The International School System (ISS) is a global education system with institutions in more than 100 countries worldwide. Although it can be difficult to get your first role within the system, Donna Bracewell, a Middle School Teacher in the United Nations International School in Hanoi, Vietnam, provides tips on how to land in the system.
A few years ago I was working on a tiny island just off Vancouver Island in BC, Canada. I was the principal of a nature-based school that I had founded with an arts-centered curriculum and I considered it to be my life’s passion. In reality though I was starting to feel the need for a new challenge. My husband and I began to look at the possibilities of going abroad to teach for a short break. We took a job in the International School System and it was like stepping into a whole new world.
Many of the big International Schools have a lot of money, and they don’t have the constraints that some North American schools have. At my school they recently opened a whole center for the arts and there is a real desire to get their arts program up to a high standard. There is always some room in the budgets for workshops, particularly arts workshops. It’s important to get your name out there. It’s a small network, so if you do a good job at one school, it’s likely that several of the schools in the area will want to hire you. All International Schools have music, drama and visual arts programs, so you can apply within any of those strands. You should also remember that not all schools are alike. There are many different types of schools within the system so do some research on the school you want to work at before you apply.
At the moment, the majority of artists and workshop leaders who I see working in the International Schools are fairly mainstream and in my opinion they are not engaging the youth in the way that teaching artists in the PYE network have the capacity to do.
Start by putting together a strong resume. The people who are hiring will look at your expertise but also at your experience. ISS schools look for people who have experience working with people from diverse cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds. Include details in your resume if you have any experience working with special needs children or children with particular issues and challenges. If you can offer some experience with helping to manage social dynamics and social issues then that’s a big advantage. Make sure to list all of the credentials you have and the trainings you have taken to make yourself sound as marketable as possible. Be very specific about the skills you can offer. You don’t need a teaching certificate if you aren’t going for a full-time role, but you will need to show that you have real ability.
IF you’re part of an organization it can be a good idea to apply through them. The school I work at brought in a video production company called Reel Youth last year. They approached the school directly and they were very particular in talking about their experience of working with youth on leadership skills and culture, which was very appealing to the decision makers.
If you’re willing to take the risk, travel to the place where you want to work and then look for opportunities. In the school where I work there are all kinds of opportunities. There is a large music department and they are always looking for teachers. We run an outreach program offering music classes to disadvantaged children in the local area and many of them have never picked up an instrument before, so there are always opportunities to get involved with that. It’s also hard to find cover teachers in many of these countries, so it might be possible to offer alternative activities in those situations. If you have no teaching certificate but you can show that you are really great with kids and really creative, then you could offer a workshop for the day or something along those lines.
My best advice is to find out about the schools that are near you and then contact them directly. Remember that they get inundated with proposals so you will probably have to work pretty hard to make yours stand out. It’s also a good idea to try to talk to people who work at the school so that they can carry your proposal to the right people for you.
Annual recruitment fairs run by International Schools are a great place to make connections. They can be quite intense and there are on the spot interviews going on, but the key decision makers from the big schools will always pass through. People will tend to be very busy, but I would suggest setting up a stall with information about your offering and trying to talk to as many people as possible.
Using the arts to work with youth gives them a voice and an ability to express themselves around the struggles they face. Youth in International Schools have the same struggles as youth anywhere. Many of them have quite a lot of issues to deal with around culture and identity because often they have lived all over the world, sometimes moving between countries on a regular basis. It’s common that they’ve spent a limited amount of time in their home country and that they don’t have a very strong sense of cultural belonging. For some, they don’t even have a strong grasp of their mother tongue, as they are educated in English. These kinds of situations pose obvious challenges for a young person and I would love to see space opened up around that. Allowing these kids to do something like improv or visual storytelling to explore these ideas could be incredibly powerful.