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Ever thought about teaching overseas? What i've learned.
I just logged into this site for the first time in forever, and thought it'd be a good idea to share my experience in the international school market, especially in the years since I got my degree in Math from TESU.  If there are any old timers on here they might remember my Math Major Degree Plan from several years ago.  I was hoping this story can give students on this website a sense of what career paths are open to them, or even more so if you're interested in teaching abroad.  

So as I said earlier, I got the degree but it took longer than expected.  I ended up taking two years to complete the TESU requirements for a degree in math back in 2014.  I transferred in about 30 credits from my first year at B&M university.  At that point, I was still teaching ESL to adults in Shanghai; a job I enjoyed but felt stuck in for 6 years, no progress, the demand went up but the supply of teachers went up too; you really have to differentiate yourself over in that world.  I wasn't able to get a job teaching math off the bat; I was realizing good schools wouldn't really be interested in just a degree in math, and I also really didn't know how to teach.  Funny right?  I had been a flash card monkey, as we say in the teaching business.  Nothing wrong with that, but there's no career or fulfillment there, just easy money that goes down over time.  Unless of course you're entrepreneurial and find a way to sell yourself better, but that's not me.

Anyways, in 2015 I got a job by chance recruiting for international schools in China.  It was really fascinating; I learned the ins and outs of the trade, and met tons of math/science teachers.  Because of my background, they had me sourcing and screening math/science teachers.  So, I got a sense for how candidates are ranked, and how schools are tiered.  Let me tell you, there are a lot of things they don't overtly say.  Being licensed, for one thing, is very important and seems impossible to do while living abroad, but I came across a solution.  More on that later.  Generally in the international school world there are three tiers, please see the end if you'd like a description of each.  I ended up first teaching math in what's considered a lower-end tier 2 school.  But due to my poor planning that didn't materialize until 2017.

After a year of recruiting, I made perhaps the dumbest, yet ironically in hindsight, most important decision of my life.  I thought I could run my own recruitment business, the work of my bosses seemed so easy, didn't it?  We charged 5000USD per successful hire, sometimes more.  That's easy money, right?  Well, anyone who understands economics knows this can't be the case.  The truth is the business was way more complicated than I thought.  For example, reputation is so very important in that industry, and it costs a fortune to build that reputation if you don't have it already.  I did find clients but they were all for terrible schools that were very profit oriented, and I know I sound like the kettle calling the pot black here (as I was seeking profit), but there are some practices that really hurt students, and in my mind border on deception.  In general, I realized there's a lot of bad schools in the world, but at the same time plenty of very good ones.  And I wanted to be in the latter world.

If you're curious about the geography going on, I originally was based in Shanghai, China ('08-'15).  When I started the business, I ran it online so I moved to the Philippines.  Very cheap cost of living and great beaches, decent internet.  I loved it there, but I was just burning money.  Even though the cost of living was low, I hardly made any money in my business.  I eventually decided to abandon the business altogether and treat this time as a mini-retirement, a holiday.  A very reckless decision, but one that taught me a lot.  

Something very strange happened at that time; and I know it'll sound off topic.  Sorry but tangents happen.  All my life I felt pushed or pulled by something.  Punishments and incentives.  Good or bad grades, salaries, careers, parties, expensive holidays.  Once the carrot and stick of responsibility and work (and my need to supplement myself with partying from all the suffering that I endured at work) was removed for a long enough period (it maybe took 3-4 months) I think I triggered an existential crisis, as I really for the first time pondered what life's all about and what I should do with it.  I realized life is only partly about success and failure.  It's mostly about the paths you choose to go down.  And there are multiple ways to live, which one was for me?  I got into meditation and, strangely enough, fasting.  I heard it was a new "trending" way to lose weight, but it's strange how I never heard about it before.  So I just ate one meal a day, and I lost a ton of weight.  I went from about 100 kilos to 70, and I've kept it off for 3 years now.  The weight loss gave me this strange boost of confidence in other areas, and I felt like it was a puzzle I finally solved.  Anyways, in short I got to know myself a little better, and regained control of things I felt I couldn't control before (eg: my emotional reactions to people, my weight).  I felt like a do-er for the first time in my life.  But this was just in the self-category, and I completely ignored the income category.  My finances got so low I was essentially in debt again, and even had to get my parents to western-union me a couple thousand dollars.  It was a really embarrassing thing to do, but I'm really grateful they were there to bail me out.  I had been there about 8 months.

So then I moved to Vietnam, unfortunately back to teaching ESL, square one really, but thankfully back in black.  I made back the money and had a financial cushion again.  Around that time, I remembered something I learned back in 2015, while recruiting.  The biggest hurdle for me was getting accredited as a teacher.  This a rather ambiguous requirement, because they define "accredited" differently; sometimes it means being certified in your home country, other times it means having a TEFL certificate that could've been obtained in a day.  I found what I consider a loop hole; a teacher accreditation program that's cheap, recognized in many places, and can be done while working.  In the UK teachers get a PGCE.  However, they offered a certificate called PGCEi that only cost 3500GBP including all fees.  It offered an alternative online path to accreditation.  Also, the workload was pretty straightforward, just 4 essays on various topics.  .... (to be continued!)


I decided to pull the trigger and sign up for this program for the fall, so I could be finished in 8 months.  The plan was to keep teaching in Vietnam, but on a whim I decided to send out applications to international schools nearby with the PGCEi as "in progress."  I ended up getting one reply from a great school in Ho Chi Minh, and they wanted me to substitute.  At this point I was going there in the mornings occasionally and teaching ESL nights, a few months away from starting my teacher's college.  I really loved working in that school.  I didn't do much, but was just impressed by the surroundings, the interesting work of the students, the civility of it all.  I sent out more applications, all over now.  This was really the first time I confidently applied for jobs.  Nothing really changed about me though, I just had different horizons in my head.  I ended up getting several replies from decent schools (what you'd call tier 2) and ended up working in a small city in southern China.  But before that, we had an introductory week in Hong Kong for my teaching degree.  

Hong Kong was fun.  I think in general, teachers can easily get along.  If you're in the right mood they're great people to socialize with.  Anyways, a lot of the content I had learned to some degree before from psych classes in university and there was quite a lot of PC-ness to wade through but I came out ok.  I don't feel like I learned much from this program, but strangely it made me feel like a real teacher.  Perhaps because I finally had the job I was looking for.

So it was 2017, and if you haven't been to china, there's one important thing you should know.  There's Shanghai/Beijing/Shenzhen, and then there's CHINA.  This city was closer to the latter.  It would have been a good experience for someone new to the country, but I couldn't enjoy living there, as I knew china too well and the problems going on every day.  Too big of a topic to go into; in short you can go from CHINA-> Shanghai but not the other way around.  It feels like going back in time.  However, I really loved the work.  I was given the reins of the math department, as the only math teacher in the school.  I had to figure out a lot as I went, but it wasn't too hard, especially with all the learning tools out there.  I found the work really fulfilling.  In math class, there's a high rate of "ah!" or those eureka moments.  It's awesome to see those moments, and watch the kids get smarter.  There are also students that struggle, but even they can make some progress.  I've always felt math is the most democratic subject in this sense.  Maybe you guys disagree?

So I liked teaching there, but I didn't like dealing with the administration.  This school had the unfortunate quality of being for profit, and losing enrollment.  Basically students didn't want to graduate at our school, so they'd leave for greener pastures in grade 11/12 to have better opportunities for university acceptance.  It sucked, as I was losing my strongest students throughout the year, and the overall class performance as a result declined.  I decided one year there was enough, and opted not to renew.  It was decision time again.

I sent out a ton of applications this time, and I got mediocre results. Slightly better than a year ago, yes!  There were about 6 schools that called me back for an interview, but ultimately one sent an offer.  It was in Shanghai, so I was a bit torn.  On the one hand, I built a social network and have many good friends there.  It was also the place where I stagnated, and just partied when I was free from the shackles of work.  Perhaps I would return to that pattern.

It was around this time that I saw an opening on TES that caught my attention.  if you're curious, is the UK's biggest teacher job site.  Lots of great top schools advertise on there as it has the greatest reach, especially for the higher end.  The job was for a prestigious school in Caracas.  Yes, hyperinflation and most dangerous city on the planet, Caracas.  I told my family about it and of course they were livid.  But, and maybe this is to my detriment, I'm always looking for the counterintuitive facts we usually ignore.  So here was my thinking; looking at the results when you google this place, most people would be scared off.  And they should be.  But teaching internationally is special for a few key reasons.  Firstly, just imagine a building that's filled with foreign nationals (in many cases 300+) that are not only wealthy, but they're in fact the children of the wealthiest people in the area.  Now, go on google again and see if a place like this ever ends up in the news.  The truth is almost never, international schools are some of the safest places on the planet, despite what country you're in.  A lot goes into that, especially where safety is a concern outside.  However, that doesn't mean you won't run into trouble in your social life outside of school.  That's the real risk; are you willing to stay in your bubble, or be vigilant when you're outside.  In the end, I felt the opportunity was too big to pass up.  

So, that finally brings me to 2018/2019.  I accepted the job, and really love the school.  The students are very engaged and enjoy coming to school.  It's not perfect, but it's a huge step up.  I feel like I'm growing in my profession, and after two years, I'll be in that position to "write my own ticket" . I find myself looking forward to that, but needing to realize the life I'm living now is pretty enjoyable too.  Especially since for the first time in my life I was feeling good about life in and outside of work.

I think I made a lot of mistakes, but in the end gradual progression works.  You just try and make sure you're further along than you were last month/year, even if it's in a small way.  That feeling of growth sometimes feels better than money in the bank.

Thanks for reading my extremely long post.  I started out wanting to explain my career path after The Big 3 but I ended up going off on many tangents!  Hope they were at least informative.

Appendix: International School Tiers:

Tier 1 is generally the best place to work, but there are drawbacks.  These schools have really good funding, pay their teachers generously, have really talented support staff, and generally well behaved high performing pupils.  However, your workload is bigger and the school just expects their teachers to do more than the norm. 
Indicators of Tier 1:  
- International School of BLANK - although sometimes this is a sham, it usually isn't
- Accreditation: IB, CIS, COBIS, A-Levels, AP
- Cap on nationalities (so one nationality can't dominate the school and take away the international feel, yes sounds controversial doesn't it?) oF 33% or even lower sometimes.  Basically the more diverse the school population in number of nationalities, usually the better.
- Perks such as a retirement plan, high end medical coverage, and the ability to save $20-30k per year as a single person who spends reasonably.

Tier 2 varies.  These schools could be really amazing institutions, or they could be falling apart from the inside.  This is where most people start and I think it best describes where I got a job in 2017.  Generally the entire student body is local, with a few expat kids, perhaps the children of teachers.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, but students often struggle with English and you have to teach your subject as well as ESL.  I know it sounds like a criticize esl a lot it's not a bad job, I just did it for too long!
Indicators of Tier 2:
- Local pupils with a wide range in english ability
- High performing students, but often low budget for resources and class becomes very traditional and rote
- Sometimes they're incredible places to work without the pressures of a tier 1 environment.  Sometimes those schools are so competitive people get overworked and stressed.

Tier 3 avoid at all costs.  Although it wouldn't be such a bad experience, I think once you've worked here it's very hard to move up.  Generally these places are seen as cheap and have high student turnover.  Often they make unrealistic promises when parents are signing up, and often disappoint.  I'm sure some are fine and well run but on average they're full of problems.  Not least of which they often aren't licensed to provide visas so you'd be illegally employed.
[-] The following 4 users Like OE800_85's post:
  • allvia, eriehiker, mudball, Tedium
You have had an interesting journey for sure. Good luck on your future travels and teaching in Caracas.
TESU BALS Social Sciences Confirmed June 7th
UAF BA Foreign Languages ongoing 
TESU BA Anthropology ongoing
UAF MS Emergency Management (Most Likely will start 2019/2020)

I have been here enjoying learning and validating my studies for many years. This forum has a tremendous amount of information and support. My family travels internationally and we write about what we see at and I also post some of my papers online here.
Wow this is a really helpful and informative post for those who are interested in the topic. My experiences were different and very positive.

Experience 1: For profit English school in Mexico. LONG hours, I'm talking all day and night and every other Saturday, but the pay was about the same as a doctor friend I had fresh out of her residency. (Not a lot by US standards, but good.) Then, after a few months, they asked me to be a director of one of the schools. Yes I was a director from a management perspective, but mostly the job was all about making the school grow. It got me into sales and 100% launched my career. I won't go into detail unless anyone is curious, but I wouldn't be in international business today if I hadn't started here. I woudn't necessarily recommend this path, but living in Mexico is fun and close to home. Not to mention that speaking Spanish is incredibly useful.

Experience 2: For fun, while I was consulting (in between "real" jobs) I tried teaching Chinese kids online. It wasn't for me because I just honestly don't like kids enough. I don't mind teaching adults, but I'm a sales manager, not a teacher. On the plus side, my 23-year-old son got a job doing it. He makes 20-25 bucks an hour which is a fortune considering he's a student and living at home. The hours are either early mornings or late night weekends, but they allow him to choose a schedule as long as he sticks to it for six months. He finds his job very fulfilling and his only complaint is that he would like more face-to-face camraderie with his peers, which he doesn't get in online work.
Regis University, ITESO, Global MBA with a focus in Emerging Markets 4.0 GPA, Dual-university degree (Spanish/English) 
COSC BS, Business Admin

My BS Credits:
Spanish 80 | Humanities 67 | A & I Lit 72 | Sub Abuse 452 | Bus Ethics 445 | Tech Writ 62 | Math 53 | HTYH 454 | Am. Govt 65 | Env & Humanity 64 | Marketing 65 | Micro 61| Mgmt 63| Org Behavior 65| MIS 446|Computing 432 | BL II 61 | M&B 50 | Finance 411 | Supervision 437| Intro Bus. 439| Law Enforcement 63|  SL: Accounting I B | Accounting II C+| Macro A | ECE: Labor Relations A | Capstone: A| FEMA PDS Cert 
[-] The following 1 user Likes burbuja0512's post:
  • Tedium
I really want to read the book you should seriously consider writing. It would be informative to those following in your footsteps, and entertaining to those of us watching from the sidelines.

I hope it works out with your new job and I hope for your continued success.
Pierpont Community and Technical College - BOG AAS (12/2018)
FEMA - PDS Certificate (04/30/2014)
G.E.D. (11/16/2004)

Charter Oak State College - BA, Individualized Studies or English

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