You know the saying "six degrees of separation"? That we are all linked to one another by no more than five or six links? Well, that chain is much smaller in the international teaching world.
Everybody knows somebody who has worked with somebody at the same school or in the same city.
It’s recruitment season, so I fully expect, over the next few month, my LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter DMs to contain… "Hi Jules, just wondering if you know so-and-so or do you know anybody that works at…..?"
And we certainly do engage in these conversations by supporting each other’s applications, giving candid advice or even popping our head around the door of the headteacher to recommend someone.
International schools: Connections and insights
Take my first international job. I had been scrolling through my drama teacher friend Steve’s Facebook feed, jealousy rising with every photo posted.
When I called Steve, who I have known since 2004 when we were early career teachers in a south-east London comprehensive school, his stock repost on such matters was (and remains): “Well, why don’t you just apply and go for it, too?”
About a year later, he began sending me adverts for various posts and, alongside one head of English role, there was a note to say he knew the headteacher there, they were in an am-dram group and he could put in a good word.
I submitted the application and was interviewed as normal and I was lucky enough to get the job. Of course, my experience got me the role, but it certainly didn’t hurt having the connection with someone at the school.
Teachers moving on, and up, in the world
The same is true of my first leadership post. Lauren was one of my 14-strong tutor team in London, where I was head of year of a cohort of 367. She, too, had moved abroad the same year as Steve to the same international school in Bangkok.
She later moved on to a new school in the same city and when the assistant head position came up at her new school, she put my CV under the nose of the executive head with a personal recommendation. I was interviewed and got the job.
Lauren is the perfect example of six degrees of separation. She and her husband work in Jakarta and two of my colleagues from Bahrain work there now, too, and they are all friends!
Support with settling in
These connections not only help when looking for jobs yourself, but also when newly appointed teachers are coming to your school, as they will have a support group on arrival – to help with settling into their new life.
School do much to help with this, of course, but having a trusted contact or a friend of a friend can be even better to help them feel that bit more settled.
After all, overseas schools invest a lot in bringing teachers over, and they have no real way of knowing whether the person they hired will be homesick and gone by Christmas.
So it is always good to have those personal recommendations from in-country or in-school teachers because there are already connections there.
And as these connections grow, you have more opportunities to make contact with new people who know someone you know. For example, in 2018 I was tagged in a few posts on Facebook – “Jules works there.”
I then had the privilege of an online meeting with an incoming family who were the friends of ex-colleagues at a school I had worked at in Bangkok. This is always lovely because, again, that familiarity brings a sense of family and community to a school.
Having things in common is often the first step of friendships. Just last week, I met with a former colleague from Bangkok who had been working down the road in Bahrain for the past year, and it was great to gasbag about our lives since leaving Bangkok in 2016.
Once your foot is on the ladder in international teaching, you will never be more than a few links away from someone who knows someone who knows someone who worked with someone that you know.
So as the famous saying goes: “Be kind to everyone on the way up; you’ll meet the same people on the way down,“ or rather, in our teaching world: “Be kind to your international colleagues on your way around the world, because you’ll probably meet them again.”
Julia Knight is vice-principal at Eton House School in Bahrain. She has been teaching internationally for eight years