The IB’s struggle to gain deep roots in the UK state system

international-baccalaureate-logoThe International Baccalaureate has become the dominant choice of curriculum for international schools now.  The IB Primary Years Programme is experiencing unprecedented growth as parents demand for their children to undertake an inquiry based learning soars.  The uptake of the IB in the US is on the rise, as is the demand for IB education in UK private schools.  So, why is the number of British state schools offering the IB decreasing?

Student & teacher difficulties

international-baccalaureate-subject-groupsThe IB is a more demanding curriculum for students than the UK A Level system.  Fact.  Students frequently take double the number of subject and it frequently stated that the difficulty of questioning in exams is more challenging too.  For example, IB Higher Level Maths (one of the six subjects a student may be learning) is often compared to studying A Level Maths plus A Level Further Maths (2 of the 3/4 subjects an A Level student would be studying).  On top of the six subjects, students are expected to undertake a number of core components including a University style Extended Essay, a Duke of Edinburgh style Creativity Action Service (CAS) programme as well as studying Theory of Knowledge, widely acclaimed as being THE most challenging subject to both teach and learn.   It must also be pointed out that whilst A Levels have no doubt become easier (ask any experienced teacher!), the more independently monitored IB has not changed their standards.

The IB also demands much more of a teacher’s time than the IB does.  Coursework in the IB is significant component of virtually all subjects and large parts of it are teacher assesses (and moderated by IB moderators).  Given the priorities in many UK state schools lie with the 11-16 age groups, teachers are inclined to focus their attention and energies on delivering in these groups, the ones they are ultimately judged on.  Teacher training courses and a reflective approach to teaching often mean that teachers neither have the time or the tools to do a proper job when it comes to delivering the IB.  Subject knowledge can be an issue here too, finding teachers capable of teaching IB Higher Level Maths or Physics is particularly challenging.

Mind the GAP

Whilst international schools and many private schools are opting to take IGCSEs, the more traditional international GCSEs or even the IB Middle Years Programme, UK state schools offer the national GCSE programme.  The jump in academic rigour between GCSEs and the IB is simply enormous.  Whilst it is possible for schools to achieve excellent GCSE results through exam practice and spoon feeding, this is simply not possible at IB level where independent learning it a must in order to achieve 30 points plus.  Schools that have implemented the IB have often paid very little attention to this gap and suffered diabolical consequences when it comes to results.


The Maths are relatively simple.  Not only is enrolling an IB student for the course considerably more expensive that enrolling an A Level student.  An A Level students studies around 3 subjects and will attend 3 classes, an IB teacher requires 6 different subject teachers.  Whilst the number of lessons isn’t double, the IB places real timetabling demands on schools and means that a greater number of taught hours per student are required.  This often means considerably higher running costs of offering the IB.  With schools’ budgets being squeezed, it often appears an obvious area to cut, especially when the uptake by students is relatively low.

University entrance

oxfordUniversities in the UK have made big efforts to embrace the IB through creating conversion tables and at least in theory, heavily favouring the IB.  The truth of the matter is that whilst they favour students with great IB scores and even sometimes those with low ones, the majority in the middle will find it easier to get on a good course in a good university by studying A Levels.  Universities may use the conversion table as a guideline but in practice, they tend to use their own judgement of what is a reasonable number of points to accept.

Politics and UK arrogance

Whilst politicians in the UK have praised the IB and shown their respect for the curriculum, it would take huge guts to accept that A Levels are no longer the gold standard of education.  No politician in their right mind would dare do this.  The UK is frequently regarded as the leading country when it comes to education, one only needs to look at the number of British international schools globally and the growth in demand for them to see that is still the case.  However, A Levels unfortunately aren’t on a par with the IB any longer despite efforts to introduce an A* and mirror many of the features of the IB.  With the world becoming more interconnected and Britain furthering their export of the English language, it would be a logical step to embrace an international curriculum such as the IB in order to remain competitive.  Whilst other countries are investing more in languages, Britain is abolishing the requirement for all students to learn at least one foreign language.

So, is the IB likely to become the privilege of those that can afford to pay for their education?  Whilst this is looking likely, I certainly hope not and whilst the IB doesn’t suit every student (it tends to favour all rounders), I believe it should be offered at every school and should be treated as something that students to aspire to achieve, rather than find an easier and less rewarding alternative.  If education is as much as a priority as government says it is, I believe it is worth the long term investment.

Written by Alexis Toye, Director of Operation and Finance at Teacherhorizons. Former IB school teacher and IB Coordinator at Oporto British School and Westminster Academy.

Teacher’s diary – my first week in Sri Lanka

Sarah Miller, an English teacher from London, has just completed her induction week in Sri Lanka at the British School of Colombo. She has kindly shared her first impressions of a life less ordinary with us…

Day 1


Adventure starts in glamorous Terminal 4, subtly trying to identify future-colleagues by gleaning information from the contents of bags (board pens? Teacher planners? Excessive pots of anti-aging cream?)and general demeanour (do they look as though they’ve had 2 months off work?)

Once this mildly awkward guessing-game is over and the group are united, I was happy to find a fantastic bunch of fun, like-minded people buzzing about the adventure we had ahead.

Landing into Sri Lanka was surreal and wonderful, gliding into a sea of palm trees stretching for miles. A wave of smug grins swept the group as we stood, sweat patches galore, in the basking sun, recollecting the bleak skies we had left behind.

Day 2

Colombo beach

Have settled into beautiful flat with balcony overlooking the Indian ocean and truly lovely housemates.

First day of school induction involved a trip to the beach, delicious lunch and absolutely no mention of lesson plans, assessment for learning or seating plans whatsoever. V refreshing. Although bit weird being in bikini with new colleagues, including Head, on first day of ‘work.’

Day 3

Novelty of opening curtains to blue skies, new city and a tuk tuk parked outside my door still hasn’t worn off. A tour of the school (it has fans. Panic over.) is followed by afternoon beers in the sunshine. Bought candle in coconut shell for room and (hippy) teacher bag, feeling very at-one with Sri Lankans. Looked around to realise shop’s sole customers were sunburnt Westerners. Had rice and curry supper to make self feel better.

Day 4

Tea workers

Housemate has just won a trip to a luxury bungalow in the tea country so headed off into the hills with her friends. We are greeted by butler serving us afternoon tea, followed by a game of croquet on the lawn. Have never felt so simultaneously far away from, and close to, England. Teachers at my school have reliably informed us that weekends really are our own here. Looking at my stunning surroundings, I cannot believe the places I will get to explore on this small island in my free time.

Day 5

Great meeting with Head of Department who was unbelievably welcoming and supportive. I have more freedom than I’ve ever had as a teacher to teach the texts that I want, however I think works. Plus the iGCSE has no coursework, so free from the shackles of marking 60 folders in the summer term. AND, we are informed that Sri Lanka has more bank holidays than anywhere in the world so we are under strict instructions to plan ahead for some fun long weekends. Celebrated with little mango smoothie and samosa.

Day 6


Really useful morning in school where everything from setting up a bank account – to locating a doctor – to finding marmite, was covered.  The school seem really open to new ideas and, without the pressures of Ofsted, are keen to try out new things that each of us have learnt from our previous schools. Afternoon spent on the local beach, sampling the local liquor (mixed reaction) and planning exotic trips for half term (positive reactions all round)

Day 7

Sunset from my balcony

First day of Inset, real buzz around the school. None of the weary eye-rolling and dread that pervades typical Inset days back home. I start planning a Macbeth module – excited that, given what I’ve heard about the good behaviour of students at the school, I can try out a wide range of activities with the kids that I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing before. This brief attempt to be productive is curtailed by the scheduled afternoon activity: cricket and BBQ in the garden. Think I’m going to enjoy my time here rather a lot.

Sarah will be at the British School of Colombo for a couple of years and we hope to hear how she’s getting on again soon! Browse our schools in Sri Lanka.

Written by Sarah Miller

Developing your leadership skills

To paraphrase Miss Jean Brodie, it is a teacher’s duty to lead their students out of the darkness of ignorance.  This implies that leadership is a major quality of a great teacher.  If we are educating the leaders of the future, not only should we be role models as leaders, but we ought to develop our students’ leadership skills and attributes in our teaching.

So what is leadership and how do we develop our own leadership skills?  Sometimes there is confusion concerning what is leadership and what is management.  An excellent teacher ought to be both a leader and a manager.  I believe management has more to do with task orientation, whereas leadership revolves around people orientation.  Management requires planning, assessment, organization and recording skills.  These skills are relatively easy to develop when an individual has a will to succeed and self-discipline.  Because leadership involves people, this is not the case.

A leader carefully considers issues and problems and formulates plans and strategies to resolve them.  Most problems are best solved using a team rather than an individual.  So the leader establishes a vision and shares it with the other members of the team.  The leader identifies the strengths and weaknesses of the individual team members and, ideally, persuades or inspires the members of the team to share this vision and work towards solving the problem.  Communication and presentation skills are vital.  It is an obvious statement that communication is a two way process, but all too often this concept is ignored or not understood.  The leader must be articulate, persuasive and a great leader is inspirational.  The leader needs to be a good listener and sympathetic.  The leader needs to be observant and appreciate the views and actions of others.  A good leader has a well-developed self-awareness, recognizing their own strengths and weaknesses and a confidence to celebrate their own and others achievements and admit mistakes.

Teachers ought to reflect on these leadership skills and see how they can be developed into their own practice as professionals, but also, crucially, how can they be introduced into their own teaching so as to benefit each one of their individual students.

Written by John Regan, former International School Head and CEO of Teacherhorizons

How to judge a great international school

Normally you would sit at interview, meet some of your future colleagues, read an inspection report and go on a school tour.  So, with just an hour skype interview for international schools, how do you go about assessing whether this one is a great school?

It isn’t easy but thanks to the information available on the internet, it is getting easier.

Accreditations and memberships are your friends

The accreditation status and which body a school chooses to be accredited by is probably the most important indicator of a quality of a school.  Our feeling is that those who have full accreditation by The Council of International School (CIS), the International Baccalaureate (IB) or North Eastern Association of Schools and Colleges NEASC tend to be amongst the most reputable as their accreditation process is the most stringent.  The Council of Britisish International Schools (COBIS) follows an accreditation process similar to that of Ofsted, the UK regulating body and is also very thorough.

Many schools will quote quite a number of memberships.  Whilst these are useful to have as they may lead to sharing of expertise and professional development, they are mostly paid for memberships and therefore carry less weight than an accreditation.

This article gives you a good understanding of the different accreditation and membership bodies:

Mission and vision

Schools usually have their Mission Statement and Vision firmly planted in the main section of their website.  However, ask yourself how closely the school’s site appears to match their mission statement and vision.  For example, if they talk about cultural understanding, what evidence is there that the school has extra-curricular activities that support such a statement.  Photos and details of such activities should be available to any user.  You also have to ask yourself the question as to whether the school’s mission statement and values match that of your own.  My last school’s slogan was “Our business is learning” – that certainly didn’t match my values as I believe education shouldn’t be first and foremost a business!

Decision-making and leadership

Don’t underestimate the importance of good leadership in a school.  The quality of the Head of School and the leadership team can have a dramatic impact on any school.  Check the Head out on Linked In and look into his background.  It is worth seeing whether they have come from quality institutions and how long they have been a Head for.  Asking about line management and the chain of command is something worth finding out about and gives an indication as to how well organised a school is.  Some research into the school’s governance is important too.  Finding out whether the school operates as a profit making business and how the board of governors is selected are both issues that are likely to affect the quality of the school.

Extra-curricular offerings and parental involvement


Parent Teacher Associations (PTA) can be a mixed blessing!  I have met amongst the most irritating, nit picking people in these groups as well as some of the most helpful motivated supporters of a school.  However, a thriving PTA often means active parent involvement in the school.  These parents are far more likely to be supportive of the school, their children’s progress and be keen to actively engage in their children’s education.  Likewise, assessing whether a school offers a wide variety of extra-curricular activities is important as it not only shows that the school are concerned about developing well-rounded teachers but also that they are seeking well-rounded teachers!  Being involved in a school beyond the classroom is often one of the most enjoyable aspects of working at an international school.

Staff professional development

The vast majority of schools will happily pay for you to go on a 3-4 day course every year or alternate year.  To assess whether a school is really interested in your professional development you need to dig deeper.  Try to find out about internal training opportunities and team work.  Is a learning environment created amongst teachers through team teaching, lesson feedback or open door policies?  Are training days used as an admin day or are they used to inspire teachers?  The former may seem the more appealing at times but it is the latter that truly help develop a school.  If the school has an HR department, are they purely there for hiring and firing or are they there to help bring out the best in staff.

Teacher reviews???


Opinion remains divided amongst use of International School Review (ISR), a site which provides reviews on schools by teachers (at a cost to teachers).  Whilst its intentions are good, as former international school teachers and heads, we don’t really feel it provides teachers with a useful tool for assessing a school. Sadly, too many of the reviews are anonymous and come from biased disgruntled teachers.  We’ve visited some truly great schools, amongst the best in the world that have had very negative opinions expressed on ISR.  Unfortunately, happy teachers tend not to review their employers (at least not in an anonymous way on the internet!).

A much better way to seek a review would be to ask to teach with a current teacher as part of the interview process.  The kind of school you will want to work for will choose someone who is able to give you a balanced view of the school!


The main point I am trying to make is that whilst finding and judging a great school is time consuming, you do now have the tools to find out.  Given that you are likely to be committing to a 2 or 3 year contract, we would suggest that it would certainly be worth the half day worth of work it will take.  Not only will it make you more confident about signing on the dotted line but it will also increase your chances of securing a great job at a great school no end.  We’ll certainly do our bit to make this process easier!

Written by Alexis Toye, Director of Operation and Finance at Teacherhorizons. Former IB school teacher and IB Coordinator at Oporto British School and Westminster Academy.

Interviews in underwear – new format but old rules

Ever wanted to secure a great new international school job whilst wearing underwear!?

97% of Teacherhorizons’ placements have happened via Skype interviews.  With internet speeds improving globally and schools becoming more technology savvy, Skype interviews are likely to become common practice amongst schools. Skype interviews are far preferable to recruitment fairs and make much more sense than flying across the world at huge expense.

However, interviewing on Skype can be tricky, especially if it is your first time.  Read our top ten Skype interview tips to get the best chance of leaving a good impression on the interviewer.

  1. Skype interview tipsCarry out your research. Just like in a face-to-face interview, make sure you have fully explored the school website, their Teacherhorizons profile and any information on the curricula they teach if it is your first time teaching the IB for example. Our article on assessing and researching international schools will help.
  2. Dress formally. Make sure you are wearing professional dress (at least for your top half!) and look presentable as you would at a face-to-face interview.
  3. Test your equipment.  Use a test call to make sure your microphone and speakers are both working well.  It is very frustrating when one interviews candidates that haven’t done this basic check before an interview. Read some tips for testing Skype here.
  4. Ensure you have a good internet connection.  Being plugged in to the internet is often quicker than wifi, try and use a good connection so that you can use the video function. It will help you and the interviewer to connect.
  5. Get the camera right and look into the camera. Ideally, have the camera on your computer pointing at you so that you can see your face clearly and top of your shoulders. Many candidates look at the screen. Don’t! Look at the camera as eye to eye contact is important.
  6. Be on time. Heads are busy people. Make sure you are live on Skype at least 5 minutes early and have shared Skype contact details. 
  7. Smile. It is more difficult to establish a connection with someone on Skype as you can’t see people’s body postures.  A smile will really help both of you feel comfortable.
  8. Ask for next steps. When you finish your interview, ask what the next step is and when you will expect to hear from the school.  Chase the school up if you don’t hear from them.
  9. Follow up with a thank you email.  Following up with the school after the interview is important. A quick note to confirm your interest can only help!
  10. Be yourself. Just like in a face-to-face interview, try and demonstrate your personality by being yourself.  Ask questions and show you have done your research.

The underlying point I wanted to make was that whilst the format of interviews have certainly changed, the rules haven’t. If you treat a Skype interview as you would a face-to-face interview it will certainly help you in securing a great job teaching in an international school.

Written by Alexis Toye, Director of Operation and Finance at Teacherhorizons. Former IB school teacher and IB Coordinator at Oporto British School and Westminster Academy.

The ‘gap year’ myth

It’s a common myth that teaching abroad is seen as a gap year by some teachers. In my opinion, these teachers are narrow and lack an appreciation for their own education.

We’ve all worked with and been taught by teachers that spend their careers pottering, delivering satisfactory lessons and getting the promotions they need to retire (quite) comfortably. However, we’ve all met teachers whose careers, by contrast, are truly inspirational!

Now, I am not saying that to be an inspirational teacher you have to teach abroad but I am saying you have to do inspiring things to learn and become an inspirational teacher. You have to mix things up a bit – such as teach in a challenging school, introduce a unique club to a school, take on a new role, lead an exciting trip and challenge yourself (and your pupils) to do something outside your comfort zone.


So what has this got to do with teaching overseas? Teaching overseas is just one of these things, and of course it’s not for everyone. But it certainly is not a ‘Gap Year’ as it’s a challenge both personally and professionally. Luckily more and more teachers worldwide are recognising the value of teaching abroad. You learn new ideas from your international co-workers. You get to travel to other schools in neighbouring countries for inspiring training courses on new curricula like the IB.  (How can teaching the world’s most rigorous curriculum be a gap year?!) But most of all you push yourself into new situations and challenges – whether you’re having to explain what ADHD is to a concerned Chinese mother or asking the price of a mango in Swahili in your local market.

This is exactly what forward thinking educational leaders are looking for in teachers – inspiring people who are open minded, have plenty of initiative and are up for a challenge. So if you are a teacher who’s concerned that by teaching abroad you will struggle to get a job back home one day, highlight the value of the experiences you’ve had and how they make you a great teacher. This applies as much to writing covering letters and application form as it does to face to face interviews – if you are proud of all the things you’ve done, the mistakes you’ve made and what you’ve learnt along the way, you’ll give yourself the best chance of getting the job (and being an inspiring teaching for the students!) And if they look at you like you’re mad, then you can breathe a sigh of relief  – and tell them you’re going to take another ‘Gap Year’…

Written by Alex Reynolds, founding partner and Director of Communications at Teacherhorizons.

The challenges Indian teachers face when seeking employment at international schools and how to overcome them

Teaching today is very demanding and very challenging. Unlike the past, teachers are expected to be all-rounders and technologically sound. Teaching has become more of a technique (yes of course teaching is an art as well) rather than just being a subject-expert delivering lectures.


Though India has produced brilliant well known teachers in the past such as Dr. Radhakrishnan, Swami Vinekanada, Rabindranath Tagore etc, Indian teachers find it difficult to first get selected for international teaching jobs and if they get selected, it is very difficult to succeed as a teacher.


There are several reasons for this and are challenges which Indian teachers will need to overcome:

(1)  English Language – Most international schools prefer native speakers of English as English is their default language of communication. Indian teachers need to be more conversant and more fluent in English especially spoken English. One may be very good at written English but teaching is more about speaking rather than writing.

Accent (and Dialect) is something Indian teachers need to work on as well. One doesn’t have to have a typical British or American accent but at least there should be clarity in the sentences he/she speaks.

Students may find it difficult to hear and understand spoken English and often get confused.

Grammatical problems in writing are other problems Indian teachers typically face in teaching even in application letters too!


(2)  Technology – Knowledge about IWBs, PPT lectures through a Projector, LMS, CMS, Moodle etc is a big boost your chances of selection. Computer Studies (or ICT) is not limited to just being a subject taught by the ICT teacher of the school. Today, every subject taught can be taught with the help of computers. In fact, it is more effective. But many Indian teachers are not trained with IT and are reluctant to use ICT as an aid to teaching. Their ignorance or reluctance towards technology becomes a hindrance in the selection process.

In fact, use of Internet, Social media such as Facebook, Twitter etc in education is catching up very quickly as the hottest trend in education. So Indian teachers also need to give up on their fears about technology and train themselves and be mentally prepared to accept technology as a friend.

(3)  Multitasking – Do you know how to dance? Can you sing? Have you played football in your school team? Do you love Art? Is there a Picasso hidden in you?

These are several questions which you will have to answer to. Most schools expect their teachers to be multi-talented. Multi-tasking, as I’ve put it, is what a BIG requirement these days is. How much a teacher can contribute towards the all-round development of a child is very important. Unfortunately, Indian teachers frequently do not focus on this and are more concerned about their subject knowledge.  International schools expect their teachers to help students in drama, debate, dance, music, art & craft and many other activities.  It is not possible to help develop well rounded students if you are not well rounded yourself.

(4)  Teaching Methodology – Most Indian teachers still strongly believe in writing notes on the board and let the students copy notes from the board. This happens right from the time they enter their class until the bell rings. What a big sigh of relief this bell is for students!!!

Gone are the days when ‘Chalk & Board’ was the only thing teachers were expected to do in the class. Teachers should be prepared to tell stories to their students. For example, If you are teaching the topic ‘Viruses’ in ICT, come prepared with stories related to computer viruses (especially ‘I Love You’ virus and the story of the Trojan-Horse). It keeps students spell-bound in the class. Take them to the field sometimes and take your lecture there. Be creative, Keep innovating.  Be the facilitator to their learning, rather than forcing them to take in facts.   Show that you have engage students in research, risk taking and inquisition.

(5)  Single / Couple – Sir! Can I bring my wife (or Husband) and my children with me when I am joining?


I think a very common question many married teachers ask. Married Teachers quite often want their families to get shifted with them at the expense of school that is appointing them. This may not be a good idea if the school has a preference for single applicants.  Consider accepting the offer and wait for the right time to discuss bringing your family over with the school management.  It will help if they are happy with your performance and contribution to the school.

If Indian teachers can integrate these qualities, I am sure their chances of getting offers from international schools across the globe will be brighter.



Ashish is an MBA with Majors in IT with 15 years of teaching experience. He has taught International Curricula such as IGCSE, O Level, A Level and IB since 2001.

He has taught in Saudi Arabia, India, Malawi and has worked as the Principal of International school in India. Currently, he is heading the ICT division of an International school as the Technical Administrator.

Apart from teaching ICT and Applied ICT, he specialises in Curriclum development, time-tabling, handling external and internal examination related work for the whole school.

Written by Ashish Bhatnagar

How to stop your application ending up in the bin

80 percent of applications are thrown in the bin or ignored at first glance.  Why?  The covering letter is either a generic one, regurgitates what is on the profile / CV or is poorly put together.  We want your application to be part of that 20 percent!  One of Head’s biggest concerns with online applications is that candidates aren’t serious applicants.  Here’s some hints on how to ensure you are part of the 20% and get you onto that interview shortlist.


You have 50-300 words to use in your covering email to an application.  Use them wisely as this is an opportunity to make a connection between you and the school. Read up on the school and think about how your experiences, qualifications and beliefs fit with the school’s requirements and vision.

The following tips will help:


  • Carry out your research.  Make sure you meet the candidate criteria on the Teacherhorizons profile.  Look at the school Mission Statement and Vision to ensure they match those of your own.  You have to demonstrate you want to be part of the school’s aspirations and can help them get there.
  • Explain why you want this position in this school and this country.  Explain what you aim to achieve.
  • Write the application in Word first and ensure all grammar and spelling are 100% correct.  Grammatical errors are so common and are very off-putting.
  • Tailor each application to each school.  Schools HATE generic one size fits all applications.  Schools are so different so every covering note should recognise this.
  • Expand on your profile identifying how your experiences have developed you making you an ideal candidate for this specific role.
  • Make the statement personal and unique to you – think about what makes you different to other applicants.
  • Make reference to your teaching philosophy / style but don’t elaborate here, this is the purpose of your ‘Teaching Philosophy statement’.
  • Demonstrate you are well suited to the role.  Most Heads only glance at covering applications, make sure the key points stand out.


  • Send a standard covering email to all schools you apply to.
  • Regurgitate information in your CV/ Profile.  Explain the impact of these experiences on your ability to fulfil the role instead.
  • Use email grammar or abbreviations.  Stick to formal writing techniques.
  • Apply to jobs which you are clearly not qualified for or suited to.  This merely wastes everyone’s time and is disheartening when you are rejected.

Whilst CV’s/resumes and covering letters are almost extinct in state education, they still form an important part of the process of application for international schools.  We have built the application system to incorporate the best of both worlds and save everybody time.  Your profile forms the bulk of the application form and is relevant to all schools.  Meanwhile, the teaching philosophy, video interview and covering email give you an opportunity to give a personal touch to your application and make it really stand out.

We hope this helps to turn those figures around.  We’d love to see the day where only 20 percent of applications end up in the bin (and so would many Heads!).

Written by Alexis Toye, Director of Operation and Finance at Teacherhorizons. Former IB school teacher and IB Coordinator at Oporto British School and Westminster Academy.

Adventures and personal development


Time flies, doesn’t it? I first left Australia way back in March 2005 to take up a teaching position in Japan. Well, I use the term ‘teaching’ generously- my job was to make sure my class of ten Japanese three-year- olds sat still on their chairs while they sang English songs and recited nursery rhymes. Ugh…

After that, I learned about the wonderful world of accredited, established international schools. I was fortunate enough to secure a teaching position- a real one!- at a K-12 international school in Tokyo. I made life-long friends, consolidated my teaching skills, and started to get the hang of the whole living overseas thing.


The next few years saw me working in international schools in Singapore, Germany, and now the USA. When I reflect on my experiences over the past seven years (Wait, what? Seven years? It feels like yesterday!), I smile, then cringe, then smile again. It has certainly been a roller coaster ride, but I wholeheartedly believe the positives far outweighed the negatives, in many respects. However, the number one, best of the best, top of the list benefit for me has to be personal development:

Patience – diving into an unknown and, at times, completely foreign culture is an exercise in patience. It takes a long time to recognise and understand the nuances of different societies, and an even longer time to accept them yourself without getting frustrated. Living in different communities around the world has helped me become more open-minded and patient about things I don’t initially understand or comprehend. However, I must admit, the practice of repeatedly sniffing rather than blowing one’s nose (this is regarded as being extremely rude in Japan) tested my patience constantly- especially during the winter months on a packed-to-the-rafters train ride to work on a Monday morning

Adaptation – it really is amazing what you can get used to! Things that at first seem unbearable- like the long, cold, sunless days of a German winter- begin to grow on you. You slowly find your ‘comfort zone’, and work out ways to deal with new situations. In fact, you might experience a kind of ‘reverse culture shock’ when you leave the situations you have finally adapted to and return to something more familiar. But take comfort in the fact that you will no doubt adapt again, and again, and again……..

Organisation – you bet I’m organised! Uprooting your life, packing up your entire apartment into little boxes, and having it arrive on the opposite side of the world on a specific day at a specific time at another apartment that you’ve managed to secure takes a great deal of organisation- and, to be honest, luck!

Appreciation – I led quite a sheltered life back in Australia. I had not been overseas before my first job in Japan, and I had no interest in culture, politics, or world events- boring! However, the more I travelled, the more I was exposed to these things. I started to appreciate the far-reaching effects of political events in various countries around the world, I started to appreciate the different celebrations of various cultures and the joy they bring, I started to appreciate the environment and its value. You could say I started to appreciate humankind- cheesy, I know, but it’s true.

In addition to tremendous personal growth, I wholeheartedly believe that, thanks to my experiences living and working internationally, I have developed a unique perspective on life and living: we all have the same goal- to be happy- though our individual journeys to this destination may be very different. And that’s okay. Actually, it’s not just okay, it’s fantastic! We should treasure and preserve our differences, whilst at the same time respecting basic human needs and rights. And I believe the best way to do this is to travel, immerse oneself in different cultures, ‘walk a mile in their shoes’ so to speak. Only then will we come to truly understand one another.

I’m looking forward to the next seven years, and can’t wait to see what they bring. I just hope they don’t fly by as quickly as the past seven years have!

Brenna is an Australian elementary and PE/Health teacher who asked to blog for us. She has worked in many international schools around the world over the past seven years, and enjoys experiencing the music, food and celebrations of various cultures around the world.

If you would like to write a guest blog, please email

Written by Brenna McNeil

The reference issue – adding credibility to your application

Gone are the days when references were used as the main criteria for judging the quality of a teacher.  This is a shame, as references actually add a lot of value to an application; they reinforce a candidate’s achievements and add value to their credentials.

In the UK, many schools are so distrusting of references that they only use references as a final check once they have decided to employ a candidate.  This is not the case for international schools where references still carry a lot of weight, provided they are from quality sources.

Provided you are a good teacher, solid and confidential references will actually help you secure great jobs.   Choosing your referees is critical to this process.  We have had a number of teachers who have selected their friends who then go on to provide outstanding references.  This does not help your cause as it easy to spot and asks all sorts of questions about why a teacher has chosen their referees this way.


We strongly recommend that teachers make their current Head of School one of their three referees.  Most good international schools will demand this and want to hear an assessment from the top.  We would also suggest that you use a former Head of School for your second reference.  The third can be more flexible but chose someone who has been your superior, a Head of Department, Deputy Head or line manager would be the most obvious choice.

Worried about a bad reference?  In the vast majority of cases, you shouldn’t be.  If your school have been particularly unreliable or unfair, you may choose to use your line manager rather than a Head of School as a referee.  However, please be aware that you may need to justify your decision and most schools will call your current head to discuss the issue if they are suspicious in any way.  You are often better off being completely honest, using the current Head and then explaining your situation.  Heads of School know there are rogue schools or that personality clashes happen sometimes provided you come across well at interview and are completely open about your situation.  If you are worried about this, a video interview can really help your cause as it may reduce any doubts a school may have regarding your applications.

The great news is that good teachers have nothing to worry about.  A strong profile that is backed up by strong references is a winning formula and you are likely to be in pole position for that next job!