived I have developed these support networks, which in turn, have become more akin to family.

Be able to adapt

Adapting to alternative curricula and a diversity of students and parents, different in the makeup to those at home, are all part of the parcel of being an international teacher. In fact, this is one of the most exciting elements. A teacher overseas becomes highly skilled in differentiating for their children and providing learning which supports their needs. Often international school curricula allow for a certain amount of flexibility, providing freedom when teaching and planning.

“Adapting to alternative curricula and a diversity of students and parents is one of the most exciting elements.”

Being open to new comfort foods in lieu of the preferred options at home, enables new teachers to enjoy different cuisines they may have never experienced previously. Finally, an international teacher will adapt well to their environment. They will cope well with the weather conditions and again look for the silver linings: summer in Thailand? Head to the beach! Winter in Seoul…a ski trip! The options are limitless.


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 own website at jessgoslingearlyyearsteacher.com