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Consider the Possibilities

The world is their classroom

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Consider the Possibilities

The world is their classroom

by Alan Travers

Canadian teachers have an excellent reputation around the world. They are noted for their positive and flexible attitudes, for their preparation and versatility. Many have enriched their personal and professional lives through international teaching experiences while making valuable contributions to greater understanding in a divided world.

Many wonderful overseas opportunities are available to certified teachers. The range is broader than you might think and often the best experiences take place in unexpected locations.

To find an appropriate situation it is important to know your own motivation and needs. It's not just a matter of finding a job; it has to be the right fit. There is also the likelihood that you will be asked in an interview: "Why do you want to leave Canada and teach at our school in Buenos Aires / Singapore / Nairobi / Munich .?"

How would you answer that question?

Why go overseas?

Teachers go overseas for personal and professional growth.

Personally, the challenge is to let go of familiar structures and supports and adapt to another culture, language, climate, diet and routine. Adjustment and adaptation are significant issues. Good schools will provide appropriate support for imported teachers. But, for the adjustment to be effective, teachers must be flexible, tolerant, self-reliant and have a sense of humour. Assuming that one can make the adjustment, there are rich experiences available - making new friends, learning a language, travelling and exploring different cultures. One of the unexpected benefits of living abroad is a new perspective on, and appreciation for, Canada.

Taylor's College, an Ontario Curriculum School in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Professionally, the educational environment also requires some give and take. Classes are often small and in some situations the students are highly motivated. Many teachers enjoy the stimulation and skill enhancement that comes from working with teachers who have different perspectives, values and backgrounds. There is also exposure to different curricula. The students in a particular school may be mostly local, providing access to the host country's language and culture, or they may be from dozens of nationalities, offering the appeal and inherent interest of diversity.

Students in Ontario schools also benefit as teachers returning from overseas experiences bring new insights into their home classrooms.

A warning though - the adventure and stimulation in all of this can be addictive! There are many teachers who make careers as overseas educators.

Why not?

There are poor motivations in addition to the healthy ones described above.

Be wary if you are seeking escape from personal or professional problems or from job-search difficulties, or if you want to make a lot of money as quickly as possible. An overly romantic view of a location and an inflated view of one's wisdom and superior learning are also danger signs.

“The support available to me as a first-year teacher has been incredible. I absolutely love my kids; they are so keen and extremely chatty.”

Alison Macewan, Monterrey, Mexico

The overriding objective is to have the right people go to the right places for the right reasons.


When is the best time to go? It all depends on personal and professional circumstances. There are opportunities for first-year teachers, for those in mid-career and for retirees. The best time to go is when it's right for you.

What's out there and how to apply

International teaching opportunities are extraordinarily diverse with respect to potential locations and kinds of schools. Certain categories can help to focus your research.

International schools

International schools are located all over the world - primarily in non-English-speaking countries. They are independent schools, established to provide an education, in English, to children of host-country nationals and/or the international community. The curriculum is usually American, British, Canadian or International Baccalaureate - often with some modifications to satisfy host-country requirements. Typically these schools have a blend of host-country teachers and imported teachers -Canada, the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand being the main sources of the latter. School sizes vary from 30 students to 3,000 and the facilities and resources range from modest to state of the art. With some exceptions, students are academically able and university bound.

American School Foundation of Monterrey (ASFM) in Mexico

International schools may be elementary or secondary but most are K-12 and the staffing needs reflect this. There are positions for early childhood, elementary, middle school and high school teachers, covering the full range of core subjects. In addition, specialists such as librarians and counsellors are needed, as well as administrators and teachers of physical education, art, music and ESL.

There are online and hard-copy directories of schools (Council of International Schools, International Schools Services) that facilitate targeted applications to specific schools. Web sites such as carry advertisements. It is also possible to register with placement services offered by several organizations and agencies. However, as with any school in Ontario, it is unlikely that you will be hired without a personal interview.

Recruiting fairs

Fairs provide a venue for face-to-face interviews and access to a wide range of schools. At Queen's University, for example, the annual Teachers' Overseas Recruiting Fair typically has 80 or more recruiters from international schools around the world with 500 to 600 positions available. Fairs require pre-registration and are for certified teachers who are serious about teaching internationally. Most contracts are for two years and many though not all schools prefer a minimum of two years of teaching experience.

Interview sign-ups at Queen's University Teachers' Overseas Recruiting Fair (TORF)

Public school systems

Public schools in the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand hire foreign teachers, where needs warrant. As in Canada, qualified citizens must be considered first but there are shortages in some subject areas and some regions. Many agencies operating in these countries advertise employment opportunities in professional magazines, including Professionally Speaking.

In the US there are widespread shortages of math, science and Special Education teachers but most other qualifications are less in demand. To teach in the US there are three issues to take into account: certification (by state), the job search (usually through school district offices) and the visa/work permit. For Canadian teachers, the visa is the main hurdle. Having an employer apply on your behalf works best.

“I teach at an international school in Abu Dhabi. I have a great class of Grade 6 boys. My day goes by quickly as these boys are constantly eager for more.”

Carol Labatte, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

The UK has several teacher-recruitment agencies that facilitate placements in the UK and usually no fees are charged to teachers. In addition to working through one or more of the agencies, other strategies include watching for ads in the London Times Educational Supplement and applying directly to the Local Education Authorities (LEAs). Teachers who are under 30 have the option of applying for a holiday/working visa, good for one year. The Office for Standards in Education inspects schools and the results are posted online, providing information about the character and quality of specific schools.

Australia and New Zealand have a different school calendar, with four terms beginning about February 1. More hiring takes place for term one, but it is possible to secure a position for term three (July) or four (September). All teaching vacancies in New Zealand appear online in the Education Gazette. Australia offers a one-year holiday/working visa for younger teachers for a maximum of three months (one school term) with any single employer. For teachers not using the holiday/working visa, qualified host-country teachers must be considered before an employer can consider Canadians.


Teaching English as a Second Language provides overseas teaching opportunities because of the enormous demand around the world to learn English. ESL programs are offered in varied settings, including commercial language schools, colleges and universities, individual schools and school districts, through government programs (such as JET in Japan) and with development organizations. The qualifications required to teach in these programs can range from having a university education to being a certified teacher to having a graduate degree in TESL. For the benefit of the ESL students and to increase one's marketability, it's best to have some formal training in the teaching of ESL. Many language schools do not require prior teaching experience but those offering higher paying positions do.

Malaysia - postings in Kuala Lumpur offer many great travel opportunities

For those with a preference for teaching ESL, the opportunities are plentiful. A more difficult issue may be determining the quality of the organization offering a position. There are thousands of language schools, for example, and there is no central accreditation agency. It would be wise to ask lots of questions and, where possible, speak with teachers who have worked for the organization. In other words, check references and exercise some caution. Job search strategies include checking newspapers and web advertising, applying in person while traveling and registering with agencies. Contracts may be offered by e-mail or phone but the best situations usually require a personal interview.

International development

International development provides a venue for teachers wishing to be of service at the grassroots level in a developing country. There are always exceptions but teachers working for Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are often paid a local (modest by Canadian standards) wage. NGOs do offer the advantages of orientation programs before departure and on arrival, plus an ongoing support system while on site. NGOs can be secular organizations or have a religious orientation.

“Greetings from sunny Malaysia! The experience so far has been absolutely outstanding. Perhaps the greatest benefit to this working environment is the students.”

Aimmie Halchuk and Nathan Kellar, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

It is not possible to generalize about teaching opportunities through NGOs. With each organization it will be necessary to research several issues. These include the kinds of positions available, the countries involved, the approach to development, length of contract, application procedures and deadlines, selection criteria, salary and benefits. To begin this research, start with Who's Who in International Development, published by the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, and The Big Guide to Living and Working Overseas, published by Intercultural Systems.

Mexico - fringe benefits abound in many locations

Project Overseas, sponsored by the Canadian Teachers' Federation, could also be considered in this category and it does allow for a short-term commitment. The project's goals are to assist teachers and teachers' organizations in developing countries and to promote understanding among teachers.


Teacher exchanges provide Canadians with the opportunity to teach overseas by trading jobs (and accommodations) with teachers in one of several European countries, the US, Australia or New Zealand. Canadians retain their employment, seniority and salary with their home school district. To be eligible for an exchange a teacher must have a minimum of five years experience and be recommended by the home school district. Exchanges require a one-year commitment, which is attractive to some, and may offer more options with respect to taking families overseas. The place to start is the Canadian Education Exchange Foundation at

A comprehensive set of links regarding all of the above categories can be found under the heading International Links at

Frequent Questions

Do I need to know another language?

For the situations described in this article, the answer is no. English is the medium of instruction. However, the local language is an obvious asset, both personally and professionally.

What about housing?

The situation varies. International schools often provide free, furnished accommodation as part of the overall benefit package. You may have a housing allowance and assistance from the school in finding a suitable place. With exchanges, you simply occupy the home of the other teacher. In English-speaking countries you may be on your own, as you would be in Canada.

How do I compare the salary and benefit package to my current situation?

The short answer is by not focusing on the gross salary figure. Given all the variables - currencies, exchange rates, costs of living, rates of taxation and benefits, among others - the gross salary figure is not a useful ground for comparison. The question to ask is how much can be saved, rather than how much will you earn. Use your current annual savings (rather than salary) as a benchmark. That figure can be matched in many different ways overseas. For example, with a salary of US$25,000 in some countries, your savings may exceed those possible on a $60,000 salary in Canada because of no or low income tax, free housing, other benefits and a lower cost of living.

How can I check out safety and security concerns?

You will need to gather as much information as possible about a specific location and assess your own tolerance for risk. What's comfortable for one person may be off limits to another. Having an open mind about new international locations is a greater challenge than most people realize.

There are many web sites - both private and official - that provide basic information. The Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade is one. Rather than depend on impressions garnered from various media outlets - the CNN effect - ask teachers currently on site.