ISR Readers Join the Forum Discussion

The International Teaching Candidate Shortage

A few weeks ago we collected posts to our forum and organized them on the ISR web site. These posts had one thread in common; they reflected teachers’ candid views on the current international teaching-candidate shortage.

In our newsletter which followed, we invited ISR readers to review the posts taken from the forum and send us their reaction. We were particularly interested in learning about what is causing the low number of candidates attending recruiting fairs. In response to our invitation, ISR readers sent a wealth of ideas explaining the lack of available candidates. You can read thier comments below.

Teachers’ Comments

There is not a shortage of experienced teachers, there is a shortage of experienced teachers who are willing to work for peanuts and be exploited by schools who do not honour their contracts. The international teaching community is a small one in actuality, and word about exploitive, for-profit schools spreads quickly. Also, teachers have learned through bitter experience that recruitment agencies like Search Associates and TIE (for profit) always paint a rosy picture of the prospective client school (who is paying them) no matter how questionable it may be. So, experienced teachers have become leery of the “glowing” school assessments given by hiring agencies and rely on word of mouth recommendations from friends and colleagues to guide them in finding a reputable school in which to work. Solid, honest, well-paying overseas schools don’t have problems recruiting staff because their reputations precede them and experienced teachers are eager to work for them. The new for-profit schools and the for-profit agencies that promote them at hiring fairs are the ones experiencing a ‘shortage.’

Renumeration is a factor … BUT … I think it is less than half the story. The number of International Schools who treat their staff appallingly is also a factor … and, probably more importantly, the number of people willing to take the risk of working overseas is, I think, probably falling.

The attraction of working overseas is dimming rapidly because of the reduced benefits being offered:local taxes are not being paid by schools, salaries are no longer sufficient to make the very long hours necessary for quality teaching programs attractive and yes, some administrators are using exotic locations as sufficient incentive despite lower salaries being offered, for example in Bali.

International teacher shortage? I don’t think so. Is there a shortage of excellent schools with attractive salary and benefits packages? Yes, definitely. Quite a few of my ‘home country’ colleagues have asked me about how to get into international teaching. When they start to peruse the packages available on sites like Search and CIS (after they’ve paid to access this info) their faces drop in disbelief. They haven’t seen salaries like this in over 10-15 years. They incredulously ask: “Why on earth would you give up state tax and social security benefits, long service leave, pension plan and cheap access to comprehensive dental and health cover, to head OS on 1/2 to 2/3’s of your salary?” Hhhmmmmmm …. I’m asking myself this question more and more.

There was a time when the opportunity to work in countries and cultures other than my own was compensation enough for less money, loss of home country benefits and disconnection with family and friends. But not any more. While salaries and benefits just keep climbing up the scale at home, they remain stagnant on the international scene. The first international school in which I taught is offering the exact same starting salary today they did 10 years ago. I suppose they should be commended for not actually reducing their salary, as many schools have over the last 10 years.

Interestingly, there are a few comments on this site about how Aussie and Kiwi teachers are accepting less attractive international salaries these days and in doing so, are cutting into the US and Canadian share of acceptable jobs. I’m not sure what an average North American teacher’s salary might be at present but let me shed some light on Aussie salaries: top scale classroom teachers are now on approx $75000 gross pa with about 25-30% tax, 10% of which is returned to you through government pension plan, and a further % in tax rebates according to your individual situation. The Aussie dollar has almost achieved parity with the US dollar and is fluctuating between .93 and .97 cents. My Kiwi friend tells me a similar story is happening in NZ. How does this compare with international salaries or US ‘state side’ salaries? Perhaps the reason there is a perceived shortage of international teachers, is that not only are North Americans being enticed home with better salaries, but ! so too are the Antipodeans. Another person on this site sums up the so-called teacher shortage with this very apt statement: What the industry is actually lamenting is the shortage of workers that they can exploit at a lower wage than their education [and experience] should dictate.

I’ve been working for the last couple of years as an education administrator (in AUS). Recently I considered taking an international teaching position in S.E Asia, but was shocked to realize that, on average, I’d have to take a $20-25,000 pay cut to make the move. Even taking the cheaper cost of living into account, it’s most likely I’d be far worse off. Underpaid, undervalued and overworked teachers in a large proportion of western countries are ‘voting with their feet’ and sadly leaving the profession, contributing to an ageing teacher workforce and the teacher shortages experienced by many of those countries. This is merely being reflected, with amplification, at the international level.

I am forced to agree with many of the opinions outlined in the opinions taken from your forum in last weeks article. In Dubai, the schools are under the impression that teachers will want to sign up in droves simply because it is, well, Dubai. What they don’t tell you is that the inflation rate is double digit; no one knows for certain because the government won’t release official figures. We had a ONE PERCENT salary rise last year. I am, in effect, losing money by staying in Dubai, so I did the sensible thing and left. Fortunately I am going to a school in Asia that is paid in a local currency (which is quite strong) and whose head has told the board in unequivocal terms that if they want the best teachers in the world, they will have to pay for them. 

Schools who want to turn a quick buck will certainly find their reputations suffering and will attract few quality teachers. In the age of the internet, a bad school cannot keep its skeletons in the closet for very long.

I’ve been working in international education for 13 years (and teaching for 16 in total). In that time I have seen a reduction in my earning potential each year, even as I move into more responsible posts.

In my last post I found myself in the dishonorable position of breaking contract, for several reasons: the school had lied about the cost of living in the country, the parents who were very wealthy and wanted to live in this particular country for the ‘high quality of life’ were reluctant to pay school fees as many of them hailed from countries where education was provided and could not understand what the costs were. Because of the low salaries paid, the school cycled through young inexperienced teachers who lived in poor conditions and often did not complete contracts, leaving a staffing shortage which added to the load of other teachers (With no added compensation) As a 40-year old Head of Primary, I struggled to find an accommodation where I could live without sharing. The board of directors refused to understand that it would be difficult for me to share with one of the teachers (and honestly there comes a point in your life…)

What is expected now by some international schools is more than ridiculous. Experienced teachers struggle to receive their dues and realize that their future financial health is at risk as they are outside any regulated pension plan. I don’t expect to be socializing with the parents from the school I work at, but I don’t expect to be treated as a member of the servant class, either. In private schools parents often think they own you as they are paying fees, but have no concept of teachers’ living conditions or actual experiences. All in all, sadly to echo the comments of many in the postings to the ISR forum, the days of working overseas and advancing both professionally and financially (which despite some comments – is not a crime) seem to be on hold, apart from a few remarkable schools. As an administrator I understand that it is hard for schools to ‘balance the books’, but as far as I and many of my experienced peers are concerned, teachers are happy to work for the benefit of their students, but not to live in penury only to subsidize the lifestyle of rich expatriates and local parents. So, for those schools who are so reluctant to put fees up to increase salaries, think of this – IF people do want a good quality education for their children it should be them sacrificing for it, not us!

International Schools are ignoring an extremely valuable, experienced, affordable resource, viz., healthy older teachers, especially those of us with the ability to retire from our present school systems. We are definitely not “too burnt out to bother” to offer quality service and we have a lot more to offer than inexperienced teachers. Offer us an interview and an opportunity. Our generation has a solid “work ethic”. 

I agree that low salaries, even with housing benefits, are a huge problem. At 18 years of experience and a Masters Degree, my US public school salary was $64,000 plus health and retirement benefits. I just spent 2 years at a QSI school that paid me only $27,000 plus housing and insurance. Now I’m at an international school sponsored by the in-country oil companies. Still, that pays only $38,000 plus housing and insurance. So, of course, well qualified experienced American teachers don’t want to take a 30-50% pay cut to teach overseas. Most Americans don’t even consider it safe to live overseas, so why risk it for such a huge pay cut? Teachers provide a very important service to overseas families/companies but are paid as “missionaries” instead of professionals.

The international arena is growing more dangerous in general and since the teaching profession is still dominated by women, there is a greater tendency towards intimidation and abuse, especially in societies that have little regard for the status of women. I don’t think that many of these issues would be surfacing if this were a male dominated profession. Everyone knows it is far easier to threaten, abuse and intimidate women than men, anywhere in the world.

International schools are paying teachers a mere penitence and demanding that they work like dogs or slaves. The school I am at now is in a crime ridden city with insane inflation rates with food and gas both rising well over 20% since arrival here less than a year ago. How does the school respond to this? By taking away the overseas living allowance. International schools are a pathetic excuse for educational institutions. Most have horrendous reputation that have been gained by treating their staff, time and time again, with a lack of respect and care for their needs. None of the international schools I have ever worked at valued their teachers. There is a teacher shortage because teachers have gotten smarter and schools are still treating teachers like crap…….. I hope these international schools suffer and these sleazy directors go down with them. The illegal things that are done by these schools and directors is just nauseating. I also truly hope more teachers sue them as a school, and as an individual they deserve it. Not giving public holidays, changing contracts mid contract, taking away benefits that were promised and the list goes on. I suggest all international teachers who have been screwed, mislead and abused by these jerks sue them for everything they are worth, you will win, teachers always do.

I can make over $60 000 at home, live near my family and friends and get a pretty decent education for my children. In my current location (Mongolia) I make less than $30,000, live in an apartment that resembles a ghetto with poor heating in the winter (our apartment temperature was 12 degrees this winter) in a polluted city working for a school and board who don’t really care about the teachers. The cost of basic food staples has doubled and in some cases tripled in less than 6 months. I know that I am not alone in these sentiments. My question is why bother? I came overseas for the sense of community and to save money – if neither is the case and my family and I are not happy, it doesn’t make sense to stay. If international schools want to attract and retain good teachers, they must treat them like valued, respected professionals which includes the working environment as well as the living conditions. Anything less will get nothing more than inexperienced and ineffective teachers; the ones who cannot make it at home. When parents, the ones who are paying exorbitant tuition fees start to catch on to what is going on, there are going to be a lot of schools in serious trouble.

My husband and I were at the NY job fair also. It turned out to be a VERY expensive venture. Before we got there we knew what jobs were available and had read all the available reviews for the schools involved.

The job fair turned out to be a total waste of time, money and energy for us because the job opportunities that suited us came from the schools that had questionable records. We declined 2 positions because of what we had read about the administration, which was later confirmed during the interview.

We did notice that the rookie teachers were being snapped up. The more experienced international teachers seemed to be very depressed about the quality of the schools and the administrators. I guess I would have to agree that there are plenty of teachers out there – but who willingly wants to be treated badly?

ISR does a great job of providing information to the International teacher and as a result a lot are looking twice instead of jumping on the plane. Maybe the administrators will eventually figure this out and then act to do a better job! I also wonder if some schools are staying out of the job fairs because they realize they are now dealing with applicants who may know a fair bit about their school already. As for my husband and me, our ISS file is inactive for a year. I can’t see us ever doing this again unless a LOT changes.

I have been in the international circuit for close to 10 years in various locations around the world. When this present assignment in Asia is completed, I will be looking for a job back home, hopefully.

One can save if they are wise/frugal, don’t do much except around their own group of friends and take on a lot of tutoring jobs (if available). Yes, most schools provide housing and some even give you transportation to school. Well, they should if you are far enough away that a car is needed! With inflation rising, what was once a salary where you could save a reasonable amount, has dwindled to the scrimp and save zone that basically pushed me to work overseas in the first place.

When housing is provided, it comes in different forms (most often not quite what you were promised) from apts in varying levels of structural soundness, villas in compounds, and small houses. In a lot of cases I have seen teachers forced to share housing when they were not told this upon signing contracts. Administrators say it is for one of three reasons: the cost of providing housing is high, so the teacher can have someone to talk to and not feel alone in a new location, that is the way we do it..

Each year we request/order enough new texts and other materials only to have someone cut the order. We are not such thick headed people as to believe in stories of texts being out of print or the order cut by head office. No, we are dealing with the same problems overseas as we did back home. At least back home we could get materials easier or find out why orders are cancelled.

The real teacher shortage could be partially alleviated by what one writer calls ‘double dippers’. The writer referred to retirees who seek overseas jobs to supplement their retirement income. Show me where teachers can retire comfortably after 20-30 years giving heart and soul to a profession. If these teachers offer their years of expertise and a work ethic frequently unmatched by many younger teachers, international schools should compensate them by providing a pay scale that values experience. Retirees are “too burnt out to bother”–the writer says. Not as much as all those 3rd year teachers who gave up, or the teachers who go overseas to join the ranks of the highly unprofessional teachers I have met who never engage in professional development without complaining — and even then only if forced to — and those who feel put upon to attend or offer extracurricular activities and who ‘never take work home’! If schools want to benefit from professional teachers with good recommendations and years of investment in becoming and remaining on top of the field, schools will definitely benefit. I say fill the ranks, recruit from retiree pools!

International teachers are ALWAYS the poorest of all expats and that is true whether you’re living in India, China or the Middle East. The differences in lifestyles between the “average” non-teacher expat and the “average” teacher expat are huge. For example: driver and car at your own disposal versus haggling every day with rickshaw drivers; living in air conditioned houses with gardens versus surviving in hot, noisy apartments; eating and holidaying in the fancy 5-star hotels/restaurants versus risking contracting Hep B in some dodgy flea-pit/greasy spoon cafe, etc. etc. The biggest kicker of them all is the fact that the children of non-teaching expats receive an education that is free (paid for by parents’ employers, as part of their package). Conversely, teachers have to make some (albeit, subsidized) payments for their own children to receive an education, even when, as in our case, both parents are teaching at the school!! What schools don’t seem to realize is that when families are considering moving from their home countries, one of the first questions they ask is about the standard of education their children will receive. The answers they receive to these questions plays a big part in determining their final decision on whether to accept the placement or not. So the quality of the int’l schools is important and therefore, quality teachers should be treated well and receive packages similar to those received by other expats. The entire flow of expert knowledge around the world (in an increasingly smaller world) depends, to a large extent, on the success of the int’l schools – this should be evident in the benefits packages offered to teachers. Such practices will soon end the so-called “teacher shortage.”

JIS has been mentioned a couple of times as having no problem getting teachers. This is not true and they have not yet hired all of the teachers that they need for next school year. “Things—-they are a changin’ there”!! A quite large number (relative to the normal turn over) of teachers are leaving JIS this year…..that “perfect”, pie-in-the-sky school that everyone mentions is simply NOT. Benefits are good but not outstanding and they are simply unable to attract the caliber of teachers that they used to attract. The working conditions, especially in one of the elementary schools (there are two) have deteriorated significantly this school year. I believe several schools suffer from this….benefits and salaries need to be raised to continue to attract good, motivated teachers that are not just “paid tourists”. When working conditions fall because a school is trying to rest on its long standing laurels….it is not good.

I’ve said it before on this site and I’ll say it again. It is a game and it’s business. Schools take care of business and look after themselves and so should candidates. One needs to play the game well in order to look after one’s self. Not a game against schools or anyone. But a game for oneself. Research your next adventure well. If it doesn’t work for you, don’t do it. Let’s not mess about here. Just because a school is “non-profit” does not mean they don’t make one. Anyone who has been international knows this so just stop complaining about it. And the notion of “non profit” schools being better resourced can sometimes be a bit of a myth too as all depends on the financial and purchasing management (or miss management) of a school. 

Now, we can’t see any posts from recruitment agencies complaining about schools can we? And why is that? Because it’s business. No fair is going to pass up a school if it is willing to pay. The same goes for candidates. We are not going to take a school off our list if we know it pays. And by that I mean package. I am currently considering going back to my home country. Why? Because I don’t want to live off the skin of my backside eating nothing but potato skin and gristle with 80% of my salary going in rent just to say I have “worked” in Tuscany. Why? I don’t want to live in a southern Chinese “shack” where the rent will go up USD5000 per month because of the Olympics…… Do what works best for you.

I went to the job fair this year in Bangkok with high expectations for the type of job I would take and the school in which I would teach. Currently I am teaching at a for-profit school in an area with lots of competition, so the situation is acceptable due to competition and my school’s owner trying to stay relevant. When I went to the fair, I had a list of ten schools I had contacted ahead of time and with whom I was ready to talk. Many of the schools at the fair seemed to be brand-new schools in China, many that seemed to have no or questionable reputations. With my experience, I wasn’t ready to experiment on a no-name school. The fair seemed to be organized much like many other writers have suggested: two tiers, one high and one low. The competition amongst teachers in the upper tier seemed fierce, and indeed, 8 of the 10 schools with whom I had communicated had already filled their positions prior to the job fair, so all the hard work ahead of time was for naught.

Opportunities were plentiful in schools I had never heard of, but rather than risk it with a no name school and a reduced benefit package, rather than leave for the sake of leaving, I renewed my contract at my current school. Five other teachers from my school did the exact same thing. If the fairs continue to accept schools of dubious reputation–and they will–expect more teachers to stay comfortable at their current schools, or to go home to their families.

As a “double dipper”, I find your comments quite offensive. I would love to have well behaved students, as is reported in overseas teaching, so that I could truly teach. What we are burned out about, is not teaching, but the behavior management that so often becomes more of the focus in classroom, than teaching. I love teaching, and seeing the light bulb go on. I am not burned out, I would love to truly teach.
Kathryn Sandoval