A lot of people ask me how I got my job at the American School of Madrid. I think it is a worthwhile story to tell because six years ago when I started thinking about teaching overseas, I had such a hard time finding firsthand accounts of what it is like, how people did it, and what I could expect.
For me it all started on a REALLY snowy Christmas break. See, in Portland, the city COMPLETELY shuts down when there is an inch or more of snow. I was snowed into my house for two weeks straight. Well, one of those nights I was totally stir crazy. Somehow the idea of teaching abroad came into my mind (it had several times before but I never really followed up on it). So I started to do some googling. I looked at places I would like to go, and then eventually I looked up schools abroad that I would like to teach at. I started noticing that many of the schools use a firm called Search Associates
to do their hiring. So, late in the night, I signed up for Search.
There was all the typical paperwork involved with finding a new job (letters of recommendation, resume, statement of purpose). I powered through and got my application completed that same night! About four days later, I got an email from the “associate” assigned to me. His advice was, “You can get hired in Asia, but it is very unlikely that you can work in Europe or ‘more desirable areas’ because of a lack of international experience”. This broke my heart. I was a great teacher. My past administrators loved me. I had a masters. 5 years experience. I was determined to not let this get me down. So I decided to give it my best shot. Within a week I had Skype interviews set up in Tokyo, Senegal, Niger, Mali, Guatamala, Vietnam, and Madrid. It was amazing! To deal with the overwhelming feeling, I decided to limit myself to schools that were solid with good admin and plenty of Professional Development. I wanted to be somewhere I could learn. I applied only at non-profit international or American schools. I wanted to stay away from for-profit schools. Now, I know that some for-profit schools are perfectly fine. I decided that I would take the first offer I got – no matter where that might be – because I carefully screened the schools before sending them my application. A few days later (well nights later actually), I got a phone call that woke me up. It was 2 in the morning my time. It was the headmaster at the American School of Madrid. He offered me the job! I was thrilled! I was jumping up and down in my house! I accepted on the spot. The hard part was that I couldn’t tell anyone until the next morning. It is safe to say I didn’t sleep a wink. The entire process from googling “international teaching” to having an offer was only two weeks!
Fast forward to now. I just finished my fifth year at the American School of Madrid. It is an incredible school with amazing administrators, students, teachers, and resources. Other than the Spanish language teachers, the rest of the teachers are American. About a third of the students are American, a third Spanish, and a third international. I have learned so much since I have been here! We have been trained in writing, readers, and math workshop. We have an amazing Literacy coach to help us at every step of the way. We have been aligning all of our grading and curriculum to the standards. The expectations are high all around. Occasionally, people still ask me if I am teaching English. Far from it. When I am on campus, it feels no different than being at a private school back in the states.
The best part of life here is going off-campus
Over the past five years I have traveled to Thailand, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Morocco, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, France, etc. Sometimes I have to pinch myself when I think about planning a “weekend adventure”. I love being surrounded by other teachers who love traveling as well.
I do miss my family and I spend my entire summers back in the states. Thankfully, Skype and FaceTime make it pretty easy to stay connected. I have also had several friends come visit. I have made amazing friendships here and it is hard to be lonely. Since I’ve been here, I’ve gotten married and had a beautiful baby in a Spanish hospital.
Yes and/or no. There are actually many roads toward international teaching. I’ve met people who have applied directly to schools after finding them online. I’ve heard of (but never met) people who work in Department of Defense schools. In addition, there are headhunter firms other than Search Associates, ISS, or TIE online. I don’t know much about these firms or how much they charge. For me, I chose to pay. I wanted to apply to multiple schools at once. I also wanted information about the salary I could expect, the student population, and the benefits included BEFORE applying. With a paid service (such as Search Associates), you have access to all of the information. I paid $225 for the service. In retrospect, it was possibly the most life-changing $225 I have ever spent. Let me point out: I am NOT being paid in any way, whatsoever to write this post.
(advice applies if you decide to go via a PAID headhunter firm such as Search, ISS, or TIE)
1. If you want to go to a highly desirable area (such as Europe), be prepared for some rejection (unless you are in a specialized subject, i.e. high level math or science). In general, European schools will only consider candidates with a minimum of five years experience in addition to a Masters degree. If you have less experience, you can try Europe, but you should also consider Asia, Middle East, or Africa — there are amazing schools all over the world!
2. Sign up for a headhunter firm. Use their database to find the schools to which you want to apply. Start gathering your bio, references, resume, etc. You want to put your best foot forward.
3. Many of the best schools hire as early as October for the following year. You want to have your applications and materials ready before February NO MATTER WHAT.
4. You could be hired via a Skype interview but most people are hired at the job fairs. Search Associates has job fairs all over the world. In the U.S., the fairs are in January (Cambridge, MA) and February (San Francisco, CA). After the fairs are finished, it becomes very challenging to find an international job for the following year.
Does the school provide housing or a housing stipend?
Is the student population international, local, a mix of both?
What are you looking for?
Are you looking only at non-profit schools?
Will you be able to live comfortably on the salary the school provides?
Does the location give you a chance to travel to places that you find interesting?
Does it look like the school values Professional Development and teacher retention?
It’s important to think through your decision to accept an offer. Once you’ve accepted an offer, you need to follow through. Not following through can hurt your chances of being hired in other international schools. It’s not something you want to do if you are hoping to work overseas somewhere else.
If you are looking for a life adventure and you think you are ready to give international teaching a try, good luck! It can be a beautiful, life-changing experience!
Alyssha Swanson is a 2nd grade teacher who is currently enjoying baby snuggles while on maternity leave in Madrid, Spain. When she’s not changing diapers, she is fumbling her way through learning Spanish, eating like she’s on vacation, and running a TpT store
. She blogs at Teaching and Tapas
and can also be found on Facebook
, and Instagram