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Why good teachers can often miss out

Diane Jacoutot, who recruits Teflers for international schools, looks at a variety of factors that can trip teachers up in their search for a job

Normally the kinds of schools we recruit for at the moment require teacher qualifications such as a bachelors of education rather than just a Tefl certificate. This is a function of the kind of licensing that these schools have – there’s a difference between schools that provide a substitute for compulsory education (eg all subjects using the national curriculum) and schools that teach English as a foreign language only. That being said, most international schools are dominated by host nationals, so they are full of English language learners.

One issue that can affect EFL teachers in some countries is the subject of their first or higher degree. Ministries of education have at times required English teachers to have an English or applied linguistics degree. While this makes some sense if you are hiring someone for whom English is not their first language, as it verifies that the candidate has a proven and verifiable proficiency in the English language, for someone who is from an English-speaking country any degree taught in English, whether it’s science or history, requires proficiency. But many ministries require this for certain levels and jobs so it can be a blocker.

Age and experience aren’t a match

Many EFL teachers aren’t aware that countries such as Egypt, Indonesia, Oman, Abu Dhabi and China require two to five years’ teaching experience. On the other hand, many countries in the Middle East and Asia have a maximum age, usually sixty, after which it is practically impossible to get a standard work visa.

Teachers are currently in high demand in many countries. For example, international schools in the UAE grew by 60 per cent between 2010 and 2014, with no signs of slowing down. As a result, many teachers believe that getting the job they are seeking will be a piece of cake. However, the issue is that most international schools require Western-trained teachers with very specific qualifications.

Inconsistent experience

Increasingly, international schools are seeking teachers who not only have a good track record but also good references. That means teachers who ended previous contracts under negative circumstances may find new schools uninterested in hiring them.

Lack of experience with international curricula

Around 40 per cent of all international schools use a variant of the UK curriculum. A quarter use the US curriculum and about a fifth use the International Baccalaureate. Teachers who don’t have experience with a given curriculum can get locked out of jobs.

Strong Accents

Some 80 per cent of all international schools cater mainly for host nationals and children for whom English is not the first language. These schools want their expatriate teachers, who cost them much time and money to select, hire and sponsor, to be able to model the English language appropriately and be clearly understood by their pupils. Strong accents can be a problem, especially when the school is hiring you to teach English. Most students aspire to speak English in a way that is broadly accepted and easily understood, and often this means English without a strong regional accent of any kind.

We have had cases where teachers from England with a strong northern accent and teachers from the US with strong southern accents have lost out to job applicants with more neutral accents. That being said, the strong equal-opportunities and anti-discrimination laws we have in the West do not apply internationally, so prejudices can influence a school’s decision with no legal recourse.  

Lack of Focus

Some teachers fail to secure international teaching jobs because they appear to be flitting between subjects and levels or simply don’t know much about the country or culture where they are seeking to teach.

International schools take a big risk when they hire you. It costs them money to sponsor your visa, fly you out, train you and support you. So it should come as no surprise that they want to minimise their risk, and will want to know that you have thought long and hard about your decision to become a teacher, that you love your subject, and that you have really researched teaching abroad.

While there are clearly ample obstacles facing teachers looking for jobs, there are strategies and techniques that can enable most qualified teachers to get the jobs they are seeking. The Edvectus Learning Portal features 500 carefully selected articles, utilities, websites and documents enabling teachers to research what it is like to teach in a different country and offering valuable advice. The Edvectus team focuses on personally matching teachers with the most suitable international school and is committed to never charging teachers any fees for this service.

Diane Jacoutot is managing director of Edvectus international teaching recruitment agency with offices in London, the UAE, North America, Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong. See www.edvectus.com