International Teaching: Should I stay or should I go?

Should I stay or should I go?

It’s early February and conversations in the teachers’ lounge at my international school are punctuated with questions such as, “Did you hear who is leaving?” and “Have you decided to stay?” Often these questions are whispered as it’s difficult to know which teachers have gone public with their plans and who is still mulling things over.

This is true at international schools the world over as Directors and Principals ask staff members to declare their intentions for the following school year… and teachers squirm with discomfort at having to make this decision (yet) again.

Should I stay or should I go?

This is my third international placement over a period of 15 years so I have been down this road before. I have made dates with my international teaching destiny and then cancelled them, shaken by the mythic struggle with my unseen future. I remember only too well the lists of pros and cons I have generated… the lists that never seemed to add up to a satisfying answer.

In the end, regardless of how difficult this decision may prove, one must answer the question. While it’s true that doing nothing is a decision, a kind of crazily passive action, it’s not one I feel very comfortable with. Here are the questions I ask of myself:


  • If you are at the beginning of your career, have you had at least two years of experience in the role that you will be applying for?
  • In your current job, are you learning an enormous amount about teaching in your subject area, classroom management etc.? Are you, in short, becoming a better teacher at this school?
  • Do you have a mentor (Department Head, Team Leader or colleague) who is helping you learn and grow?
  • Would you like to have a year in which you simply live and teach in your current location? (This is impossible if you stay only 2 years because you are either arriving or leaving)
  • Is your administrative team supportive of you professionally and personally?
  • Do you have great opportunities for professional development? (Workshops and conferences, access to a Masters program, and in-house PD)
  • Is the school environment a positive and healthy one where staff members are encouraged to provide constructive criticism about the school?
  • Are other staff members and administration open to change that is good for kids?
  • Are there opportunities for you to take on new roles (such as Team Leader, Department Head, or administration) at this school?
  • Do you feel that you make a difference in the lives of students and staff at your current school?
  • Do people express their appreciation for your work and contribution?
  • Are you in favour of the direction in which your school is headed in terms of curriculum, scheduling, technology integration and professional development?


  • Are you happy with the quality of life in your current city? Quality of life considerations vary considerably from person to person but may include factors such as: climate, pollution, violent crime, economy (including factors such as taxation rate and local currency in relation to your home currency), and political stability
  • Do you have access to the activities that are central to your happiness and well-being (for example, cultural events or outdoor activities)?
  • Do you have a circle of close friends that are the same quality of kindred-spirits you would have chosen if you were still living in your home country?
  • In terms of your financial package, are you able to live well, travel and meet financial obligations?
  • Is your financial package keeping up with local cost of living increases?
  • Is housing included in your package? If not, have rental prices increased?
  • Have you been able to save for goals such as retirement or buying a home?
  • Does the financial crisis make staying a better option for you? (Changing schools can be quite costly.)
  • If you have a partner, is this person fulfilled in his/her work? (Ditto for your children. Is this a good place for them to grow up and study?)
  • How much time do you spend commuting to and from your school? Is this an acceptable amount of time?
  • Are you tired of moving countries? (Packing up apartments, changing health insurance, learning a new language) or does the thought of this continue to excite you?
  • Do you have enough money saved for a move to a new gig?
  • Do you have ageing parents or situations at home that demand your presence in your home country/city?
  • Can you imagine yourself living in this city permanently? Could this be “home”?
  • If you decide to leave the school, what are the things that you would miss most? Make a list.
  • Is it time for a change? Is it time for a new culture/language?
  • Do you miss your home culture enough that it is simply time to move “home” regardless of how good this school/city are?


  • Is it possible to find a new job without attending a recruitment fair?
  • How much would attending a fair cost? Is that an acceptable amount?
  • Have I fulfilled my teaching contract?

International educators, please add your guiding questions in the comments section.

And what did I decide? Stay tuned!

Addition: 29th October 2017
If I wrote this article today I would add a couple of things:

  • One item on your Pro list may be worth 10 on your Con list.
  • Pay attention to how your body feels.
  • Sometimes money is really important and sometimes it’s not.
  • Life has seasons. What season are you in now and what would suit you best?
  • Life is short. If it’s time to move on or move “home” or go to a place where you can meet a romantic partner, get going.

Best wishes with your decision.



  1. Would you or anyone you work with be willing and interested in a penpal project with a 9th grade (14-15yo) class(es) in the United States? If so, let me know! We are sorely lacking in letter writing skills!

  2. Loved this post. As a teacher at ISB in Beijing, the same type of conversations have been floating around. Congrats and good luck in Thailand. My other half and I made the decision to go home in June 2010, but it's always nice to know that there is a job fair in February if we get restless.

  3. @JenIf you email me, I'd be happy to introduce you to the teachers of our 9th graders.@Kamara AfiI actually wrote this post a year ago but, for some reason, I didn't publish it. Perhaps it was the length. But this decision is SO big and SO expensive, it deserves a long post. I'm glad that you have made your decision for next year. It feels good, doesn't it!

  4. I am not a teacher, but this was an interesting post for me because I am in the same situation a lot of the time – I also work internationally, and have moved, as a result, far more than I probably should (should? whats is this 'should'??). The thing is, it does still continue to excite me…so that tends to cancel out all the other questions. But this is a good list of things to ask oneself, and I might bookmark this to have at the ready for next time. thanks.

Leave a Reply