International Schools Recruiting Fairs, Part III

At 6:30pm on Sunday night, the 8th of January, was the official sign up session for interviews, which is when the doors opened for the great ballroom at the Sheraton, where all schools were arranged at tables.  Based on my experience at UNI’s fair in ’04, this can be a cutthroat free for all, somewhat akin to the Oklahoma Land Rush, where people run to the tables for which they want jobs!  At UNI, the doors were opened at a certain time, and hordes of eager applicants made a beeline for their desired destinations, literally cramming through the doors like paparazzi rushing to photograph Brangelina at the Oscars.  However, what I found more convenient at UNI was that they had a map prepared for us, so we knew in advance where a school would be (I recall aiming to get to Costa Rica’s schools, first).  Search Associates in London and Bangkok merely arranged the tables alphabetically, by country name, around the hall.

All applicants stood online starting around 6pm, a line that grew to a good 50-yards long down the main corridor outside the grand ballroom, and I was thankful, for I had sat myself at a table near the front door an hour earlier to check the latest updates with the wireless internet service and to  review school information so that I could appear to know everything about each prospective school.  Eager and, admittedly, a trifle nervous—but trying not to show it, I stood in line chatting with a woman in her 50’s from Minnesota who has been teaching in Sri Lanka for two years, which in and of itself is one aspect of the fair that is worthwhile–the stories shared and the networking opportunities (she said that because many NGO’s were leaving Sri Lanka, a place I’ve also been to, student numbers were actually decreasing, though I had thought they would be increasing after the end of the civil war there).  Another lady ahead of us was teaching Chinese in Indonesia–a school we’d applied to via email, one that didn’t get back to us after repeated attempts, so I asked her for advice on how I could talk to them (it was good practice speaking Mandarin, to boot).  When the doors opened up at 6:30pm and it was a mass influx into the hall, with candidates making a bee-line to the tables with whom they wanted to request an interview.  With 550 candidates, the place was a zoo at first, requiring many squeeze-by moments and the crossing of lines to get to another table.  The to-open-this-year school in Korea, had a line with at least 30-40 people throughout most of the evening (I saw them last, a 30-minute-in-line experience, when the rest of the ballroom was empty and all the other tables were being folded up, only to get a “we’ll consider you, but your wife won’t be able to work here because the board requires two years of experience”).

During the sign up session, a half a dozen schools rejected us for lack of full-time or PYP experience (for my wife); an establishment in Qatar said no because of laws requiring schools to hire teachers with at least a two-year history of teaching (again, they don’t consider her six-plus years of teaching at her own English cram school in Taiwan enough experience); one of Vietnam’s international schools stammered a bit when I asked if they’d consider her application, too, as a teaching couple–and they were also one of the schools that emailed a hopeful “see me at the fair” a few weeks prior, a school that I’ve really wanted for a few years now.  The whole 1.5-hour experience at the sign-up session, requiring plenty of hand shaking and introductory pitches, netted only five interviews for the next following two days and a couple of “get in touch with me tomorrow” or “we’ll be in touch.”  With the latter, I really wanted to say, “No you won’t,” for experience speaks for itself.  With the two interviews I had already on Sunday morning, and the one from Nepal on Saturday, just eight interviews in all.  Not very promising odds.  Thinking of the $250 registration and fair-attendance fee, the $600-plus air tickets, and the $250-plus at a cheap Bangkok hotel that I had to spend on this fair, I wondered if it was worth it.  However, I realized that something was better than nothing, jumped in a cab at 9:30pm–after checking my (empty) hanging file folder once more before I left, and then spent another two hours at a wireless cafe near my hotel, checking school updates and emailing more schools for possible interviews the next day, knowing all along that if a school hadn’t contacted me by then, chances were slim they’d be looking for me.

What I liked about the sign-up session though, and a few administrators mentioned the same, is that I just had my iPad with our resumes ready to show them, instead of paper copies.  I said I was trying to save a tree, and I could see this benefit for years and fairs to come, but the reality is that I had run out of our higher-quality resumes two days before, having placed them all in the prospective school hanging file folders (the schools’ folders are lined up down the hallway from the candidate folders).  Two schools had put them back into my file folder earlier that day, which I recycled and then put in other schools’ folders, thank you very much.  Regardless, the use of tablets and other technology is surely advantageous, and I look forward to the day that we don’t have to hand out resumes on paper any longer.

On Monday morning, the officially-scheduled first day of interviews, I awoke at 5:30am without an alarm, with my mind a’whirl about the whole process and how we could attract any more schools to interview me/us that late in the game.  After Sunday night’s sign up session, the next two days were scheduled just for interviews only.  No more school presentations.  No more sign ups (which was different than UNI in ’04, where they had a smaller sign up session the second day).  Quite a few schools I wrote to over the last few months still hadn’t contacted me, creating a larger grey cloud that seemed to be gathering above me, and a few that had even said “see me at the fair” via email (of the eight to ten that said it) didn’t contact me at the fair.   Because I didn’t have more resumes, I didn’t get in contact with them on Monday, though I emailed a few more the night before.  I suppose I could have gone to their rooms in the hotel (where interviews take place), a 28-or-so-story hotel with rooms for administrators scattered about the whole hotel, but I felt that that would have looked utterly desperate; moreover, I am not that good of a salesman!  Then again, because they hadn’t contacted me back, I felt they may not have been interested in the first place, making a trip of to their rooms a potential embarrassment (though some would say it was still worth it).  Actually, a woman with whom I’d spoken/commiserated with a few times in the candidates lounge, a hilariously energetic lady from Philly, recommended I just go up and knock on doors, but I couldn’t get myself to do it.  Having emailed them 3-4 times leading up to the fair, I started to think they simply didn’t like the package we presented.

As of Monday morning, there were also perhaps 3-4 other schools that where left on my list of potential prospects, a list I had created on my iPad after walking around the candidates lounge to note updated positions at one point on Monday, but those schools had non-ESL/EAL jobs, instead offering something like Middle School language arts.  Because I’ve taught seven years of English/Language Arts and Geography for middle school ESL/EAL students, with seven years of high school EAL support and writing, too, I have no doubt I could also teach mainstream English for middle schoolers.  However, not a single school offering said positions contacted me back.

Though the place in Laos and one of the many schools in India had seemed the most interested in us before the fair, I didn’t hear back from the former after my interview on Sunday morning, nor for the rest of the fair.  Though I’d placed one of our pre-made thank you notes in their hanging folder, a note with a photo of our family, no follow up came from them.  Based on that, I wrote my wife an email later stating that India was our strongest hope, with an interview scheduled for later on Monday.

Needing some insights and someone to bounce ideas off of, it was a good experience talking to other candidates.  At various times, I sat next to a candidate who currently teaches in Egypt (she said many teachers left with the Arab Spring, but many, even with families, stayed).  Others were teaching in Indonesia, and even Sudan, which she said was not nearly as problematic as the media makes it out to be.  Some were gleeful about prospects, especially one woman who is a PYP Coordinator, i.e., in demand.  Others, like a couple from the USA, seemed dismal in the rejections they had collected.  Having not taught overseas before, they felt they were not as marketable as if they had taught abroad.  The older woman from Philly was full of hope, still, and she gave me a good dose of hang-in-there mentality after I had explained the rejections we’d received and the fact that my wife is a new teacher, recommending Pei Ling also market herself as able to teach Mandarin.  She was extremely upbeat and inspirational, so I am glad to have met her–for I needed it!  Unfortunate it is that I didn’t get her email, for I want to see if she did well in the long run.

At one point, I interviewed for a posting in Saudi Arabia, which wasn’t a school I’d heard of before the fair.  That isn’t to say they weren’t worth it, but simply that I didn’t know about them beforehand.  Afterwards, I had felt like the meeting went well, with about 20 minutes of chatting with the ES Prin and Superintendent, but all their questions focused on me (e.g., what my classroom would look like, types of grading systems for ESL kids I’ve employed, program models I’ve worked in), and just like TASIS, Switzerland said at London two years ago–with which I landed a position, they were going to Boston next and want to look at a few other candidates, so they didn’t plan on hiring here for middle school ESL.  At the end, because they didn’t mention my wife, I asked, “If something were to avail itself for me, would my wife have any opportunity?”  She said that because they are a PYP school, that they are very strict about hiring candidates and that they probably wouldn’t be able to.  Once again, I swallowed a lil’ pride and explained how my wife was a good teacher and that she’d taught English for six-plus years.  She then spent five minutes giving advice on what we can do, otherwise, e.g., be open to anything, possibly university level with Mandarin (my Mandarin isn’t that good, by any means), and possibly have my wife teaching Mandarin ES/MS/HS, since it is in high demand.  To have them promote ideas about what we could do to secure employment only said one thing to me: “We aren’t interested.”  Once again, I didn’t hear back from them at all after dropping my thank you note in their folder, nor have I heard from them since.

At this point in the fair, I started questioning my/our decision to leave our last school in Switzerland at the end of the 2010-2011 academic year.  I had a job.  I had a job in an overwhelming pulchritudinous country.  We had a roof over our head.  We lived with decent-but-not-great financial security.  The school had a wonderful academic travel program, which had brought us–as chaperones–to both Spain and France, and to a week of skiing in January.  We left a school whose campus was more like a European fairy tale than a school, a place where the headmaster was wonderful and so were many aspects of the school.  Yes, it had its pros and cons, as all schools do.  Yet we decided to move on, focusing on the fact that we weren’t saving us much as we had in our times back in Taiwan and that my wife couldn’t get a full-time position there for the second year.  Pondering that, I held my head low a few times at the fair as time went on, wondering what the hell I had done to us as a family.

Thoughts of us building up my wife’s English cram school in Taiwan started to fill my head.  We could be the bosses.  We could teach English classes in the evenings.  We could set our own schedules.  We’d answer to nobody but ourselves.  Potentially very lucrative, the option became more tantalizing, yet I still held out hope that we could land something at a full-time accredited school, allowing us a chance to build our resumes together as a teaching couple, paving the way for higher-tier schools down the road someday, and getting her foot in the door so that her MEd in K-6 education was put to use.

One option that stood out from the crowd, a school in India, had piqued my interest leading up to the fair, and because they’d placed a packet in my hanging folder on the first day, stating in a hand-written note that they wanted to interview, I was feeling giddy at the prospect of interviewing with them, especially because he had written “Michael and Pei Ling” on the invite, not just “Michael.”  So it was for that reason that I remained hopeful during the first ten minutes of the interview with them on Monday morning.  The director seemed genuine and focused on what I said, not off thinking about something else.  There was plenty of small talk, but not much at all about the school or the position other than my background experience.  And then came the disheartening news in that there was a 50% chance he was going to wait on hiring for my position because they only had 4 positions left to hire, after hiring 7 at ISS Bangkok (the other main agency’s fair) just a few days prior.  Moreover, because they were going to Search/ISS Boston the next week, they didn’t have to move as fast now on getting slots filled.  With not many positions left, he said they felt no pressure to hire. Uggh.  Hopeful from the onset of the fair that they could have been our answer, I immediately, internally, of course, let out a sigh that echoed about my soul, a sigh that brought no comfort at all, just more frustration.   He then talked about my wife, saying he always looks for about four years of experience for hiring, further explaining that his wife started out that way, too, in not having certification, but they stuck with it and eventually got her the experience.  Seemed sympathetic, but couldn’t budge.  He recommended that we get into a school and then she could work her way in as a local hire, get the experience, and then it would be easier to get an IB/PYP position.  He thought that the schools which had rejected us up to that point probably weren’t that concerned about PYP, but more about experience in managing the classroom, dealing with school issues, etc.–all that full-time teaching entails.  Obviously I stated that she’d run her own school and taught ESOL for six-plus years, with the MEd on top of that, but that didn’t seem to pique his interest too much.  He said that he had to go back to talk to his ES Principal, who left after the ISS fair, and that I should check in with him via email in the near future.  A few days later, I heard back from him, stating that the position wasn’t necessary to fill since the person currently in it isn’t going to leave after all.  Naturally, we’d one day be interested in gaining employ there, so disappointing it was to receive such news.

What transpired in that interview and in the one for Saudi Arabia was an issue that came to light after having had talked to the woman from ISS in the lobby of another hotel on my first morning in town.  She’d stated that many schools used the excuse that they didn’t need to hire because they had more fairs to attend.  Naturally, it brings about a sort of dilemma.  Prospective teachers aim at attending a fair, full of hopes of landing a position, but recruiters may not even have the intent of hiring because they’ll simply go on to another fair.  This is one reality of the early fairs, one that requires attendees to be flexible.

Still more to go…

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5 Responses to International Schools Recruiting Fairs, Part III

  1. Johannah says:

    You seem to have a LOT of experience. I was unable to register for the UNI fair 2012 due to extraneous circumstances and when I emailed I was firmly told that “No, I cannot register the day after”. However, I have a good friend that’s going and I can hop a ride with him and split the cost of the Hotel, etc. What are my chances of obtaining interviews anyways? I mean, I understand that I didn’t get my things on file in time – but is it worth it? Would anyone be willing to speak with me or will I get thrown out? Advice???

    • vagabondwithfamily says:

      Hi. Sorry to hear you missed the fair. You may not like my response, and I hope I don’t offend, but I wouldn’t be able to promote or condone your heading to the fair without being registered. There are “fair crashers” who try to get into fairs everywhere they take place, and even at the Bangkok fair I just attended three weeks ago, the organizers were pretty vocal about wearing our identification name cards so that such “crashers” would be recognized. Because teachers in attendance pay quite a good amount of money for these fairs, I really don’t think it is fair to go without paying. I had to fork out $310 for UNI, just to register, and even more with Bangkok because of the costs of travel, etc. Putting out that kind of cash and going through those steps, just to hear that someone snuck in for free… well, it doesn’t, honestly, sit well with me.

    • Elizabeth (Libby) Rocheford Tully Vanderwall says:

      Michael – UNI thanks you for your response to Johanna! Non-registered teachers are not allowed in the buildings during the fair, in fairness to all those who have registered by the deadline. – UNI Fair staff

  2. Laurie says:

    Wow, I’m set to attend UNI Fair 2012 and it sounds like I’m in for a real education. I’ve been second guessing my decision to spend $1000 and a 50/50 chance of going away from the fair with a job. But hey, lets just hope the adage “nothing ventured, nothing gained” leads to a promising result.
    Thanks for your insights.

    • vagabondwithfamily says:

      Laurie, stick to your guns and keep that mentality that nothing ventured is nothing gained! As I am about to blog, I had practically given up, but something came through in the end…


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