Decisions about how you spend 8+ hours a day and at least two-thirds of your mental and physical energy are important to get right.
I don’t claim to have the answer to anyone’s personal dilemmas.
But I do know is that changing schools can be immensely liberating, although the process does require a lot of thought and energy.
And there’s always the risk that your new beginning is a false start.
In the following, I want to share what I have learned from the three times I changed teaching jobs.
1. It’s Okay to Be Thinking About Changing
In international schools, there are always people coming and going – and that’s the nature of these schools.
Don’t beat yourself up for toying with the idea of changing schools, or for deciding one thing, and then changing your mind.
The fact that you’re thinking about it means – if nothing else – that staying on becomes an informed and conscious choice rather than the default option.
2. If You Can, Leave on a High
When is a good time to change? Should I leave this summer, or stay another year?
Across the international sector, the standard contract is quite long, usually 2-year renewable. This is to justify the time and money spent on recruitment and visas.
Many see the golden rule as complete the contract, because it looks good on the CV, but, speaking as somebody who has once broken a contract, I would probably say it really depends on the circumstances.
Maybe the blip on the CV is a small price to pay for a ticket out of there.
If you’ve done your two years, and you are now thinking of renewing and doing a third or fourth year, then think about what you stand to gain professionally by staying on.
If you are starting to plateau as is sometimes the case when you’ve been somewhere for a while, then maybe you’re better off leaving soon – and leaving on a high.
3. Don’t Burn Bridges
A friend of mine – a non-teacher – said to me recently: “I’ve regretted playing mind games or saying things I shouldn’t have said, but I’ve never ever regretted doing the right thing.”
I think there’s a lot of truth in this.
Your Headteacher and Head of Department will presumably play a role in landing you your next job – what they say about you may place you on a shortlist or relegate your CV to the bin.
Of all the relationships you can choose to invest in, it makes sense not to leave these two out. Of all the people you can be rude to, well – just maybe think twice about it.
Something I know that all managers appreciate is being given proper notice. Last-minute notice is the equivalent of a kick in the shins.
4. Always Take the Interview
About a month ago, I couldn’t quite decide whether to take an interview organised by a recruitment agency. The school seemed okay, but the pay wasn’t great.
When I googled Should I take the Interview? the response by all the users who’d responded was an emphatic YES. And I took heed.
I did the Skype interview, and was made an offer a few days after. I decided not to take it.
But not for the reasons I had thought.
The school was willing to pay more than what they had initially advertised.
What was less attractive about the offer was all the added responsibilities. It really didn’t seem that interesting, nor did I feel I would be particularly good at it. It also came out that the school wasn’t just new, but brand-new. And that can be tough.
In the end, making the decision was easy.
But I’m glad I took the interview.
I found out new things about the school. Crucially, I got a better sense of what I wanted and what I didn’t want in relation to my next school.
5. Don’t Panic If You Haven’t Bagged a Job by Easter
You’re job hunting and you feel the pressure. That’s normal. But I think there’s a perception sometimes that it’s somehow really urgent; that everyone is making a mad scramble for the few good jobs around.
I’ve often been told that the best international schools advertise in January, the good schools around Easter, and terrible schools wait until the summer.
This obviously can’t be true. Life also gets in the way at a good school: illness, pregnancies, etc.
And any school – good or bad – might advertise very late because they initially advertised too early. They found the perfect candidate, but by June, the perfect candidate – for whatever reason – had a change of heart. Life got in the way.
Finding a school that’s a good match for your current professional aspirations is a realistic aim, but the timing is down to luck.
I reckon you’re better off holding out for the right opportunity.
6. Trust Your Intuition
How often have you been in the situation of having chosen something, and then retrospectively realised that it was a terrible choice, and you’d ignored all the warning signs?
In my experience, the gut feeling is important. It’s about making key observations that are still in a type of flux. You have yet to lump them together to turn them into words and ideas that make sense. But the gut’s often right.
I wouldn’t ignore any alarm bells going off.
Pulling the plug today on a job offer that for whatever reason doesn’t feel right creates an awkward situation – but could let you dodge a whole lot of grief further down the line.
7. Take Stock of What You Have
Don’t chuck away something that’s valuable just because it doesn’t feel shiny and new.
It’s very easy to lose sight of the privileges we have been granted, simply because they have become tired and a bit routine. If you do decide you want to leave, make sure you’re mindful of exactly what you’ll be giving up.
One question you could ask is: how supported do you feel in your current department? Does your school allow you to be your best self?
Lots of little things could make this the case. Here are some fairly basic examples:
● A collegiate culture in the department
● Access to PD programmes
● Agreement on a personal level with the school’s values and vision
● Some form of decision-making power, e.g. choice over year groups
● Reasonable expectations regarding documentation of planning
● Unpaid leave days to pursue other interests/commitments
● Option to take on extra responsibilities
● Sympathetic line manager
8. Set Yourself Goals
The nature of teaching is that you’re always multitasking, sometimes to the point of not having enough time to sit and think about what you really want to achieve.
But you do have career goals, even if you struggle to reel them off the top of your head at this very moment.
Putting them into words is a powerful process.
If you are able to do that, they can guide your decision-making. That way, the question about staying or going gets rephrased to something like this: is your current school supportive in terms of you reaching your professional goals?
If not, then it’s probably time for a change.
David J. edits Misfit International