'Sitting outside a cafe drinking coffees on a Sunday afternoon': The pros and cons of international teaching

If you don’t want teaching to be your life, but prefer it to be your love, get out of Britain, but expect to travel if you want to keep in touch with the profession as a whole

Thomas Rogers

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It emerged last summer that the number of teachers needed in international schools teaching in English or offering an English-medium curriculum will balloon from 402,000 to 800,000 teachers by 2026 – and many of them are expected to come from Britain.

But what are the good and bad sides of taking the leap to teach in sunnier climes? I’ve taught in the UK for nine years and recently made the switch to teach in an international school in Spain.

The upsides

Opportunity for quick career progression

Owing to the high turnover of staff at almost all international schools, demand for those who can step into middle- and senior-leadership roles is always high. Furthermore, as there may be a higher variant in teacher quality, experience and qualifications within the international teaching community, competition for those roles might not be as high as you would think.

Salary (Asia and the Middle East)

In the Middle East and Asia, expect a salary of between 30,000 and 40,000 pounds, tax free. Delivered in the local currency, this will provide a very healthy standard of living. Salaries across Europe might be a different story (see downsides).

Professional autonomy

With little reason other than the welfare and academic progression of students to concern themselves with, headteachers and senior leaders in the international sector have an opportunity to do things their way. In some cases, this can lead to a replication of the high stakes, execessive accountability agenda that currently plagues the UK.

In most schools though, expect distinctly more freedom to teach as you would like. Given more autonomy, teachers don’t stop trying, but they do start prioritising. This means that less meaningful tasks are left behind and the business of teaching is propelled to the epicentre of all happenings.

Work-life balance

Last Sunday afternoon, I was sat with two of my colleagues and enjoyed a drink at a café in Vigo without one thought of work or school crossing my mind. Contrast that with this tweet I saw last weekend, far too common in the UK :

Miss M on Twitter


“I did a bit of work today, hoping tomorrow is better, but city play at home so that's a non-starter"

With a decreased workload, my energy levels in the working week have also risen. This week, I’ve actually done a number of things on weekday evenings!

On Wednesday evening, I did two hours of Spanish language learning in a bar and ate dinner out. On Thursday evening, I met up with a friend for a drink and then went to the Celta Vigo/Madrid match, which was a 9pm kick off.

Compare that to the experience I wrote about here . Ultimately, if you don’t want teaching to be your life, but prefer it to be your love, get out of Britain.

Meet new people

Within my school, there are teachers from England, Scotland, Spain, Canada, the United States and South Africa. Vigo is the quintessential cosmopolitan European city. Its thriving social scene and port status lends it to balmy nights eating tapas and clubbing.

The opportunities for meeting people and socialising are immense. There are so many Vigo-style cities scattered around this incredible European continent we have access to (for now). Take advantage!

Travel opportunities – see the world

I piled all my belongings into my Vauxhall Corsa back in August and drove from Liverpool to Vigo. Since arriving, I have had a few days sunbathing in Portonovo, a couple of days in the medieval city of Santiago and enjoyed several away days to beach towns like Baoina.

Spain is a truly wonderful place and its people are some of the most warm and friendly I have ever come across. If you like to travel and see new things, international teaching is definitely for you.

Generally smaller class sizes

My class sizes here at key stage 3 are between 20 and 25 students. At KS4, class sizes can vary between 10 and 20.

No Ofsted, league tables or governmental interference

Ofsted's 20-year interference in educational life has been well documented. The consensus being that it’s been corrosive, despite some recent more promising developments.

Add that to the Depart ment for Education’s (DFE) constant meddling and you have a recipe for teacher stress, burnout, frustration and departure.

On the international scene, you are free from such demands. No one will tell your school what to do. Private schools are inspected, but these inspections are nothing like the ones experienced regularly by teachers in the UK. There is no “progress measure” or “floor targets”.

The weather

Ah yes, between August 23 and January 18, I report that I experienced only two days of rainfall, a handful of grey sky days. On 20 November, I recorded that I spent a day at the beach in 20 degree heat and blazing sunshine.

If you are like me, and the weather has an impact on your mood, rest assured, practically anywhere (barring maybe Russia or the outer hebridies) will be better than de-icing windshields in Warrington Bank Quay.

Cost of living

Obviously, this is variable, but go to certain parts of Asia or Africa and you really will get a bang for your buck. Even living in Spain is considerably cheaper than in the UK for certain things.

With the exception of clothes, most other things are either on parity or less. For example, the average cost of a bottle of beer in Vigo is 1.80 Euro (1.50 pounds), rents are cheaper – find yourself a flat outside of the city for as little as 300 Euro a month.

Fantastic students who want to learn

If parents are going to pay for their child’s education, you can be almost certain they value it highly. Expect students whose natural disposition is to engage and enthuse, parents who are very supportive.

Also to be noted is the esteem in which teachers are held in many societies outside the UK. This filters down to the attitude of students towards the profession.  

You will still have the typical low-level disruption and the like to deal with (kids are kids), but expect less senseless defiance or downright rudeness. I now have the privilege of spending my days in the collective company of the most joyous and sincere young people I have ever met.

The downsides

Salary (Europe)

Average pay for a private school teacher (with no management role) in Spain is €24,000. Don’t go to Europe if you want a cash cow, go for the lifestyle. If you move for a job in Europe, expect to be paid less than your UK salary.

Losing your teacher pension (and school contributions)

TPS remains one of the most favourable public pension schemes in the UK and beyond, even with notable cuts in recent years.

Options abroad vary from investing savings in fixed bonds, investing in property or taking out a private pension option. None of them will compare favourably with the TPS when you consider that UK schools are still obligated to match employee contributions.

Losing union representation

Unions do exist in Europe, even for private school teachers; however, the level of cover will not be anywhere near as comprehensive as membership of an official UK union. Outside of the EU, unions will be scarcer.

With limited contractual protection, dismissal can’t be easily disputed or negotiated. Nevertheless, you do save yourself money on union membership fees which are hardly cheap these days.

Missing friends and family

If you are a homeboy or girl, forget international teaching. Living in a new country is very different to travelling in one. If you are going to pine for that cuppa with mum every afternoon or the thought of being completely out on your own terrifies you, then you might want to think twice about international teaching.

Learning the language

Depending on where you go, you may need to learn a new language. For some, this might be an enjoyable hobby, for others, a painful slog.

Less local professional development opportunities

Teachmeets and conferences may be few and far between abroad. CPD budgets might well be generous, but expect to travel if you want to keep in touch with the profession as a whole.

Making a difference to those in relative poverty

Again, the vast majority of international schools are private, however, it must be noted that many, including my own, have scholarship programs that allow students to attend school for free.

Nevertheless, if you are looking to save the world, then international teaching is probably not the best place to start. Perhaps slum teaching in Mumbai would be a better option, or why not consider a two year contract with VSO, something I have looked at before.

Brexit uncertainty (EU teachers)

Just a small footnote: it has not yet been confirmed what the residency status of expats will be post-2019. Of course, they currently enjoy comparable health care and other such perks afforded to European Union partners, so stay tuned.

Thomas Rogers is a teacher who runs rogershistory.com and tweets @RogersHistory

For more columns by Tom, view his back catalogue.

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Thomas Rogers

Thomas Rogers is a history teacher

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