All around me people are chatting, walking, laughing and complaining. The smell of spicy glass noodles fills the air, along with the pungent exhaust fumes released from tuk-tuks and motorbikes. Hundreds of these small vehicles rush past every minute as the relentless humidity eats away in the mid-morning sunlight.
I’m at food vendor in old Bangkok, near the sprawling China town district. I’ve been teaching at international schools in Bangkok for seven years, and I don’t miss home one bit.
It all started in 2008 when I was teaching in England. One day I went to a friend’s house and met a beautiful young Thai girl, who’d just completed her master’s degree at Salford University. I fell in love with her, moved to Bangkok with her, and she is now my wife. We’ve been very happily married for four years now.
Prior to moving to Thailand I checked out the TES jobs website (this is where the world’s best international schools post their job openings). I found a vacancy for a Science teacher at Traill International School in Bangkok and, since this was a CfBT accredited school with an excellent reputation, I applied immediately.
A few weeks later I had an interview with Traill’s principal at the Hilton in Cardiff. He checked through all of my references, and was impressed enough to offer me the job a few days later. I was thrilled! I was about start a new life in a new country.
My first day of teaching at Traill was a bizarre, but incredibly pleasant experience. I’ll always remember my first lesson – Year 10 IGCSE Chemistry. The students were all so incredibly polite, and were enthusiastic to complete each task I set them. They asked questions, were incredibly interested in the subject and at the end of the lesson every student said “Thank you, Mr Richard” before walking through the door to go to their next class. I was stunned!
Whilst I taught many wonderfully polite and enthusiastic students at state schools in the UK, I had never received such a consistent ‘whole-school’ sense of politeness, eagerness to learn and dedication from my students before. I felt as though I had died and gone to heaven.
Things to do before you teach overseas
- Try to acquire a wide range of teaching experiences. International schools look for candidates who can teach a range of subjects. Whilst being in Bangkok, for example, I have taught general Science, Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics and German
- Look for schools that have been accredited by a professional body, such as CfBT, CIS or WES. Schools that that are accredited have gone through a rigorous inspection process to ensure that they meet international standards.
- Create a teacher portfolio, containing your certificates, examples of marking/assessments and any nice letters, notes or e-mails you’ve received from parents, students or colleagues. All of these things are golden pieces of evidence that you can present at interview, or even e-mail to the school as part of your application.
Advantages of teaching abroad
- If you choose an accredited school, you’ll most likely find that standards are high, student behaviour is excellent and a very generous salary and benefits package will be offered
- You’ll get the chance to experience a new language and culture, which can only serve to enrich your life in many different ways
- You will gain lots of transferable experiences, such as teaching ESL students and delivering specialist curricula (e.g. The IGCSE and IB Diploma)
- If you choose your country wisely, your living expenses will be much less than in your native country. Whilst living in Thailand I’ve bought property, a car and I still have money left over. Back in the UK this would have been nearly impossible for me to do.
- You’ll work with some amazing colleagues, who’ll have a wide range of expertise to share with you.
- Most international schools offer an excellent orientation programme, in which you’ll get to know your new colleagues well
- Access to services like healthcare will be much more convenient than in your home country, as a good international school will provide you with private health insurance as part of their benefits package. This means that you’ll be able to attend probate hospitals and be treated on the day, as opposed to the long wait you may endure if imprisoned in your native country’s national health service.
Disadvantages of teaching abroad
- If you can’t speak the local language, and you don’t have a friend or partner who does, then this can make life difficult. However, a good school will provide full support with this (one of my friend’s used to bring his Thai mail into school so that the office staff could translate it for him). Also, you see this as a positive challenge – learning a new language is fun!
- You’ll probably have to teach a far greater number of ESL students than you would in your native country. This places extra demands on you in terms of differentiation and making the pace of the lesson match the ability of each student. You may have to speak more clearly and slowly.
- The parents of international school students are fee-paying, and therefore they (rightly) have very high expectations. Read my blog post on working with parents for more about this, and don’t forget that whilst teaching abroad you’re not on holiday, and you’ll be expected to do an excellent job.
- Some international schools are very results-driven, and some teachers find the pressure of this to be very overwhelming. However, you should see this as an opportunity to really stretch yourself and gain valuable teaching experience at the same time.
My time in Thailand has been filled with happiness and lots of challenge. I wouldn’t change my life one bit, and I never regret leaving the UK all those years ago to teach overseas. It was the best decision I ever made.