Should Confidential References be Banned?

It’s one thing when your school director says you’re doing a lousy job and s/he can’t recommend you to another school. It’s a very different scenario when, by all accounts and compliments received, you know you were doing well and then a crummy reference is given behind your back. In reality, confidential letters of reference give school heads a life-and-death hold on teachers’ careers, and with absolutely no accountability since these letters are never seen by candidates. A teacher recently reported that his director eventually confessed to submitting a poor letter of reference only because he did not want him to leave. Translation? Your Chemistry position is hard to fill. You can’t leave!

Imagine spending thousands on a recruiting fair, only to have your efforts ruined by one poor letter of reference you didn’t even suspect existed. Dr. Spilchuk, ISR Teacher Advisor, receives numerous letters from international educators reporting that their recruiting efforts were going fantastic until the school to which they were applying received confidential letters of reference — “At that point, all communication came to a screeching halt!” How many schools had these teachers applied to before they put two-and-two together and realized someone had hijacked their careers?

School directors regularly complain about anonymous postings to ISR, yet these same people feel justified in discussing a teacher without the teacher even knowing what is said about them, let alone by whom. We would like to see the practice of confidential references stopped! Would YOU? We invite you to weigh in on this topic.

Also see: Vote Yes or No for Confidential References

71 Responses to Should Confidential References be Banned?

  1. PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS BLOG IS CLOSED TO FURTHER COMMENTS

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  2. ghewgley says:

    I’m not sure how I feel about this. I do think that references are almost useless as people will only send out those that are awesome. Maybe going back to confidential would give a better picture (more accurate picture) of the applicant. Let’s be honest and state that not everyone is awesome – most aren’t. Most are just plain old okay.

    However, I could see that there is room for abuse, or even someone getting payback for some reason.

    I went with confidential is okay by a little bit.

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  3. global teacher says:

    Let me ask this then…what about student letters of recommendation for university? Would you agree to waive the right of confidentiality for those? Same principle.

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    • jane says:

      i always give students a copy of the reference letters i write for them. several students have told me they still have them years later and read them when they need a confidence boost! praise has a way to make people work harder than they think they can!

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  4. Billy says:

    If you look at the professional research on teacher turnover in international schools, you will find that the most common reasons teachers leave their posts are ineffective administrators. In 15+ years of education in public schools in the states, I never left a job because of a poor supervisor. However, some of the administrators I have worked for internationally have been unprofessional and unethical. One of the reports states that school boards who are looking for new headmasters would be well advised to look at their teacher turnover rate. Effective leaders generally have lower turnover. I found that very interesting.

    I do have the courage of my convictions and will tell someone honestly how I feel, but I find it isn’t always appreciated.

    I agree that ISR is sometimes a place where people can air their grievances, but it is the only place where teachers have a voice about some of the unethical practices that are being done in international schools.

    I do not trust my current administrators and fear what they would write in a confidential reference. I try to conduct myself professionally at all times. I wish they would do the same.

    I would sign a petition to ban the confidential reference.

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  5. Simon Dweck says:

    It is interesting to read that many of the posters against private and confidential references seem to have been on the receiving end of “bad” references from Head teachers whom they feel superior to and therefore feel aggrieved by them , partly because they “have more experience” or the Head was rubbish.

    Perhaps there is no smoke without fire and no doubt if these people are surrounded by sycophants who contsant reaffirm the poster’s own belief they will never learn otherwise

    If private references continually are bad perhaps the teacher should start to re- evaluate how good they actually are, or listen to the what the criticism is and act on it in order to imporve themselves.

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    • Anonymous says:

      The notion of doing away with confidential references is absurd, alarmist, reactionary, unrealistic, and one-sided.
      I appreciate that ISR exists to represent teachers. It takes their side in pretty much every matter, and its default position assumes that schools and administrators can and will act badly on a regular basis. That schools and administrators need careful watching, public scrutiny and CONFIDENTIAL EVALUATIONS posted for the world to see. The default position includes that teachers as a group are incredibly effective at teaching and absolutely ethical in all their dealings. None of that bothers me; it’s what ISR is here to do.
      Unfortunately, none of these premises is actually correct. They are one-sided, and take no account of individual differences. This would not be a problem, given ISR’s purpose, if ISR had not, with this proposal, put a massive contradiction into play.

      That is: We believe teachers must have a place to read and post confidential reviews of schools and administrators, and we will go to considerable lengths to protect anonymity; we will ensure that anyone reading a review has no way to contact the poster, no way to verify the story or the poster’s credentials. We further believe that it is wrong for administrators to write confidential reviews of teachers, even though such letters are not made public, and even though whoever reads the letter will know exactly where it came from, who wrote it, and will have ways of evaluating the integrity and qualifications of the writer.

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      • Anonymous says:

        There is a tremendous difference between an anonymous review on a pay website and a professional reference from an employer. You cannot equate the two and to say that a ‘massive contradiction’ is now on the cards is ridiculous.

        Also to state that there would be fewer terrible schools if more teachers did their homework is also silly.

        I don’t necessarily agree with banning confidential references. But your position makes no sense.

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  6. Anonymous says:

    I completely agree that ISR should only support an end to confidential references if they agree to end anonymous reviews on this site.

    I am also repeatedly surprised by how many people feel they need to feel protected from all the terrible schools out there. As a long time international teaching vet I can hardly believe how many teachers are willing to sign up for a dodgy school without really checking it out first.

    There would be less dodgy schools if there were less teachers willing to sign a contract without really doing their part in researching a position. If a teacher doesn’t have enough research skills to check out an employer I wonder if that person should be teaching in the first place.

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    • jane says:

      i am a veteran teacher with six years overseas experience, and i was mislead by a director to come to a “dodgy” school. i did my research but it was a new school and my lack of research or my signing is NOT what made it a dodgy school. i left at the end of my contract with references from assistant principals, (all the admin overturned in two years including the director). the school has all new admin. is it still a dodgy school? yes. but that has more to do with what the owner’s goals are than the quality of the admin or teachers. have i left a review on ISR for them…no. i should. but i will not write about the dodgy director who is gone, or the weak admin who are gone… but about the perceived goals of the ownership.

      you are being very judgemental in blaming teacher for dodgy schools and i am sure i am not the only teacher who will not agree with your assessment.

      jane

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      • Anonymous says:

        I am being judgmental and am aware of it. I stand by my assertion. It’s astounding how often I have run into teachers on the international circuit who do so little to find out about the schools they apply to. If more people actually did some work and found out about where they might teach it would be harder for the bad schools to find teachers. As for your dodgy school, if you are willing to work at a proprietary school then you deserve whatever you get.

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        • jane says:

          “deserve what you get”….. . there are many sides to this issue (and my particular situation) and you seem to have blinders on to the complexity of the issue. i didn’t “deserve” the bad placement, but i worked out my contract and learned fromt he experience. there are many privately owned schools that are well run and reputable, and i have worked for three of them. are you saying that they should not be existence? life must be good on top of your shiny hill where nothing “out of your control” has happened to you, but for many of us, we are good teachers, trying hard to find the best possible jobs. if we find ourselves in a “not so nice” spot, we unphold our contracts, do the best we can for the students, leave on the best possible terms, and try to learn from the situation. i would never presume to blame a teacher for a bad placement. i would not leave a scathing ananymous report on the dodgy school i worked for, and i don’t think they should leave a poor reference on my record either.

          one of the items i think we are overlooking here, it that ISR has far too many scathing posts that are very personal about a particular director or principal. those comments should be left under the report for that individual not the school. the ISR reports should be listed from most recent to least and perhaps archived after ten years. how does a once dodgy school make itself better unless it can hire good administrators and teachers. in the end, aren’t we here for the students at least as much as we are looking for a paycheck and a good placement????? (also, it would be nice to see teachers leave more positive comments when schools do good things. i know my last school recently gave teachers a HUGE raise and it is not mentioned on ISR. maybe if schools were “rewarded” here for positive changes, we would see more of them!)

          ISR is a powerful tool and has a lot of power in the international school system. i think this discussion and forum is goaled to make it better, not to blame teachers for a poor placement. another addition i think would be helpful to ISR is to include a data sheet on each school where it lists information that is helpful in doing better research and engaging the schools to be a part of the information along with teachers and even parents or older students. just a thought : )

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        • Anonymous says:

          I work in a well respected non-profit school in Eastern Europe. The school has hired a new elementary principal for next year. This will be the third principal they have hired in 5 years. There are “dodgy” schools out there that have great reputations. The same way “dodgy” teachers and administrators can fake their way through an interview some schools can hide their warts. NPO/NGO doesn’t guarantee you squat!

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  7. Dr. Dylan Roberts says:

    i have been a school administrator at all levels-university, private school superintendent and Head of School. In addition, I have taught graduate school, undergraduate, high school and middle school students. During that time, I have never wrote an anonymous letter of reference of a letter of reference that I would not share with the individual about whom it was written
    As one of your previous respondents suggested, it is rather disingenuous that afor your publication.website suggest that you have had a sudden epiphany about the evils of confidentiality since you celebrate the anonymity for anyone to write anything they choose to about schools and school administrators. They are free from any liability for what they say.
    With all due respect, I would support eliminating the immunity of confidentiality and make all- yeas all accountable for what they write-nothing more and nothing less.
    Respectfully
    Dr. Dyllan Roberts

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  8. Anonymous says:

    I had an Administrator who just didn’t like me and made my life miserable. One thing I did learn in the military was to respect those in charge, even if they are incompetent. However, after a bad evaluation for petty things, I started looking for another job knowing where it was heading. Upon getting another job, I told him to F off. You may say that it was immature of me but he was eventually fired. I will stand my ground and I am a good teacher. If you are good, than you have nothing to worry about. I sure wouldn’t use him for a reference!

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  9. Anon says:

    I suspect a couple of former Heads of sabotaging my career now with bad references. My current head is from my home country (the UK) and positively revels in the ‘freedom’ to do as he pleases whilst staff have no recourse to union support or decent labour laws. My suspicions are grounded – many staqff this year and last year felt the same and some found it next to impossible to get the next job whilst having to give him as a referee.

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  10. Ed says:

    Come on folks! A confidential reference is like two people ‘whispering’ in each others ears about a third person who too is present inside the room and who also knows that he is the subject of that whispering. Don’t we all hate or take huge offense to such out-of-etiquette episodes in our real lives? Then why should we endorse this practice, especially such whispering could be make or break of our entire professional assets accumulated over years?

    Why does an opinion about someone (I mean a reference) need to be confidential in the first place? To me, whenever I read any message as ‘confidential’ or whenever someone tells me something confidentially, I always smell a nasty intrigue…
    Cheers!

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  11. Anonymous says:

    We knew the job was dangerous when we took it.

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  12. msrd says:

    I haven’t had time to read all the above comments, but I feel strongly that “confidential” reports should not be allowed throughout the educational community. The truth is that many people holding such power over others misuse it and there is never an opportunity to voice a rebuttal. NO ONE should have the power to ruin another’s career without it all being out in the open where issues can be fairly dealt with. Our entire professional community is diminished because of this kind of inequity…those who hold admin position “above” those who are teachers. We need to treat each other with respect and integrity.

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  13. exteacher says:

    Dr. Craig, who is an idealist and who lives in an idealistic, nonexistent world, wrote that everybody should have guts to sign his/hers opininion posted on ISR. Technically he is, of course, right. However, we live in much less than the ideal world. If you earn a reputation of a troublemaker, chances for the next position are next to nothing.
    When I left a really bad school (Egypt, propriatory, run by the parents, where the American administrators were purely ornamental figures with no real power) there was an inevitable question from the prospective employer about circumstances of my leaving the school. I evaded the question with saying something about dust, allergy to sun etc. He knew the school very well, yet he was clearly pleased with my response. He commended me for my restraint.
    Administrators form a stratum – they do not like to be critisised.
    Subsequently I”ve got a job in an almost dream school.
    PS I truly admire dr. Craig’s comment – I wish every administrator were like him.

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  14. silenced says:

    I understand the argument that reviewing practices should be consistent, but there are some distinct differences that should be noted, namely the imbalance of power which leaves good teachers vulnerable to unscrupulous administrators.

    I had an experience that I don’t feel comfortable sharing, even anonymously, because the specific grievances (bait and switch, unethical behavior, and even illegal practices) would reveal my identity and sink my career. Because of the fear factor, truly helpful ISR reviews are stifled, despite anonymity, so disgruntled employees with personal grudges are the loudest voices being heard, rather than truly wronged employees with legitimate complaints. The same can’t be said for confidential references, however as there are no holds barred for HODs, and teachers can’t dispute inaccuracies or tell their side of the story if they don’t even know what’s being said or that their reputation has been called into question.

    It is abhor able that a confidential letter of reference would contradict employee evaluations or open letters, but this deceptive practice happens all the time. I guess the upside is that we wouldn’t want to work for an organization that gave these types of references any merit.

    Reputable administrators have always offered me a copy of my “confidential” letters and aren’t afraid of transparency, and I would argue that professional recruiters would offer otherwise successful candidates an opportunity to address damaging references, especially when they’re inconsistent with other reviews. It’s the cowardly ones who abuse their power and hide behind a mask of anonymity, but their reputations are likely well known by insiders. For now, it seems this is our only saving grace.

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  15. In response to Dr Craig I would also like to add the following:
    In a world where everyone has equal power, there would be no need for ISR. As a recruiter ( and administrator) I have seen appalling examples of the abuse of power by International School administrators. I have seen cases of sexual harrasment, administrators who have lied to other administrators in order to continue a personal vendetta and explicit black listing of outstanding teachers. Workplace bullying is alive and strong in International Schools. This is helped in part by labour laws that may not be as strong in international schools as they would be in local schools in Australia, New Zealand , Canada and to a lessor extent the UK and the US. When international teachers have the luxury of being able to speak openly without fear of repercussions, then there will be no need for the anonymity that is provided by ISR. Of course there are reviews that are clearly outrageous and it is up to the individual to use their own judgement in reading the reviews. Teachers are not stupid and can identify reviews that are biased and unsound.
    For everyone of these reviews there are many more that highlight unprofessional practises which would be hidden if the whistle blower was not granted confidentiality. It is most definitely not a level playing field so confidential references cannot be compared to confidential reviews on ISR. I would hope that at some time in the future International Schools will voluntarily allow their practises to be reviewed openly by a credible and viable teachers association orcreate their own internal review process in such a way that they restore credibility in their own regulating systems. Until that day, ISR helps teachers stay safe.

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  16. Peggy says:

    I agree, no one should say anything behind your back that they would not say to your face. Unfortunately, then no one would ever have an unfavorable recommendation and the process would be pretty useless… BUT I still think that references should not be confidential

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  17. We recruit teachers for short term substitute positions ( International Substitute Teachers – http://www.teachersonhemove.com) and have been running since 1999. We ask for 3 referee reports on our referee forms. Our form asks referees to give examples/instances where the applicant has demonstrated specific behaviour and does not ask for opinions that are not backed up by examples. We also clearly state that we will be calling referees for additional information.

    In the last 5 years we have had only 5% of our referees ask that their reference be kept confidential. Out of those 5% , another 3% were glowing references from UK referees who apparently thought the reference would be more legitimate if it was confidential. The remaining 2% were not supported by the other referees. The references attacked the candidate and clearly demonstrated that the referee had personal issues that they were allowing to cloud their professional judgement. I have received many non confidential references that have outlined issues of concern about candidates. These references have usually been supported by the other referees and have been very helpful in the recruitment process.

    As the Director of IST, with many years interviewing experience I have not found that confidential references have added any value to the reference process. The only conclusion I can draw after reading one of the above references is that the referee’s judgement is not to be trusted.

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  18. Anonymous says:

    I am by no means an expert on this matter, but, in Britain (unfortunately this may be of no use to those of you in the States) there are 2 laws, one called the freedom of information act and the other called the data protection act. The confines of which, I am fairly sure, make it illegal for an institution to hold any information on an individual without making it transparent to them. If a recruitment firm is going to hold any information about you in Britain they must, by law, allow you to see it if you request it, and they cannot deny you it, this includes “confidential references”. I myself, have never had bad experiences with references, confidential or otherwise, but, my feeling is that people have a right to see what is on paper about them, if for nothing else, to allow them to be able to engage in meaningful and relevant self/professional development (assuming the reference is truthful and accurate). Administrators have a duty of care towards the development of the teaching profession, in this respect, they should not be putting something on paper about a person that they would not sit in their office and say to a teachers face with the intention of helping them develop. Confidential references blacken core values of honesty, integrity and tranparency, they damage teachers careers, administrators’ credibilty and therefore the institutions that they are charged with the responsibility of running.

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  19. Dr. James Pat Craig says:

    First of all, I think that for an administrator to write a letter that is in contrast to what is said to the person’s face is an abominable practice.
    I started in education in the 1963/64 school year, so I have seen a lot in my time.
    I have been in administrative positions for all but the first 7 years. During my entire career, when asked to write a letter of reference, I have always done two things: (1) if I don’t think I can write something that would help a person, I politely tell them that I cannot write a letter, based on their past performance, or (2) I write a draft letter and supply a copy of my letter to the person for whom I have written it. I allow them to read it to see if there is something that I have perhaps misstated, etc, prior to mailing. This is only fair because as an administrator you do not have the luxury of “shadowing” each employee every moment of the day, i.e., you cannot know everything about a person. This also gives the person a chance to ask that you focus on or include something you may not have known about that would help that person get the job they are seeking.
    After having said my piece above, I also find the practice of “anonymously” destroying school’s and administrators reputations on ISR equally abominable. It is anyone’s right to state their opinions, but If you do not have the courage of your convictions to sign your evaluation, don’t do one. I have read reviews of schools that I personally know well and administrators that I have known for many years and have found in reading some of the “reviews” of schools and “report cards” on administrators simply appalling and totally untrue. Anonymity is a two way street. Don’t write something that you are afraid to stand by because ISR “guarantees” you anonymity. This is why as an administrator, I put little credence in what is posted about schools or administrators on ISR. Some of them are just funny, they are so “off the wall.” Also, the practice of ISR keeping the older reviews at the top of the file is unconscionable. It should be the other way around, because people are influenced by the first things they read, rather than where a school or an administrator is “right now.” Many schools have difficulties recruiting, based on things that happened 5-6-7 years ago. Schools do get poor administrators who don’t last long, but there seems to be a great bias on focusing on what happened a long time ago rather than how the school is at the moment. The same goes for administrators. No administrator “sprang from the side of Zeus,” fully born. Administrators learn by making mistakes, just as good teachers do. There are many types of administrators, just as there are teachers who have differing teaching styles. Good administrators listen to their staffs, either directly or through the “grapevine,” which always exists in every school. Most administrators are thankful for input–some aren’t and you will just have to know what type you are dealing with before offering opinions. Unfortunately there are those who still are adherents to the “Attila the Hun” school of management. Thank goodness, these are fewer in number than the others.
    To sum up my “comments,” I would just say this: “Everyone should be fair in their assessments,” whether it is writing a letter of recommendation,” posting a review of a school or an administrator.
    I have always asked my staffs, through the years, to remember one thing–ARR. Action (something has happened, either good or bad). Reflection (always take time to reflect on what it is and what the implications might be. And finally, Reaction (consider how you should react, the manner in which you should respond, reply, etc., and what the possible effects this will have, not only for yourself, but also for others)–there are always ripples from any stonecast in the water..
    I know that this has been a long “comment,” but what I basically think is that all should consider this “Fairness is two-way street.”
    Administrators,you should have the courage to say to someone that you can’t write them a letter, but always be able to tell them why.
    Those who ask for a letter, don’t be afraid to say, “May I have a copy for my personal file?” This way, both sides can be fair with each other.

    Dr. J. Pat Craig, Head of Libraries
    International Academy Amman

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    • Anonymous says:

      DR. Craig,

      There are so many bad and corrupt international schools that I am glad for ISR. If we didn’t have so many bad schools and administrators, we wouldn’t have so much bad feelings is about int. schools or also so much bad teachers and other staff. Good schools and administrators (who had adequate experience in teaching first) would insure quality. I think your comments are unrealistic or dishonest. Respectfully, this is why there is so little respect and trust for the integrity of administrators and managers. It’s like most of you took some oath for corruption, when even the few pieces of silver ( not that it should matter) was not much. I have seen a lot of teachers, over many years, becomes bad managers/administrators/people. Bottom line, it seems most of you hurt people, like this is part of the requirement t o be a “henchperson”. I know not all administrators and int. schools are bad (if you can find one or get a position in one of these schools), and I know you have some teachers who are despicable individuals to breath the same air with. …but it’s true school leadership, competency, accountability, being responsible, and ethics, as “Tired” referred to above, that makes the world of difference in schools. I know, of course as with anything, there are still going to be school problems, but it would be a hell of a lot less if school administrations’ standards were up. …but who is to insure that that happens? Personally, I like the words, “being righteous for righteous sake”, and having personal/internal standards, conscious, and convictions. Again, referring to “Tired”, I thought these things were suppose to be apart of schools and education.

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    • jane says:

      I agree heartily with Dr. Craig’s suggestion that ISR flip their reviews so that newer information appear first. I always start reading at the bottom and work my way up. I think ISR is still a viable tool for teachers, and luckily, many of the disgruntled teachers are so wild in their reviews, I just stop reading them and move to the next…..🙂

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  20. Anonymous says:

    My former school was a great example of why there should be no confidential letters. The school board consisted of parents who would do anything to ruin a teacher’s career if their daughters did not get an A in class. I was (and still) the kind of teacher who asks the students to work for what they get. After multiple years of my life and a brand new program for this pathetic institution, I lost. This was in the Gulf. , no big surprise.
    In America, this unethical practice never happens simply because we all know we can sue the institution.
    So, no way on the confidential little sneaky bad practice between admins in the international setting. I disagree that IF you are a good teacher, etc., you have nothing to worry about..this is inncorrect and I wish people would start seeing the reality of things.
    Moved on to a better situation and will never return to the GULF to teach..their loss as far as I am concerned.

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  21. Anonymous says:

    A “letter” of reference? Written on paper? Wow. I thought I lived in 2012. First, I agree with those that mention that there is some irony with an ISR discussion about banning confidential letters of reference. While the letters of reference are “confidential” they do contain the writer’s name and signature. There is a level of ownership of that letter by the writer. On this web site everyone gets to read the reviews but the anonymous nature of the posts makes the writers totally unaccountable for what they post. I say ban the letters and shut down this site. Fair is fair. As for the reality of the situation I think that nearly all of the directors and principals of the top tier schools know each other well. One told me that they don’t even bother to read letters of rec anymore because of the accountability issue I mentioned above. Nobody want problems so they write nice ones about everyone. The top schools all go to the same fairs and all the directors and principals stay at the same swanky hotel and do happy hour together. All they do is call each others room or chat over a cocktail and say, “hey, did so and so work for you? Are they good?” End of conversation. One director instead of asking for a reference asked for my previous director’s phone number even though he had that guy’s letter in his hand. He explained that he wanted to speak directly to the person for the reasons I just mentioned. In addition that same interview was interrupted twice with such calls from other directors asking about other candidates. I get the sense that paper recommendations are a thing of the past due to the fact that some have complained (legal challenges) about the contents of the letters while other directors have hired people based on glowing recs that turn out to be less than accurate.

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  22. Rob says:

    Banning Confidential Reviews
    I considered commenting on a previous blog respecting this theme but decided not to. However for this new one I think it is worth putting in my two cents as a school head. Asking to ban confidential references is essentially the same as asking to ban your website. Your website requires people to read between the lines, to distinguish between a disgruntled individual with an axe to grind and an overall trend. When I read the ISR the negative reviews of schools are often connected to the leadership at the time, sometimes very dated information also but if I don’t read between those lines it would seem that the majority of schools on your website are not good places to teach. At the same time I have read reviews of some administrators that are nothing less than slanderous. Nobody is perfect but some of the reviews you have really paint hard working and caring individuals, whose hearts are in the right place but heads may make mistakes, as really bad people. Further, teachers do not always know the forces behind decisions. Boards, politics and governments also play a factor but these are not usually considered when a review is written about an individual who may have no other choices than the unpopular ones. Education is a complicated job and we all are capable of rubbing some people in the wrong way. The reviews on your website are for the most part anonymous and “confidential references” yet open to the entire international school educational community.

    When we hire we do check with former references and especially administration who for some reason did not provide a letter of recommendation. This is very helpful. I had one situation where a person who on paper looked great, and had an excellent interview with our administration team was not hired. Why? Because when we checked four different references at four different schools each of those principals clearly indicated that this individual had been a very negative, demanding and unhappy teacher who did not contribute to the staff moral at their respective schools. If only one, even two, of them had commented in this way we would have been able to, like your readers are assumed to do also, read between the lines and realize that perhaps the teacher and administrator in question had an interpersonal issue, it does happen, and those comments should not in themselves affect a hiring decision. Everything needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Isn’t this what is assumed when a person reads a couple negative reviews of a school or administrator amongst several positive ones or worse lack of positive ones if there is only one or two reviews on ISR?

    If a teacher is a good educator but the school not a best match for them most administrators will reflect that in their confidential reference. Nobody is out to torpedo the career of good teachers any less than an educator would write a scathing confidential letter of recommendation for a student applying to college. We would however comment in a way that would help that individual be accepted in a school that best matches their needs and where they would be successful. We as educators, and most administrators are teachers at heart and if they could would do everything possible to make their school the best possible learning community, have a collective responsibility to make sure that only people who should be working with kids and are positive contributors to the learning community are in schools, no matter what their role. It is safe to say that teachers don’t want to work with colleagues who should not be with children, are ineffective instructors, are not team players, and a cause for bringing down people’s moral any more than they want to work in schools or with an administration that contribute to those kinds of negative issues.

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  23. professional says:

    There are certainly “dogdy” administrators in many schools throughout the world. I have a principal who is utterly unprofessional and when she has teachers who “see through” her (and these are teachers of excellence), she will go out of her way to make their lives miserable. She has the power to make or break a teacher’s career and that is wrong.
    I say give open references – be up front about what you want to say about a teacher. This protects the good teachers with the bad administrators. Is an administrator has a bad teacher, then they merely need to make the open reference sketchy and add their contact details so prospective employers can get in touch to discuss the applicant further.

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  24. Anonymous administrator says:

    I agree with Surprised.

    How hypocritical can you be to want to ban confidential references but allow anonymous reviews? At least a confidential reference contains the person’s name who you an administrator can talk to and judge for themselves if it is a personality conflict or a professional issue. The anonymous reviews on ISR could be anybody who has an issue with an administrator. As search committees now review ISR postings, this is also affecting an administrator’s career as much as a confidential reference may affect a teacher’s career.

    As Sam mentions, it is a moot question anyway. Quality administrators always call the references whether there is a confidential reference or an open one. Most also contact the immediate supervisor even if the person does not list them as a reference.

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  25. hoodoorific@hotmail.com says:

    For those who say “be smart,” “real teachers don’t get poor references,” and “don’t work for dodgy schools,” this sounds a bit like the argument “The way she dressed, she was asking for it.”

    Bad things happen to good teachers all the time. If it hasn’t happened to you, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re better. I’d be willing to bet that good fortune has a lot to do with it.

    I worked at fine schools led by whom I thought to be administrators of integrity, only to find out too late that one of them, despite his assurance of a glowing reference, had said some rather unflattering things about me in print and over the phone. This cost me who-knows-how-many prospective job opportunities. It was only when a friend in the district clued me in that I had any idea it was one of my references who was killing me.

    I agree wholeheartedly with abolishing this archaic practice. If transparency is considered part of best practices, then there’s no need for secret references in the first place. Either help your teacher get his/her next job, or have some backbone and tell them you can’t provide them with the kind of reference they’d like to see.

    Like

  26. jane says:

    always ask for an open letter of recommendation on school letterhead BEFORE you start applying to other schools. a school who contradicts themselves by giving two different messages will show their true face and the potential employer will see what is happening. if i have to ask an older employer for a confidential reference, i send them a copy of their “open recommendatin” to me to remind them of what i did when i was there….. but reallyit protects me and insures the confidencial reference is a good one and a more detailed to what i did when i was there.

    Like

  27. Be Smart says:

    Receiving references, confidential or otherwise, can always be sketchy business, but you must be selective and careful to make them work for you. I had a situation a long time ago where the administrator was incompetent, unprofessional, and always played her favourites. I would have NEVER asked her for a reference. This is key; trust your instincts; some of these stories of “betrayal” from the reference seem miscellaneous if you had done your homework.In my situation, I received excellent references from the previous administrator, and my two department heads. When potential employers saw my reference choices, it probably was very evident I was skirting around an undesirable reference. Since I handled the situation proactively, I let the other references affirm my credentials. Even if the undesirable reference was contacted, she had no credibility, since she would have been undermined by the other positive ones. Be smart about your reference choices in the first place so there is no possibility of damage.

    Like

  28. Thor says:

    I always ask for an open testimonial which I then send with job applications. If the same person sends a confidential reference which is substantially different I lik e to think says more about them than me.
    My experience is that once a testimonial is on file with a school administrators are too lazy to change it and it goes on forever.
    I had a change of Director once and the agency I work with said these two Directors supplied identical references…too lazy to write a new one is what they mean.

    Like

    • Becky says:

      I like your idea about sending in an open letter with your application. It would indeed look badly upon an administrator if they wrote conflicting referrals for the same person.

      Like

  29. Anonymous says:

    Hehehe, I loved the comment “Stop working at dodgy schools”. If all the dodgy schools closed, there would be about two dozen schools left in the world! Sometimes you just can’t help but work at one that is not so good. Apparently, as I have been told, it’s part of the “initiation process” of becoming an international teacher, isn’t that right? You need to work at at least one bad school before you can appreciate a good one, or so I understand. It’s rubbish, of course, but it makes up for all those pathetic excuses for schools that Search and others spout forth as being ‘professional’ when we all know it’s crap.

    Having been both an administrator (outside schools) and a teacher, I have always found it odd that people need written references anyway. Out in the real world (that’s the non-teaching world for all you career teachers out there) written references are a thing of the past. You can’t get something in writing anymore, it’s just not done. ALL references in the corporate sector, at least in Australia, are verbal. I say get rid of the written reference altogether. It’s archaic, and since the rest of the working world has figured that out, why haven’t schools?

    Mind you, schools still think employing spouses in the same workplace is a good idea… the corporate world realised how bad an idea that one was a loooooong time ago!

    Like

    • exteacher says:

      Anonymous writes: “schools still think employing spouses in the same workplace is a good idea…”
      One may argue – good or bad – it does not matter – it is less expensive – one accommodation, a family insurance etc.
      Having a whole family in one place perhaps it makes it more stable?

      Like

  30. Bill says:

    At the basic level, the schools that begin to promote openness and some sort of transparency with individuals and their letters of reference will find that most of those departing teachers will promote the school in a very good light once they are gone and the schools might start to find that people will want to go there.

    Like

  31. Sam says:

    None of this matters. Even if you do not choose someone as a referee, your new prospective interviewer or director may call them anyway. Happens all the time. Its akin to being blacklisted without actually being blacklisted.

    Like

  32. Anonymous says:

    The reality in some schools (especially schools run by a few powerful people) is that much of the school is run on personality and not professionalism. Why shouldn’t we be allowed to see what others are writing about us? It is a horrifying thought that they could say anything without our knowledge and our future prospective employers are reading this. We have no opportunity to refute what has been said because we wouldn’t notice until our jobs start drying up. Unfortunately it sounds like the recruiters don’t always tell us when bad recommendation letters have been posted. This idea that only bad teachers have something to worry about it is obviously from someone who hasn’t worked in the reality of school administration or been extremely luckily.

    Like

  33. exteacher says:

    Sorry, the message above got its own life and posted itself.
    I was popular enough to pick up the fight, which obviously I would lose, even if I damaged the principal’s reputation. I was pragmatic, I resigned and he kept his word – one interviewer said, that all my rec letters were super.
    What I am saying here is this: a good rec letter may be also phony -whether confidential or not.
    Here comes a broader question: to what extent one can trust to any rec letter – good or bad?

    Like

  34. exteacher says:

    Have you ever encountered an opposite situation?
    I had a fundamental disagreement with the Head of HS. He asked me not seek a contract renewal. However, he did not want to fire me as I was quite popular teacher among students, their parents and the faculty. He simply gave me an ultimatum: you resign and I’ll give you a super rec letter. If you force me to fire you I will put this in your letter (that I was fired).

    Like

  35. johnston says:

    I have been on both sides as I have served as an administrator. The thought I always kept in mind is that I have in my power someones life, their ability to earn a living. References should come as no surprise to the employee, since the information should have already been shared in an evaluative conference.

    In addition, it is always possible to share something positive. It is beyond my ability to know how a person may change or grow. If I share something positive with any negative, I may be enabling positive change in that former employee.

    Please lets get rid of the practice of confidential recommendations.

    Like

  36. 2xaround says:

    Surprised — You miss the point. Directors talk about us and we don’t get to know what is said about us. On ISR everyone can read what has been said. No secrets here. Some of these vindictive, unqualified directors would destroy our careers, in a confidential letter of reference, if they knew who it was that was posting about them here. Yes, we need to warn each other about these people. You are obviously either an insecure director or someone that has never left the States. Good luck to you. Disenfranchised is a good choice of words…how do you think we got that way?

    Like

    • Jack says:

      Confidential letters of reference, in my opinion, work well. Stop working at dodgy schools if you are worried about getting a bad review. Isn’t that what ISR is for in the first place? Don’t go and work at a school where the reviews are complaining about vindictive administrators!

      I have worked at 8 different international schools and have never had a poor recommendation letter. Speaking with colleagues from all over the world, only a handful have had to deal with an administrator who provided a poor confidential letter of reference. But again, I can only speak for reputable schools.

      I think we should add a new section to ISR for Teacher reviews, just for fun. We could comment on attributes like attitude, the number of hours they spend at school each day, number of “sick” days they take, how often you hear them whining about pay and poor benefits, how “high maintenance” they are, and whether or not they actually contribute to a positive school environment. No one should be bothered by this… after all, “on ISR everyone can read what has been said”.

      Like

      • Johnston says:

        I agree to an extent, however, this sight allows for many opinions, and the teachers who read them are not in a position to hire or fire anyone.

        I take what I read here with a grain of salt. I realize that their are disgruntled employees.

        Like

        • Anonymous says:

          Freedom of Information does not allow you to read any letter or document containing another person’s name hence context is distorted if you obtain a letter with words, phrases and names blocked out as they are. Secondly all of the experiences of an individual in authority choosing to block someone’s career is true. Employees often have done the Principal’s job for them and then have been sidelined. How many employees manufacture their resume,cover letters and overseas fraudulent degrees; and principals accept them to staff to be tokenistic and tick check boxes? Democractic principles, ethical and just codes of conduct are expected but not enforced or monitored from the top down in agencies of our Government. Add to this financial considerations and vested interests – many from overseas! Who is on the parents’ and citizens’ committees in a given year? What deals are being made and who do they benefit? Private and politically ambitious executive and some colleagues? How do they keep their jobs? The goodwill of the community! And intrigues! Many Iago’s exist! And every school community is composed of different influences,interests and political parties,and affiliations; power to hire and fire and no accountability for the prejudice they exhibit or their personal community dealings.

          Like

  37. Surprised says:

    I find it shocking and hypocritical that a site like ISR, that is based on anonymous reviews, would call for the banning of confidential references. Isn’t this whole website one big set of confidential references on schools and administrators around the world? The message here is, “It’s not fair to review teachers confidentially, but teachers should be able to publicly and anonymously slay their administrators and schools on our website”. Seriously?

    You do no favors towards the credibility of your organization with the hack writing and double standards presented here. In the end, and I think everyone is becoming increasingly aware of this, this site has evolved into a $29.99 payment that disenfranchised teachers pay to whine to one another.

    Like

    • Sarah Maurer says:

      Surprised, you’re comparing apples and oranges. That’s because you’re ignoring the fact that administrators and recruiting agencies have all the power. As things stand now, anonymity is the only option teachers have to fight back against an unjust system. If there were more checks and balances on those in power, there would be no need for a site like ISR. But until that day, I’m happy ISR is here, even though I’m no longer in the industry.

      I do wish that ISR were a free source of information, as that might increase its credibility with critics. However, as anyone who has ever run a site and message board can tell you, there are costs involved that the owners must cover.

      Like

  38. Bosco says:

    Agree. Couldn’t have said it better.

    Like

  39. tired says:

    Administrators who would write something different in a confidential reference than state to the referee’s face deserve absolutely no respect, nor do those who listen to them or defend their right to do so. Why can’t reference writers simply be open and honest about whether or not they plan to supply a beneficial recommendation? If they can’t, in good conscience, write something helpful – tell the requestor and decline the request. Simple.
    Throughout a long career of teaching, I have done the same for students. If I can’t write something that will help them further their education, I tell them. Since I want to help them, however, I try to find something positive to write about. Always, always I offer them the letter to review to see if it’s something they desire – it’s my right to share this and I firmly believe their right to see it. If I’m being honest with my evalutation, why would I do anything differently?
    Perhaps because I’ve had the good luck to teach in a state with a strong union for some of my career, I know what it’s like to enjoy open communication with public school administrators. If one had a complaint, it was invariably stated to my face, and my response was listened to and taken into account. No assumptions, no misreading of tone in emails, all open communication – I always knew where I stood and the administrator’s opinion. Imagine – adults communicating openly with each other. Why should it be any different?
    While there is much to admire and appreciate in the overseas teaching arena, it was a disappointing shock to come across a respected (at least by other international school administrators) school head who, nonetheless, fired someone almost yearly and did a great deal to harm teachers’ careers, for no discernible reason. Some of those spent thousands of dollars to attend recruitment fairs only to have their job quests torpedoed by this moral coward who wouldn’t tell them to their face what he found so objectionable; rather, he said he would serve as a reference. What a despicable practice.
    If I were an administrator who read an open letter of reference and then found the writer stating something quite different in confidence, it isn’t the subject of the letter that I’d lose interest in, it would be the opinion of the duplicitous person telling two different stories.
    Seeing colleagues with families struggle with the emotional and financial fallout of such fundamentally dishonest behavior has a profoundly negative affect on an entire school community. Often, it’s easiest for people to blame the victim – to believe, as the first respondent states here, that only the deserving get treated so unjustly. That belief might be comfortable, but it really doesn’t erase the nagging fear that next time, it could be you, or me, or anyone.
    How ironic it is to read the survey done by members of the Association of International School Heads (link provided in ISR forum someplace) and see the same body condemn the ISR review site and forum for their guarantee of anonymity if desired, yet defend their own “right” to write confidential letters of recommendation. I only recall one adminstrator in the survey who commented on this double standard; the others – perhaps not so surprising to many teachers – failed to recognize that perhaps they should act in the same manner they desire of others.
    In short, open letters of reference should be the norm, as should honest communication. If honesty isn’t the core of what we do as educators, then how worthwhile is anything we do?

    Like

    • Melissa says:

      A real professional is amongst us. How refreshing.

      In private enterprise, this kind of referral is not done as it exposes the writer to MASSIVE legal recourse. I am a mid-career changer and I can guarantee you that working formerly for a Fortune 500 corporation, an airline, this is not done. I was astonished and aghast when I discovered this practice as “common” in my new career.

      Like

      • Anonymous says:

        I too am a mid-career changer and am equally aghast at many of the antiquated, retrograde practices in i-school “resource management.” Confidential references, firing without cause, hiring without cause and all of it done, especially at bottom-tier schools, by administrators who couldn’t run a skating rink. This shit would be litigated into non-existence in any developed world school system.

        Like

        • Mona Stuart says:

          It is. Head back to the union organized, bureaucratic public schools in North America. You’ll get all the regulation and protection you’re begging for…and more. Count the freedoms in the systems we enjoy and see if they don’t outweigh the burdens. Heading “home” to safe, regulated ground remains an option for all of us. We are never stuck.

          Like

    • Professional says:

      Wow! I couldn’t have written it better. You hit the nail on the head. I am at a school right now that the HoS is sabatoging his most faithful followers (including me) because he was fired by the school in December but asked to stay until June so we can get through our WASC visitation and report. He is bitter and definitely his actions show he’s out for revenge. How better to do it then through bad confidential letters of recommendation even though those very teachers received good evaluations from him back in November. Sad! Sad! Sad!

      Like

    • anonymous says:

      I agree. Currently wondering if I’m experiencing the same thing. Having great success with an entity that doesn’t have the confidential reference, but with the one that does, the directors give me great hope but have fallen off the face of the map and won’t respond to my inquiries. The agency ensures this by requiring a reference from the most recent employer. As a principal, there is only on person who can do this. I have a GREAT letter of reference but don’t know about the confidential reference as my director is a weak person. At least for a teacher they can get the Principal OR the Director, this one man holds my career in the palm of his hand but the (local) business manager makes all his decisions for him. BAN the Confidential reference!!

      Like

    • Anonymous says:

      Tired,
      I really appreciate your comments about people blaming the victim and also about honesty. It is comforting to see their are humans out here.

      Like

  40. Anonymous says:

    I have been in education for 20 years. Most of the administrators I have met especially in the latter part have really been unqualified and unethical. A lot of that reason has to do with anyone can be an administrator. Many years ago administrators had worked many years as a teacher and knew the profession better and had more appreciation for it. Most of the administrators i have met relatively recently could not hold intelligent conversations about education and/or lacked morality and integrity. Most of what they may have had to say came from a source and not from tried experiences. Education is a business, but not even a good business. Put all these things and more together and you get bad referencing, bad teacher hiring practices, bad educating, dishonesty, fake behaviors and personalities, low life characters, and the likes.

    Like

  41. 2xaround says:

    I Couldn’t agree more with the last reply. Most directors are unprofessional and with no management skills or background. They play favorites and hold petty grudges against teachers.

    I worked for a guy who loved to go drinking with the teachers. His favorite boast was how he had ruined the careers of any teachers that dared to cross him. I later crossed this travesty to education and, for that matter mankind, and he tried to destroy my career. Silly fool eventually lost in the end and lost his job.

    Confidential references should be banned. If Simon, above, feels the only way to share info about someone is behind their back then he needs to man-up. People with real substance and leadership abilities aren’t afraid to look people in the eyes and tell it like it is.

    Of course…how many school directors fit that description? I’ve met a couple and shutter to think the rest can say what they want about us behind our backs when really they are just intimidated by the fact that most of their teachers could do a better job running the school…and they know it. Little minds think little things and retaliation is inevitable. Yes, BAN CONFIDENTIAL LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION.

    Like

  42. Anonymous says:

    I have been in the business for over 30 years now. Back in the day in the USA where we have checks and balances and a rule of law that is followed I believe confidential references are fine. However, in the international market there are too many fly-by-night administrators who are not real administrators just as there are lot of teachers who are not, get rid of the folks who cannot obtain gainful educational employment in the public sector in the USA. Demand fair wages and salries from the international schools, and we don’t want to hear, well it’s a poor country, ok then you obsivioulsy are not ready and cannot afford quality AMERICAN education. If you can’t pay us what we are worth then don’t you dare false advertise and call yourself and American school, etc. Real teachers and administrators need to stay away from these schools until they are ready and able to be American and then we should not have to worry about confidential references as the profession will be run by professionals not “wanna-be’s”

    Like

  43. Simon Dweck says:

    Teachers who perform well and get on with their job should not have anything to worry about a confidential reference from their Head teachers. Teachers who are able to talk the talk but not walk the walk are the ones who will generally have most cause for complaint as the reference will usually show up their failings in a way that an interview wont.

    At the end of the day what other methods are there for school leaders to discuss their staff and their performance with each other safe in the knowledge that they wont be abused or sued if the teacher doesnt like what they have to say?

    It is a similar sort of sitaution when it comes to in house evealuation. I doubt it if most teachers would want the results of any discussions with their line manager posted up on the wall as a league table for example. If these are to remain private and confidential then so can a reference letter

    Open referneces are not worth the paper they are written on. In fact on this very site a poster was told to write your own reference! And it is often impossible for a head to visity anoher school and see the teacher in action.

    Like

    • johnston says:

      I beg to disagree. I had a career filled with great evaluations and references and have worked for an exemplary administrator. Then, I went to work for a principal who was intimidated by me. I gave my absolute best and my students experienced success. Regardless, my contract was not renewed, and since I was provisional, there is no recourse, another issue which needs to be addressed. This woman’s reference resulted in my being turned down for employment in another school. It took a letter from an attorney to her and to her superintendent, which included hard data, to bring to light the fact that she was lying. Unfortunately, I find her like common in administration. I believe that many who can’t make it in business, go into teaching, and when they can’t make it in teaching, go into administration.

      Like

      • Trav45 says:

        How can you say you find her like “common” in schools and simultaneously state you have a “career filled with great evaluations and references.”

        Are there unscrupulous administrators? Of course, but I don’t think they are the norm by a long shot.

        Like

        • Anonymous says:

          I also have been let go because I overshadowed my administrator. I had more education and was an excellent classroom manager. I believe there are petty people out there who will damage your reputation just for spite. They are the “mean girls” of adulthood…of course, some men fall into this too but in my experience, it has been from women. I have also seen it done to other colleagues.
          I see no reason why references shouldn’t be completely transparent. You should be able to see what is being said about you and if you don’t like it, don’t use it.

          Like

        • Johnston says:

          I stayed at one school for 13 years. After leaving that school, I found the less qualified principals, three in three years which I qualify as common.

          Like

        • Anonymous says:

          There are the norm in the Middle East.

          Like

          • Anonymous says:

            References are one thing, but discrimination is extremely common on the international scene and ruin careers. Generally, however it is not the headmasters/headmistress’ that cause the problems but the middle management seeking to justify their own positions, and influence head’s opinions accordingly.

            Like