Senior Associate John Ritter and his office partner Susan Ritter—like other Associates who work with U.S. candidates—receive quite a few applications from candidates who have never taught overseas and basically only want to go to Europe. After many years of experience with Search Associates (SEARCH), the Ritters know it is very difficult and usually unlikely for that to happen. Yet that is exactly what SEARCH candidates Jake and Kay Gulledge did!
Jake and Kay met at university in Austin, Texas while working at the campus bookstore. They began their teaching careers in the same district in Texas, with Kay at one of the elementary schools for three years and Jake starting at the middle school before moving to the high school, for a total of four years.
As a child and teenager growing up abroad, Kay had attended a few international schools. She began to talk to Jake about international education after a few years of teaching in Texas. The Gulledges had traveled together quite a bit already, so Kay convinced Jake to give a two-year contract overseas a shot as a “great adventure.” She adds, “He didn’t need too much convincing.”
Jake began to explore the world of international teaching with a simple Google search. A few forums and online spaces discussed the pros and cons of teaching abroad. In this way, the Gulledges discovered the benefits of joining Search Associates. Kay says,
We decided that SEARCH would give us the most advantage when searching for jobs, based on their reputation and the large number of schools they represent.
Once registered, Kay and Jake attended Search San Francisco 2014. Three years later, with their new overseas experience, they attended Search London 2017—both busy and exciting recruitment fairs, “the employment version of speed dating,” says Kay. She describes why attending fairs is well worth it:
A fair allows even more insight into how schools operate, what their expectations are, and—generally—how you can expect to be treated as an employee there. We paid special attention to what recruiters had to say about their schools, the manner in which they spoke about students and learning, and the ways they interacted with and treated people in general. We found the fairs to be great networking opportunities and took advantage of talking to other teachers about the schools they currently teach at.
Organization and communication were integral to Kay and Jake’s successful job search. Though they were open to other options, location was the most important factor for both. Their preference was to be in Europe. Kay says,
We frequently discussed what we hoped for and what things we were comfortable with compromising on. We also used the SEARCH website to communicate with schools. In the beginning, we sent emails to a majority of the schools that had positions open for the both of us. This led to a few Skype interviews, and we made a few pre-fair contacts, too.
The Gulledges used the SEARCH database to look for schools with positions available for them as a “teaching couple”—economics/social studies for Jake and elementary for Kay. They searched the database for basic information about a particular school’s location, curriculum, salary, etc. They maintained, and frequently updated, spreadsheets and pro/con lists concerning all of the schools that might be a possibility. By the time the Gulledges arrived at a fair, they already had a strong foundational understanding of their schools of interest, and they were able to adjust when new postings came in. The Gulledges attended the fairs prepared to hand out CV’s, cover letters, and thank you notes easily.
Their first international teaching positions were with the Thuringia International School in Weimar, Germany. Having researched the school prior to Search San Francisco, Jake and Kay knew that this school would be an ideal choice after speaking with the director at the fair. While he sold them on the great things about the school, he was also upfront about the potential negatives of living in a very small town, but the Gulledges were not dissuaded. Kay reflects,
Weimar is a quaint German town with a lot of history. While the school is small, it has a close-knit and very supportive community. After three years, we felt like family. It turned out to be a fantastic place for us to begin our international careers.
Kay and Jake’s second job search landed them overseas teaching positions in Austria at the Vienna International School. Accepting this offer was a bit of a gamble because at the time of Search London Job Fair there was only one position available—Economics for Jake. The Gulledges accepted on the understanding that Kay would be able to substitute teach in the elementary school with the hope that a position would open up . . . at some point. Kay adds,
We felt that the reputation of the school and its history with the International Baccalaureate (IB), combined with its location, justified our decision. The opportunity to work with a larger variety of experienced teachers and a truly international student population were also motivating factors for us. Luckily, I was offered a position in the primary school just before school began that year.
For Kay, the biggest difference between U.S. and overseas teaching is in the curriculum and pedagogy at the primary/elementary level. For the past six years, she has been able teach in an inquiry-based, holistic way with an emphasis on global-mindedness. And Jake has appreciated the opportunity to be working with colleagues and students from different backgrounds and nationalities.
The Gulledges advise those wishing to pursue international teaching to keep an open mind and to network with other international teachers. You will learn more about schools, locations, and curricula as well as about opportunities you hadn’t even begun to consider. Against the odds, Jake and Kay landed dream jobs in their number one location with a winning combination: focus, organization, communication—and the courage to take a risk!