International Teachers-A Rare Breed in China

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With Covid resurging in China, a new challenge has snowballed towards international schools in China-Teacher Retention. International teachers are leaving the countries due to two main reasons-the uncertainty of seeing their family members/crossing borders, and the uncertainty of the dynamic Covid situation. The recent lockdown in Shanghai and Beijing has been the last straw to an already existing condition of mental exhaustion from isolation.

It is to be noted that all the expat teachers working in China would absolutely like to continue working here due to the many perks we enjoy in this wonderful country-safety and security, competitive salaries, quality of life, and access to superior technology and infrastructures. Hence this is a rather tough decision that many teachers have to take whilst they would like to continue living and working in China.

How will this change the international education landscape in China? This will impact small schools that might have to close operations. The well-established schools will have to adopt innovative ways to survive this shortage of international teachers as recruiting from abroad is still not possible. This will impact the quality of the international curriculum being delivered in the schools. It will also bring less economy to the country as many expat families will and are already deciding to pull out their children from schools to send them back to their home countries. This will disrupt the ideal teacher to student ratio in international schools in China. Quality of teaching will be compromised as schools are forced to recruit teachers who do not have the experience of teaching internationally. Globally this will mean there will be more unemployed teachers looking for jobs in the next two years as they are leaving China in spite of not having secured a job. This means salaries are unlikely to be reviewed by school boards as they have many takers for the same position.

International schools in China need to implement measures to survive this exodus of qualified, experienced international teachers. They need to retain existing staff by offering perks or retention benefits; they need to reduce their subject offerings to focus on quality over quantity; they need to invest in upskilling of newly recruited teachers who are replacing the experienced ones; schools need to be transparent with stakeholders to get support and buy-in of unfavourable decisions; they need to create support groups for existing teachers to seek social-emotional support during times of extreme crisis.

International teachers have become a rare breed in China – schools are struggling to fill up the void left by the mass exodus of teachers this year. For those staying back, this means wearing multiple hats for the next few years as they will have to take on more responsibilities. This will lead to burnout that could lead to more teachers leaving next year and the year after and the year after, making us a rare breed in China.

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