WSJ Expat: How Was Your Child’s International Teacher Hired?

LONDON--Sonali Banerjee Hutchison is still unpacking boxes from the move she and her family made from Manila, in the Philippines, to Dhaka, Bangladesh, earlier this summer.

Having lived in the Philippines for 11 years, where she and her husband, Dale, worked for international schools (he as a high school history teacher and she as a guidance counselor), they decided to make a move last year, wanting a change of pace and new experiences for themselves and their two young boys. Though Mrs. Hutchison describes their move as “exciting but frustrating,” the American couple are looking forward to their new jobs at the International School Dhaka and getting to know their new city.

Unlike their first experience getting hired overseas—Dale was employed to teach high school history at the International School Manila while Mrs. Hutchison, a trained lawyer with a few years teaching experience in Arizona, initially was substitute teaching and eventually became qualified as a high school guidance counselor— where they attended a job fair in New York, this hire was all done over Skype. “It was nice to have a school reach out to us,” says Mrs. Hutchison, adding that the school came across their contacts through an international school recruiting website where they had uploaded their CVs and references. “We had a very positive initial interview together, with both the head of school and the secondary head of school. We then had separate interviews and continued to have more Skype interviews with them and in December they offered us both a job.”

Just as thousands of children across the globe have started the school year as new students at international schools, so too have thousands of international teachers—like Dale and Sonali Hutchison—who are either new to the international teaching scene or starting at a new school, likely thousands of miles away from their previous post. And a large number of those new-hire international teachers have used technology, either completely or in part, to get hired. Recruitment fairs in places such as Bangkok, New York and London used to be the only way that teachers who wanted a posting overseas could get a position, but everything from Skype to Linked In, Facebook FB -2.93%, Twitter TWTR +1.29% and recruitment websites have changed all that.

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While school fairs are still very much a part of the hiring process, and, according to Liz Duffy who is president of International Schools Services (ISS), one of the largest global international teacher recruitment companies, are still incredibly important for networking, both for the teachers and for the schools, there have been drops in the numbers of candidates attending fairs. “Teachers would go to these fairs and they would be so overwhelmed because you had seven interviews with maybe four of those becoming offers and 12 hours to decide,” says Ms. Duffy. “There was huge pressure on the person to commit to offers because pretty much the hiring happened then and if you did not leave with a job, or a school did not leave with a candidate, you would not get one.”

ISS estimates show that at hiring fairs for the 2015-2016 academic year, there were approximately 850 teachers and administrators who attended at each fair across the globe, which was down from just over 1,100 teachers attending the previous year.

While recruitment fair numbers are down, however, international school growth is on an upswing: According to ISC Research, a British company that tracks international school education, globally since 2010 there has been an over 40% increase in international schools and a 45% increase in the number of teaching staff. Regionally, Asia has seen the biggest growth, with over 60% increase in the number of teaching staff since 2010. It is estimated by 2025, 707,000 teachers will be required to meet the needs of international schools—which break down (as of January 2015) as 3,099 schools offering part or full UK-oriented curriculum; 1,624 offering US-based curriculum; and 1,319 offering International Baccalaureate diploma programs.

Recruitment fairs are usually weekend-long affairs, with registration on the Friday, and on Saturday morning schools have booths set up in a big conference hall. Teachers and administrative staff walk around gaining information on a school and can also have brief conversations, and if both the teacher and the school are interested, they can book an afternoon interview with a candidate. Interviews usually take place in the hotel room of the school recruiter and last about 20 or 30 minutes.

Dijana Koprivica-Redshaw, a Serbian-born high school history and psychology teacher who currently works at the Shanghai American School and has worked at international schools, along with her husband, in Jakarta and Cairo, agrees that the fairs are stressful and can be very complicated if you are a couple looking for new job. “From our perspective, there are many more pieces of the puzzle when you are a couple,” she says, “because you have to agree on a school, the school has to want both of us, so it is more complex.”

Nate Dennison, who until this summer was an associate principal in the lower primary school of the Hong Kong International School and worked as an international teacher in Luxembourg and Vienna, says that while “fairs are speed dating for teachers,” the Internet allows recruiting schools a chance to spend a little more time with the candidates through things like Skype and social networking. “I think the Internet has changed the way we get to know candidates,” he says. “What is happening now is a lot of the legwork is done through Skyping. While many schools would be comfortable with hiring someone over Skype, we would only do it if we had to. We would say, come to the fair in Bangkok in January and, if we meet them in person, their references check out and we like them, they would get a contract there.”

Andrew Wigford, who is the founder of the Teacher International Consultancy and himself a former international teacher, says social media in the recruitment process is a big change in the past few years. “We use Linked In every day,” he says. “We search people, we have a recruitment license so we are able to contact people who have uploaded their profile.” He adds that his company, which is hired by international schools to recruit staff, also uses Facebook and Twitter to add job listings and they have a tracking system on their website where schools can monitor all the applications. “They can work through their candidate list quicker and see CVs, application forms and references all in the same place,” he says. “They can also collaborate with their hiring team more efficiently and quickly because recruitment is a lot more competitive and speed is important.”

Laura Light, the director of staffing for ISS, says that while their numbers at fairs have dropped in the past few years, the number of teachers actually registering on the ISS recruitment site has grown. Last year, ISS started doing iFairs, which are organized chat rooms for teachers and school recruiters, and this year they have added on a few more iFair dates. “We think this is the way recruitment is going to go,” she says. “With our first iFair last November, we had over 2,700 conversations with almost 600 candidates and about 50 schools.” She added that because it can be expensive to go to a fair—for both the school and the teachers—these electronic elements are very important. “But,” she adds, “I don’t think hiring fairs will go away, as that face-to-face gut reaction is always an important thing.”

Teachers and recruiters also say that there is a “six degrees of separation” element in the international teaching world that also can’t be ignored. As teachers move around from school to school across the globe, they get to know staff from all over, who will eventually move on too. So when new jobs pop up at a school in, say Delhi, that a teacher, say based in Warsaw, may want to move on to, one of the best recruitment tricks is to send an email or pick up the phone to a friend or colleague who may already be there. “The first conversations you have when you start at a new school is ‘Oh, do you know this person?’ or ‘When did you teach there?’ ” says Dana Schwartzkopf, who currently works at the International School of Lusaka, Zambia, and has also taught in Mexico, Germany, Turkey, Thailand, China, Romania and Indonesia. “I have been around a long time, I always know somebody [who] knows somebody. It is an incestuous circle.”