Ask the Right Questions at Your Interview
You should know everything about the schools you are considering.
Many teachers wish they had asked these questions before they signed.
• Historically, what percentage of the teachers renew their contract for a third or fourth year? If teachers consistently stay beyond their initial 2-year contract, this is a good sign. If they tend to leave, you should find out why.
• What expectations are there for teacher participation beyond the regular school day? For example: after school activities, and weekend events such as international day, carnivals, and fund raising activities. From reviews on the International Schools Review web site it is clear that some schools expect lots of extra hours and for no additional pay. How would you feel donating Saturday mornings to raise money for the new roof on the library at a “for profit” school?
• What percent of the teachers are teaching in the area of their expertise? Ask for aguarantee that you will be teaching the subject you are being hired to teach. It happens that teachers have signed a contract and upon arrival found their assignment changed. Most contracts state what you will be teaching in your area of expertise and/or in an area the administration feels you are qualified to teach. In the eyes of the admin, speaking English may qualify you for a surprise assignment as an ESL teacher. If this is not acceptable, get it in writing.
• What is the frequency of faculty meetings, committee meetings and other meetings teachers must attend on a weekly basis? Our reviews show that some schools bog teachers down with endless meetings and committees. Some teachers feel they are being asked to do the administration’s work.
• What are the details on the round-trip shipping of personal goods? A group of teachers report their personal goods were shipped piggy-backed with the school’s supply-order brought in through the US embassy. Upon leaving, however, they discovered the embassy only ships belonging back to the US for its own employees. In this situation figure on four times the cost of getting your goods to the embassy point of departure in the States. What seemed like ample money for relocating now becomes far from adequate for moving back home. This is a very real situation and worth clarifying at the conference.
• How safe is the area where you will be living and how safe is the city in general? Some reviews on the ISR web site report kidnappings, muggings and car jacking of teachers. The standard director’s reply to your questions concerning safety may be, “It’s like any big city, you need to take precautions”. This is true but in some areas taking precautions means staying in at night or never going out on foot due to a high crime rate. The State Department offers safety information at http://www.ds-osac.org/ Do your own homework on an area before signing.
• What is the level of health care in the country? This may not seem important during the excitement of recruiting but it will be important should medical needs arise. Unless you’ve experienced the developing world, you may not be ready for hospital room supplies stored on bricks and boards, antiquated diagnostic equipment, and gurneys with blood-soaked sheets in the hallway. You just might not have the stomach for some places in the world.
• What does the health insurance policy cover and what is the deductible? The better international school health policies offer $100 deductible per calendar year and worldwide coverage. These policies also cover evacuation, should you need surgery or other interventions better performed outside the host country. Dental and vision may or may not be included. Some lesser policies offer only local coverage. Others have a high co-pay and deductible, rendering them useless outside the host country.
• Are students admitted with little or no English skills? If you’re new to international teaching, this may not seem important at this moment. When you’re in front of a group of kids and hardly a child knows what you’re saying you may feel differently. If you’re an IB or AP teacher your job may be near impossible in such situations, while the administration expectations may be very high and unrealistic. Is ESL support available for non-English speakers?
• What are the nationalities of the student body? What is the percentage of each nationality? Many schools are comprised of an extreme majority of host national students. This is not an international school. Likewise, a South American school with a student body comprised of kids from immediately neighboring countries will offer a far different experience than a true international school with students from thirty or forty countries. Depending on the type of international experience you’re looking for, the composition of the student body will be of concern. Get the facts.
• What will housing be like? Many reviews on the ISR web site report housing is not adequate. If you’re a single teacher ask if you’re required to share an apartment. Find out if everyone is housed in the “teachers’ condo” along with the rest of the teaching staff? If you’re a couple with two middle-school aged children will you be given a two or three bedroom place? It’s worth your time to find out in advance of signing a contract.
• How long will it take to get to school? A number of International Schools Review members report that teacher housing is forty-five minutes to an hour or more from school and in a poor section of town. Spending two hours commuting each day through intense traffic may not be your idea of a cultural experience. Most schools offer no transportation so you will have to buy a car or take taxis.
• How involved are parents and the PTO? A complete lack of parent involvement can mean lack of interest, which may translate to student discipline problems at school. On the other hand, parent involvement can be excellent unless their efforts become an obstacle to the teaching staff. Ask the right questions and find out what the school-home atmosphere is like. The PTO may have a direct impact on you if have your own children in the school.
• What do teachers do weekends and after school? Teachers on the ISR web site report some areas of the world that seem to be cultural dead zones, with all traces of ethnicity replaced by malls and McDonalds. These locations may offer very little, if anything, in the way of things to do. You may be able to enjoy your time in such a location, but other teachers would wear out their favorite DVDs in one semester. Interestingly, a very poor country may have so much culture it permeates everything and lures you to explore, explore, explore. Ask questions and read between the lines.