The Impact of Covid-19 on International School Recruitment

An article by Richard James Rogers (Award-Winning Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback)

On Wednesday of this week I had the pleasure of attending a webinar hosted by Diane Jacoutot of Edvectus: one of the world’s most respected international teacher recruitment agencies.

The webinar’s theme was centered on the impact that Covid-19 has had on international school recruitment, along with predicted trends for the near future. However, I found that the conversation between Diane and Dr Stephen Whitehead covered many important topics that are relevant to anyone currently teaching overseas, or those who wish to make the move one day.

You can watch a recording of the webinar at the Vimeo link below. However, in this blog post, I will provide a bulletpoint summary of the key points I took from this excellent dialogue, for those who prefer a quick read.

General points on teaching overseas

  • Making the move to teach overseas is a life-changing decision that should not be made lightly. Host culture, school culture, cost of living and your ability to teach the relevant curriculum/curricula are factors that should be considered.
  • International schools teach various curricula (e.g. the IB Diploma, the ‘British’ curriculum, the ‘American’ curriculum, etc.), and embody various approaches of applying said curricula (e.g. enquiry-based learning, Montessori pedagogy, traditional techniques, etc.).
  • 80% of international education caters for the host nationality/populace. This means that international school teachers are typically working with many students who are ESL/EAL/ELD. In addition to this, one has to consider native sensibilities when applying an international curriculum to a host culture (e.g. teaching freedom of speech and freedom of expression related-issues in China requires extra consideration. Teaching sex education in some southeast Asian countries can be tricky, as the host culture may not teach this until a later age than, say, the UK or US, and may not be as open to ideas related to gender fluidity/homosexualtiy as a western culture may be).
  • Culture-shock hits you regardless of where you go, or how many countries you’ve been to. In addition, many international school teachers face reverse culture shock when heading back home after a number of years. This is because not only has their home town/city changed in the interim, but they have changed too.
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Transitioning from a state school in your home country to an international school overseas

You may find that:

  • There’s less paperwork and systems are more ‘streamlined’.
  • Class sizes are smaller.
  • Some schools can be very ‘corporate’ and business-driven.

It’s a good idea to do your due diligence before making the decision to take up a job at an international school. Ask if you can be put in-touch with a teacher who works at that school. If the school is reluctant to do this, then that’s a definite red flag.

The effect of Covid-19 on the current international education jobs’ market

  • Vacancies are down by about two thirds/66% and the market is depressed.
  • Lot’s of online teaching is happening right now.
  • Having a poor internet connection can be a major disadvantage now, as this is increasingly becoming a prerequisite for getting an overseas teaching job.
  • Key skills that schools are looking for now include being tech savvy (why not become a Google Certified Educator?), being adaptable, evidence of outstanding teaching abilities and good subject knowledge (as teaching from home means that you can’t rely on your team as much as when you’re physically at school).

Schools are basically recruiting teachers with online teaching capabilities in-mind (preparing for the possibility of a second lockdown, or in some cases, for the lockdown that’s already in-place).

  • China is now open for applications, and it’s pretty much business as usual there.
  • In the Middle-East it’s 50:50 – around half of the teaching that’s happening right now is online; half is in-school.
  • Kuwait is still in total lockdown. Schools are shut and online learning is taking place.

Presenting the best impression of yourself in the application process

Make sure you have a great C.V.:

  • Talk about the things you’ve actually done. Don’t just copy tidbits from the published job description of the job you are applying for.
  • Describe what you’ve done to get excellent results (attainment is an especially important consideration for schools right now).
  • Explain your tech skills. Get tech skills if you don’t have them!
  • Demonstrate good communication skills – schools are really looking for this now, as you may have to teach online in the event of a future lockdown.
  • Show that you are resilient. Schools will look at your C.V. to determine this. A big factor will be how many schools you’ve worked at, and how long you’ve stayed at each school. Do you come across as a ‘job hopper’ or a loyal, stable employee? Schools are really looking for stability right now, so try to capitalize on any evidence of ‘sticking with it’ that you can show, If you’ve left a school in the past, then why? Does this demonstrate resilience?
  • Reputation is more important now than ever: and that means your current school’s reputation as well as your own. Develop a strategy: Teach abroad for a few years at a decent school before moving on to a more elite establishment (with higher pay and more benefits). Be careful about what you post on social media: your personality will be judged (e.g. openly supporting Hong Kong protesters may not be looked upon favorably if you’re applying for a job in China).
  • IB (International Baccalaureate) experience is extremely valuable. If you don’t have any IB experience, then it will be probably be worth doing some IB courses (e.g. IB Category 1 courses in your subject area, which can be done online) prior to applying. Getting into IB schools when you have no IB experience can be tricky, but it is possible if you are tactical: look at less desirable locations to teach at an IB school for a few years first (e.g. Kyrgyzstan) – this will give you valuable experience that you can use to support an application to a top-tier school in a more desirable country later on.

The basic theme that you want to keep in-mind when preparing your application is this: Can I cope with the unknown? Can you show a potential employer that you are adaptable?

The international education market experienced an explosive growth track in the years immediately prior to Covid-19. The market has now been effectively ‘dampened down’ by the pandemic. The market is still expected to expand, however, but in different ways to years prior.

  • Top-tier schools are not offering as many high-end packages for teachers as before.
  • Dubai and other countries in the Middle-East have local education markets that are very much dependent on oil prices, which have been very low for quite some time. Covid-19 has added fuel to this fire as fewer people can, and are, travelling there. At the moment, the Middle-East is understaffed and when lockdowns are finally lifted and travel resumes, demand for expatriate teachers will be at an all-time high.
  • High fee-paying schools have been losing students to mid-level schools, and this trend is expect to continue as we enter 2021.
  • China is expected to continue running normally. China is closest to the ‘old normal’ than any other international school market on the planet right now. There are around 3.6 million Chinese millionaires in China and there exists a ‘pent-up’ demand for international education in wake of restrictions on international education being recently lifted.

Global demographics of international schools

  • British curricula (EY, KS2, KS3, IGCSEs, ‘AS’ and ‘A2-Levels) are taught in roughly one third to a half of all international schools globally.
  • The American system is popular at affordable schools in the Middle-East and Japan. Approximately 15-20% of all international schools follow an American curriculum.
  • The remainder of the schools are IB World Schools, and these tend to be high-paying, top-tier establishments with great expatriate packages. As mentioned earlier, IB experience is extremely valuable on the international marketplace.

Predicted trends

  • The market will recover, albeit in different ways depending on location.
  • Africa and Latin America are expected to recover slowly.
  • The Middle-East is expected to be depressed for a number of years: this region has been hit with a ‘double whammy’ of Covid-19 and low oil prices.
  • One-year contracts are becoming the norm in many schools, but some clients are asking for two or three-year contracts (and schools sometimes offer these). Permanent contracts are extremely rare at international schools (due to visa and immigration regulations).
  • The application and renewal of contract process is expected to keep moving to earlier and earlier dates in the calendar. Teachers will be expected to notify their school of their intentions early (typically in Term 1/the first semester) and more and more schools will begin recruiting in November (or earlier) for the following academic year.

Questions and answers

  1. Is this a bad year to be thinking about changing jobs?

Yes and no. On the one hand, there are fewer teachers on the market this year, so there is less competition for jobs. On the other hand, there are fewer jobs available. Early years positions, for example, have seen a massive drop globally as this is non-compulsory education (and parents are choosing to keep their kids at home).

2. Have leadership posts changed?

Not really, but again: this is regional. Senior management positions are relatively unaffected, but many schools are cutting middle-management positions in order to save money.

As mentioned earlier: China is relatively unaffected. 200 new international schools were planned to be built in China (prior to Covid-19). Around 100 of those are actually happening and are being built.

3. Have contractual obligations been affected?

For the most part, no, but there have been anomalies. Contracts are dependent on teachers getting a visa. If you can’t get a visa, then a contract may be cut. Recently, contracts at some schools have been cancelled prior to the position starting due to a drop in enrollment.

4. Will a gap year due to Covid-19 reduce my chances of getting a job?

It depends. A potential employer will most certainly want to know what you’ve been doing to keep your ‘finger in the pie’ whilst you’ve been away from work. Think about taking some online courses (e.g. through Udemy, Coursera or EdX). There are many great online courses in educational theory/pedagogy that are free to take.

Please watch the full interview at the top of this blog post to hear answers to more questions (such as ‘Does age matter?’ and ‘What do you need to be considered as a ‘qualified teacher?’)

Recommended book

The hosts of the webinar recommend International Schools: The Teacher’s Handbook (a forthcoming book authored by Dr. Stephen Whitehead and Denry Machin) for anyone who is interested in teaching overseas.

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Good Teachers Are Also Good Students

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Accompanying video:

I have always loved mathematics, but I’ve not always been ‘good’ at maths. I got a grade A for GCSE Mathematics when I was 16 years old (a grade I worked really, really hard for) but I struggled with mathematics at ‘AS’ and ‘A’ – Level (the UK’s pre-university qualifications). 

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It just so happened that mathematics wasn’t a subject I needed as a prerequisite for my university course anyway. So, in a sense, I committed the cardinal sin of thinking that it ‘didn’t matter’. I was planning to study molecular biology at university, and my admissions tutors were mainly interested in my biology and chemistry grades.

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I achieved my goal of going to uni and doing my PGCE in order to become a fully qualified Science teacher in 2006. I was happy for several years, but my failure to complete my mathematics education at school kept gnawing at me like an annoying itch. I needed to do something about it. 

I decided to complete the Certificate in Mathematics course with the Open University in 2009, after three years of being a full-time science teacher. This course covered everything in my ‘A’-Level syllabus with some extra, university-level topics thrown in. It was challenging and offered me just what I needed: closure. As a distance-learning course, it also offered me the chance to study and work as a teacher at the same time. 

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As I started studying the course and handing in assignments (which had to be snail mailed to the UK  – I was living in Thailand at the time), I began to realise how much I had become disconnected from the student experience as a teacher. It had been around three years since I had ever studied anything seriously, and this mathematics course was teaching me how difficult it was to:

  • Meet deadlines
  • Seek help when in doubt
  • Have the self-discipline needed to study at a regular time-slot each day

These skills were, of course, things I had to do whilst completing my degree course and schooling earlier in life, but it had been a few years since I had been immersed in serious study like this. I was slowly losing empathy for my students: that was until this course gave me a wake-up call. 

Another big thing I took from this experience was just how stressful it can be to prepare for a difficult exam (and to complete it). I had to fly to the UK to take the end of course mathematics exam (a three hour beast), and along with the intense revision that came in the few days running up to the exam I had the misfortune of not sleeping so well the night before the big day. And then, once sat down and actually completing the paper, three hours felt like it went by in an instant.

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I guess I’m trying to make a number of points in this trip down Memory Lane – namely that by immersing ourselves in the ‘student experience’ we can, as teachers:

  • Regain, or enhance, our true understanding of just how many hurdles await our students on their race to the exam finish-line.
  • Learn new skills and concepts that can be applied to our roles as classroom managers, leaders and ‘purveyors’ of specialist knowledge.
  • Build self-discipline, and pass on the lessons learned to our students in our roles as mentors, homeroom teachers, form tutors and coaches.

One final point to stress is that, whilst we can study almost any subject we want via online platforms like EdX and Coursera these days, it’s also important that we take the time to thoroughly reflect on a regular basis. Keeping a journal of things we’ve done well, and things we messed up, can be a great way to have a written record to read over when we want to celebrate successes and remind ourselves of lessons we have learned on our journeys as educators. This video I made a few years ago goes into this in more detail:

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International Teaching: Dealing With Culture Shock When Moving to a New Country

Teaching internationally can be very rewarding and enjoyable. You’ll most certainly pick-up new skills, experience a new culture and become part of a new and diverse community. For some, however, the move to a new country can be a big ‘shock to the system’.

Today, I’ve invited Rose-Anne Turner, Admissions Director at Destination TEFL, to share her advice on how to deal with culture shock when moving to a new country.

Culture Shock – a much used term for those who travel. But what does it mean exactly?

Culture shock is what you experience after leaving the familiarities of your home culture to live in another cultural or social environment. Even those who are open-minded and well-travelled are not immune to culture shock. Symptoms include homesickness, anger, loneliness and boredom. Everyone will experience culture shock to some extent, but there are ways to deal with it and minimise the effects.

chatting in class

Firstly, understand what you are going through and why you feel insecure or anxious. You are faced with a different climate, unfamiliar with your surroundings, as well as people with different values, attitudes, lifestyles, and political and religious beliefs, and oftentimes, you can’t even understand them due to language barriers! Understanding why you feel the way you do will help you to overcome the feeling.

Once you understand, the next step is to accept and adapt to your new culture. Just because something is different, doesn’t mean it is wrong, so learn to do things the way the locals do, and accept that it’s the way it’s done in your new home.

Learn as much as possible about your destination before leaving home. Be open-mined and it will be easier to understand the differences and see things from a different perspective. If you know why people do things the way they do them, it’s easy to accept the differences.

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Having a positive attitude can make all the difference. This goes with anything in life, but is especially true when travelling and interacting with new people in new surroundings.

Block building

Stay in touch with those back home. But… if you spend all your time connecting with family and friends back home, you’ll just keep feeling homesick and won’t feel up to making new friends. Rather spend your time exploring and meeting new people, and then you have something to tell loved ones back home when you do chat.

Don’t compare your home culture to your new culture! Noticing the differences is normal, and can be fun, but see the differences as just that – different and exciting, not inferior to home. Take the opportunity to learn as much as possible about your new location and culture.

Keep yourself busy. Particularly enjoy the things you can’t do at home. Try new foods, swim in the sea, explore, make new friends, take full advantage of the time abroad rather than being afraid and hiding in your hotel room or apartment. Don’t have regrets later by saying ‘if only I had done this or seen that…’

Laugh at yourself! If you get lost, just think of it as a way to discover a new place that you didn’t expect to see. Surrounding yourself with positive people can make all the difference. Don’t get sucked into the inevitable groups of ‘grumpy old expats’ who should have gone back home long ago, and now love trashing their new home.

There are different phases of culture shock, and knowing which you are going through will also help you to overcome it.

The Honeymoon Phase: This is a fun time, when all is great, exciting, and new. You embrace the differences, go out of your way to try the weird and wonderful food and relish meeting exotic new people. This phase can last days, weeks, or months.

Continent Investigation

The Honeymoon is Over Phase: During this phase, you start observing differences, however slight, and not always in a good way. You’ve had enough of the food, and miss home comforts and tastes. The local attitudes annoy you, and things are just so much better at home. During this phase, you may feel sad, irritable, angry or anxious. You miss holidays from home such as Christmas or Thanksgiving, and feel sad when you miss out on events such as birthday celebrations back home.
 
The Negotiation Phase: Now you decide if you will give in to negativity or power-on past it to make the most of your experience. If you’re successful, you regain your sense of perspective, balance, and humour, and move on to the next phase.
 
The All’s Well, or Everything is Okay Phase: You start feeling more at home with the differences in the new culture. After a while, you may feel as if the culture isn’t in fact new, but that you belong here now, or you may not exactly feel part of the culture, but you’re comfortable enough with it to enjoy the differences and challenges. You don’t necessarily have to be in love with the new country (as in the honeymoon phase), but you can navigate it without unwarranted anxiety, negativity, and criticism.

The Reverse Culture Shock Phase: This happens to most who have lived abroad a while. Once you’ve become accustomed to the way things are done in a different country, you can go through the same series of culture shock phases when you return home.
 
Culture shock can present itself at any time, and it’s often the small things we feel the most – like navigating a grocery store with unfamiliar products in currencies we are not familiar with. Working abroad has its own challenges, as aside from day-to-day cultural differences, there are also the differences in the work place. For example, if you are typically organised and punctual, you may struggle to adapt working to a culture with a more relaxed working environment. Or, if you’re a woman, you may find it difficult to adapt in a country where there is gender inequality.
 
It’s most important to be patient – in time, things that once were strange will be the norm. Be kind to yourself, and don’t place high expectations on yourself until you have adjusted to your new life. While moving to a new country is daunting in many ways, it can be equally rewarding, and by not giving it a try, you’ll always have regrets.

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