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From Ireland to Saudi Arabia to China – teaching around the world

Wynn Oliver is from Castleblayney, Ireland. He taught in St Andrew’s College, Dublin before taking a career break to teach in Saudi Arabia. He shares his experience and tells what happened next:

“In 1998 I went on sabbatical for two years to Saudi Arabia. At the time, I had a Headteacher in my school (St Andrew’s College in Dublin) who was very supportive of CPD for teachers, so I went with his blessing. In Saudi Arabia, I introduced and taught Business Studies and Accounting in a local school with an international wing.

After working in Saudi Arabia for two years I returned to St. Andrew’s College and a few years later I got a job as a Headteacher in Sligo. My experience of teaching internationally definitely helped me get that job, particularly having the experience of working with the students in Saudi Arabia.

In 2013, after nine years in Sligo, I went to China as Headmaster of an international programme in a local Chinese school. China is a fantastic place to live and work.  I used the opportunity of living there to travel to many parts of the world that I’d otherwise not easily visit including Vietnam, Thailand and Hong Kong.

Irish teaching skills

A levels are the most common examinations offered in international schools but the Irish certificate and A levels are fairly similar. I taught IGCSE and A level in the schools in Saudi Arabia and China. It was no problem whatsoever transitioning from the Irish curriculum. The curriculum content was very similar and there were huge parallels in the subject specifications. Irish teachers have nothing to worry about when it comes to workload and teaching ability within the international school environment.

As for pedagogy, Saudi Arabia was easy for me as Irish pedagogy is very similar. In China it was very different as the national schools in China teach by rote. But I was very happy teaching in both places.

I was the Headmaster of two schools in China; I alternated between the two. In the one school we had seven international staff and six of them were Irish! Irish teachers are considered amongst the best teachers in the world; they are in an elite group. This is because of their subject knowledge and teaching methodologies and, for many years, Ireland was high up in the OECD rankings. So, as an Irish teacher, you are not limited in your school choice; you could teach anywhere. Our ethnicity has no bearing except for being a positive one.

In Saudi Arabia, the expat teachers were mostly South African and Australian, more so than British and Irish teachers. It’s harder to find Irish Headteachers but I did meet some. However, there are a lot more Irish Headteachers in the UAE. But, whether you’re a teacher or senior leader, don’t be influenced by the nationalities of the teachers within the school; if you’re a qualified Irish teacher, you can teach anywhere. What’s more important to take into consideration is the type of school and the location.

International life

What was most different in Saudi Arabia was the lifestyle. It was a lot more restrictive. Outside of your living quarters there is zero social life unless you want to go shopping all the time. There are no cinemas, no night life, no clubs. In China, you did have the language barrier but you also had a good social life. It’s much easier to bypass the language differences than the lifestyle differences, but I still enjoyed my time in Saudi Arabia.

In China I was working in Changzhou, a relatively small city (6 million inhabitants!). It has all the trappings of Shanghai and was only 45 mins from Shanghai on the high speed train. The infrastructure in China was fabulous – you can go anywhere by rail or plane.

When you are considering teaching internationally, it is important to consider the social expectations, demographics and infrastructure of the country you’re moving to.

Advice for Irish teachers considering international opportunities

If you are a qualified teacher from Ireland with experience, particularly if you are a qualified teacher of Chemistry or Physics, there are a huge number of opportunities and the top international schools want your skills and are open to negotiation on salary.

For teachers considering international opportunities I would share the following advice:

  • If you’re a certified teacher, be careful not to get good international school jobs confused with ‘backpacker’ jobs such as TEFL. These jobs (such as TEFL – teaching English as a foreign language) offer salaries a third or less of what you could be earning at an international school if you are a qualified teacher, so be careful.
  • It is also extremely important to have someone who is protecting your interests; a good, reputable recruitment agent or agency. They need to be supportive and professional and look after YOUR interests.
  • Be aware of visa fees and transfer costs. If they are not part of your employment package, I would rethink your offer or look for other international school jobs; the benefits that you are offered is a good way of judging a good school.
  • In China, the school I was working with was a profit-making organisation. In Saudi Arabia the school was non-profit. This can affect some things like the salary and resources within the school.
  • Research the area that you’re going to be moving to. Find the expat group on Facebook (most cities now have some sort of expat group on Facebook). That will give you a very good sense of the life in the area. ”

International teaching – the facts

Wynn Oliver is one of over 390,000 teachers employed in international schools around the world. The majority are skilled teachers from countries valued for their teacher training such as New Zealand, Ireland, UK and Canada.

“Almost half of the international schools in existence today offer a British education, with all lessons delivered in English, and qualified teachers from the UK and Ireland are particularly sought after,” says Andrew Wigford, Managing Director of Teachers International Consultancy, which specialises in recruiting teachers and leaders for international schools. “Most schools, particularly those that are accredited, have a very high reputation for their learning and teaching and some lead the world in pedagogy, education technology or enquiry-based learning. Working in an international school can offer significant kudos to your cv,” he says.

Article submitted by:

Teachers International Consultancy

www.ticrecruitment.com