In her 18 years of international education, Rubi Bona has enjoyed adventures in Dubai, Turkey, Nepal, Indonesia, Iraq, and, currently, Pakistan. She says that teaching overseas takes “courage and confidence” to get out of one’s comfort zone, but she shares the tremendous rewards:
My life is purposeful. Many children need a guide, an advocate, and a facilitator of knowledge about the outside world. I believe that education provides the gift of opportunity, and I think that my motivation to lead stems from my desire to make a difference across the globe.
Rubi has learned that international schools are looking for proven teachers who can hit the ground running and manage their classrooms independently. There is a need for educators who have the necessary training, cross-cultural skill set, and global outlook to work in an international setting. Since taking the plunge to teach internationally, Rubi’s exposure to a diverse range of cultures has broadened her perspective. She says that “most international schools are keen to benefit from their teachers’ knowledge.” As a result, Rubi has been able to expand her own credentials to include Primary curriculum development, thanks to the wide range of professional development opportunities offered to her. Rubi adds,
Teaching abroad can be one of the best career decisions you make, but you must prepare for the new challenges you are bound to face as an international educator.
Rubi appreciates that overseas teaching has allowed her more disposable income because the benefits package usually covers housing, airfare, and health insurance on top of her salary. The most significant difference between teaching abroad and teaching in her own country has been, of course, the range of English language abilities in her classroom. In her experience, classes have comprised primarily—if not all—non-native, English-speaking students. Rubi says it is essential for teachers to keep this in mind when planning lessons and class activities to ensure that the needs of all students are met. In an international setting, Rubi has found students behave well, allowing everyone to focus on the lessons. Students are more motivated and encouraged to work hard, and parents are more involved in their children’s schooling, so they hold higher expectations of the teacher.
Rubi was raised in a family of educators in the Philippines; her grandmother and uncle were teachers and her mother a school principal. Clearly a life-long learner, Rubi earned her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration followed by a Management and Accountancy graduate degree. With a government post in hand, she promptly enrolled in Secondary Education evening classes, all the while getting more and more fired up about teaching. Once Rubi passed the board examinations and earned her teaching license, she took a job teaching middle school English. After only two years, she was highly recommended to one of the international schools in Jakarta. Rubi learned a valuable lesson:
The expression, “It's a small world” applies to most of the international school community. School principals and school heads know one another and will place more value on a recommendation from a colleague they know well or have worked with in the past. Likewise, once you have landed your first international teaching job, you are a more desirable candidate in the future because you have already proven that you are adaptable in a foreign environment and that you have been successful at an international school. And because your reputation precedes you, it is important that you honor contracts and maintain professionalism.
Rubi was already living and teaching in Indonesia when a colleague who had landed an international teaching job through Search Associates (SEARCH) shared her positive experiences with the agency. Rubi’s colleague encouraged her to join and walked her through the registration process. On the SEARCH platform, Rubi gave herself plenty of time to “dive into” creating her profile. She gathered referrals from previous employers, co-workers, friends, and family, and she signed up for email job alerts to avoid missing anything of interest. She also joined professional groups that aligned with her career goals. Anticipating interviews, Rubi prepared her elevator pitch about her bio, her teaching experiences, and her transferrable skills. She was so ready!
Rubi was offered her first position as a SEARCH candidate at International Maarif Schools of Erbil, Iraq. She had done her research about the school and location, and a conversation with the Head of School allayed her only concerns about safety in Erbil, Kurdistan.
During the COVID-19 crisis, no matter what the type of communication channel used —TV, radio, online platforms, mobile, etc.—Rubi and her colleagues had to get creative to keep students engaged, knowing “that every household had become a classroom, and students were without the community that supports learning.” Time management was extremely challenging: In addition to lesson prep, class hours, and attending to administrative meetings and tasks, Rubi had to carve out one-on-one time for her students. She found ways to establish an “extra and open communication channel” beyond the usual “critical” messages to her students. She wanted to be able to listen to them and help them articulate their needs. She also wanted to make it easy for her students to share experiences with one another, as they would normally do through classroom interactions.
Despite Rubi’s best efforts, collaborative engagement among students working in isolation at home was very difficult, and Rubi said it remained challenging to gauge students’ comprehension and level of engagement. Her middle and high school level students—deeply affected by the stress of the pandemic and lockdown—appeared to have little to no energy, compounded by the need to be more autonomous in reading and following instructions for lessons. From Rubi’s computer it was nearly impossible to detect “small signs of life,” which she might have seen in the classroom. Technology issues and parental pressure compounded the difficulties of online teaching.
Rubi turned challenges into personal opportunities during the pandemic. Multiple online professional development opportunities allowed her to fulfill academic requirements to complete her master's degree. Then, with her new Master of Arts in Education major in Educational Leadership and Management, she began to look for leadership positions on the SEARCH platform. Rubi says, “Seeing Vacancies and the Jobs Fair Around the Globe on the Dashboard have inspired me the most.”
With the help of Search Associates John and Susan Ritter, Rubi embarked on an unexpected new chapter in her teaching career and underwent a smooth transition relocating to Lahore, Pakistan. She has much to say to those who want to pursue teaching in an international school abroad:
Challenge yourself; don't hesitate to look outside your comfort zone. Seek something that could be a match for your skillset, but diversify your search. Do not be discouraged if you are not certified but have experience teaching at a private school because some international schools will waive the certification requirement if a teacher has valuable experience.
When you do land that dream job teaching abroad, Rubi urges you to cultivate relationships with local teachers. By doing so, you will foster an international-mindedness, open-mindedness, second language competence, and respect for others that will not only enrich your life but will also support an environment of trust and support among local and foreign teachers.