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The Ugly Side of Teaching Abroad: Removing Roadblocks to Teaching Internationally

The current political climate impact American teachers teaching abroad!

Each year thousands of American teachers are recruited to teach abroad however recruitment interviews fail to adequately assess a teacher's true qualifications. Recruitment interviews inquire about a teacher's content knowledge, years’ experience and overall teaching ability and do little to inquire about a candidate’s ability to withstand the isolation, discrimination and bias that may be associated with the position. Interviews rarely include questions about the teacher’s experience with racism, gender bias or overall ignorance yet these factors are as significant as teaching ability when attempting to determine a teacher’s suitability to teach abroad.

Interviews for teaching positions abroad should include the following questions:

  • How do you handle isolation in a work environment?

  • Describe the strategies you might use to learn the culture.

  • Describe your feelings about changing your physical appearance to be successful in this position.

  • How do the cultural norms differ from those that you are accustomed to and how will you address these differences?

International teacher candidates must have a strategy to address possible ‘othering,’ overt favoritism and even segregation during their school placement. For example, when compared to local teachers, international teachers may be given a more challenging teaching load, less planning time, and more duty. International teachers may experience less professional freedom in the classroom despite the fact that they were recruited for their expertise. Western teachers, although needed, are not always ‘wanted’ at the local school level. Local school faculty may harbor some resentment toward western teachers because of the current political climate. Political issues and decisions may influence people’s thinking and often those thoughts are directed toward teachers who become unofficial ‘representatives’ of their respective countries. Teachers abroad may be confronted with questions about political policies that impact global relations. In some instances, feelings that individuals have about American politics may be directed toward individual teachers. However, with all of those possible negative scenarios, teaching abroad can be a rewarding experience. The benefits of having a global teaching experience can outweigh the possible negatives when teacher candidates are properly informed.

Three recommendations for having a successful international teaching experience are:

Research extensively, build a support system, plan personal goals/targets. Preparation for teaching abroad should begin with extensive research. Thoroughly research the country and educational system that you are considering. It is important to do your due diligence. Research more than the curriculum and resources used at the local school, investigate additional factors such as the climate, customs and traditions, compensation packages, health coverage, travel compensation and dependent care. As an international teacher you will need to consider how your time will be spent when you are not working. Find out about cultural representation, cuisine, and music to gain a sense of life outside the classroom. Begin to build your support system prior to arrival. Consider connecting with other teachers who are teaching or have taught in the area via social media. Having a group of positive, committed people around you will help you navigate those possible negative scenarios mentioned above. If you do encounter ‘othering’ the network can help you move past difficult moments by focusing on the positive aspects of the experience. Lastly, work your plan! Creating personal goals/targets can help focus and refocus an international experience. Make at least one personal goal such as obtain an additional degree or certification, learn a new language, travel extensively, save money, or write a book. Concentrating on personal goals/targets that extend beyond your international classroom experience will inspire you perhaps giving you the motivation to move through the ugly side of teaching abroad.

Dr. Crystal LaVoulle

LaVoulle Group, International Consultants

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