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Stronge: How to Attract the Best Teacher Applicants

By Xianxuan Xu
Stronge: How to Attract the Best Teacher Applicants

For international schools, teacher recruiting is a time-consuming, high-stakes process that is crucial to their success. The number of international schools has almost tripled since the year 2000 and on track to double again over the next 10 years. As the number of international schools increases globally, the competition for effective teachers is escalating. In our first installment of this Teacher Recruitment, Selection, and Retention Series, we discussed the issues of teacher shortage, turnover, and the constant need for schools to engage in recruiting and hiring quality teachers. In this second installment, we will discuss how to attract the best teacher applicants.
To start, here is a simple, but evident truth: teachers’ decisions to apply for a job, accept an offer, and continue working in a given institution are based on the perceived benefits of working at the school—financial, social, or otherwise—as compared with other opportunities. Consequently, the most successful approaches to attracting high-quality teachers must address these perceived benefits, including but not limited to financial incentives, opportunities for professional growth and career advancement, and a caring work environment.
Research suggests that individuals are more likely to choose teaching when teacher salaries are competitive with those of other occupations requiring a comparable level of education. However, in some countries, for example in the United States, teachers’ salaries have been declining relative to cost-of-living, amounting to only about 70 percent of the salaries of other college-educated occupations. A frightening result of inadequate teacher salaries is that teachers are unable to support a middle-class lifestyle (Sutcher et al. 2016). Offering financial incentives has become an important strategy in attracting teachers, especially in high-demand fields such as mathematics and science. Financial incentives typically include a teachers base salary, merit or performance pay, bonuses, stipends, benefits (e.g., health insurance, sick leave), and tuition reimbursement. Many schools offer at least one financial incentive to recruit or retain teachers (Liang & Akiba 2015).
While there is some evidence that schools have greater success in recruiting teachers through higher pay (Gary et al. 2015), some studies also found that small increments of additional salary are not important or as attractive as other job characteristics, such as having a supportive principal, the availability of a quality induction program, and curricular flexibility (Milanowski et al. 2009).
In an interesting doctoral study devoted to teacher recruitment in international schools, Dales Cox documented the responses of 1,543 teacher candidates to examine what school variables are important to them when they decide whether or not to take a particular job. The study identified seven underlying factors that can powerfully explain teachers’ perceptions of the attractiveness of working for an international school. In order of strength of influence, these factors are:
• Relationship with leadership: autonomy or control over your own work, recognition and support from the administration, respect for teacher
• External work conditions: resources, facilities, teaching assignments (subject/grade)
• Professional satisfaction: sense of intellectual challenge, making a difference in the lives of others
• Personal well-being: workload, balance of personal life and work, security
• Professional growth: professional development, social relationships with colleagues
• Compensation and advancements: professional advancements, salary, benefits
• Wanderlust: school location, opportunities to travel and experience new cultures
The study further found that experienced teachers place more emphasis on leadership, compensation, and autonomy, while less-experienced teachers consider more the meaning of the work, wanderlust, personal safety, and job conditions. Many other research studies have confirmed that the key issue for comprehensive teacher recruitment and retention is a school’s capacity in developing human capital (i.e., professional knowledge and skills of individual teachers) and social capital (i.e., opportunities for collaboration, developing leadership responsibilities). Human and social capital development is associated with teachers’ perceptions of working conditions and job satisfaction (e.g., Baker-Doyle 2010). Relations and the culture of the school comprise a major aspect influencing a teacher’s decision to teach at a given school and to remain at that school. Furthermore, Amrein-Beardsley (2012) found that the most important factor in recruiting and retaining expert teachers in schools is actually the quality of the principal leadership. Mancuso and his fellow researchers (2010) also found the most important correlate of teacher turnover is the perception of a supportive head of school.
In summary, when thinking about recruiting expert teachers, it is important for school leaders to prioritize efforts based on the strongest predictors of teachers’ employment choices, including: the quality of the head of school; salary, bonuses, benefits, and resource considerations; and the degree to which expert teachers can work in multiple roles to enhance student learning. So, while money matters, it remains crucial that schools use additional resources, highlight better working conditions, and provide growth opportunities to attract high-quality teachers.

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