BECOME A MEMBER! Sign up for TIE services now and start your international school career


Six Questions You Never Knew to Ask in a Teach Abroad Job Interview

By Dana Olbrantz
Six Questions You Never Knew to Ask  in a Teach Abroad Job Interview

“You’re driving this bus,” one principal looked me square in the eye and said, mid-interview at an international fair.

As she moved on, framing questions that gauged my philosophy and experience, I realized she was right. While she sought an ideal candidate, I was also interviewing her. Too often when shifting into the international circuit, teachers don’t know how to advocate for their professional and personal needs. Moving abroad is a major lifestyle change, and in order to embrace it with enthusiasm, potential hires should approach the experience with a view of the whole picture. A mutual interview, where each party considers the compatibility of the other, gives agency to the educator: the power to decide where to teach next.

Teachers who’ve experienced this hiring process advise these six questions as starting points for clear-eyed decision-making.

1. Can you tell me about your school’s employee retention rates?
How many teachers from the last hired cohort are returning this year? Why do teachers move on to a different job or locale? Insights such as these crystallize the strengths of the school and geographic location. What’s more, the consideration of potential struggles allows candidates to grapple with very possible challenges affiliated with a particular institution.

2. How do you help foreigners connect to the school community?
Find out about the ratio of foreign-to-local hires. How does the school link countries and cultures together while honoring differences? Ask about recent and upcoming community events. If the school has frequent gatherings that include mixes of teachers, admin, families, and other staff members, it could indicate that a warm workplace environment is a priority. Lastly, opportunities to connect digitally or in person prior to the first day of work can help foreigners feel more comfortable. Does the school host social opportunities before the academic year begins?

3. How do you ease the transition abroad?
The logistics of an international move are complex. Ask for an arrival itinerary. Who would meet you at the airport and where would you go from there? Arrival strategies vary and can include paid hotel stays, direct transport to school-facilitated teacher housing, or even stints with host families. Learn how involved the school’s Human Resource department is with setting up leases, bank accounts, and cell services.

4. What is the actual time commitment for an employee of your school? Ask to see a copy of the teaching schedule to get a feel for balance of instruction and planning time. Find out if there are teaching assistants, co-teaching models, or even what the printing situation looks like. Many international schools offer full copy centers where employees help teachers prep their materials—a glorious benefit. In addition to requesting the school calendar and number of teacher-student contact days, find out about nighttime and weekend events that teachers are required to attend. Holidays vary from country to country, and a close look at national observances and corresponding time off can give you ideas of when you might travel, host guests, or return home for a visit.

5. What would my life outside of school look like?
This question has so many nuances to consider. First, find out about transportation to work and around the city. How much time would be devoted to your commute? Consider your preferred transportation methods (biking, rideshare apps, driving) and uncover their availability in the region. Other lifestyle considerations around a locale are time zone and security. Will it be easy to contact those you love from home? What about crime and violence in the immediate and surrounding area? An equally important aspect of life abroad is travel potential. Learn about ease of travel within the country, but also other nearby countries you might like to explore.

6. How does compensation work?
Sometimes potential employees view this aspect of the conversation as crass, but it is a necessity, especially when an offer might be on the table. Here, engage about savings potential, clarify the currency of salary, and investigate the possibility of transferring money to accounts in your home country. Consider other benefits as well, including the offerings of health and dental insurance. Some schools offer full or partial scholarships to staff member’s children. Both paid time off and sick leave vary wildly, so inquiring about those can help with stacking and comparing across job offers. Finally, investigate the duration of these benefits: sometimes packages shift and change over the length of your employment.

If administrators skirt these issues or don’t offer detailed answers, potential hires can always ask for the contact information of current employees. Regardless of who sources the information, these details are sure to give educators the context they need to make an informed decision about an incredible opportunity.

Dana Olbrantz is a freelance writer and educator who has taught in Ecuador, Mexico, and the United States.

Please fill out the form below if you would like to post a comment on this article:


10/24/2019 - Jen
These are great questions!! Thanks for your input.
10/17/2019 - Mark
This is a well written, succinct ,common sensical starting point for all jobseekers who struggle to come up with good questions before they sign on the dotted line.
Well done Dana.
Webber's Ed