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The International Teaching-Candidate Shortage A Collection of Posts From the ISR Forum
Organizations such as the American Academy of School Heads have expressed a growing concern over the dwindling pool of international teaching candidates. Of course, such a shortage affects every schools' bottom line and so it's no wonder a task force is being formed to identify and resolve the problem. ISR readers have, however, already begun discussing the cause and solution to the current situation and posted their thoughts to the ISR Forum. Here's what ISR readers are saying about the "International Teaching-Candidate Shortage".

According to schools that were looking to hire at New York - there were 3-4 times as many openings as applicants. Certainly a teacher's market. That being said, some schools walked away only having hired a fraction of their openings. Surveys would have to be taken to determine the reasons for this with any reliability, but for those of us who've been in the circuit awhile, an obvious reason comes to mind: Pay and benefits.

Whereas international school salaries were once typically 1.5 - 2 times Stateside salaries (not counting the tax -free aspect) in addition to other benefits, many schools now count the tax benefit AND the housing so that they can claim to be more attractive than Stateside salaries. And the Canadians? Getting paid in US currency, which so many schools offer, has certainly not been a benefit in recent years. Rather than address the pay question, which most boards loathe to do, schools have begun to fill positions from markets where the salaries are less than in the US, thus an influx of teachers from Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa.

How can school boards and directors expect teachers to flood them with applications in markets where TEACHERS are the ONLY expats from western countries getting paid equal, or less, than they would at home? In the Middle East, the huge number of expats whose children fill the schools are there because they get such attractive salaries compared to their home countries. Not so for the teachers.

Look at schools which have truly excellent pay packages. They demand high performance from teachers, but reimburse them accordingly. They have no difficulty attracting applicants. Many administrators complained about having to compete with Shanghai American School last year for applicants, as SAS was hiring so many teachers and offered such attractive pay and benefits. The solution was that directors went back to their boards and demanded to remain competitive. Those that did not had the same complaints this year. Oh, but it was the fault of the teacher shortage!

I just finished reading the TIE newspaper, and in it they discussed the teacher shortage in the international school community. My question is this - Of all the teachers from my school that went to the job fairs, I never heard anyone saying that the schools were "banging down the door" for teachers. Several of them didn't get jobs at the fair (New York comes to mind) and quite frankly, these were pretty good teachers in fairly high demand areas. I heard that New York was actually very picky and they did not get many interviews. Does this make sense? If there is a shortage of teachers, why are the schools so picky? Is it that the really good schools have an abundance of applications and the others have almost nothing?

The complaint of a 'worker shortage' is not unique to international teaching. Computer programmers and engineers have been hearing media reports of 'high-tech worker shortages' for years. And yet, rather than employ the ready supply of North American programmers at a livable wage, companies instead choose to export the work to lower-paid countries. What the industry is actually lamenting is the shortage of workers that they can exploit at a lower wage than their education should dictate.

If parents would let the schools replace us with Indian teachers, they would. There is no teacher shortage, and teachers will appear out of the woodwork as soon as wages become worth the difficulty of living in an undeveloped country. I've never heard the UN complain that they simply can't find employees willing to go to Egypt for USD $70,000 a year. Simply put, wages have not risen to match the inflation caused by the drop in value of the American dollar. A twenty percent depreciation in one year in any profession would cause people to leave in droves. Short-sighted, profit-driven schools will see the exchange rate benefit of tuition vs salaries as a potential windfall...and then ask "Where did all the teachers go?" Gee, if they could just entice a few more 1st year teachers over to work for peanuts all of their problems would be solved. The international teaching circuit is looking more and more like ESL in Taiwan all the time. Except for a few long standing schools, the professionalism is over. It's 'a warm body in the classroom' until wages match inflation. I'll finish my contract and then go home.

The corporatization of our schools has become increasingly apparent. Money is the bottom line, even in the non-profit schools, depending upon their boards. While the benefits of diversifying the teaching staffs at various schools by hiring from many different English speaking countries are certainly unarguable; (our teachers from Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa add depth and charm to the school) the fact remains that one of their attractions to the administration is their willingness to work for lower wages than Americans and Canadians; this is undeniable. Notice the addition of hiring fairs in locales which serve these populations and their growing popularity.

The articles in TIE talk about American teachers being unaware of overseas opportunities. That may be so, but when we recently left public school positions to return overseas, most of our Stateside colleagues had the same reaction, "why?" Why would be leave better paying jobs (in terms of salary) and home and family for lesser pay? Honestly, had we not originally (years ago) left for other reasons and found out the pleasures of working in an international environment, with both staff and students, we would not have considered it. As inflation soars and our salaries fail to compensate, we still wonder frequently why we did it.

One of the TIE articles quotes Cairo school head, Monica Greeley, who stated that "what had worked at her school especially in terms of retaining teachers was restructuring the pay scale so that it didn’t take 20 years for teachers to make the money they deserved." That's a commendable idea. Now, how about the teachers who HAVE been in the business 20 years or more? If they switch schools, are they put on the same pay step as teachers 20 years their junior with far less education and experience? How many schools honor what those teachers bring to the classroom?

Sadly, what another teacher has already concluded appears to be true: "What [the overseas education] industry is actually lamenting is the shortage of workers that they can exploit at a lower wage than their education should dictate." Maybe all of those who have allowed this to happen to ourselves should follow his example and go home, or at least to one of the schools where the heads DO get it, and pay their staff as if they are the most valuable resource they have, which they are.

While what I am about to write is based more on perception, I think it holds some water nonetheless; this is my 8th year as an international teacher, and 11th as a teacher in general.

1) I think a major reason for a shortage is that candidates are picky; I've been to 5 fairs in the past years, and at each one it seems the majority of people are going with one or two schools in mind, and if that school doesn't work out, then they go home. Heads of school would thus perceive a shortage. I doubt the head of a school in Rome would see a shortage, whereas a head in Colombia might.

2) International schools continue to open, using the moniker of being international, when they're just profit schools. My first job was at Seoul Foreign School in 2000. At that time, there were 3 other international schools besides SFS, and not all of them were "international." All the students were Korean, and the schools were profit-motivated. Now, at my count, there are something like 9-11 schools in Korea claiming to be international. These schools go to the fairs, and might siphon off a few unwitting young, inexperienced candidates. Or, they simply flood the market with jobs that don't get filled, thus creating the statistic that there are more jobs than teachers.

3) From everything I read from home (USA) there is a teacher shortage there, and that would logically lead to a shortage of people overseas. With the exception of one person, everyone I graduated from college with has left education; most did so in two year's time.

Solution: I think schools need to form an ultra-selective fair. This doesn't mean candidate entry, but school entry. They should create a criteria of what it means to be an international school (student body makeup, philosophy, accreditation, etc) and only allow those schools in the fair. Thus, instead of having 10 schools from Korea, there would only be 1 or 2. This would benefit candidates as well, and root out some of the poorer schools which seem to be the source of so much angst on this web site.

My perception is the number of 'bad' schools to 'good' is rising. Security in your position, top notch admin, professional development opportunities, stable curriculums, honest reporting procedures cannot be assured in many of the schools who like to call themselves international. Take the example of ENS, it gets many negative feedbacks but claims it has CIS backing and IB status. It advertises on, what were once reputable sites and attends fairs. Why would you pay out an enormous amount of money to attend a fair, when there is no protection against schools like ENS? I like the idea of an ultra selective fair, a fair where applicants could trust that schools had been vetted. Another reason is wages. I have been working overseas for ten years now and in real terms my wages have dropped. It used to be financially rewarding for me to work overseas. I would work overseas again if the above things were assured.

There have been many posts on why certain schools don't attract or retain teachers. They pay crap, they treat teachers terribly, they don't honor contracts, the classroom atmosphere is bad and their administration is poor.

Right now I'm in the Chicagoland area. Go down into many parts of Chicago and there is a teacher shortage. There's a shortage because people don't want to teach there. The conditions are horrendous. God bless those that do, but most don't.

Go to the magnet schools or the suburban schools. They pay well. Conditions are great. They don't have a teacher shortage.

As far as teachers being picky --- I guess I fall into that group to some extent. I want my kids to go to a good school. I want to be valued and paid well. I'll work my ass off for a good admin and support a school that values my efforts. So when I look at a job fair like UNI and see a few 'top tier' schools, those are the ones I'm shooting for.

I'm not going to take any job paying a fraction of what I can get in the US, with marginal benefits, no retirement, no security and a questionable track record. I'm not going to relocate my family on the hollow promises of any school.

If schools want good candidates, pay them well with good benefits. They'll get teachers. Twenty years ago ASIR in Riyadh paid probably some of the best benefits and salary around --- maybe they still do. It was a very desirable school. You could save more money than most places, travel and live well (or as well as you could in a compound). They got teachers to come to what some would consider a 'difficult' environment because they paid well.

Twenty years ago SE Asia had ISB, ISKL, SAS & JIS. There were a few smaller schools in Singapore; Overseas and Tanglin. That was it. Now SE Asian schools include a turgid pool of for-profit 'schools' that pollute job fairs with jobs paying nothing, cycling through staff who sign 2-year contracts only to have them break contract when they find out what the schools are really like.

If I'm paying several grand to attend a job fair, possibly to get treated poorly, I'm going to be picky. If schools think teachers are going to fawn over exotic locations and be willing to forgo 20-30% of US pay to relocate their families to questionable situations, they're dreaming. If schools can't pay, they can at least present a professional, collaborative and supportive school. Hire good people and support them.

Eventually the job fairs will have to start throwing out the crap schools. They'll have to start setting some kind of criteria- or yes, people will go elsewhere.

When I first started out in international education back in the very early 1970's, I was a teacher in Seoul, Korea. It was an excellent school, and that initial positive experience led me to more than 33 years of overseas teaching (plus a few years teaching in the States). At the job fairs in the 1970's and 1980's, the only schools there were the best ones --- I simply did not hear of "for-profit" schools much. Also, I compared the salaries to Stateside salaries, and again, it seemed a very good choice to be teaching overseas...................

Administrators from our school said neighboring schools at the New York Recruiting Fair spent the entire time interviewing, made many offers and got few acceptances. They claim it was the teachers being choosy. Our school also made many offers and received few acceptances. Teachers' reluctance to consider locales that weren't on their radar and an unwillingness on the part of US teachers - as well as teachers coming from top end schools - to take large salary cuts resulted in non acceptance of job offers. Despite inflation in the area of our school, the package looks nowhere near as good as it did five years ago. Plus, teachers' workloads have increased - both in terms of student load and additional expectations - like just about every educational initiative someone can sell them. One gets the feeling that the teacher "shortage" will continue to affect certain areas of the world while schools in China, Singapore, Indonesia and eastern Europe will wonder, what shortage?

When I last interviewed at UNI it was before 9/11. The dollar was relatively strong. Schools in the Middle East were attractive for not only their packages but it was seen as a viable destination by many teachers. Europe was more expensive but still affordable. Now the Middle East is not as attractive to many because of current events. Europe is seen as being too expensive and the overall poor quality of for-profits hurts as well.

It's simply the free market. Those schools that don't compensate well and treat teachers poorly will not attract applicants.

I can tell you that there is also a shortage in Singapore and Indonesia. Some schools don't have to worry about this because there will always be people wanting to work there (read JIS, et al), however many middle tier international schools are feeling the pinch. Singapore especially is not as attractive as it once was because of the rising costs, mainly rent which has blown way out.

The entire middle east is experiencing extreme inflation. In Egypt, where I am, it is approx 25% this year alone. It has affected everything from the price of chicken to flights out of the country. Our management's response was to increase tuition by about 15%. Our Salaries? Not a dime more did we receive! The attitude seems to be that as long as teachers will sign-up, why bother? From what I have seen over the past few years, the international circuit is in a state of serious decay. The middle career teachers (in their 30's and 40's) are leaving in droves and being replaced by first year teachers and 'double dippers', retired teachers collecting a pension from home who just need enough money to cover green fees in a warmer climate. The schools will survive, but the quality is going to suffer. First year teachers can be great if supported, but the 'double dippers' are too burnt out to bother.

As long as the school gives benefits that keep teachers in the income class they expect, they'll come. Some schools are rationalizing the fact that salaries haven't changed much in 10 years by saying that the cost of living is much cheaper than in North America. What they don't mention is that you'll be living like a local laborer, not a middle class teacher, if you follow the guidelines they provide.