5 Reasons to foster relationships between national and international school teachers

There are currently more than 6,000 international schools around the world, serving nearly 4 million students. Sadly, this rich source of cosmopolitan human potential is barely tapped by teachers in the United States. Worse yet, very few international school teachers maintain contact with teachers back home. Using the United States as a model, here are five reasons international school and home nation teachers should strive to communicate, collaborate, and coordinate:

1. Ready-made global connections.

Have you ever considered a global penpal group? Or wanted your students to present their work to a global audience in preparation for careers that will require this type of experience? There are thousands of international schools in pretty much every country in the world waiting for you. And most of these schools are nearly all English-run and administered.

Finding a public school to connect with or searching the ministry of education’s website may require language skills you do not possess (assuming the site exists!). But emailing the Head of English at most international schools is easy. International Schools Services also offers a great resource for finding connections with its interactive map of international schools locations and contact information.

2. Third culture kid connections.

Third culture kids are a growing phenomenon around the world—including in the United States. According to Ruth Van Reken, who coined the term, “A third culture kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture. The third culture kid builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any.”

Given immigration trends and the anticipated growth of international schools, this demographic is clearly going to increase in our lifetimes, forming a fascinating human community you and your students will want to know. In fact, you may find that many of your students relate well to the TCK phenomenon (think about it: how many of your students are recent immigrants or first generation Americans?). Watch the video “So Where’s Home?” and tell me you don’t want your students to have regular contact with these kids.

3. Happenings at home shape changes abroad.

Last year, the wife of my school director in Brazil asked me if our school should adopt the Common Core. Why would a small international school in the south of Brazil need to consider common state standards?

Well, the answer becomes obvious when you consider that there is no international agency creating and distributing materials, curricula, and professional development. Where education goes in the USA, international schools follow. (The ripple effects are profound and sometimes ridiculous. Why, for example, do our poor elementary school students need to learn what an “inch” is? The horror!) Nevertheless, it’s essential that international educators keep up to date with developments in the USA. Close PLN interaction with U.S. teachers through social media and virtual networks like the CTQ Collaboratory are essential to this.

4. International schools model conditions teachers want.

When I taught in East Harlem, I met with five groups of 34 students every day, stretched outdated textbooks between them, scrambled with my colleagues to schedule the laptop cart three weeks in advance, sweltered in the non-air-conditioned classrooms every June and September, commuted an hour each way every day, paid out of pocket for materials and professional development, and barely covered my rent and expenses each month after federal, state, and city taxes.

Teachers are willing to put up with a lot in order to teach. We all know that most teachers don’t expect mansions and Maseratis: they just want teaching to be a little easier. Smaller class sizes, better and current classroom materials, relevant professional development, and a salary that places us safely in the middle class. International schools excel at creating these conditions, and, although many are expensive, private, and tuition-based, others, like mine, are nonprofit institutions that charge far less than the roughly $20,000 per student spent each year by New York state, or even the U.S. average of $10,000. A dialogue between teachers and teacher leaders from both national and international arenas would provide perspective and model better conditions for home.

5. Your dream sabbatical. 

Research shows that experience in other countries makes us more flexible, creative, and complex thinkers—as if we needed more than common sense to tell us that! If you’re in a district that allows sabbaticals (or just regular protected leave), why not make your next break a work holiday teaching in Shanghai or Cairo or Yokohama?

Or, to think about it another way… Do you have children? Do you want them to learn Chinese, Arabic, or Japanese? Hey, why haven’t you hiked the Himalayas or taken a selfie in front of the Taj Mahal yet? It’s never too late: get some international school teachers like me in your PLN and start planning the trip of a lifetime—without ever having to leave your hometown or the love of your life, teaching.

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  • SusanGraham

    Thinking about “What if…”

    When reading your reason #1, I immediately thought about the language issue. Now that I’ve retired, I finally have the time and resources to travel and I continue to be struck by how monoligual I am in multilingual world.  I might as well have attended the David Sedaris and “Me Talk Pretty Some Day” Language School. My high school French is barely sufficient to order dinner and find a bathroom and even then it’s unlikely that any French national could understand it since I learned from a teacher with a Texas accent. Rather than conjugating verbs, what if students actually conversed across continents?

    And then I though, “Gee, if only I were still teaching…” But what about that #5? A great many retired teachers are on a permenant sabbatical–they are no longer in the classroom, but we aren’t through learning or participating in the learning of others. So, now I’m wondering: I might be a little past climbing the Himalayas, but I’m not ready for the rocking chair either.  As you participate in the international school community, do you see second career teachers who do short stints in international schools?

    • wjtolley

      Hi Susan, 

      Hi Susan, 

      Absolutely! Much like 20 year veterans from military service who retire, collect a fine pension and start a new career, international school educators take advantage of this possibility as well. A friend of mine retired as superintendent in an Illinois school district and became the middle school principal of the American Embassy School in New Delhi–one of the most prestigious international schools, and one of the most sought after postings in the international school circuit. Like you, she wasn’t ready to come to a full stop and she enjoyed another 10 years running a great middle school while enjoying all of the wonders of India and Asia. 

      Here are a couple of useful resources: 

      This says it all: 

      According to a recent survey released by The International Educator (TIE), which asked about hiring restrictions at international schools, over 65% of the 176 school heads interviewed reported that their school’s host country does not have age restrictions for issuing a work visa. Of the 28% of respondents who did report restrictions by their host country, the mandatory cut-off was almost equally split between ages 60 and 65. 

      When asked the more sensitive question of whether in the absence of a mandatory age restriction by the host country your school has a policy or practice of limiting or restricting the age of new hires, over three-fourths (77%) responded “No.”

      Let me know if you need any further insight–maybe I’ll see you on the circuit next year! 🙂

    • wjtolley

      Hi Susan, 

      Repeat post. Delete?