As a well-known advocate of international teaching, I have taken some time to reflect upon the recent changes to an international teacher’s experience due to the world-wide effects Covid19. I feel that positives still far outweigh the negatives, I will always shout from the rooftops how fantastic teaching abroad is, but I cannot deny that there are greater considerations and concerns due to the issues arising from the pandemic.
In this article, I outline current obstacles when relocating abroad, and issues for those teachers already on the international school circuit. I hope to give insight into what it is like to be teaching abroad through a pandemic.
Relocation plus quarantine
A concern for many when considering teaching abroad is leaving extended family and friends. Due to the restrictions of travel, this upheaval can feel even more daunting for international teachers. The reality is a hugely unpredictable one: teachers who move abroad may not be able to return for months, or in some cases, years.
Currently, relocations commence with a period of quarantine. Usually, international teachers have a time to settle in and meet with other teachers directly after landing in their new host country. The experiences during this initial period enable a teacher to feel settled and established in a new community. Faced with one or more weeks in quarantine without this option, can lead to anxiety.
Cultural differences in relation to the pandemic
After being released from quarantine, teachers may struggle when living within a different culture, which may be more restrictive and take more Covid 19 precautions than which they are used to. For example, in some countries it is the law to wear a mask outside, even with very few domestic cases. Even when this rule is not applied by law, there can be societal expectations for this. Furthermore, some schools may insist on frequent covid testing or proof of vaccinations, which may also be a shock to a new international teacher.
Furthermore, living in a country where English is not spoken widely, can also be frustrating and worrying for teachers working abroad in a pandemic. Simple actions such as booking a PCR test for travel, or getting a vaccination appointment, can prove challenging without support. In addition, important country-specific news about the pandemic may take a while to be released in English, if it is at all.
Fear of catching Covid – hospitalization and treatment
Some countries have very low levels of healthcare and hospitalization options. Prospective international teachers should research this thoroughly, however, teachers already in country when the pandemic began did not have this choice. This issue has sent many international teachers into a spin, especially those with families to consider, and has led for them to relocate elsewhere. For those with families, there is the question of should the teacher contract covid and be taken to quarantine or isolation, what would happen to the children? This is an area which must be checked carefully.
Teaching during a pandemic
In international schools, the teaching requirements can change rapidly. Due to increases in Covid cases, the method of delivery can change from in person to online, within 24 hours. Even when teaching in person, due to the pandemic some schools have placed a lot of extra demands on teachers. This includes in some schools creating a hybrid teaching model, whereby teachers need to both teach in person then plan and teach online for children who are unable to attend school.
Lack of travel and lockdowns
Travel may not only be restricted leaving the country (due to quarantine) but also within the host country. Should there be a lockdown all movement can be restricted, including trips to buy essentials from the supermarket. This is potentially quite a scary situation if teachers do not have support to navigate this situation.
Applying for the ‘next’ job abroad
There is a further issue when the time comes to leave an international posting. Unless returning to the UK, there is a risk of any new contract not being honoured should schools lose students or need to close before teachers arrive at the posting (usually around six to eight-months after interview). In addition, pandemic visa restrictions, which change all the time, can restrict or prevent any movement to a new school. Good schools respect contracts and allow teachers to deliver lessons online until they can relocate, but this is a stressful situation especially if a family is involved, whom also need schooling.