Evaluating Teaching Opportunities Abroad

You’ve got a degree in ECE–now what? There are dozens of opportunities at your doorstep but knowing which one is right for you might be as difficult as the past four–or more–years of study. Now a two-year endeavour with an existing B.A., there’s also the option to earn your B.Ed, register with the Ontario College of Teachers, and land a job in a public school. Or, perhaps you’ve thought about starting your own tutoring business. There are childcare centres, family resource programs, and positions in government policy and childcare advocacy. But more and more ECE grads are looking beyond the traditional jobs of childcare yesteryear. What lies in wait in other areas of the world are becoming more attainable, and in some cases more practical, opportunities toward a fulfilling career in education than what you’d find at home.


How do I know if teaching abroad is right for me?

Teaching abroad might have crossed your mind but without much consideration. Imagine working in rural Cambodia, or near sublime Thai beaches. Deep in the Balinese jungle at a revolutionary eco-friendly school (see https://www.greenschool.org/) or in the heart of a world-class urban metropolis in China or United Arab Emirates. But how does one even begin to search for such opportunities? And how do you distinguish the ones ripe with the promise of success from the spam-n’-scam deals?

For starters, not all international teaching experiences are as glamorous as they may sound. But this doesn’t mean they aren’t either. Research, astute judgement, and good ‘ole fashioned common sense will steer you in the right direction. But first, consider where you are in life and whether you’re up for a big change, potential culture shock, or possible misadventure. Almost every foreign teaching experience will deliver you a sample of each.

Consider the following questions when evaluating teaching jobs abroad:

  • What are your reasons for wanting to teach in a foreign country?
  • What countries are you drawn to and what do you already know about them?
  • What kind of experience do you hope for?
  • What are your professional goals?
  • How adaptable are you to foreign environments?
  • What do you know about culture shock?
  • What salary do you expect to earn?


Where are the jobs?

International Schools

International schools are usually private enterprises that promote an international education, either by use of a curriculum different from the host country, or by way of a population comprised primarily of foreign students and teachers. These are a great option to maximize income, save a bundle, and further your professional career. In most cases, you’ll require a province-issued teaching license to be eligible for a work visa. International schools want teachers licensed to teach core subjects, or who have a specialized degree, such as ECE, for preschool or kindergarten programs. In addition to a healthy salary, many international schools offer benefits such as housing, health insurance, and flights home.

Public Schools

In many cases the best way to land a public school job is the traditional way–walk into the school with your resume in hand and speak to the principal. There are a few downfalls to this method however. First, you must already be in the country. Second, though the wages are considerably higher than that of the local teachers and usually in line with the cost of living, they are lower than what you would earn as a public school teacher in Canada or with an international school. There are also creature comforts and quintessential cultural charms to consider. Public schools in Southeast Asia are generally exposed to the outdoors and stray dogs may saunter in and out of your class of 40+ students. Compare this to the technologically-equipped, air-conditioned suites that are international school classrooms.

Recruiting Agencies

These guys often have a reputation for being money-hungry. While this is sometimes the case, you can get a pretty good sense of a recruiter’s motives almost immediately. A good recruiting firm or agency should always have their clients’ interests at the core of their work. That means finding the best teachers for the positions they are trying to fill. If you’re a good fit, a recruiting firm will snatch you up quickly and connect you with the right gig. Never give a school or recruiting firm money–their commission should come from the employer. If you’re asked for a fee, walk away because it’s probably a scam. The great thing about using a recruiter is that they have access to jobs you wouldn’t likely find on your own because the schools using them don’t advertise externally. They often have a large number of positions to fill and need to do so efficiently, or they have a unique position to fill. If you’re looking for a good international recruiter, check out www.esl101.com. They can link you with opportunities at international schools, public institutions, or English language centres across the globe.


What should I ask potential employers?

You need have your most important questions answered without the risk of appearing like a potentially difficult employee. But we don’t always know what we don’t know so here are a few tips if you’re considering a few different options abroad. Consider how the answers to these questions align with what’s important to you while keeping in mind that teaching in a foreign country requires flexibility and an open mind:

  • What is the school’s philosophy of education?
  • What resources for teaching or career advancement are available to employees?
  • What are the school’s policies regarding behaviour management?
  • What is the school’s management structure?
  • How are new employees oriented to the school, country, and culture?
  • What benefits supplement the salary?
  • What is the promotion or pay increase structure?
  • What are the experiences of current employees–is there an opportunity to speak with a foreign teacher on staff?


A word on countries…

Any foreign teaching experience is going to be an opportunity for growth and learning but different locations will deliver different experiences, especially in regards to income.

ASIA – The majority are in China and there is a spectrum of opportunity here, particularly for teaching ESL. Schools in Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Indonesia typically offer lower wages, unless they’re international schools. The cost of living in Asia however, is considerably lower than in the West. Teaching opportunities in Asia offer a great balance of work and play.

THE MIDDLE EAST – This is where the real money is. The majority are international schools looking for licensed teachers with experience. High salaries and living expenses are usually a package deal, as is accommodation in a compound with other foreign teachers or ex-pats. If you’re looking to advance your career in a professional setting and save money, this is your best bet.

SOUTH AMERICA – While a fascinating part of the world to work in and explore, there are very few profitable teaching gigs here, though the cost of living is very low in most cases. You’ll find a wealth of volunteer experiences here–but research those opportunities carefully before committing.


If you have questions about teaching internationally, contact Colleen Thornton at ESL101 (colleen@esl101.com).