What is holding back China in its pursuit of high quality international education? 

Looking at strategies for improving international education in China by International Education expert, Greg Parry, CEO of Global Services in Education.

A 5 part series on International Education.

Part (III)

 Teachers-Your Most Valuable Resource

In the previous post I spoke about the difference between non-profit and for profit schools and the different perspectives that educators and business people bring to projects of this type. It is an essential balance to get right and can potentially accelerate the goals of both parties. But how else do we ensure international schools succeed. How do we manage our resources well?

Education is a service industry whose greatest asset is people. In countries such as Australia, the UK and the US, human resources can account for close to 80% of the overall school budget. In other countries it can be as low as 55% but nonetheless it is this asset that makes the most difference for student achievement. While investment in grand buildings, marketing partnerships and other tangential artefacts can look great in year one, within 2-3 years it is the words shared by parents at tea houses, coffee shops or on social media that will have the greatest impact on reputation. You just can’t fake quality of education!

Figure 1. Percentage distribution of total capital expenditure for public elementary and secondary education in USA

Figure 1. Percentage distribution of total capital expenditure for public elementary and secondary education in USA

It is essential that schools recognize the value that teachers will play in the delivery of quality in their schools.There is a teacher shortage world wide. How do we get the very best teachers and how do we keep them?Lets first define a teacher.

In China especially, the characteristics of a teacher is wide and varied. That same job description “Teacher” can command 6000rmb/mth in one school but nearly 40,000rmb/mth in another. Yes, this disparity in salaries exists. It is most often justified but in a market that is still developing there is certainly an issue with consistency in China in terms of the teacher quality and the salary package that it commands.

Why do some schools pay higher salaries? I began my career as a teacher in Australia. I studied at university for 4 years and after 10 years of experience I had attended hundreds of hours of training, I was mentored by the very best teachers around and this career was my dream and daily passion. A senior teacher attends classes for about 30 hours each week and then commits up to 30 hours more in their own time, preparing, planning, grading and learning more. They do not have set, supervised hours. They are motivated to work with a limited need for direction. That teacher can work with total independence and earns between $60-70,000USD each year in their home country.

Now if you are a career educator with that type of experience and you choose to leave your family and friends to work in a different culture and country, thousands of miles away, often with a standard of living not the same as you are accustomed to you demand an incentive.

On the other hand some teachers, are not career educators. They are foreigners excited about the opportunity to work, teach and travel. Many of them become great language teachers by starting in environments such as China and developing with good training, mentors and encouragement. In time these teachers make a significant difference in the lives of ESL speakers with a specific attention to the early stages of language development.

There is a perfect and unique staff profile for every school and we advise schools about how best to match a complete profile to the specific needs of a school and its community. It can be argued that inexperienced language teachers cannot teach IB English Literature just as it it could be argued that AP teachers cannot teach early English language learners as well as a teachers trained specifically for language learning.

It is not just about salary and packages. It is about matching profiles and caring about the valuable teaching resource that is needed for a school.

When to get great international teachers?

The very best teachers, and schools, are interviewing January to March of each year. Premium international schools require their staff to declare their intention to renew their contract, or otherwise by the end of December. They want to know their replacement requirements so that they can aggressively pursue good teachers during this 3 month period. Some schools will actually provide a bonus of 2 weeks salary (or more) for teachers who declare early, like November. This way they are ahead of the game and a small investment can allow them the freedom to pursue the “cream of the crop” before any other school has a chance.

Student recruitment time in China happens late February to May. So the obvious challenge is that some schools say that they cannot determine staffing needs until this is complete. Sure, that could be true, but lets understand the facts. While schools might be competing for the best students they are also competing for the best teachers in a limited market that is getting tougher every year. With every day past February there are fewer teachers available and schools risk a lower standard of teachers therefore a lower quality of teaching delivery in their classrooms for the following 2 years. Teaching quality is your most valuable asset so if you compromise you compromise on the whole school. Again, you get what you pay for and you get what you wait for.

How to be ahead of the game?

Consider foreign teachers, or most of them, as a fixed cost. Set a student recruitment goal and commit to your teacher budget in January, at the latest.

Design a high quality English website. When you are recruiting teachers you need to sell your school. If teachers can only find a website focused on student recruitment in another language then this sends a message to them of what your priorities are.

Foreign education leaders must be the face of teacher recruitment. Junior staff do not employ doctors in a hospital. How can a non-teacher market a school to a teacher, determine the quality of a teacher and represent an “International School” if they are not themselves an experienced education leader. The teacher will “buy into” the leader they are being interviewed by. A local HR staff has obstacles to recruit experienced foreign teachers successfully.

Don’t use poor quality recruitment agents.

Let me clarify. Don’t pay poor quality recruitment agents who do nothing but pass you CVs. High quality teachers do not use these agents. Again, these recruiters are not educators. They are not screening quality, because they cant. They are not doing reference checks. You are paying for a data resource, not a recruitment service. Only work through reputable agents or invest in a good HR team led by your school Principal or a well qualified education leader.

At GSE we are well known for finding good quality teachers. We get them through established networks, reputation and an honest approach. We are honest to teachers about the quality of the school. We are honest to schools about the quality of teachers.

The title of “International School” should indicate an international curriculum supported by the highest quality of international teachers. Schools that succeed understand that their teachers are their most valuable resource and their energy, value and priorities reflect that.

Next week – “Part IV – What Does Quality International Education Look Like?”