Dear Dr. Spilchuk…

April, 2007

Please Help Me Choose a Good School

Dear Dr. Spilchuk,

I am in the process of deciding where I might best situate myself as an International teacher. I have had difficulty in the past with International assignments so I want to be sure that this time around I do not make a mistake in choosing a school. As a result, I have decided to contact you. The options open to me at this point include:

1. an international school in Bangkok
2. an international school in South Korea
3. an international school in Beijing

Can you please advise me?



Hello Roberta,

My advice to you would be to research all three of the schools as closely as possible before committing. Ask to speak via SKYPE to a teacher at the school. Make sure you have a copy of the proposed contract in advance and check the fine print. You can recontact ISR for advice in this area. As far as particulars about each of these regions, please be aware that:

1. Bangkok is experiencing some problems at the moment. Check your home country’s international warnings about travel within Thailand. I have recently been in Thailand for a month and experienced no problems as a traveler; however, there is a heightened security concern particularly in the south in Thailand. Also, make sure that your school provides you with a Work VISA. International teachers at Thai International Schools have experienced some difficulty with their schools having them work on Visitor VISAS and this could create a long term problem for you.

2. After the initial problem a year ago with South Korea expelling so many Western teachers without degrees, the situation seems to have resolved itself in that area of the world. If you have a teaching degree and certification, you should be fine in South Korea. My reports from teachers in that area are very positive.

3. The Chinese are wonderfully welcoming. Please be aware that Beijing does have a serious problem with air pollution, however. If you have any respiratory issues, I would certainly not advise Beijing as a first health choice although it is certainly a first cultural choice for an international teacher.

I would also advise that you read past issues of the International School Review to ensure that you are ready to meet the challenges of working in the International Teaching forum before you make your final decision. Teachers around the world have brought forward a wide range of topics and information that will assist you in making your decision. In the end, however, you are the person who will have to make an educated decision and there are many unknown factors that will determine your future success so be prepared for these unknowns as best you can.

Best wishes


Responses to This Column

Dear Dr. S.,

I’m a member of ISR and would like to comment on one of your responses. Your comments on the three Asian locations the teacher is considering for his next ‘trouble-free’ assignment do seem to reflect what I have read and heard about them. However, wouldn’t it be a good idea to add a few points like the following: you can be in the best school in the world with the greatest kids, curriculum, colleagues, country, salary and benefits but if the director is corrupt or just one of those spiteful ones that blackballs you, it can quickly turn into the worst school in the world for you. It can be a perfect position but if the kids are largely spoiled brats basically running the school that too can make you want to run as soon as you can.

What is the main point here? Do, as you indicate, your research, but never think that just because the reports are good or nonexistent that the school will work out for you. You do just have to get lucky, too. I have discovered this personally in The Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, the Middle East and in the US. The main reason the jobs at those locations sounded so good and turned out to be so bad was due to very poor directors that simply lied to you.

I have been happy at two schools (Holland and Portugal) but had to leave when nasty directors took over and either fired people they had not hired or made what made me happy at the school disappear. I think these matters are important to include in any advice given about how to pick the right school. Remember, we international teachers have just about no rights in these schools and we really need the best, well-balanced advice available.



Dear Sophia

Thanks so much for your very candid response. My focus in my April column was simply to put some of the measurables into perspective as briefly as I could for the readers of ISR and the letter writer. You are absolutely right, however, when you suggest that everything is relative in terms of the people factor. No matter how much research an international teacher does in advance of taking an assignment, the personality/relationship factors can take down the best of teacher in the best of location. The one unknown in every situation is the human factor…and there is no way to absolutely predict how this or that teacher will respond in this or that situation to this or that director.

Thank you so much for putting the issue of relationships in perspective!

Best wishes


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