11/15/2013 09:58 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

New Canadian teachers head abroad amid tight job market

Newly qualified Canadian teachers frustrated with the over-saturated teaching market in many major Canadian cities are setting their sights on international schools abroad, where they say professional and personal benefits far outweigh those back home.

"The Canadians I'm meeting abroad are pretty solid teachers," says Jay Goodman, a 31-year-old high school teacher who is in his fourth year of international teaching. "They're young, excited, passionate teachers who just haven't been able to work with the system the way it is at home."

1st year teachers mostly unemployed, underemployed

After Goodman graduated from teachers' college in 2006, he luckily fell into nearly four years of contract work in Mississauga, Ont., filling in during maternity leaves before being squeezed out into the international school market.

"It was just like pregnancy to pregnancy, praying that people at the school would keep getting pregnant so that I could keep having a job," he says. "Eventually, that ran out."

During those years of contract employment, Goodman searched for permanent work in Toronto, but was unable to land a coveted classroom teaching position.

In 2012, more than one in three Ontario teachers who graduated the previous year and applied for teaching jobs were unemployed, according to a survey by the Ontario College of Teachers. Meanwhile, only one in three teachers who managed to secure employment worked as much as they wanted to.

Gordon Davison, a 33-year-old high school teacher, struggled to find work in this small, competitive market. He applied to several Ontario schools and school boards — even snagging one, ultimately unsuccessful, interview.

Davison started working as a bartender and server in Bowmanville, Ont., and eventually moved back in with his mother.

"I had given up looking for a teaching job after eight months of pounding the pavement," he says. "My life was literally at a standstill."

International schools 'love' our teachers

When Goodman and Davison failed to land teaching gigs in Canada, both turned to international schools abroad.

Statistics on Canadians teaching abroad are sparse, but the Ontario College of Teachers estimates more than 18 per cent of Ontario's first-year teachers apply for teaching jobs outside the province or country. Sixteen per cent of those who find work teach outside Ontario — half of them abroad, with the United Kingdom, China and South Korea topping the list of the most likely destinations.

Queen's University faculty of education hosts Canada's largest international teaching fair to help interested students and experienced teachers find two-year stints at international schools.

For its 26th annual fair, more than 50 schools have registered and the list is sure to grow before the January event. Every year, Elspeth Morgan, the co-ordinator of the faculty's education career services, has to turn some schools away.

"They love Canadian teachers," she says.

Finances, experience top-notch abroad

The teachers who move abroad rave about the experience, professionally and personally.

​Davison calls his three-year stint at a Chinese school some of the "most memorable" years of his life, during which he travelled, lived in a tight-knit community that felt like family, and gained valuable practical experience. He loved it so much he spent another three years teaching at a school in Malaysia.

The comprehensive payment packages many international schools offer are an added incentive.

International schools always pay a teacher's airfare at the start and end of a contract, according to the recruitment fair's website. Other perks may include:

- Furnished housing or a housing stipend.

- Shipping allowances to subsidize moving costs.

- Signing bonuses.

- Health insurance.

- Gym or club memberships.

- Daily lunches.

- Professional development courses, with some schools even paying for a teacher to complete a master's degree.

Goodman says the school he works for in Colombia pays for his rent, daily commute and health care.

"You could make a ton of money doing this job," he says. "Way more than you ever could in Canada."

Experience abroad helps land jobs in Canada

Yet, many Canadian teachers abroad appear hopeful their international experience will help them land their own Canadian classroom one day, negating the idea of a permanent brain drain.

Davison's contract expires at the start of the new year and he plans to return to Canada in February with 6½ years of experience that he would have been hard-pressed to get domestically.

"I am going to take this challenge head-on," he says, adding that despite his dramatic growth in experience, he still wishes he had pursued a master's degree to make his application even more competitive.

When Amber Boadway returned to Toronto after five years split between Thailand and Colombia, she quickly landed a job teaching Grade 5 at a Montessori school.

"Most people going into interviews have only been volunteering or doing tutoring and stuff," she says. "So, to have classroom experience? Yeah, they love that."

Permanent contracts 'old fashioned'

Morgan is happy to help new teachers land successful placements abroad, but stresses that they can find work in this country as well.

Morgan has been working in education career services for 15 years and says she doesn't sugar-coat Canada's tight market.

However, "part of this is what you define as a job," she says.

New graduates should not expect to land a full-time, permanent contract in a classroom upon graduation. That is an "old fashioned" perception, Morgan says.

Instead, teachers should readjust their expectations and accept entry-level supply or short-term positions to get their foot in the door, she says.

Susan Giroux, a 2013 graduate, recently wrote to Morgan to thank her for helping her finesse a cover letter and resumé, which ultimately landed her a supply teaching job near Belleville, Ont.

"I know people say there are no jobs out there, but if working full time every single day isn't a job I don't know what is!" wrote Giroux, adding that she is often booked up two weeks in advance.

If a job-seeking teacher is able to expand the job hunt past major cities, Morgan says, that can help secure work faster.

"Be flexible. Be hopeful.… Work hard. Become the best teacher you can," says Morgan. "The fastest way to get a job is to be a really good teacher. Location is only one portion of a person's ability to get a job."