Experienced international educator Tom Spurling is currently a HSC and IB English teacher at the Australian International School Hong Kong.
SINCE my Gap year when I worked in an Oxford boarding school, I always wanted to combine my love of travel with teaching. My first teaching job after university was in Japan as part of a government scheme known as JET (Japan Exchange Teaching) where native English speakers acted as a kind of cultural ambassador for bored secondary school students.
My gig included hosting a radio show, coaching basketball and acting as the resident high-energy, English-speaking clown. Needless to say, it was a lot of fun, but I wasn’t exactly breaking pedagogical boundaries.
It would be a decade into my teaching career until I finally committed to working in an international school with my young family in tow.
I had a Masters in International Education Policy but not much on-the-ground experience. I wasn’t too fussed where we went - whoever took me would do - but Hong Kong was on my wife’s shortlist, so when I found a position at the Australian International School Hong Kong, I jumped.
The next three years were perhaps my most professionally enjoyable thus far and as a family we relished the intimacy and adventure of living together in another country.
I taught diverse, multilingual, engaged cohorts. I had access to incredible PD and extracurricular opportunities including IB conferences abroad, surf trips to Sri Lanka and volleyball tours to Shanghai.
My own children flourished in this new global environment and my professional and personal friendships were intensified by the great big thrill of it all.
The day-to-day of teaching in an international school is pretty similar to a regular Australian school, but there are some key differences.
First, the support staff is mostly local, which means you need to develop effective strategies for dealing with non-english speaking colleagues – in my case learning some Cantonese – and appreciate that there may be a discrepancy in values, not to mention pay packets.
Second, the teaching staff is from all over the world, and the students are very global in their outlook. They will not be impressed by your previous travel experience in Bali, nor any perceived lack of cultural sensitivity or cosmopolitan outlook. Working in this environment lends itself to rich critical discussions, especially as an English teacher, and acknowledging the exceptional aspect of your students’ worldview can make a wonderful learning tool for young people who generally have an atypical childhood.
Last, the parent body is often very close, as an expatriate community can have an almost ‘small town’ level of familiarity. In an Australian international school, we are united partly by our nationality and shared expatriate journey, creating a bond and collective identity that can be difficult to replicate in a non-international school environment.
In short, just go for it. Teaching in an international school is anything but dull.