Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Finding an Overseas Position: Do Your Homework!

Part onePart two; Part three

Once you find a position you're interested in, what should you do?  What any good librarian knows:


            While I’ve painted a rather rosy picture of overseas teaching, it is not without its hazards and drawbacks.  It can be hard enough dealing with culture shock that first year without having to survive a bad school environment as well.  Just as schools in the States vary, international schools can be good or bad, but carry the added baggage of dragging you away from your comfort zone into a culture where you probably don’t speak the language or understand how to work the system.  Thus, before accepting a position, you must spend time finding out as much as you can about the school and the country.

1) Think seriously about what type of environment you want.  Shaun Henriksen at I.S. Havana warns, “one person's 'amazing' place might not be another's and vice versa.  Some factors depend on whether you are married, single, have a family,  or want a community to get involved with.  If you love big cities and night life, don’t accept a position in Madagascar!” Also think about the schools.  Large schools usually offer great resources, but it’s easy to get lost in the crowd.  Small schools may have a bit less, but create a sense of family and belonging.  Know where your comfort zone lies.  Of course, you also need to be open to new possibilities. When I first started looking into overseas positions, I was thinking Athens, London, Paris.  I barely even knew Turkey existed! I ended up in Ankara, and loved (almost!) every minute of the five years I spent there.

2.  Start early!  The international hiring season kicks into high gear starting in January, then continues until June, though most jobs are filled by the end of March.  Thus, you will need to have your placement file, recommendations, etc. in order by November at the latest.  Schools start posting openings in October, and may even conduct Skype interviews in November and December.  Now is not too soon to start building your file with an agency.

3)  Once you find an opening of interest to you, peruse the school’s website to try to get a feel for its focus and values.  Check out the State Department’s website for any safety warnings related to the country (though be aware they do exaggerate warnings; there were frequent  “Do not travel” warnings during my five years in Turkey, yet I never once felt threatened or in danger, even though I often travelled alone.)

4)  Subscribe to the International Schools Review
As I said in the previous post, I am not a complete fan of the site, but it is definitely useful if you bear a few points in mind.  The site consists of two parts: a blog on topics of interest to ex-pat teachers, and a
 separate ($29) school review site where teachers anonymously write reviews and rate the schools and/or directors where they work.  As you can imagine, it has come to be a place where disgruntled employees vent, so you have to be able to read between the lines.  To further confuse matters,  school owners or administrators sign on and write glowing reviews of themselves.  Fortunately, those are pretty easy to spot:  just watch for a string of 9’s and 10’s and sometimes quirky English!  When I use the site, I’m basically looking for patterns.  One negative review out of many is not too worrisome; if a school has several negative reviews, that may be a sign of problems. Each post will list the school’s administrator at the time the teacher worked at the school; be aware of changes here.  Administrators can make a huge difference in a school, for good or bad. I also use these reviews to generate pointed questions during the interview process.

5) During or after the interview, ask your director for a list of the faculty emails, so you can email and ask questions.  If possible, try to avoid the director just giving you the name of one contact person.  You can bet that’s a person the director knows will give a good response.  If you can’t get a full faculty list, at least ask for several different addresses, allowing you some choice in whom you contact. Many school’s websites include faculty email addresses, so be sure to look there.  If the director will not give you email addresses, or keeps putting you off, drop the school.  The worst job I ever had, the director kept promising to get me some contacts, but always had a reason he couldn’t “at the moment.”  Like an idiot, I took the job.  I now call that school “The Hellhole.”  Lesson learned. 

Ask what the school will do to help you settle in.  At a minimum, the school should handle and pay for any visas or work permits. If housing is not immediately available upon your arrival, the school should put you up in a hotel for several days and assist with apartment/house hunting.  There should be a week's orientation for new faculty to familiarize you with the school, the community, help in shopping, setting up bank accounts, etc.  Finally, ISR recently reported on a new internet scam aimed at the international teaching community, so be aware that no reputable school will ask for money up front to pay for housing, work permits, etc.

            Once you’re overseas, you may never look back!  Of course there are the frustrations of culture shock and adjusting to a new job, but that is all part of the fun.  Ironically, people who return home after several years overseas often experience reverse culture shock, and have a harder time re-adjusting to “normal” life than they did to life overseas.   After ten years overseas, I did come back to the States; however, I found myself missing the international life more and more, returning after to it three years. Whether you live in Botswana,  Burma, or Bolivia, living in another country broadens your world view and increases your self-confidence in ways you’d never expect.  You learn that, as long as you have money and your passport, most problems can be resolved, and you actually learn to enjoy the rituals in haggling over prices or spending two hours working your way through the levels of the PTT just to pick up a package of stale Cheez-Its your well-meaning mother mailed four months earlier.

            More importantly, international education is a growing market, with over 900 American, British, Anglo-American and International schools worldwide and more added every year,  most of them hiring passionate, dedicated teachers eager for new experiences.   Whether you’re out of a job or just seeking something different and exciting,  looking into international schools opens a new world of possibilities.  Dive in!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Sign Me Up: Finding an Overseas Position

Part OnePart Two

So how do you go about actually finding an overseas position?  Especially your first time out, you’ll have better luck going through one of the many job fairs.  There are four main fairs:

International School Services:  This is by far the largest of the job fairs, but also has a reputation for being less selective in the schools that attend, so be sure to do your research (more on that later).   It’s also more expensive.  You’ll pay $185 to register with them, plus $290 to attend the conference.

Search-Associates:  A slightly smaller fair, Search has the reputation for being more selective in the schools that can attend and its teacher candidates. You will pay $200 to register, but this includes the cost of one fair.   Search has the benefit of working with a specific associate, who, theoretically, gets to know you and can help you in the process.  There is much debate as to how much actual promoting the associates do, however, as they are responsible for entire geographic areas.

University of Northern Iowa:  In February, their Overseas Placement Service runs what is generally considered a less “prestigious” job fair , but actually quite a few top-tier schools from around the world attend.

CIS:  For those in the UK (and the rest of Europe), The Council of International Schools is another major player.  They hold two conferences in London, and thanks to those great "socialist" ideals, there's no cost to candidates, apart from flights and hotel, of course.  Non-Europeans can attend, but many of the schools at the fairs offer national curricula such as GCSE and A-levels.

All of these agencies allow you to access password-protected job openings as well as details about the position and the school’s package.  Except for UNI, they hold the job fair in large (expensive!) hotels; it is worth staying in the hotels, however, as quite a bit of networking goes on in elevators hallways. It’s also a relief to be able to disappear into your room to relax between interviews.  The hotel and airfare, depending on how far you’re flying, can easily add another $1,000 to the cost of your job hunt.

Having said that, more and more schools are conducting Skype interviews, especially for experienced teachers,  which lowers costs for everyone.


The International Educator:   A newspaper dedicated to international teaching, with a corresponding website. Many of the schools run ads here, listing their openings.

International Schools Review.  I have a like/hate relationship with this website.  For a $29 fee, members can search the site for teacher reviews of hundreds of international schools.  Personally, I feel the site as a whole takes a somewhat adversarial position towards overseas schools. In some ways, this is understandable, as international educators have no unions to fight their case if problems arise, and the job fair folks tend to favor the schools since the bulk of their money comes from them.  ISR has emerged as a strong advocate for teachers and equitable treatment.  Read their blog, and you’ll have a good sense of the issues  and what to watch out for during your job hunt.  I'll write more about this site next post.

TES:  The Times Education Supplement posts openings in the UK and internationally.

 Speaking of which:

Next Post:  Do Your Homework!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Time For a New Look!

I'm getting a bit tired of the old black look.  What do you think of the new one?  Time for a change, or go back to the old?

Hold on!  Trying to fix text in previous posts. Blogger doesn't want to let me change it back to black!

The International "Advantage"

Part two in my series about working internationally.  Part one here.

Why I Work Overseas

Now that you know the different types of international schools, just why would someone want to work in one?  For a number of reasons!  While much of running an international school’s library remains the same--promoting reading, teaching information literacy skills, running library programs, you will also find some significant (and exciting!) differences.

BROAD COMMUNITY:   Most importantly, you will offer services for a broader community than do most schools at home.  Many international school libraries, located in in places with little access to non-native language texts, may serve as the only source of reading material for students.  Marion van Engelen, LMS at Dulwich College, Shanghai comments,  “We are not just a provider of curriculum-supportive materials; instead, the library...caters to all the reading needs, whether it is the latest teen fiction, the Man Booker Prize winner, or books on parenting and study skills.”  The international librarian functions as a hybrid of a public and school library, serving parents and other international community members as well as students.

CAN YOU READ SWAHILI?  Your collection will probably not be limited to English-language texts.  Aside from books written in your host language, and the “foreign” languages taught at your school, you will need to include books written in the language of many of your students.  In Mongolia, for example, we have several shelves of Korean language novels, and I’m working to build our Japanese, German and French collections.    In addition, the international librarian must be hyper-aware of pro-Western bias both in the collection and in individual texts.

MY BUDGET IS WHAT??  You will often have a larger budget than you are used to (my budget in Mongolia is more than double that of my last school in the States), and be highly valued as the go-to source for information in your school and community. Depending on your school, however, shipping may eat a fairly large portion of that. You also won’t be hopping over to Borders to buy the hot new releases. Some schools only order books once a year, others are on a twice yearly schedule. I am fortunate to be able to order off Amazon when I need something “quickly”--as in, within the next six weeks.  My library does have four Kindles and two iPads that circulate, both of which enable to me load new releases for students in a timely manner.  Which brings up another issue:  Many items (such as iPads) may not be available in your country (or are only available at exorbitant cost), and you will have to find alternative methods to bring them in.  However, many of the companies you’re used to--Follett, Gaylord and more--do work with international schools.

DO I GET SOME HELP WITH THAT?  Finally, you are all but guaranteed at least one aide, sometimes more if you’re in a large school.  It’s an issue in international  schools that local hires are often paid far less than foreign hires, but it does mean you will probably have an aide to help with the routine tasks.  Moreover, as  Kathleen Turner, from AIS in Guangzhou, China points out, due to the relatively high turnover in international schools--many teachers remain in a given school only 2-5 years--this often means an enthusiastic, highly motivated faculty, eager to try something new.

NANNIES AND COOKS AND DRIVERS, OH MY! On a personal level, you’ll find the “ex-pat life style” can be pretty addicting.  I went overseas for two years; ten years later, I’m still out here.  You’ll work with multi-national faculty and students, vacation in places most of your friends and family only dream about, and be able to hire, at the very minimum, a cleaner to come in once or twice a week.  Many ex-pat families hire full-time cooks, nannies, drivers and gardeners.  It all depends on where you are located and the salary at your school. In addition, schools will send to you PD workshops in great locations:  I'm off to a workshop in Shanghai next month, and last year I attended conferences in Macau and Borneo--all at school expense!   

On top of all this, your salary is usually tax-free, and schools (outside Europe) provide housing,  yearly flights and the usual other benefits; many include free tuition for at least one child, with reduced rates for additional children. Many teaching couples can save an entire salary, and singles can save from $5,000 to $20,000 per year, depending on the job.   Remember, too, when look at international salaries, which may look small compared to the US, UK, or Australia.  Aside from being tax free, the cost of living in many places is low when compared to home countries.

UPDATE Here's an interview with Forrest Broman, well-known on the international circuit and currently head of TIE, which I'll talk about next post. 

If you feel that this sort of thing is just what you're looking for, how do you get started?

Next post:  How to find a position

Preparing Parents for the Digitized Classroom

As Back-to-School Night looms, this perceptive article would be a good share for your more technologically embedded teachers.  The author makes a good case for parent fears about classroom technology use (I'm somewhat abashed to admit that hadn't occurred to me.  Tech nerd that I am, I thought parents would leap on board with loud huzzahs of gratitude!)

I've completely rethought my approach as a result of the article, and will put my presentation together this weekend.  I'll post it when finished.

On another note, a few days ago I posted my presentation for the faculty library orientation, and said I would let readers know how it went.  I won't say it was a smashing success, BUT:
  • The two new admin members made a point of saying they were happy to hear I believed in an active, participatory library.
  • One of the faculty, while demurring about the "thrill" of listening to it, did say it was reassuring to hear I had a vision for the library.
  • Best of all, three faculty members who ignored the library in the past, have come to ask for help with student projects.

Definitely well worth the time!

Need Some Adventure in Your Life? Work Internationally!

With the bleak prospects for school librarianship in the U.S. these days, several people have emailed me about working in international schools.  So I decided to do a series of posts on teaching on the international circuit:  the good, the bad and the bits that make you pause!

Come With Me To The Casbah!

     Have you always pictured yourself on safari in the Serengheti, but never had the money?  Or fancied wandering through Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, on a leisurely Saturday morning?  With all the budget cuts, pink slips, calls for education reform that blame the teachers and just general economic downturn, now may be the time to make those dreams a reality by becoming an international school librarian.
            There is an entire circuit of school libraries out there, in all sorts of combinations K-12, secondary only, primary only, and more, many of them run by qualified media specialists.  Aside from the travel opportunities, international librarianship provides quite a few perks to make it an enticing change from working in the States, the UK or Australia.

            But first, what exactly is an international school?  Basically, there are three types of schools hiring ex-pat faculty.  The DODDS schools are run through the military, teach an American curriculum and only American students.  They are beyond the scope of these posts, but if you’re interested, you can find out more here

            Next are the schools that offer a curriculum based on American, British, German or other national curriculae, but the majority of students come from the country in which you are living (the host country).  For example, I worked in a school in Turkey where we taught, basically, a British curriculum (IGCSE) in grades 9 and 10, but 90% of our students were Turkish. There are also schools that teach a national curriculum for the children of ex-pat workers, such as the oil company schools in Saudi with an American curriculum run by ARAMCO for the benefit of its American employees.
            Finally, there are the “true” international schools, with students from around the world.  My current school in Mongolia, with a student population of almost 300, consists of around 40 different nationalities.  These schools may offer either various national curricula, the International Baccalaureate, or both.

That’s a wide variety of schools from which to choose, many of them housing a school library.

While much of running an international school’s library remains the same--promoting reading, teaching information literacy skills, running library programs, you will also find some significant (and exciting!) differences.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Perfect Partners: Comic Life and Paper Camera

I can't draw to save my life.  Seriously.  Kids go into hysterics over my stick figures, and I don't even try anything more advanced than that.  So I'm very sympathetic to students in similar situations, and I've been wondering how to help them with my upcoming assignment in graphic novels.

We're starting off the year reading the wonderful  American Born Chinese,  studying the second chapter of Scott McCloud's brilliant Making Comics; the whole thing is great, but that chapter does a very good job of explaining the basics of analyzing comic images.

The obvious summative assignment to go along with these is to have students draw their own graphic "novel," specifically on a time they've experience a cultural misunderstanding or faux-pas.

An assignment like that would have had me in a panic when I was in high school.  Fortunately, it's less anxiety-inducing thanks to technology.

When deciding what tools to use with the students (those who CAN draw will be encouraged to do their own of course!),  I gave ToonDoo a miss because it's too limiting and doesn't allow students to play with angles,  point of view, and framing much.

Which pretty much left me with Comic Life.  It's a good tool, if you don't know it.  Basically, you take pictures (or sketch your own), then upload them into Comic Life.  It has filters that can "comicize" the photos, making them less realistic-looking.  It provides a variety of templates for the frames, and bubbles, caption lettering, etc.

I've never been all that fussed about it, however, because I think the photos still look like photos, unless you filter them beyond recognition.

Well, today I stumbled across Paper Camera on the iPad.  I adore it.  Here's the picture I took of my cat when I first started playing with it.
Isn't that great?  It really looks like someone sketched it!  And at 99 cents, it's not going to break the budget.

Tomorrow I'm giving the students their assignment to read McCloud over the weekend, and here's the handout I put together, to get into the spirit of the unit.

 I've loaded both apps onto the library iPads; after storyboarding, students can check them out, take their photos,  put them through Paper Camera, and create their graphic stories, all on the iPad.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

New Tools To Personalize the Classroom

I found two new and interesting tools to use both in the library and in my English classroom. The first was passed on by Buffy Hamilton, and the other I found while looking for articles to populate my Scoop.it page on Digital Storytelling.

Socrative takes clickers to the next step.  It's free, works via a web browser (though they have an Android app, and are working on apps for the iPhone and Blackberry), and allows teachers to receive quick feedback, give quizzes, and monitor formative assessments with a mere click.  There an introductory video below.

Socrative introduction video (new) from Socrative Inc. on Vimeo.

I like the multiple formats for responses, the display for quick survey of responses, which makes it easy to monitor and adjust.  Unfortunately, we're not a 1:1 school, and this being Mongolia, I don't know how many students have smart-phones, but I'll check with them when we have class on Thursday.

History in Pictures

Historypin takes the social nature of Google Earth and makes it super easy (without all the bandwidth-eating downloading, I might add).  In fact, it partners with Google.  Select a place--say, your hometown--and populate it with photos past and present.  There are already multiple collections availabe, providing a fascinating look at how places change over the century (the timeline feature goes from 1840 to the present).

You can also choose a picture and lay it against a streetview map,  directly comparing the past and present views (see screen capture below).   In addition, each photo has an "story" feature that lets users tell the story behind the photo.

This tool has multiple uses, from digital documentaries, to oral histories and more.  Student groups create histories of their school or community, of community-service activities or other events.

Again, see the introductory video below.

Monday, August 15, 2011

You Have to Train the Faculty, Too

I have a 20 minute orientation for the faculty today. I decided rather than just telling them ways the library can support them, I want to start "training" them in how to think about the library and our role in the pedagogical conversation of the school.

I want then to understand WHY including the library as an integral part of their year is not just beneficial; it's essential.

So I'm giving them a quick primer on transliteracy, conversation theory, and embedded librarianship. Yikes! I don't know how that will go over. I'll let you know. But here's my Keynote presentation.

As you can see, I'm also working on my Presentation Zen skills! Having the slide titles kind of goes against that, but I knew I'd be posting it here, and I think it helps with understanding the flow of the presentation and how the slides link.