So You Want To Teach Overseas?: 4 Types of Schools

Step one to teaching overseas is narrowing your options. After all, overseas is every country but your own! What are you interested in? What cultures seem fascinating? What kind of food do you like? Will you be able to give up modern conveniences? How much money do you need to make? Do you speak the local language? Are you willing to learn the local language? All of these things are important to look into and consider.

Once you have decided upon a country, you need to figure out what type of school you want to work in. There are four basic choices international schools, private schools, local schools, and cram schools.

International Schools

International schools typically pay the best and have good resources. However, they can also have incredibly high expectations (in both a good and bad way). This can lead to a high turnover rate in spite of all the perks. I have been able to grow as a teacher by teaching in these schools due to the high expectations and pace. I would recommend working in this type of school for the pay and professional development opportunities. But, potentially even larger than that, these schools tend to be run by other foreigners. This means that the school’s culture will be more similar to your own, reducing countless headaches.

Private Schools

Private schools will fit into one of two categories. Either they are entirely local and you will be the ESL teacher, or they are entirely bilingual and you could teach any subject in any capacity depending on your skills and the school’s need. In the first instance, it is very important to be knowledgeable about the school’s curriculum. I have heard of schools using locally produced ESL books that come preloaded with grammatical errors (This is more common than you would hope). Depending on the school’s policy, you may be required to teach grammar incorrectly because the teacher’s guide (answer sheet) is your Bible and going against it is heretical (“What do you mean this isn’t correct? The government made it. Are you saying the government is wrong?”). Alternative grammar facts have made it big in the ESL world before Trump made them big in our world.

If you are teaching in a bilingual private school, you will likely have a bit more freedom. However, it is important to keep in mind that the school will likely be run by locals. This can be complicated because the school will promote a western style of education to parents (and to teachers in staff meetings), and then they will be upset that you have not done every single page in a workbook. You will walk a cultural minefield, and will likely make multiple missteps (I sure have). Keep on teaching and maintain a positive attitude and good work ethic and you will be alright.

Local Schools

If you teach in a local school, you will likely be an ESL teacher (potentially for the entire school). You will see your students once per week (potentially twice) and the focus tends to be on speaking/listening or writing. (Note: The same caveats about bad ESL books apply for public schools.)

The other scenario for teaching in local schools is a situation room. This means that multiple schools (generally elementary schools) will visit your location and you only see each class once per semester/year. In this circumstance, the teacher will craft a lesson plan around various props. For example, the teacher will teach a lesson on ordering food in a restaurant. Then students will take on roles as customer/waiter and practice the vocabulary. This is not the most effective for actual learning, but it seems to be prevalent for some reason (It is also an easy job. You only need a handful of lessons each semester.)

Cram Schools

Cram schools are where students go to school, after school. In some countries (particularly in Asia) they double as child care because it can actually be cheaper to send your child to a class than a daycare. Cram schools are great if you are looking to travel because they are much more flexible with off days. In cram schools, the students’ behavior tends to be a bit worse because they go there after a full day of school. And many students know that their “grades” in this context don’t really matter. These schools tend to pay less than most other schools, but it also tends to be fewer hours of work. If you want, since it is an hourly position, you will often have the opportunity to add hours if your company has room (and they like you).

As with any school, context is king. I have found that your work experience will be very much shaped by your superiors. A good administration is better than gold. Before you get a job, do all you can to find out about the school’s work environment.

Questions to ask:

How long does the average teacher work here? What is the marking policy? How late do most teachers work? How do I take personal days off? Do you have a professional development fund? What is the school discipline system? Ask if you can talk with current teachers? (can be tough if you are doing the interview over skype)

Good luck, it is a great adventure! It is hard, but worth it.