News: Balancing Passion and Work: Insights from Teaching Couple Sabina & Dan - Sep 11, 2023
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Monday, September 11, 2023Candidate Stories

Balancing Passion and Work: Insights from Teaching Couple Sabina & Dan

Seventeen years ago, Sabina Conjamalay and Dan Hall committed themselves to teaching for a couple of years in London before teaching abroad. Since then, they have striven to balance their passion for international teaching with time with family back home. This year, the couple has landed positions at the International School of Belgrade, with the help of Search Associates (SEARCH).

Dan and Sabina met working in a medium security unit for prisoners with mental health issues. Though teaching at the prison helped fund Dan and Sabina’s teacher training, they continued an additional year because they loved it.

The couple accepted their first overseas teaching positions in 2014 at the International School of Manila (ISM), at a job fair hosted by the Council of International Schools. They appreciated the school and place so much that they stayed for three years and married there during their final year. Dan says,

We were so lucky to get into ISM; it was such a fantastic international school. We found out all about Search Associates from colleagues there.

Family and friends drew the couple back to London, and they thought their stay would be temporary. But six years flew by before they registered with Search Associates (SEARCH). The couple felt safe joining the agency, certain that they would only be looking at schools that had been vetted—just as they had been rigorously evaluated as prospective SEARCH candidates.

Sabina and Dan had a great experience at the Search Bangkok Fair in 2017 but ended up declining two international teaching offers at schools in Cairo and Azerbaijan; they simply weren’t the right fit. The couple decided to continue teaching in London and put their SEARCH profiles on hold.

In January 2023, Dan and Sabina returned to SEARCH and reactivated their files before attending the Search London Fair. This time around, they felt well equipped. Dan says,

We were much more versed in our priorities and things to consider: the package, location, size of the school, the school’s ethos/philosophy… We would only entertain places very far away from London if positions for each of us were perfect.

The Conjamalay-Halls’ international school job search involved “50% internet and 50% job fair.” They used the SEARCH database quite a lot. Before attending the London fair, they studied schools with roles for both. Because Dan’s job as a chemistry teacher is more specialized, and therefore in more demand, and Sabina’s job search is slightly broader—she can teach quite a few grade levels—the couple strategized to “FAVORITE” chemistry vacancies. Sabina says,

Daily emails and vacancy updates are the BEST thing. They prompt you to go back to the database and dig into that specific possibility, when you still have a busy day teaching. We were on the platform about three times a week, especially leading up to the fair…The Serbia job came up on the daily email, but it was a job for Dan only. We decided to talk to them at the fair anyway. We are willing to go out on a limb and have a bit of faith to pursue what we want.

Sabina and Dan are tremendous fans of job fairs. Prior to Search January London, Senior Associate and fair host Gez Hayden and Executive Assistant Neil Kilah had given advice about what to do and how to respond on Fair day. The couple appreciates how “face-to-face interactions…, even before the interview, allow recruiters to get a much better feeling.” The school Q&A sessions offered a low-key way for candidates to get a feel for a school and get questions answered before interviewing.

The couple also enjoyed sharing tips and experiences with others. Their former school, ISM, sent a few prospective hires to talk to them about their ISM experience. Dan and Sabina were also happy to give guidance to a couple of teachers new to the scene, and one acquaintance offered them links and social connections. Socializing and networking did not end after each fair day; ISM—along with other international schools—hosted their own reunion one evening.

Sabina and Dan interviewed with and spoke to quite a few schools in different parts of the world, but it was Superintendent Andrew Derry’s inspirational talk that made them want to work at the International School of Belgrade (ISB). Andrew’s discussion about the well-being of students and staff—particularly after COVID-19—was in sharp contrast to other talks they had attended. They loved the ethos of the school. Dan and Sabina lined up at ISB’s crowded sign-up session and made it under the wire for a 5 p.m. interview -- for Dan.

The ISB recruiters were keen on Dan for Head of Science, but they didn’t have an overseas teaching position for Sabina at that time. Undeterred, she chatted with both the elementary school principal and the Primary Years Programme Coordinator, and lo and behold, ISB had to have her on the team! For the 2023-24 academic school year, Sabina will teach a grade at elementary level, but the administration knows there is much more she can bring to the table.

While her specialization is in reading and English, during Sabina’s time in London state schools, she rose to Assistant Principal and Head of Upper Elementary. As an administrator, Sabina turned an under resourced school around in 18 months so that they could achieve the rating of Ofsted Accreditation Standard Quality. Sabina’s appreciation of the ISB ethos stems from those years when her school struggled to find time and resources for the mental health of staff and students.

Not only do Dan and Sabina encourage you, too, to go out on a limb, to get what you want, but they also encourage you to be flexible and seek advice. Dan explains,

I spoke to a couple of teachers who were new… and very prescriptive of a particular city or country that they wanted. By doing that, you shut the door to very exciting opportunities. Speak to as many people as possible to inform you of your best decision. Get in touch with teachers at a school you are seriously considering. And, rely on your Search Associates for guidance.

Did You Know…?

Many international schools start recruiting in September for the following school year.