What makes an International School a Tier-1 School?

April 28, 2011

National universities have long been ranked according to a system known as Tiers. Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Columbia in the US, and Cambridge, Oxford and Imperial College in the UK appear on the list of Tier-1 institutes. Inclusion on this prestigious list is subject to a clear set of specific criteria.

With no similar system for rating international schools, overseas educators appear to have adopted the concept of Tiers, creating their own comparative system based on salary, first-hand experience, and the impressions/comments of colleagues working at other schools. Academic quality does not appear to be part of the equation for what makes an international school a Tier-1 school.

The idea that an international school would be considered a Tier-1 school, based merely on high salaries and glowing benefit packages seems questionable. While we agree it’s important to be remunerated for your talents, a pocket full of cash is no substitute for a host  of other important attributes that should be considered for a top rating.

With the intent to reach a consensus on what qualities constitute a Tier-1, Tier-2, or Tier-3 international school, we invite you to contribute to this topic.

Held Hostage in Qatar!

April 21, 2011

The year is 2009, and after a few great years teaching  we had a change of management at my school and this is when my adventure in Qatar really got underway.

Although the school is a new state of the art building with fantastic facilities, it is the competence of management that is key to any overseas posting. I had a disagreement with one very junior member of the management team and as a result found myself being held as a hostage in Qatar as my employer (the school) was refusing to grant me an Exit Permit to leave the Country for a short holiday. Like most Gulf States, Qatar requires foreigners who wish to work in the country to have a local sponsor. However, unlike other Gulf countries, Qatar gives sponsors the authority over whether their employee is allowed to leave the country or not. A law which some Western organizations say is akin to modern-day slavery.

During the Easter break I was going to visit Dubai. All was well. However, it was at the airport on this trip that I was taken at gunpoint by the Qatar authorities and told I am not allowed to leave! I could not believe what I was experiencing and thought there must be a mix up. However I immediately spoke to the British Embassy and they suggested that I go and see them next morning.

At the embassy I was told that under Qatar law the employer does not have to give their employees permission to leave the country, they agreed that this was a severe breach of rights. I protested and I was told to go back to work and not to worry as the embassy was aware of the situation. The embassy took my contact details and told me to wait for further instructions on what to do! I was told explicitly not to talk about the situation with anyone at the school. Now I was really worried.

A while later I was given a call out of the blue and told to visit the British Embassy. I went along and I was told that I was to buy a return ticket to the Bahrain Grand Prix with Qatar Airways and to buy a ticket for the Grand Prix on-line and when I had done this I was to request a temporary pass to go and see the Grand Prix in Bahrain. I followed the Instructions. That weekend I flew into Bahrain were I was able to fly on back home to the UK with British Airways. Once safe in the UK when I got my head back together I found out that what had happened to me was not the first time someone has been held as a “Hostage in Qatar” All because of the managers at this International school! Go to Qatar at your own RISK BEWARE!!!


Outstanding Moments in International Teaching!

April 14, 2011

When a student’s love of knowledge and learning blooms right before your eyes, you know you’ve made a real difference in a child’s future. Adhering to a curriculum is the standard expected of us all, but quality teaching goes beyond the simple transfer of knowledge and extends far into the realm of helping students become all they can be. I’m sure most teachers in international schools have had their own Outstanding Moments in International Teaching.

For me, a peak moment took place years ago while working in Eastern Europe. I had been teaching my middle school music classes Christmas and Chanukah songs in preparation for our winter musical. I noticed two 8th grade girls who always loved to sing were now sitting tight-lipped, refusing to sing the Chanukah songs. After class I motioned them to come see me and I quickly learned they would not sing Chanukah songs because they “hated Jews.” Why did they hate Jews? “Because our parents told us Jews are bad people.”

I had a good rapport with these girls and they were two of my favorite students. Hoping to show them the fallacy of their parent-influenced thinking I explained that I’m a Jew and asked, “Don’t we get along just fine?” They looked at each other, and then one turned to me and said,”Too bad. We used to like you!” Out the door they went. I was stunned. What sort of Pandora’s box had I opened?

At our next rehearsal they sat silently during the Chanukah songs while I respected their right to do so. At the close of class I again motioned for them to come see me. I asked what experience they had with Jews that led them to adopt their parents’ thinking? I learned neither had a Jewish friend and didn’t associate with the Israeli kids at school because they thought them to be ‘pushy’. I offered the idea that maybe it was just this particular group of kids that was pushy and not all Jews. Was I pushy, my wife or kids? I named some other Jewish students I knew to be on the shy side. I could see I had slipped a sliver of doubt into their strong convictions.

The next rehearsal they again sat silently during the Chanukah songs and once more I motioned them to my desk. With much trepidation I asked if they were simply ‘puppets’ that thought exactly as their parents told them to think. “Shouldn’t you be your own person and make up your mind for yourself?” I asked. “If your mother hates ice cream does this mean you do, too? Wouldn’t it be better to have your own experiences with people and things and then decide for yourself? Can you take the actions of a few and say everyone acts that way?” They looked shocked and walked off to lunch. I wondered if this would be my last day teaching at this school.

To my complete delight, both girls were enthusiastically singing the Chanukah songs at our next rehearsal. After class they came up to see me and said, “You’re right. We have no experience with Jews to make us hate them.” I used that opportunity to extend this idea to other issues in their young lives, and I could see the idea of tolerance and open-mindedness bloom right then and there in these two young girls.

I share this experience with ISR readers to open the topic of memorable moments in international teaching for your comment. What moments in the classroom or as a coach or as an administrator have reaffirmed your love of teaching? What lessons have brought a joy of learning and of life to the realization of your students? What have been your Outstanding Moments in International Teaching?

I’m Ready to Run!

April 7, 2011

I’ve been at this school since late September and hate it. It’s completely unprofessional from the intimidating, top-down admin, to the parents and students who think I’m just another form of servant. The director is really just a puppet of the parents and he always sides with the paying customers. There are no consequences here for cheating, copying or anything!

Outside school, the city itself lacks cultural activities or interest, and people with a few dollars in their pocket are rude and pushy, believing their money buys them this right. As a single women, I have come to dread being out on the streets, even with a male colleague,  as men make incredibly crude comments. Being here is like being in hell.

I read the ISR reviews and thought the teachers on your web site were just a bunch of  whining, moaning complainers. As it turns out, they were telling the actual truth. Naturally, the school director represented the school and location to me in an entirely different light.

I’m so torn about what to do. At the forefront of my thinking is the idea to get on a plane this weekend and fly out. This may have a bad effect on my future as an international educator but this place and these kids are are not worth sacrificing any more of my life for.

If you would be so kind as to post my comments on your web site it would really help me to hear what experienced overseas teachers have to say about my situation. I need to keep my present location under wraps at this time. I hope you understand.