Monday, March 11, 2013

An honest (and biased) perspective

Disclaimer #1: This is more work related than travel related. Sorry to disappoint. However, I have many teacher friends who are considering teaching internationally and I want to address their questions and concerns.

Disclaimer #2: This post is totally biased. I taught for four years in the U.S. public school system and became more and more disillusioned as the days and months wore on. I will never work in the U.S. school system again (and yes, you can quote me on that) and I in no way, shape, or form have the desire to move back to the states. Read my words below with that rather large grain of salt.

Maybe you're tired of teaching classes of 40.

Maybe you're tired of unmotivated students.

Maybe you're tired of working for ineffectual (and  sometimes completely evil) principals.

Or maybe you just want an adventure.

Before you toss in your hat on the field of education altogether, try teaching abroad.

That's my advice to you.

There are two routes: one, teach EASL (English as a second language) or two, teach at an international school.

It is my (rather limited) opinion that EASL is geared more towards 22-year-olds fresh out of college trying to figure out what they hell to do with their lives while biding time taking up residences in Japan or South Korea. The pay is poor and housing even worse.

This post is geared more towards my past colleagues from Port Townsend or Seattle: certified teachers with many years of experience under their belts.

You, then, want to head for American, Australian, or British international schools.

And there are thousands.

First, you need to do your homework: you need to check out recruitment companies such as International School Services, Search Associates, or Bluewave. You need to compose a top notch professional portfolio and attend a job fair. Then you need to sell yourself hard. It's tough to land any job. What I did was perhaps the toughest: teacher with a non-teacher spouse.

But still try.

Some schools are for profit, others non-profit, and a handful like mine are actual local public schools.

It all matters.

For-profit schools often pay well but are image based. Did you attend an ivy league school? If so, these schools will love you. Non-profit and public schools pay less but are more interested in who you are and what you can bring to the table rather than what they can boast on paper about regarding your title (PhD anyone?) or your schooling (Columbia University anyone?).

I'd recommend non-profit or public schools.

But I've also only ever taught at one international school.

Maybe I got lucky. I really don't know.

Here is what I do know: teaching overseas is infinitely better than teaching in the states.

Here's why:

The kids. I have 60 of them. They turn in their work every time. Like, always. And it's high quality. Also, they understand respect and integrity. No, they're no robots. They just really are the nicest, most hard-working kids in the world. My class of 30 feels like five. I don't have a classroom management policy. I don't need one. I've been in Taiwan for eight months and so far have yet to encounter a true behavior problem in class. Seriously. On the first day of school, I knew I would never teach in the U.S. again. Why would I want to fight a class of nearly 40 everyday with kids who are, simply put, jerks? Albeit the majority are not but the minority who are often shade the entire teaching and learning experience.

The schedule. I teach 17 hours a week. Yep. That's 17 50-minute classes per week. I have two preps: 8th grade English and 8th grade world history. I only teach three classes on Monday, two on Tuesday and Friday, five on Wednesday, and four on Thursday. I often go out to lunch with Sean, hang out in the hot tub at the spa, or just relax at home during the day. I still get paid full time.

The commute.  It's 30 seconds.

The housing. It's free.

The pay. Okay, this is where many of you will look at the nifty school guide handed out on the first day of a job fair and begin crossing off schools because the pay is "too low." Hold up one second. I took a $15,000 pay cut when I moved to Taiwan, yet I've managed to save more than ever before. I mean, literally, three months ago my Taiwanese bank account was at $2000 USD after I transferred $7000 USD to my stateside account. Today my Taiwanese account is hovering near $10,000 USD and that's after a one-month luxurious vacation in Thailand and purchasing six airplane tickets for our spring and summer travels (and one rather expensive splurge on, for which I blame Jamie). Keep in mind I am the only worker in this household. That's saving without Sean working or contributing to the pot. I'm really not trying to boast here. I'm simply trying to prove my point. Factor in cost of living expenses and exchange rates. It's almost always a much, much better deal than what you're earning (and spending) in the states. Come on, do you want to know how much I pay in gas a month? No you don't, but I'm going to tell you anyways: $12USD. That's right.

The breaks. Many of my colleagues complain that we don't get breaks. It's a blatant lie. We just had one whole month off for Chinese New Year. It's just that we don't get spread out breaks or American holidays (that's right, this lady worked on Thanksgiving and Christmas). But, I have a four-day weekend coming up in April and I plan on getting out of the country and traveling. From Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Macau, Vietnam, South Korea, etc are less than a two-hour flight away. Breaks here mean adventures abroad.

The perks. Sean, an non-working "alien" in this country, gets free health care. Um, as a working resident of the states he did not qualify for this. I get a Chinese New Year bonus worth 1.5 times my monthly salary and a good teacher bonus worth the same. That's free money. Just cause Taiwan is awesome. Also, I qualified for welfare money after my dad passed worth roughly $5000 USD. Once again, I'm a foreigner in Taiwan yet the Taiwanese government awarded me this moola because its humane and awesome.

Society. There are no guns. Guess what? Everyone is safe here because the bad guys don't have guns either. Sean and I go for walks at 2am and never worry. Everyone is so nice to us. I have yet to see a single homeless person. Not one single homeless person in eight months. Wowza.

Staff meetings. Are cheerful and upbeat. One time, everyone started singing in Chinese and then all the Taiwanese teachers pulled out their tambourines and it was the coolest thing ever.

1. My school has no subs. My poor husband and friend have to sub for me.
2. The printer and copier always break.
3. I actually have to work an almost full day one day of the week.
4. I have a chalk board and not a white board.
5. There is no electronic attendance system.
6. Um... the school lunch is gross?

You can see I'm grasping at straws here.

Once again, understand I had a god awful experience teaching in the U.S. public school system. Know I'm pretty laid back. Listen when I tell you teaching abroad is the way to go.


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