Transparent Teachers / Opaque Schools: The risky business of recruiting fairs

Have you ever wondered why international teacher recruiting agencies require candidates  to spend weeks and months completing rigorous registration/verification processes, including multiple confidential references, yet continue to allow schools with long, sobering histories of incredibly negative reviews on ISR to recruit unsuspecting teachers through their venues?

For teachers, it’s certainly risky business accepting an overseas position based solely on the subjective ‘word’ of a school director during a twenty-minute interview in a five-star hotel room. One organization goes so far as to assure schools that should a teacher break contract, the teacher will be legally required to reimburse the school’s recruiting fees. However, we’ve yet  to see any stated penalties for schools that ignore basic labor laws, fail to pay their teachers or even meet basic terms of their contracts.

If you are planning to attend one of these recruiting events we recommend you do your homework and do it well. Find out everything you can about a school and its history and director before you interview. International school directors have a subjective perspective on their schools, while their teachers may have quite another. Be sure you get a fully comprehensive view of a school and director before accepting a position.

Caveat emptor: Just because a school is attending a recruiting fair does not mean it has been vetted through the same rigorous process you went through as a recruiting teacher. Thanks to the support of ISR members and site visitors, International Schools Review has become a source for the comprehensive view of a school you need before signing a contract. We encourage you to take full advantage of this resource.

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17 Responses to Transparent Teachers / Opaque Schools: The risky business of recruiting fairs

  1. please inform says:

    Hi everyone,

    I am currently a fourth year teacher in Philadelphia. I have a Masters degree in Teaching and am very interested in going to an international school next year! My husband is also a teacher, and we just want to know as much information as possible about how to secure job placements overseas. I’ve been reading both websites for SA and ISS to get more info, but I still am confused about some things. Neither of us have any training or experience with PYP or IB (I’m not even entirely sure I understand what these are). Will that be a hindrance to us as far as getting hired? I guess I would just like advice on how to go about finding a good placement for our first year abroad. Any advice and/or information is very welcomed. Thanks!


  2. cn says:

    This is my second international school position, and I got it via Skype. I started contacting schools ASAP and had Skype interviews set up before most of the job fairs. I also got my first position via TIEonline. I did attend the SIS job fair that year, but did not walk away with a job. Joyjobs posts a lot of positions and gives great advise, so this another option if you really want to avoid the job fairs.


  3. anon says:

    I think Search and ISS used to work as liasons between schools and teachers. I think with the internet this is no longer the case. They are scrambling to get schools to go on expensive recruiting trips (DIrectors typically attend more than one fair). As of 5 years ago my director spent 6 weeks on the road going to various fairs. I think they are worried about losing their recruiters. I was just burned by Search after using them 4 times previously. My file didn’t mean anything, my references didn’t mean anything, They didn’t care what happened to me and deception used to get me here, they only cared what the school’s opinion was. Never again. I can’t trust them to vet schools for me then what is the point.


    • yep says:

      And hopefully that’ll be a two way street. If teachers don’t trust ISS and SA to vet schools, then schools will probably see that ISS and SA don’t properly vet teachers. Skype skype skype. Good bye worthless, high-dollar recruiting agencies. I’m mean, really! Why?

      And any school board member checking out this blog–somebody who is not a complete idiot (which see too much, of course), will have to ask the simple question along the lines of, “Uh, why are we spending tens of thousands of dollars a year sending admin off on recruiting junkets when the digital age has made that completely obsolete?”


  4. union says:

    I don’t think an international teachers’ union would ever be feasible. However, if we all barfed up the 29 or 39 bux a year for ISR and at least somewhat actively participated in the forum, the blog, and, perhaps most importantly, the review side, at least the “buyer beware” element would be reduced.

    A quick flick of the stones on my bejeweled abacus reveals that if there are 4000 international schools out there each with 50 teacher, and each teacher pays 30 dollars a YEAR, ISR could be operating with a 6 million dollar annual budget. So put that in your pipe and smoke it.


    • Steve says:

      @union: That’s a good point. ISR could be a powerful tool for informing potential teachers about the quality of schools. I used it in my hunt last year. What I found is that if there was a relatively well-established bigger school that was NOT on ISR, that usually meant nobody had problems worth writing about. In other words, it was- most likely- a solid academic institution. I have talked to new teachers here that have worked at schools I read about on ISR that were ripped apart, and they simply concurred with those reviews. One disgruntled teacher could be dismissed; a litany of disgruntled teachers tells another story. Do your homework.

      As for Search and ISS, my wife and I dumped a ton of money into getting the job we have this year and I’m afraid it was the only way we could have gotten this job. It is a little frustrating when I talk to teachers at my school who were hired last year also that they were hired through Skype, whereas I had to jump through all of the recruiting hoops. But the trip itself was exciting and a good experience, albeit a ridiculously expensive one. I’d feel more limited just doing TIEonline or Skyping.


  5. John Eh Macdonald says:

    As a newcomer to the international scene, I am amazed that teachers would firstly agree to the exhaustive application process required by Search or ISS (posting references is particularly difficult) and secondly are willingly to pay up to 2,000 dollars for a flight and five star hotel in hopes of acquiring a 40,000 dollar a year position. This seems fundamentally flawed and I am hoping to avoid the robber baron scenario by using TIE or skype.


    • wrldtrvlr123 says:

      Ummm a teaching couple can get positions that allow them to save up to 40,000 per year. That makes the price of a job fair a reasonable investment (or gamble if you prefer). That being said,we have our current great jobs thanks to independent job pursuit and Skype interviews.


      • Anonymous says:

        Not all international teachers are “teaching couples” hence my comments about the expense required to acquire a position that is often below industry standards. For a teacher with non-teaching dependents this manner of acquiring employment can be economically draining.


  6. Mister Cee says:

    Also, whether you attend a Fair or not, be sure to keep your ISR membership active. The Agencies have a vested interest in speaking nicely of all their recruiters. Though teachers, like all people, are more likely to post bad news before good news about their experiences, ISR does offer a bit of balance to the hectic process of choosing just the right school.


  7. Mister Cee says:

    I used Search for my first and second placements.

    The first school switched me to a grade level I was not qualified to teach, even after stipulating in the interview that I was not interested in teaching any grade lower than fifth. Apparently, all the talk Search does about the staid validity of verbal agreements does not apply to recruiters; when I consulted my agent, he strongly suggested I stay the course and petition for a grade level change the following year. Long story short, the school wound up being a bad fit for me. Credit where it’s due however, my agent did give me a complimentary pass to the Boston Fair.

    My second placement was a real life-saver in some ways. Due in part to the “perfect storm” at the previous school, and due in part to a shoddy U.S. economy, I was desperate for a job all the way through August (the Boston Fair failed to bear much fruit). I was thankful then when I got a call from, of all places, Bali! To be fair, my agent advised me that this was a start-up school, only in its first year. This became glaringly obvious as I dumped blood, sweat, and tears into a school that tried to be all things to all people. I learned a lot that year, and two directors, one principal, and a 90% staff turnover later, I hope the school learned a few things too. I still count it as a good year, but it left me wondering… if Search allows a school with zero academic credentials to recruit from their website, what justifies the $200 registration fee?

    There are sites out there with membership fees of $0-50. Why pay more? Is it for the Fair, where you spend an arm, a leg, and a week of unpaid personal days on an event that MIGHT get you a job at a highly competitive school? I can tell you this much: my current job in China I got through (about $40/yr), and while the school is hardly “top tier,” I’ve had a far more professionally enriching experience here than at any prior school. Also, I hear from fewer and fewer teachers that they got their job (even at the highly competitive schools) through Search or ISS.

    To quote Homer Simpson, “I smell a scam, or possibly scamola!”


    • Dianne Stephens says:

      I, too, obtained my current position from, a teaching overseas site worth every penny of the low cost to join – especially the professional-looking website included for the sign-up cost. I attended one recruiting fair,and was offered one position from a school I had already visited in Ecuador and loved on sight, but could not accept because of US property that did not sell in time. I don’t think I will ever attend another fair. It was expensive, even though I commuted from home to attend, and I saw schools represented there that I had already read VERY poor reviews about from other sites.


  8. Too tough says:

    I was absolutely shocked when registering with one of the ‘big’ recruiters to see how tight their requirements have become before signing on. For example they must be notified whenever you contact a school. It seems that they are threatened by the growing number of people obtaining jobs through routes other than their job fairs. Teachers who do their research carefully will use a number of resources to evaluate a school using a recruiters database as just one of many yet this recruiter stipulates if you use their job database to obtain a schools information and get offered a position then they can claim a sign on fee. How does this effect teachers registered with more than 1 recruiter?


  9. Chinuk says:

    It cannot be emphasized enough that making the move overseas, or from one international school to another, entails a huge amount of risk. I am constantly amazed at how carefully someone will research a new car or flat screen t.v., yet will sign on the dotted line at a recruitment fair after only half an hour looking at a school website and listening to the “sales job” being done by school directors.

    I’ve used ISR, web research, contact with teachers who have been or who are employed at a school, and even a visit before making the decision to move my family to a new country. Without doing your homework, do you really have the right to complain if you get burned?

    Should schools be held accountable? Absolutely. Recruiting companies would gain credibility if they blocked bottom-feeder schools from their fairs.


  10. Abused says:

    ISR came on the scene while I was overseas at my second school. I read negative reviews, laughed, and thought these teachers were just poorly adjusted complainers who were never happy. Completely ignoring reviews of the school I am at now, I accepted a position. Today my review accompanies the chain of awful reviews for this dreadful place. If we were in the States these people would be in jail and the teachers would be collecting a big settlement. Being that we are not in the States, should I just get up and quit, my overseas teaching career will be ended by the vindictive bastard that runs this place via blacking balling me. I really didn’t think it possible for a school to be as bad as this one was portrayed to be……it’s worse!!!! I look at ISR in an entirely different way these days.


  11. no way says:

    The international school system is a buyer beware system. When you move, maybe with a family, to one of these schools you are often going to countries with weak legal protections for labor, where unions are illegal and you will have little or no legal recourse if wronged. Consider how many administrators in the US who think that teacher unions lie at the root of education problems and the ‘their inability’ to bring about necessary change and put those administrators in a position of power where there are virtually no restraints on their power. ISR is not perfect and I am sure that some teachers who complain were actually bad teachers, but pay very close attention to ISR because it is also the only place where you will find out if a school or administrator has a history of abusiveness.


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