More Director Talk About ISR

September 15, 2010

Last week we listened in as school heads discussed ISR. Here’s more from that 2007 conversation, when the topic turned to seeking revenge for potentially being ‘hurt’ by negative reviews:

“Many teachers obviously support the notion of an anonymous forum whereby institutions and individuals are slandered and criticized. Being fair minded and rational there would surely be no objection to Heads circulating information (about teachers) along the lines of “don’t touch with a barge pole”, prior to recruitment fairs…”

“In fact, anonymous, vicious rumors do hurt us personally, however much we try to dismiss them…”

“My Lancastrian soul tells me to fire and let loose the legal dogs of war on both the teacher concerned (one who wrote a negative review) and the ISR site. Then again, my inclination is akin to Shakespeare’s where the legal profession is concerned: “First, let’s kill all the lawyers”, firstly because they will ultimately not be our salvation in this area – and secondly because, well, they are lawyers…”

—–comments from original article—–

This web site has been a constant concern for many of us and it is well known among the International Teaching Community

….what is certain (after a negative school review) is that there will follow dozens more entries to International Schools Review trashing the school and the head and talking of petty and despotic behavior, of the suppression of free speech, of vindictiveness, and their agony aunt, Dr. Spilchuk, will blazon this as yet another example of how we run our schools as private fiefdoms.

….aren’t we at risk of being just a tad hypocritical? (As directors, we have) strong demands for confidential references (i.e. unseen by the candidates) to be brutally honest (i.e. dish the dirt as the director sees it).  Isn’t that what the ISR reviews are doing, with the exception that we get to know what’s been written about us?

Suppression is rarely an effective response to criticism…

Our lives might be easier if the ISR site did not exist, and if we did not have some disaffected teachers who have a very jaundiced view of our schools and ourselves. But it does, and we do. We have to learn to live with reality, and to react in a way that demonstrates the inaccuracy of the vitriol posted. We also have to trust the good sense of the people we hope will come to work in our schools.

None of us know what drove him/her to write what they did. Definitely, we should look at all the details. And more importantly look at the root cause of the teacher’s behavior…is this simply one bad teacher or is there some kind of problem in the school system that is going to produce more disgruntled teachers?

We have all met teachers who openly lie in a negative way about a school, but in my experience there has always been a good reason (whether acceptable or not).

(We’ve) been examining this website situation for a while and I suspect each of us shares the concern….there can’t be a single head who has not, in pushing their school forward, made enemies. In the end, we can anticipate derogatory garbage about each of us to be posted for public consumption.  I guess we get paid to have the skin of a rhino, but, despite their hides, rhinos are endangered species.

I had the immediate instant reaction (to a negative review) to take revenge!  However, I did take some time to think about it and rather than take direct action I asked some staff to look at the comments and decide what they would do. Some staff posted supportive comments and the issue did fade away….

I believe it is in a school’s best interest to ensure staff know about these sites (such as ISR), look at comments about their own school (if there are any), and make their own posts. The majority of comments currently posted are negative, so it is in our interest to encourage more balanced contributions. We ignore this site at our peril and maybe they could be useful to us.

I think the response to incidents (of poor reviews) does need to be quite measured and does need to take into account the possibility that the comment has some truth and that you need to have at look at what caused it (god forbid).

The issue is much broader than occasionally defamatory teachers on a scurrilous website.  At the heart of this issue is a need for a shared set of professional ethics for international educators.

Do we fight each case (of negative reviews) to the death… thereby chancing assault from our respective communities as silencers of dissent?

….I would try to be alert to the grain of truth sometimes hidden in such messages (of negative reviews). Reflection never hurts, I believe….

If people choose not to go to a school because of an opinion they read on a website, first they have not likely done their homework on the school and second, do we really want them working for us? Not me.

Until today, I had never actually read any of the comments on the International Schools Review website. I have interviewed candidates that have mentioned they were concerned about things they read on the site…. If most of the negative reviews are written with the same venomous, ranting style that I read today, I might question the teacher, especially a seasoned one, that takes it to heart. It seems akin to trusting someone who thinks the National Enquirer gives the real story. Of course, when the day comes that my name and school are slandered there, I may be little less calm and rational about it.

I would take no contractual action against anyone for anything written on International Schools Review since any action would be hard to defend because of anonymity on the site; and since not continuing with a “contractual agreement” with a specific teacher without proof of misbehavior is very hard to defend to the faculty at large.

….I would try to disable the International Schools Review by flooding it with positive write ups…everyday by numerous people.  However, what I have found is that International Schools Review is very selective about what they post…they don’t post all positive comments but they do post negative ones. Interesting!

…. an anonymous contribution does not equate to publicly ‘trashing’ the school and its leaders.

We are giving credence to International School Review.com whenever we even acknowledge its existence because of an anonymous contribution to ISR.  My suggestion is to ignore the comments….

Can we limit US Constitutionally guaranteed free speech in our contract clauses (without) damaging the reputation of the school?

The issue of this “organization” and the vile information that is posted anonymously is a major concern for some of us. I only hope that there is something that we are able to do to stop this from happening but I am not very confident that it can be done. It may be that we should gather some of our supportive teachers, pay for their membership, and have them write very positive “reviews” of our schools to balance those that are less than complimentary. This may be an expense that we don’t want but….Although this may be seen as a “back door” effort and would need to be conducted on the Q.T. and done gradually it would be much easier than bringing more light to this group of rather nasty and mean spirited people. I also think that any public battle would be just what they want, free publicity. Their defense would be simple—the big bad school administrators are, once again, being mean to the poor defenseless teachers….

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Listen in as heads of international schools discussed the ISR site in 2007.

This web site has been a constant concern for many of us and it is well known among the

international teaching community.

….what is certain (After a negative school review) is that there will follow dozens more entries to International Schools Review trashing the school and the head and talking of petty and despotic behavior, of the suppression of free speech, of vindictiveness, and their agony aunt, Dr Spilchuk, will blazon this as yet another example of how we run our schools as private fiefdoms.

….aren’t we at risk of being just a tad hypocritical? (As directors, we have) strong demands for confidential references (i.e. unseen by the candidates) to be brutally honest (i.e, dish the dirt as the director sees it).  Isn’t that what the ISR reviews are doing, with the exception that we get to know what’s been written about us?

Suppression is rarely an effective response to criticism…

Our lives might be easier if the ISR site did not exist, and if we did not have some

disaffected teachers who have a very jaundiced view of our schools and ourselves. But it

does, and we do. We have to learn to live with reality, and to react in a way that demonstrates the inaccuracy of the vitriol posted. We also have to trust the good sense of the people we hope will come to work in our schools.

None of us know what drove him/her to write what they did. Definitely, we should look at all the details. And more importantly look at the root cause of the teacher’s behavior…is this simply one bad teacher or is there some kind of problem in the school system that is going to produce more disgruntled teachers?

We have all met teachers who openly lie in a negative way about a school, but in my experience there has always been a good reason (whether acceptable or not).

(We’ve) been examining this website situation for a while and I suspect each of us shares the concern….there can’t be a single head who has not, in pushing their school forward, made enemies. In the end, we can anticipate derogatory garbage about each of us to be posted for public consumption.  I guess we get paid to have the skin of a rhino, but, despite their hides, rhinos are endangered species.

I had the immediate instant reaction (to a negative review) to take revenge!  However, I did take some time to think about it and rather than take direct action I asked some staff to look at the comments and decide what they would do. Some staff posted supportive comments and the issue did fade away….

I believe it is in a school’s best interest to ensure staff know about these sites (such as ISR), look at comments about their own school (if there are any), and make their own posts. The majority of comments currently posted are negative, so it is in our interest to encourage more balanced contributions. We ignore this site at our peril and maybe they could be useful to us.

I think the response to incidents (of poor reviews) does need to be quite measured and does need to take into account the possibility that the comment has some truth and that you need to have at look at what caused it (god forbid).

The issue is much broader than occasionally defamatory teachers on a scurrilous website.

At the heart of this issue is a need for a shared set of professional ethics for international

educators.

Do we fight each case (of a negative reviews) to the death… thereby chancing assault from our respective communities as silencers of dissent?

….I would try to be alert to the grain of truth sometimes hidden in such messages (of negative reviews). Reflection never hurts, I believe….

If people choose not to go to a school because of an opinion they read on a website, first

they have not likely done their homework on the school and second, do we really want

them working for us? Not me.

Until today, I had never actually read any of the comments on the International Schools

Review website. I have interviewed candidates that have mentioned they were

concerned about things they read on the site…. If most of the negative reviews are

written with the same venomous, ranting style that I read today, I might question the

teacher, especially a seasoned one, that takes it to heart. It seems akin to trusting someone

who thinks the National Enquirer gives the real story. Of course, when the day comes that

my name and school are slandered there, I may be little less calm and rational about it

I would take no contractual action against anyone for anything written on International

Schools Review since any action would be hard to defend because of anonymity on the site; and since not continuing with a “contractual agreement” with a specific teacher without proof of misbehavior is very hard to defend to the faculty at large.

….I would try to disable the International Schools Review by flooding it with positive

write ups…everyday by numerous people. However, what I have found is that International

Schools Review is very selective about what they post…they don’t post all positive comments but they do post negative ones. Interesting!

…. an anonymous contribution does not equate to publicly ‘trashing’ the school and its leaders.

We are giving credence to the International School Review whenever we even acknowledge its existence because of an anonymous contribution to ISR.  My suggestion is to ignore the comments….

Can we limit (US Constitutionally guaranteed) free speech in our contract clauses (without) damaging the reputation of the school?

The issue of this “organization” and the vile information that is posted anonymously is a

major concern for some of us. I only hope that there is something that we are able to do to

stop this from happening but I am not very confident that it can be done. It may be that we

should gather some of our supportive teachers, pay for their membership, and have them

write very positive “reviews” of our schools to balance those that are less than complimentary. This may be an expense that we don’t want but….Although this may be seen as a “back door” effort and would need to be conducted on the Q.T. and done gradually it would be much easier than bringing more light to this group of rather nasty and mean spirited people. I also think that any public battle would be just what they want, free publicity. Their defense would be simple—the big bad school administrators are, once again, being mean to the poor defenseless teachers….


Us and Them – A Redneck Muslim Teacher’s Perspective on Racism in International Schools

September 8, 2010

This article is part of an earlier Blog. We feature it here for your comment.

Let me begin by stating that I am a full-blooded Texan with redneck roots (not to say that I’m proud of that latter part of the description).  Despite that, I am a convert to Islam and fairly observant in my faith.  Outwardly, this is apparent in my groomed beard and head-covering in addition to the combination of my first name, which is Arabic, with my last name, which is from England.

I entered into teaching to make a contribution to my community. My first administrator in Texas public schools was African-American and, ironically, about the most bigoted person you can imagine. He had once made a comment that a district initiative, one that  people were grumbling about, was “Like Islam, out to get you.” He also had numerous grievances leveled against him with the union from other minorities and women.

I entered into teaching in international schools in the Middle East in hopes that I might work in a quality institution where I assumed employees and students would be more open to diversity. To some extent this has proven true. But generally I have found that, perhaps more than the host culture, expatriot parents at schools in the Middle East are racist, n0uveau-riche elitists whose extreme distaste for the places in which they live lead them to live lives in a bubble where they move compound, to work/school, to mega-mall, to compound. When they have to engage with locals or non-Western expats outside of these contexts, one never hears an end to the complaints. I actually heard a colleague in Qatar describe her shady Indian repair man as “having a very foreign look.” When I replied, “Aren’t 75% of us here foreigners?” she said with a look and tone that could freeze mercury, “You know what I mean.”

The fact of the matter is, despite mission statements that hope to “draw upon our diverse community” and “honor our status as guests in the host culture,” many expat parents want more from an American or British school than a quality education; they want to preserve the bubble, exemplified in many schools’ celebration of traditional Western holidays to the neglect or total avoidance of local ones important to their significant national student populations. My experience as a White American Muslim is that I represent an intrusion into that bubble. I read a post which commented about having every comment and action scrutinized. That is what has happened to me.

I have been accused of denying the holocaust, despite being proud of my grandfather that was at Normandy and a great-great grandfather who was an Orthodox Jew. I have been accused of promoting my faith in the classroom, despite  another group of teachers taking a field trip to a visiting sea-faring missionary organization aboard the Duolos. Parents with a McCarthy-style paranoia complained about a comment in my International Relations class that China is no longer a purely communist country. And finally, I was fired with 6 weeks left in the school year for discussing both Western and Muslim radicalism in my Middle Eastern studies class, a discussion which offended the daughter of a senior military officer in the Iraq war, and was given the rest of my package through August on condition that I did not attempt to contact parents or students for support (because there were many who did express their support).

I have often heard and read on this site a great many complaints about Middle Eastern schools and host cultures. I too am disgusted by the racism one sees from Arabs, all the more so because I am a coreligionist with most of them. Nevertheless, I think those of us living in this situation should use it as an opportunity to reflect upon our own cultural biases. Racism is intolerable anywhere from anyone. But how often have I heard my American and Canadian colleagues refer to a male domestic servant as a house-boy, a term which is reminiscent of derogatory names for house slaves? How often have I seen expats criticize legitimate but different cultural practices in East Asia, Africa, and the Middle East? Why are they living in these places if they find these differences so intolerable?

Bigotry is rampant in international schools, even in monocultural ones, like the one where I currently teach in Egypt. I think it comes with the views predominant in affluent, particularly newly affluent, families. I remember when I saw my second African-American teacher in an international school setting (the first was introduced to a school in Saudi Arabia) my me, at a conference in China. That this sticks out is noteworthy. My experience indicates that it is likely due to discrimination in hiring practices, but my African-American colleague in Saudi suggested that many African-Americans (and probably Latinos) desire to work within their communities to help these groups cope with the problems that prevent them from accessing the American dream.

What I do know, is that bigotry is an issue. I have seen it; my colleagues have seen it. Still, it exists everywhere, as evident from my experience in the States. Ethnic, religious, and other minorities must often make tough choices. We should not see ourselves victims but as ambassadors. If people don’t wish to give you the chance to make a difference, find people who will; there always are.