My wife and I are music teachers who have been teaching music abroad for several years. We have taught in a bomb shelter in Uganda; have worked in Caracas (where we also saw street riots); have conducted a concert under frangipani and coconut trees in Sri Lanka; and are currently preparing a concert in a Buddhist temple here in Yangon, where we now work at the International School of Myanmar.
by Thomas J. Stief
Are you seeking a sense of adventure? A yearning to experience different cultures, to meet new people, and to see a different side of nature? Do you have a feeling that there is a whole wide world out there to be discovered? This kind of mindset, along with a sense of humor, flexibility, and the ability to meet new challenges, is a good starting point if you’re interested in teaching music abroad.
International schools will typically require a BA and a US teaching certificate for prospective teachers. Usually, they’ll offer renewable 2-year contracts, housing, health insurance, visa assistance, and a set number of personal/sick leave days.
Schools often hire through job fairs and ads, and more and more via Skype interviews.
TIE, ISS , SEARCH and CIS (see links in sidebar) are some of the organizations international schools use for recruitment purposes. While prospective teachers may go through one of these, often the application process is independently initiated by the candidate.
Some teachers stay in international education for one contract, some for the remainder of their teaching careers. Some stay in one school, some move through a number of countries and schools.
What to Expect
International faculties tend to be a mix of all age groups and often many different nationalities. Schools will typically have inservice programs that may include activities and workshops related to curriculum, assessment, and day-to-day operations. The culture and customs of the host country are also introduced. Most schools will operate a professional development program throughout the year via professional development days. The teaching language is almost exclusively English. However, English is often the students’ second or third language.
You’ll want to be able to teach many different elements of music, and be able to “sell” and run a whole music program. Also plan to hone your diplomatic and organizational skills. It is very important to be able to think on your feet and to be creative as well as proactive — in your work life and outside of school.
You may find facilities and a program that match your preferences and strengths, but more likely, you will find yourself building, revamping and/or developing a program that will match the needs of the students, school and the community, and that will incorporate your personal strengths.
Living and working in a new host country is both a blessing and a challenge. There are as many different circumstances and challenges as there are international schools! Researching ahead of time, observing and listening without judging, and staying curious and open-minded all will go a long way towards a smooth transition and laying the groundwork for a satisfying experience. Be ready for new customs, foods, religions, climate, and nature — and differences in how music and even teachers are appreciated.
One of the best administrators we have ever worked for asked us during the interview: “And what do you do in your spare time?” More important than you might imagine is to have an “outside life,” especially when you live in a completely different culture, thousands of miles away from home and family. Some musicians join or start a choir or a local/expat group of musicians, or play in a local jazz club. I write music when I get inspired and am not out exploring.