My Experiences Teaching Overseas

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“If you could do it all over again Caz, would you still become a primary school teacher?”

I was out to lunch with some of my oldest friends and we had just been sharing horror stories of teaching in Australia – mine, those of some other teachers there, and those that had been heard through the hallways at the local schools.

I had to pause for a moment to think about my answer; an answer that would either show a life filled with regret or one with gratitude for the experiences I had been served.

There are plenty of things I wish I did choose instead. Things that I were more passionate about and perhaps more highly skilled in.

I enrolled into teaching because I didn’t know what else to do, nor did I know what I was good at. I had no sense of myself and what I was hoping to achieve with my life. I just chose something for the sake of choosing it.

Everything in life happens for a reason, and sometimes when your path is not clear to you, it is clear to some other unseen force who guides you until you get it.

“You know, if  it wasn’t for teaching, I probably wouldn’t have travelled as much as I did. It was the teaching that got me around the world and allowed me to live in certain countries and travel. So, for that reason alone, I would probably choose it again.

I am so grateful for it being the portal to so much joy and wealth of living.”

As I work now to extract myself from a career I was never passionate about, I write this post in celebration for what it did give to my life.

I hope those who are thinking of teaching overseas embrace it for the amazing experience it will give, in becoming, not just a better teacher, but a better person. Most of all embrace it for the travel it can gift you.

Everywhere in the world needs teachers.

London (97-99)

Talk about being thrown in the deep end.

I had my interview with a teaching agency in the UK before I finished Uni. I was accepted and so when I arrived in London in 1997 on my UK working holiday visa, I was ready to start my teaching career in Hackney, East London, an area I was soon to discover to be one of London’s most challenging.

I wasn’t quite ready to settle into a full time job as I had travel on my horizon, so I went straight for the supply (casual, substitute)  teaching. This meant I was running all over the East End going to different schools every day. It was a great way for me to get to know the city, and lose a whole lot of weight.

It was also a fantastic way for me to learn how to be an adaptable teacherdifferent students, different classes every day. There is nothing like stopping students from throwing chairs at each other; teaching a whole class of Bangladeshi students with limited English; having a 7 year old boy you just meet scream at you “You fucking bitch” before compassion hits you as you realize he was the boy whose mother you saw getting arrested in the school foyer that morning for dealing drugs; and learning how to manage a Somalian refugee with severe autism.

Yep. That is real learning right there.

In the midst of this I did have a couple of permanent days at some schools throughout my one and half years of supply teaching.

For the last six months I decided to find a more permanent position,  and had a year 5 class at a pretty good school. A highlight of that was the Class Space play we created and performed for the whole school. A little nerve wracking, but lots of fun.

Pay: About 100 pounds a day.

Sydney (2000-02)

After my very educational London teaching experience, I returned home and managed to secure a position teaching year 4 at a very nice school in Wahroonga on Sydney’s North Shore.

The principal hired me because she had spent a couple of years in her youth traveling and knew just how much it made you grow as a person and what it could teach you about life.

She took a chance on me where other principals weren’t so willing. In their eyes my jet-set lifestyle wasn’t as professionally appealing.

Wahroonga is a very wealthy suburb and I found myself teaching the children of some pretty influential people, like the head of Australia Sony Music and AMP, our biggest insurance provider.

I also had a student in my class who performed in Les Miserables for the Aussie Broadway version, and a member of the Qantas choir.

After the challenges of London, this was a total dream teaching experience for me.

Bangkok (02)

Foreign teacher with blond hair and blue eyes walks up on stage, grabs the microphone to address 500 high school boys in a language barely any of them could understand.

Yet they nodded to me like they understood everything and welcomed me with gi-normous smiles.

Welcome to teaching in Bangkok.

For six months I taught every class from year 7 to year 12, each having numbers that ranged from 15 – 42 students.

I had some boys who could barely say hello and some that I could hold conversations with, making it almost impossible to teach.

I had to learn how to aim for the middle and do my best to differentiate with the non-existent resources I had. I became very good at getting my message across using non-verbal forms of communications. The boys loved my ridiculous mimes, charades and games.

As my school was attached to one of the oldest and most respected temples in Thailand, Wat Saket, I was able to attend many important ceremonies during my time there.

Wat Saket Buddhist ceremony
Private ceremony at Wat Saket

I also helped to organize a two-day English camp at a beach not far from Bangkok. Many of these students had never seen the ocean before and it was one of my teaching highlights to be able to gift them that opportunity and have a really fun time together.

My students in Bangkok taught me far more than I taught them.

I also taught at a private language school for six hours on a Saturday. For this one day, I received half my monthly wage at my high school. The school was connected to Chulalongkorn University and had amazing resources and small ability based classes.

Pay: Wat Saket- $500USD per month.

Lodging in an old converted office on the third floor was also given as a benefit.

Go- Inter Language School– $250 for 6 hours teaching

Dublin (03)

I spoke of my experience teaching in Dublin on our working holiday stories podcast.

It was one of my favourite teaching experiences to date.

I was not allowed to teach a class of my own as all teachers have to be able to speak Gaelic in order to teach. I started off supply teaching as this was allowed. I found a job advertised in the paper for a Language Resource Teacher, and applied.

The Principal of the school, John, phoned and suggested I meet him for an interview at the school’s Christmas party at the pub. I responded with delight and over red wine, we discussed all things Aussie Rules and Gaelic football, to which he was a major fan. School was not talked about only to say

“You’re hired!”

For six months, my job alternated between teaching small groups of newly arrived immigrants English, and the “Pikies” who are the Irish minority people.

If you have seen the movie ‘Snatch’ then you know what I am talking about. It was a real eye opening cultural experience for me. The job was brilliant and I just loved the people I worked with. It was too easy, the only way the Irish know how to do things.

While in Dublin, I did a 100 hour TEFL course which gave me the opportunity to teach English to Italian high school students during the summer at a language school.

Apart from the teaching, I also took them on tours around Dublin to famous landmarks and historical places. Free tours for myself!

Pay – 140 euros a day.

USA (04-06, 08-10)

Teaching in the US was a fantastic cultural experience for me as well as really helping me to grow in strength as a teacher. Not only that but it gave Craig and I a way to live in the States like we had always wanted. We loved it.

North Carolina, USA
My class in North Carolina, USA

I taught grade 5 for my four years there at two different schools. And my last year, I had half the day re-mediating small groups of students, which I loved, and the other half teaching Year 5 Science and Social Studies.

VIF was the cultural exchange teaching program who hired and placed me.

It was founded by two brothers from Chapel Hill who had spent years studying overseas and traveling. They understood the need and benefits to American children being exposed to those from other countries, and so built a large organization who recruits teachers from around the world.

I have gone through their program twice now and loved it. It gave me the opportunity to meet fellow international teachers, and a support system to assimilate into teaching in the US, which was incredibly different to what I had previously been used to.

I miss my US school family and the feeling that I was doing something important. Not only helping students to have an education, but bringing the world to many who would never get a chance to travel

Ever year I did an Australian exhibition where the students would display information they learned about a certain aspect of Australia and its culture, as well as having food to try, games to play and other interactive exhibits. It was fun and the students gained so much from it.

My final year I ran a five minute morning broadcast show on Australia, which was a ton of fun. I loved being wacky singing Australian songs, making animal noises and other crazy things.

Benefits and Pay: Return flights to the US, subsidized health insurance, reduced car insurance, interest free relocation loan. Sign on bonus from school district approx $38,000 USD a year.

Don’t forget to research what sort of tax you will be liable to pay and if you are entitled to receive any back. A lot of people overpay tax without realising it. You could be due tax back if you worked abroad or were taxed incorrectly or perhaps didn’t work for the full year. TaxBack.com can check out your details and tell you for free what you’re owed. They provide tax refunds for 16 countries worldwide including Ireland, the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Travelling the world for many years is really possible when you make it a working holiday experience. We provide an in-depth guide to working holidays, and teaching overseas in our ebook.

Doing this as a teacher gives you the added bonus of good pay, benefits, frequent holidays, cultural insights, and incredible experiences that can only make you a better teacher.