What is Considered a Top Tier School?


You gotta work your way up to the top tier schools! Photo cred: https://www.flickr.com/photos/infomastern/14985205133/in/photolist-bfobcT-6CfYL-dusY8t-2FLx1T-4pajCY-dBd9Zh-nMYuhr-7XBSiS-oQc6pK-86xPQ9-72H7FQ-bYEkm-5wEXge-6QJB8-6vcdz1-5MW3P-8v8kN5-cAmX87-f1yS5t-6yW6mN-g2z8WA-kYuNze-5fFkji-diRd3R-DWWft-uivvH-imKNUn-mB8ZGU-4LmbQK-8VBkwc-oh4D9g-bt2Wng-opZNNC-e55h9f-a31trb-kus126-6sTDX6-5mQP8V-3sk9u-g332TY-72w36y-f3T6Dj-5j1fBz-93WNyy-9iwfhi-eaoekY-2cLeg3-gV5Jr-oqEjC-6gHyZL

You gotta work your way up to the top tier schools! Photo cred

On this blog I regularly post schools that I would love to work at. Emphasis on “I”- everyone is different. However, if you are reading on various websites, chatting in online forums, or just talking with a group of international teachers you will hear us talking about wanting to work at a top tier school.

A lot of new teachers might ask, “what is a “tier””?  Another person might ask, “how does someone decide what tier a school is?”

From everything I have read these decisions come down to:

1) Benefits Package

2) Work Environment


Even when you boil the discussion down to those two points there is still plenty of disagreement once you figure in cost of living and the country overall. For example $40K in Thailand would go waaaaaaaayyy farther than $40K somewhere in Europe.


A Tier 1 school here in Venezuela wouldn’t necessarily look just like a Tier 1 school in Sweden! This is why there is no master list of Tier 1 schools.


Benefits Package: 

Typically when I am looking at a benefits I’m comparing:

1) Salary (based on number of contract or teaching hours per week)

2) Housing (including utility costs)

3) Transportation (Including air, moving, and settling in allowances)

4) Insurance (Even though it is the same company my current school has a much lower deductible. Occasionally schools will even cover dental!)

5) Retirement (Including any bonuses)

And if you have kids: 6) Tuition (some places don’t include tuition for all of your kids, most seem to only include tuition for one, and others only cover a portion of the tuition)


Work Environment:


You spend a lot of time at work, so the school environment is very important.


I like to know what kind of staff dynamic there will be. Do most teachers have their Master’s and teaching licenses? Are there young single people like myself? Is it mostly families? Do the local and expat teachers hang out together?


I also like to know about the parents. Some parents are helicopter parents always hovering over their student. Other parents basically run some schools. Do the parents respect the teachers or do they think that their way is best?

Most importantly: admin. Do you get along with them? Do they stick up for teachers? Will they try to micromanage you, or trust that you know what you are doing?

Finally: resources. Usually top tier schools have amazing resources. For example: some schools have textbooks that are ancient (or simply black and white copies that they’ve made from an original), while other schools are outfitted with 1:1 iPads and Smartboards in every classroom. If you want certain materials will you need to pay for it out of your own pocket or will the school be so organized that it will be readily available?


From what I’ve gathered while job searching over the years is that there are three “tiers” of international schools:


Tier 1 schools are usually non-profits, very westernized, students are very international, and typically have close ties with an Embassy.


Tier 2 schools are non-profits that cater toward more domestic students. They might not have as many resources as the tier one schools (or they might if the domestic student population is rich enough).


Tier 3 schools are for-profit schools that focus on making money. They are run like a business. These schools bend over backward for parents and treated like a customer who is always right. Sometimes these schools will even advertise on Dave’s ESL Café because they are looking for teachers right out of college.
Typically you need to work your way up by starting at a Tier 3 school if you are just out of college and are looking for your first international job. If you have taught a few years in your home country you could probably start at a Tier 2 school. If you are really lucky, a great interviewer, or you know the right people (this works best) you might be able to break into a Tier 1 school right away.


Some people also talk about an Elite school. This is usually a school in the Tier 1 category with an outstanding benefits package, amazing reputation, and very low faculty turnover. Schools that come to mind that meet these requirements are: Escuela Campo Alegre (Caracas), Graded (Sao Paolo), International School of Bangkok, American School of Paris, and Singapore American School.
I hope this post brought a little insight into the “tier” system. Good luck on your job hunt!


Please Comment: What aspect of a school do you think best qualifies a school for Tier 1 status? Would you rather work at a Tier 1 school with a heavy workload but great benefits or a Tier 2 school with pretty good benefits but a lighter workload?


3 responses to “What is Considered a Top Tier School?

  1. Interesting and useful for people coming into the international scene. I found the International Schools Review website really useful when moving as the reviews are fairly (with the odd exception) balanced.

    I would also say that a teacher should double and triple check things like non-contact time, extra-curricula expectations and location. ISB, for example, is 40 minutes to an hour from Bangkok depending on traffic.

    It is a little world of its own (it has been described as ‘Stepford Wives’) and so the staff and students rarely socialise with people from other parts of the international community. Which is fine if that’s what you’re looking for but not the same as living in the middle of a foreign capital.


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