Teaching Physics Abroad – Part 1: Applying and Interviews
Are you looking to get out of teaching in the UK? Perhaps this was always your plan from starting teacher training, or maybe you have just decided you’d like a challenge or something different? In this series of articles I am going to share with you my experience of teaching abroad: how to apply for jobs, what to expect in interviews, and what you’ll find when you land your dream job and arrive in your new home.
Before we start, I have to be clear that everyone’s experience teaching abroad is different, and yours could vary wildly from mine. I have taught abroad for the past decade, and primarily in Latin America, but also a couple of years in Germany. My experiences in these places could be very different from yours if you chose to teach in Asia or the Middle East for example.
How to apply
The application process is different from school to school. Generally, if you want to work in a British international school I would say 95% of jobs are posted on the TES website, just the same as UK teaching posts. There are several recruitment agencies, but all four of my international teaching posts were advertised on the TES website. I would first start by applying through there and if you are not having much luck then look at international teacher recruitment agencies.
Just as you would when applying for UK teaching jobs, have a good CV ready, a covering letter (about a page in length) and be prepared to complete an application form for the school. Some schools also require references before they interview, so it is good to speak to your line manager and head before you start the application process. Most schools will require a reference from two people, but in some cases it can be three people, so bear that in mind.
Do your research first
If you are reading this article, most likely you are a physics teacher. Congratulations! Not only did you pick the best science to teach, but also you will be in high demand!
Speaking personally as a Head of Faculty who is involved in the interview process for my team, filling physicist posts are the hardest. But despite that going for you, expect a rigorous interview process. Like all jobs, do your research about the school and its ethos. The majority of British International schools will teach the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP or IB for short) at Key Stage 5, and IGCSEs at Key Stage 4. If you are new to either of these, doing a little background research will go a long way in the interview.
One of the first questions I ask in an interview is “tell me about your experience with the IB?” or “Your CV says you’ve taught A Level, what do you know about the IB?” Even some basic knowledge about the course content and how the IB differs from A Levels will make you stand out from the crowd.
To be honest, if you have taught any GCSE course the IGCSE is very similar. It is good though to have a read up about some of the little nuances the IGCSE has. There are two exam boards that offer IGCSE Physics and Sciences, Edexcel and Cambridge International Exams (CIE). You can normally find out which board your school will teach in the job advert, or if not on their website. As a rule, most international schools in my experience teach CIE.
What to expect at the interview
The interview process varies depending on the resources of the school and how far you are from them. I worked in a school in Germany, and teachers in the UK would fly out and have an interview just like you would in the UK (teach a lesson, meet with the head, meet with a student panel…) Also don’t worry, flights are reimbursed! However, in my case I was working in Brazil while applying, so that was simply not feasible. So for me, I had a 30 minute preliminary Skype interview with the head of HR to see if I was a good fit. After that I was asked back for an interview with the Head of Science and Head of Secondary. The interview lasted around 45 minutes to an hour. I was asked about what my educational philosophy was, what makes a good physics lesson, how I track progress in students and support students at risk. Basically, questions you would usually have in a UK interview but over Skype.
Normally one of the first questions you are asked is why you want to move to that country. Please, speaking as an interviewer, prepare a good answer for this. You will not believe the amount of people who just say “I want a lot of money…” or “I hate teaching in the UK” or give an answer along the lines that they think the post will be nothing but a holiday.
My interview for my school in Brazil was similar to my experience at my school in Germany. Although on top of my interview with HR and teaching staff, I was also asked to film a 30 minute lesson and send it to them. This was a little unusual and I have to say that it was the only school that asked me to do this, but it could happen in your case as well.
I am currently working in a school in Mexico and my first international post before moving to Brazil was in a different school also in Mexico. My current school also interviewed me via Skype while I was living in Germany. Sometimes, schools will fly their SLT to the UK to interview candidates in person. That was my experience for my first international teaching post. In fact, the school was trying to save money so instead of being interviewed in a conference centre in a Holiday Inn, I was interviewed in the Headteacher’s sister’s house in South London!
If the school you are applying to has a sister school in the UK (such as Malvern, North London Collegiate School etc.) you may be asked to go into their UK school to carry out the interview. Additionally in interviews for other schools, I have had pre interview questions where you are given ten or so questions and are asked to film your response to them and submit them to the school.
To sum things up:
- Apply through the TES website as the majority of jobs are on there.
- Don’t bother with recruiters unless you are struggling to find a post.
- Make sure you do some research about your school and the academic programmes they offer, especially the IB.
- Finally, most importantly, remember that the interview process genuinely is a two way streak. Use the opportunity to ask as many questions about life and work in the country you are applying for. Also take the opportunity to find out what training and progression the school can offer you. As an interviewer I love sharing what life is like living abroad, and how my career has developed. It is also important to ensure that you know what to expect and the school is the right fit for you.
In the next part in the series, we will talk about what to expect once you have been offered a job and how to prepare for the move to your new home.