Impermanence and International School Contracts


Every year, in international schools, a certain number of teachers spend several months – usually between August and December, figuring out what to do with their lives. This is because they have signed a one-year contract and must decide whether or not to sign another one.

Recently, I chatted with a non-teacher at a party. He told me he was here, in Vietnam, until 2018. He said this with a real peace, like someone who knows where they are and is fine with that. All too often, international school teachers are caught between two places, or sometimes three… or even four. Home, where they were before, where they are now and where they might be next.

It is very difficult to be content with one’s current situation in these conditions. It is also an exhausting way to live… making the biggest decision you can make – where to live – every year.

I reckon schools should get rid of one year contracts and introduce two or three year contracts as the minimum. This would:

  • get rid of the gossip – “is he staying or going?”
  • remove some of the uncertainty
  • help people feel more settled
  • fill schools with people who want to be there, not people who aren’t sure where to go next
  • encourage commitment rather than delaying decisions
  • encourage people to live in the moment rather than worry about what’s around the corner

Food for thought. I am a perpetual signer of one-year contracts, but I know how debilitating those months of indecision are, how they affect my enjoyment of where I am, how they affect the friendships I have made but am not sure will continue and how they affect my enjoyment of my work.

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  1. naaiyhe

    This is so true – very true also of newly graduated teachers who usually work casually for months or even years straight out of uni, followed by temporary ‘blocks’ of between 4 weeks and a year, and who sometimes suffer from unstable employment for years before finding something permanent. This leads to many problems – housing for starters. It is very difficult to rent housing let alone buy anything with a history of temporary contracts.

    • sherrattsam

      True, I hadn’t thought of that. We are so divorced from those realities in international schools where everything is taken care of.

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  3. learningtowearthebigshoes

    Agree – we were pushing for 3 year contracts for middle management initially and then 2 years. Need continuity to get anything done properly. Teaching staff the same. two year contracts..means first year getting used to the culture, new life, settling in and ‘going the first round’ , second year….almost checking out before even a third of the way through the year – constant change and indecision….
    We used to pay 3 months bonus for 3 year contract signees…….need that solid block of staff to ensure any strategic plans are followed through…
    ps. Glad you are ‘staying!’ 🙂

  4. sherrattsam

    Thanks! I like the bonus idea, it must make financial sense too… no money spent on recruiting for those positions for three more years!

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  6. megangraff

    Before heading to a new place, I decide how long I think I would like to stay there while acknowledging that the amount of time could change once I am there. However so far, my predictions have been accurate. When I moved to Switzerland, I said three years (in spite of a 2 year contract followed by a permanent one) because I think that is the minimum for a school – a year to figure things out, a year to make changes, a year to consolidate and get things in order to hand over to the next person. When I left Singapore and Switzerland, I made the decision to move on before beginning my final year. (It helped that both times I was moving to a volunteer position that I had already sorted out.) Making the decision early made it easier in some ways but harder to not “check out” too early. It is this problem of “checking out” or getting too wrapped up in what is to come, that I find hardest about my one year volunteer stints. I was in Tanzania for 12 months but 1/2 way through my time there, I knew where I was going next. This year, it happened even sooner. I had only been in Bolivia for 3 months before I managed to sort out a job for next August. It is reassuring to know where I am going next and that I have a job for next year but at the same time, I don’t want to get so caught up in planning my future that I forget to make the most of my surroundings.
    I think the idea of bonuses for teachers who sign on for three years is a great idea.

  7. nancy

    I worked in international schools from 1980-2008. I never got less than a two-year contract. Have things changed recently?

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