Starting work in an international school: tips and advice

Starting any new job is exciting but it can be a daunting prospect, and especially if you are about to leave your country of origin and go to work in a foreign land. There will inevitably be some degree of culture shock and it can take time to acclimatize to a new environment, even if you are a seasoned traveler or you have worked overseas before.

Here are a few things that a teacher should consider when preparing for a job in an international school:

  • Research the school and the community: Learn as much as you can about the school and the community where you will be working. This will help you understand the culture, customs, and expectations of the students and their families. The school website is an excellent place to start, and the HR department at your new school should be able to share a “Welcome Pack” with you. You might want to dig a little deeper though and it might be worth checking out Google and Facebook review. Of course, take these with a pinch of salt, but they might give you a flavour of what the parents and alumni think about the school.
  • Familiarize yourself with the curriculum: Make sure you are familiar with the curriculum that the school is using. If it is different from what you are used to, take the time to understand how it is organized and what the expectations are for each grade level. Get in touch with your Head of Department or Line Manager as soon as you are appointed and ask for Schemes of Work and Assessment materials. Most aspects of curriculum and assessment are fairly generic, and your previous experience will be eminently transferable even to a curriculum model you may not have taught before.
  • Learn about the student population: Understand the demographic of the student population. International school tends to have a diverse student body and it’s important to understand their backgrounds and cultures. Be prepared to adjust your teaching methods accordingly. You will most likely encounter many students for whom English is not their first language. This will definitely be the case in the type of international school which delivers an international curriculum to local students, but will also be prevalent in schools with more of a mixed population of students. Do not be daunted by the prevalence of EAL learners, and always remember that one’s ability to speak a foreign language is not a measure of one’s intelligence. Many of your non-English speaking students will have the potential to achieve great things once they master the language of instruction.
  • Brush up on your language skills: If the school is located in a country where a language other than your native language is spoken, it would be a good idea to brush up on your skills in that language. This will help you to communicate with students and parents who may not speak your language fluently. In the short term, you might want to focus on learning a few simple phrases, so that you can make a good first impression with your new students and colleagues, and especially those who are nationals of the host country.
  • Get familiar with technology: Many international schools have adopted the use of digital tools for teaching and learning, so be prepared to use online tools, platforms, and apps to support your teaching. In reality, most school information systems operate in the same way and you will find that your skills are transferable from one domain to another. Do be aware that some international schools like to have all the latest technologies, and love tools that they think will impress the parents of the students. This can be a minor annoyance, but it shouldn’t effect the your quality of life in your new school.
  • Prepare for the cross-cultural aspect of teaching: International schools may have a diverse population and it is important to be culturally aware, respectful and sensitive when teaching. Be prepared to modify your teaching approach to meet the different needs of students from different backgrounds.Sometimes this can be challenging if you are unwilling or unable to accept the cultural norms in the country where you choose to work. Always remember that you are the visitor in the foreign land and the onus is on you to adapt to your new setting.
  • Be open-minded and flexible: Be prepared to adapt to new ways of teaching and learning, and be open-minded about different cultures and customs. Remember that you will be working in a different educational system with different expectations and cultural norms.
  • Join Professional Development opportunities: Participate in professional development opportunities offered by the school to improve your skills and stay current with educational trends. Many international schools are exceptionally well funded and offer a outstanding opportunities for professional development. This may even include the chance to attend international conferences. However, this is not always the case, and some schools may not be as committed as others to empowering their staff.

By taking the time to prepare yourself, you will be able to hit the ground running and make the most of your experience teaching at an international school. It may well be the best professional decision that you make in your life!

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