At Teacher Horizons, we love success stories, and none more so than when excellent teachers find work in excellent schools. But we know this is not always an easy task for those with teaching certificates from places other than North America, the UK, and Oceania.

There is no doubt that as schools strive to help young people develop international-mindedness, the more voices, faces, and experiences students are given exposure to, the better. It’s self-evident that the more diverse the faculty, the easier students will find it to connect to cultures that are different to their own.

And as schools become evermore conscious of their own inclusiveness, logic would suggest that it serves everyone to employ teachers from as many places as possible.

But, this is not always how things work out. Administrators at international schools have a tricky job to do: often hiring teachers continents away. All their decisions must be based on what they can learn online. 

And international schools can be traditional places, sometimes cut off from the current political and social zeitgeist.

Parents often expect a certain ‘type’ of teacher too, and after all, since many schools are profit-driven, decisions must be informed by the needs of their clients.

All this means that for administrators, it’s much less of a gamble to employ someone with a track record that they are familiar with and can understand. A senior leader might be more inclined to hire someone who looks and sounds like them, than risk taking on someone who is different.

I think everyone in our community would agree that this cycle must be broken as we evolve towards becoming a more equal society. So, how can teachers from around the world break into the international teaching circuit?

In 2016 Daniel Akintoye was working at Day Waterman College in Ogun State, Nigeria, dreaming of teaching abroad. He was well qualified, but after applying to a huge number of schools and receiving no response, was left wondering if schools had an issue with his Nigerian teaching certificate.

At the time, Daniel didn’t actually think the rejections he received were related to his race or passport – he knew of Nigerian teachers with a UK teaching certificate who had had more success – but he wasn’t sure why none of the eighty plus schools on his spreadsheet had been interested in him.

In May of that year, Daniel had a passing conversation with Kenyan colleague Dr Bukachi and mentioned that he was thinking of doing a PGCE in the UK to help him get noticed. Dr Bukachi told him that he already had the skills and experience necessary to get a job in an international school abroad; all he needed was a bit of a rebrand.

That evening they met at Dr Bukachi’s apartment and together they worked on writing Daniel’s education philosophy, and improving his CV.

He made the most of his flair for coding and his interest in AI; he sold himself by mentioning the three extra-curricular activities he had been leading on top of his normal teaching load; he outlined his work taking a team to the Maths Olympiad.

Daniel signed up for Teacher Horizons and found the CV writing support that is available to candidates. Once he had completed his profile, Alexis contacted him straight away and set up a Skype call. During this initial conversation, Alexis reassured him that he had what it takes to move into the international teaching circuit, but that there was some residual discrimination against teachers from Africa.

During the next few weeks, Teacher Horizons advocated for Daniel, and he applied for jobs in South Africa, Israel, Kuwait, and China. He couldn’t believe it when he got a call from the South African school and was offered an interview. A short while later he found himself teaching a mock lesson on complex numbers online as part of the recruitment process, and one student in the class remembered him from the Nigerian Maths Olympiad Programme. The world suddenly seemed smaller.

The school in Kuwait was the first one to offer him a job, but he needed to travel to Abuja to authenticate his papers. He decided not to go since he was so busy as a houseparent at his current school and didn’t want to leave the students. He was also worried that he might not get a reference from his Principal if he were to abandon his duties.

South Africa called next and offered him a position, but since the school was not offering flights or accommodation, their contract wasn’t going to work for him.

Daniel had always been excited by Asia because of his interest in information technology and programming, and in China in particular because of the resources he could have access to there. His first interview for School of the Nations in Macau was at 5am West African Standard Time, but he was up early and keen, and got on well with the recruitment team. 

Another interview with the Middle School and Secondary School Administrators followed, and then a final chat with the Director. Despite not being able to see his face on Skype because of technical issues, Daniel was heartened by the fact that the content of the discussion was the contract: the Director was really just confirming details and asking if he had any questions.

Daniel was delighted when he was offered the position, and signed and returned the contract within 40 minutes of receiving the email. When he told his mum he would be leaving Day Waterman College on the phone, she was worried as she couldn’t believe there was a better job out there. But after he managed to allay her fears, she was so happy that she couldn’t stop singing!

Daniel had a great time at the School of the Nations where he had a supporting community of colleagues, students and parents. Daniel, who was initially employed as a Middle School Maths teacher, was given the opportunity to teach secondary classes in his second year. Three years later, with his MSc in Pure Maths from University of Macau and a paper publication he co-authored with his Maths professor at University of Macau, he found himself teaching the International Baccalaureate Maths Analysis and Approaches courses. This, no doubt, bolstered his CV and prepared him better for his current job. He continued to teach coding as an after school activity to interested students who later participated in a coding contest in Macau.

After five exciting years in Macau, during which Daniel’s wife Topsy also had the opportunity to take a Masters, Daniel found himself searching for another job. This followed the news of their first pregnancy. As new parents-to-be and according to their culture, he and his wife needed to be in a location to which their parents could travel to support them with their baby when she was born. Due to Covid-19 and the border closure in Macau, he and his wife had to make a tough decision to leave a place they had called home, and people they called family – neighbours, colleagues, students, and parents. He recalls how he and his students cried when he told them of the pregnancy news and his plan to leave by the end of the year.

Despite the fact that everyone was sad to see him go, the school gave him tremendous support, and his managers gave him good references for his next job. 

After updating his profile on Teacher Horizons, Laura contacted him and helped him secure job offers at three schools in Dubai and Belgrade. He had some reservations about moving to Europe: he had heard about the high rates of tax, and the risk of being discriminated against, but Laura helped him understand the benefits of the International School of Belgrade, and when he discovered how friendly the people of Serbia are, and how supportive the school was in their communication, he accepted the role without hesitation.

Daniel is now delighted in his new job, and is really enjoying his first year, since he is teaching both MYP and DP Maths. He describes the school as ‘a place where you feel like you matter,’ where colleagues and leaders urge him not to panic if he makes a mistake, and where he feels very well supported. His teacher friends have offered to babysit for little Tari, and have donated nappies and clothes for her. They call his landlady Tari’s Serbian grandma.

There are other benefits too: he hasn’t experienced any of the discrimination he was nervous about, and in fact says that he has never travelled so freely. His mother has been to visit, and loved spending time with her new granddaughter. His mother-in-law is expected to visit them soon to spend time with her as well.

Daniel and his wife have never felt as they do in Serbia. From neighbours, delivery workers, and taxi drivers to random strangers on the street or in a shop, everyone always always wants to know where he and his wife come from. They engage them in conversation, take pictures with them, and are always happy to know they are Nigerians, despite this being something they are not used to.

At the end of our conversation he told me that 2016 was a turning point in his life; that Teacher Horizons has done a lot for him and his family. He ended our chat by telling me, lyrically: ‘If I am not grateful, I am a great fool’.

There is no doubt that good schools are fast becoming less discriminatory places, and administrators are seeking to moving away from a culture of ‘old school ties’, but if a section of society has been shut out of a system for a long time, it takes a knack to break into it.

Alex, CEO of Teacher Horizons states: “Teacher Horizons is committed to challenging all forms of discrimination. Our vision has always been to build an international community of teachers and offer a free, transparent, platform to enable all teachers to make more informed decisions about the schools they apply to… We understand that we do not have all the answers but are committed to challenging attitudes and bias – both internally and also for the organisations that we work with.”

We will be discussing some of these issues in our upcoming free Community Connect Webinar on March 24th at 12 PM GMT. The topic is: Effecting Change: Inclusion Begins with “I”. Click here to sign up for the webinar.

Helping us have some tricky conversations will be Diversi-T, an organisation which works with many groups, including international schools, to grapple with change, diversity, and inclusion. Visit their website or email them on info@diversi-t.co.za to find out how they could support your school community.

We’re looking forward to being part of the change.

_____

With great thanks to Daniel for his time and insights!

photo of author
Written by Camilla Cook
Camilla has been working in education for the past sixteen years, teaching English in the UK, El Salvador, Thailand, and Tanzania. She participated in the Teach First Programme in 2005, and went on to support another Teach First teacher in her efforts to set up The Literacy Pirates, an education charity working to develop the literacy, confidence, and perseverance of young people referred for extra support by their teachers. As their first Director of Learning, she was responsible for planning, leading, and evaluating the learning programmes. She has worked as the Head of Language and Literature in international schools for the past five years, and is now living in Brighton with her husband and two children, attempting to reacclimatise to the weather by cycling around as much as possible and eating lots of ice cream.
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