Lucrative packages lure foreign teachers to work in international schools

By Wang Han Source:Global Times Published: 2016-5-29 18:13:01

Chinese students present flowers to their foreign teacher on Teachers' Day. Photo: IC

Alongside the growth of the expat community and the middle class, international schools are now a boom industry in China. According to a 2015 report, there were 597 international schools in the country in 2015 and China has become the country with the most international schools worldwide.

The schools offer experienced foreign teachers a range of job opportunities and hundreds of teachers have uprooted themselves and their families to come to China to work and enjoy a different culture.

Jeremy Schuitman is a high school math and physics teacher at the Concordia International School Shanghai. Before coming to Shanghai, he taught math and physics in a public high school in Battle Creek, Michigan for 14 years.

A different culture

He told the Global Times that he and his wife wanted to show their three young daughters a different world and culture, and this was a big reason for them moving to Shanghai.

"We wanted them to have an experience outside of the city they were living in. We feel it is very important that their best friends are from a wide range of different countries," Schuitman said.

Apart from the cultural aspects they also wanted to bring up their daughters with more languages, especially Putonghua (Chinese). "It's great fun to watch our kids interact with simple Putonghua on the streets of Shanghai," he said.

He knew about the school from friends who had worked there and applied online for a position there.

Jan Austin is a kindergarten teacher at Concordia and said she left her previous position and country because she wanted a change in her life.

"I have always wanted to teach overseas. My children were grown and I realized that I could chase the dream that I had had in the back of my mind," she said. She had been teaching kindergarten students at a private Christian school in Tennessee, the US, for 16 years.

An English coach trains students to play football at a Chinese middle school. Photo: CFP

Easy transition

She founded her current position online and said the school had helped make the transition to China relatively easy.

"They took care of a lot of details including the health certificate, visa applications, securing housing, and furniture rental, and made it easy for me to step off the plane and focus on my new job instead of my initial living needs," Austin said.

Angel Vilchez has been teaching Spanish and French at Wellington College International Shanghai since August 2015. He told the Global Times that the opportunity of living in different countries and experiencing different cultures was a key reason for him choosing to become an international teacher.

"I think part of the experience of teaching abroad is that you can choose to live in different countries. And then if you want to move to a new country, it is easier for international teachers, as you can just apply for a teaching position somewhere else," he said.

Before coming to Shanghai, Vilchez taught in Spain, England and Dubai. He left the UK because he could not cope with the weather there. He also thought that for the work they do teachers in Britain were not well paid or respected.

He worked in Dubai but found the lack of culture there discouraging - the place was beautiful but there was no culture to explore. "Everything is shiny and splendid, but behind that, there is little left. I felt life in Dubai was boring, and the only thing I could do was spend money," Vilchez said. "I love Dubai, but it is more like a place to go on holidays."

Bigger salary

One tangible reward for Vilchez in Shanghai is an improvement in pay. He told the Global Times that if he was teaching in Spain, or the UK or in Dubai, his salary would probably be below average, but in Shanghai his salary was above average and his salary package here was better than that in Dubai.

The other teachers, Austin and Schuitman, agreed that salaries in China were a big attraction. Austin said she has a larger earning potential in China, and her current school has a generous expat package that allows her to save and still be able to travel.

Many of the overseas teachers in Shanghai report that they earn more here than they could in their home countries. Karl Hayward-Bradley is the director of studies at Wellington College International Shanghai and said the packages for overseas staff were very generous at his school, and for many included accommodation, flights and bonuses which made it even more attractive to work here.

As well as earning more, some of the teachers noted that teachers had more respect and trust in Shanghai than back home. Vilchez said that it often happened in Spain when a child didn't like a teacher, the parents would blame the teacher but in China if a student complained the parents would not automatically take the child's side.

As well the move to Shanghai has improved the career prospects for all three of these teachers.

Schuitman said his school offered in-house training courses throughout the year for all the teachers and brought in experts to work with the different departments throughout the school. His school has a specific budget for the professional development for the teachers.

"This encourages teachers to seek out seminars and courses that will directly affect their teaching in their classroom immediately," he said.

Austin said her school was in a project of the Teachers College, Columbia University and trainers in reading and writing workshops would come to the school twice a year. The Teachers College, Columbia University is one of the oldest and most prestigious educational institutions in the US.

"The trainers that run the workshops are working with each grade level team to improve their teaching. Plus, they work in my classroom with my students. I get to see their strategies for the effective teaching of literacy first hand," she said.

Vilchez said he was sent to Bangkok for training courses in September 2015, which expanded his vision as an international teacher. Currently, he is also undertaking a master's degree at a city university.

He said if he was still teaching in England, he would not have this opportunity as his previous workload tended to be 50 percent more than his current demands.

An American teacher uses creative methods in class. Photo: IC

Diverse backgrounds

Another appeal for teachers working in international schools here is the diverse cultural backgrounds of their students and fellow staff.

Austin said she now teaches a wider range of nationalities and more English language learners than she had before. Vilchez said that most of his students had already been exposed to several different cultures and could speak three or four languages.

"Here in a class of 15, you can have 12 different passports," Vilchez said. "Some kids have a mom from Korea, a dad from America, and they live in China, so they speak Chinese, and go to an international school, so they speak English."

As a language teacher, he felt it was a great experience to teach students who could speak more languages than he could.

Austin said she is now working with a more international group of educators with varied backgrounds — all of the teachers in her last school were Americans and their backgrounds were in public education.

While foreign teachers at these schools enjoy many benefits, they also face challenges.

Schuitman said it took him and his family quite a long time to adapt to the food and customs in Shanghai and sometimes he really struggles to understand situations.

Likewise, Austin said her biggest challenge was with the language as she still has only a basic Chinese vocabulary and needs to learn more.

And because most teachers come here by themselves, they have to be independent and be able to cope with any problems by themselves.

Intense competition

Competition for teaching positions at these international schools has become intense over the past few years. Wellington College's Hayward-Bradley said there were a growing number of applications every year and the school can choose the best teachers from a large pool of talent.

Basic requirements, he said, were that applicants be aged under 60, have a bachelor's degree with two years experience, or a master's degree.

"Previous overseas teaching experience is not necessary, and we have a good balance of teachers from the UK system and from various other countries to suit our position as a British school with an international outlook," he said.

The three teachers have no regrets about their move to Shanghai. "I enjoy living in Shanghai and the many cultural offerings available. I also have international travel for leisure more frequently. I enjoy services like massages and a housekeeper as they are reasonably priced and much more affordable here," said Austin, adding that making friends from all around the world is one of the best rewards that her overseas experience has given her.

Newspaper headline: Chalking it up!

Posted in: Metro Shanghai, City Panorama

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