When the COVID-19 pandemic struck and the quarantine began, Duncan Kaiser was between appointments in international schools within Switzerland. Having been hired as EAL Coordinator for Middle School at the International School of Basel, Switzerland during a time of great uncertainty, he remained assured by Human Resources (HR) as to the validity of his contract and signed a rental agreement for his next accommodation. Weekly Q&A sessions with HR kept him forward thinking as he home-schooled eight-year-old Rico, with a routine of morning learning, lunch, and then outdoor activities. French cartoons and weekly video calls with Rico’s French teacher kept their second language sharp.
The stay-at-home orders allowed Duncan precious time with his wife, new baby daughter, and Rico. When not home-schooling, he spent time decluttering and packing for the adventure ahead, enjoying a first foray into yoga, and improving his soccer skills with Rico. He dreamed of places he’d put off visiting—the Great Pyramids and family and friends in the U.S. He had time to get really excited about his next position.
Duncan has been in international education for 17 years now. After trying his hand at various jobs—including one as an IT engineer—he decided, at the age of 30, to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a teacher. A flair for linguistics and a love for travel inspired Duncan to earn his certificate to Teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) in 2001. While taking summer courses, he began teaching foreign adults and international summer courses in the U.K. In 2003, Duncan took the plunge and moved to Thailand for a one-year contract at Kings College language school. His one-year plan in Thailand stretched to eight years. A second appointment at Harrow, a British curriculum school in Bangkok, gave him his “first taste of international school teaching.” Duncan knew he had found his calling:
As an EAL teacher, I see progress almost weekly at times . . . I know, too, that I am helping kids not just academically but socially and on a personal level—particularly the absolute beginner English speakers who must be in a state of shock sometimes with being plunged into a completely alien environment, often far away from family and friends. So, if I can give them the tools to make all that easier and then see them flourish, that is what I love.
When it was time to explore another part of the world, Duncan registered with Search Associates (SEARCH), on the recommendation of a friend who had attended a Search London fair. Duncan registered for the 2011 Bangkok fair and began checking the SEARCH website regularly. Two functions in particular helped him most: one that filters preferred curricula and another showing vacancies at schools attending the fair for which he was registered. Duncan could easily see what opportunities were out there and access information on the wide range of SEARCH member schools, including their different benefits packages.
Duncan’s job search begins with looking into who he knows in a particular location—or even at the school itself. He says, “Friends of friends can be really useful too.” He checks a school`s website for what it has to say about his subject area before seeking an overall feeling of the place by asking certain questions: Is it business-like or friendly? Do they celebrate learning or just focus on grades?
Having attended four SEARCH job fairs in Bangkok and in London, Duncan will tell you they are “intense because of the need to possibly make big life decisions and juggle options as you go. You have to be well organised and ready to take rejection too!” His general strategy is to target three or four schools beforehand “to go all out to get an interview.” He insists, though, that you “keep an open mind for the unexpected contact and good vibe at the fair itself.” A flexible attitude is key. When Duncan attended his first Search London Fair, after leaving Thailand, he did have one clear goal:
I was interested in working in the International Baccalaureate (IB) as I felt it suited my teaching philosophy more. I was fortunate to meet with two recruiters who shared my approach to education and with whom I really clicked, so I decided to take another plunge and head to Dubai.
Duncan spent six years at GEMS World Academy, Dubai, where he learned “a huge amount of pedagogy” while working within a community of vibrant and knowledgeable international colleagues. He has also been thrilled with his son’s international school experience. The IB Primary Years Programme’s (PYP) inquiry-based approach has allowed Rico “to learn more freely and express himself.” Rico has developed an awareness and interest in other cultures naturally because of his diverse friends and classmates. Small class sizes have given Rico plenty of one on one time with his teachers. Fantastic facilities, such as amazing libraries and sports amenities, have opened up a world of opportunities. Duncan adds,
The school in Dubai had a superb, modern, 600-seat proper auditorium, so my son loved going to watch assemblies there as well as performing in his class`s own show on the big stage. They also had a very cool planetarium where they were shown video on the huge domed ceiling. A great way to spark the learning!
When Duncan’s contract was up at GEMS World Academy, Dubai, his itchy feet compelled him to give his notice. Within a week, he was headed to Switzerland to teach at a sister GEMS World Academy!
Two years later, at Bangkok January—the first fair of the season—Duncan fared well. He had learned much from experience:
Having been through three or four previous searches and fairs helped me a lot. I just picked it up again, reactivated my SEARCH account, updated my CV, and sent out a load of feelers to existing contacts and to any schools with new positions I saw. It also helped me in staying calm (most of the time!) as it can be a really unsettling and stressful time until you land a new position.
Duncan was really happy when, prior to the fair opening, he was invited for an interview with the International School of Basel, Switzerland, his top choice. He reviewed the school’s philosophy on the SEARCH website to confirm the institution shared his values. After reviewing what his rising third grade son could look forward to in the IB PYP and extra-curricular programs, Duncan approached the interview knowing it would be a good fit. And it was, especially after he and the recruiters talked about the EAL program! Duncan would certainly attend a SEARCH fair in the future, for nothing could replace the opportunities and interesting people one encounters there.
Duncan encourages prospective overseas educators to take the plunge: live in different cultures; open yourself up to different mindsets; and develop professionally, with new ideas and perspectives on teaching and learning. You can travel to places you probably never would have, and you will meet many great people. Of course, you must do your research on schools beforehand and call on any contacts who can give any inside information on particular schools. He suggests you decide what you want most from any move. Perhaps, it is worth going somewhere maybe “less on the map” if it is for financial reasons or career progression, such as breaking into the IB Programme or moving into an administrative position. Duncan’s final recommendation comes on the heels of his recent move to Basel:
When you arrive at your new school, get involved early on in all activities offered socially on and off campus. The first phase of settling in can be very alienating and tough otherwise, and it is easy to hark back to what you have left behind. Basel has been really good on this so far, and I have tried to take advantage of some of the stuff going on.