Safe, Sound & Far Away

ISR periodically receives reports from teachers who tell us their schools demand there be no posting of reviews to ISR. We recently learned of two teachers in Korea, fired after being falsely accused of posting a review. A director wrote to tell us his school in Thailand was moving to have him jailed for comments he made on the site. (Fortunately, he managed to leave without consequence.)

In light of the under-handed actions and threats on the part of some schools, many teachers remain silent during the term of their contracts. However, once they have completed their obligation and distanced themselves from their situation and the fear of reprisals, they feel safe and motivated to share with colleagues what it’s like to work at these schools. This explains why the close of the academic year ushers in an increased influx of Reviews to the ISR web site.

Doesn’t it seem ironic that institutions with long, detailed mission statements, professing to produce ‘Global Citizens,’ are simultaneously squelching the constructive criticisms of their staff? Seems rather hypocritical if you ask us! Have you had personal experience with this topic? How widespread is the practice of schools threatening teachers in regard to posting to ISR and other web sites? What’s your opinion on this topic?

26 thoughts on “Safe, Sound & Far Away

  1. Something that the original post doesn’t take into account is that no matter how badly a school treats some teachers, once they leave they often just want to leave that bad experience behind them. They don’t post reviews or take other action because they just want to forget about the bad experience. There are several teachers who were treated illegally at my school who were ready to file lawsuits against the owner/manager/head-of-school, but once they found better jobs in other countries decided that it would be too much trouble to go through with it. This empowered the megalomaniacal behavior of the HOS, who has tightened restrictions in each subsequent contract. As it stands, talking to anyone about anything to do with the school for two years after the end of one’s contract can lead to a teacher being fired or sued.

    My point is that for every teacher who decides to post a review of a school, there are many who don’t. This is unfortunate because the result is that inexperienced teachers looking for jobs are that much more likely to stumble into a job at one of these schools. The only real way to combat the criminals who use the guise of education to enrich themselves (while abusing students, faculty, and staff) is to get the word out and stop people for applying for those jobs. If they don’t have teachers, they can’t continue the con.

    This leads me to my next point, which is that I think ISR should consider opening its reviews to the public. Perhaps they should switch to an advertising-based model for revenue. The young, inexperienced teachers who are most likely to forego paying the membership fee (and thereby miss the reviews that could very well prevent them from applying at one of the bad schools) are the very ones that these schools seem to depend on to continue operation. For example at my school, over half the faculty quits every year, but they always find replacements–usually young, inexperienced teachers (or non-teachers) who didn’t bother to do their homework while searching for a job.


  2. This is a great topic. I’ve recently been threatened by the headmaster of a school for discussing accurate (yet not very flattering) moves the school is making. The private school culture in which mistreatment of staff, grade tampering and a warped sense of absolute power (only to list a few issues I encountered in my last contract) with no consequence is absurd. Reputation has to count for something and we live in a world in which news travels fast. I agree that schools should treat staff, students and families alike with respect, and live up to their mission statements. Those that do (yes they’re out there!) will get the reviews and the credit they deserve.


  3. I have just signed a contract at a new school where they have a clause that says you cannot talk about the school anywhere, at any time even after you have left their employment. I find this to be a red flag but did not want to not sign the contract because of it. I am on my guard however. Also, there is NOTHING about this school anywhere, including ISR. I am not saying the name of the school because I don’t want to start out with a problem there.


    1. Incognito…….you have already started out with a serious moral and professional problem by acceding to their ridiculous gagging clause and by not being able to find out anything about this school anywhere. Why do you think they want to gag everyone? Why do you think they are invisible?
      What is the next demand they’re going to throw at you? What is the next unethical or unprofessional trap they are going to spring?
      You seem extremely naive and desperate, a very bad combination…which means we’ll almost certainly see you back here within a year (if you last that long) complaining about the school and the admin….and bemoaning the fact that you were forewarned but still walked blindly into the swamp!


  4. Best to stay with an international school sponsored (in part) by a government embassy… America… British…Canadian…German… French etc… not these unregulated / for profit schools that generate most of the comments on most of the posts here…. Beware!!!!!


  5. I know that the teachers who were unlawfully terminated as a result of an ISR posting are currently engaged in a law suit against the school. It also paved the way for many more teachers to write their own reviews. Obviously, if half the staff are leaving these kind of reviews once the school year ends, then management wasn’t receptive to hearing teachers’ concerns or addressing them throughout the school year. Sometimes teachers are left with few options, and want to make sure that other teachers don’t go through the same horrific experiences they did.


  6. My fantasy is to go further and meet some of these directors/owners in the parking lot outside some job fair someday. What are other ways teachers can ¨follow up¨ and assert their rights in other venues besides ISR? What other actions can teachers take against criminal- unethical schools and directors? Can we sue from the USA or UK? What other avenues do we have and what has been done successfully by others??


  7. The ISR clearly provides an invaluable service for teachers in warning them about the dangerous, threatening and frankly criminal circumstances into which they might blunder in a desperate search for a job. The downside, as one could well expect, is that criminals will retaliate using their typical methods.

    A recent, objective evaluation that I posted on my last school in northern China, for example, earned a threatening and demeaning e-mail warning that my “ass was cruising for a bruising” (charming), that I should “wipe my nose” and that I should “be careful” since I “have issues”. Apparently my “poor character” means I am not fit to enter any classroom.

    In fact I have never had any problems with Criminal Record Bureau clearances and I have been a senior secondary school manager in three international schools.This threatening warning came from a character who is now taking up a coordinator post at a school in southern China, one I should add that has had impressively good ISR reviews so far. So you can imagine what the worse ones are like.

    When I applied for a post at ABC School in Vietnam, the very first sentence in the telephone interview was a patronising use of my first name (a typically demeaning method with these characters) followed by a demand as to why I mentioned ISR in my cv/resume. Needless to add, this school has had a series of poor reviews complaining about bullying, and I instantly saw why. Thank goodness they “did not move forward” with my application.

    My long, bitter experience with international “education” is that teachers are seen as no more than mere “human resources”, and in the current context of globalized private enterprise, they can expect to get treated with the contempt “biznyezmen” treat everyone en route to a fast rouble, buck, yuan or whatever else.

    I think it time all our domestic teacher unions took a leaf out of the book of the UK National Union of Teachers and set up an overseas section. The time is surely near at hand when an ILO report is required into these shady “international schools”.


  8. Let the chips fall where they may. ISR is the only tool I am aware of that provides this kind of important information. Any relatively experienced international educator can weed out the BS posts from the legit ones. These are far and few between. Most school evaluations I have read seem to me as spot on. When it comes to directors, this becomes more arbitrary. Sometimes a director can be stuck in a bad position just like the teacher and be blamed for things outside their control. That being said, I encourage all those to use ISR and post critiques as soon as possible. Do not allow yourself to be bullied anywhere, anyplace. Fight back by any means necessary against injustice. Don’t be afraid. If a school is awful or a director is out of their mind and inappropriate for this line of work you gotta let folks know. The more information we have the better off we are. The only way many of these school will ever improve is if good folks out there push for it. They will not do it on their own obviously. I believe I have a moral obligation to our craft, to our profession and most of all to children.


  9. this just shows how powerful this site is!!!
    Also schools need to consider why teachers feel they are unable to voice their concerns to the management.
    I have been warned as well but the head also used emotional blackmail, ‘don’t damage the school, it doesn’t deserve it’. I wanted to ask whether the ban included writing good things about the school.


  10. I am currently under the thumb and unable to move on at this time. Outright falsification of grade reports and transcripts is an assigned duty for one of the administrative staff, for the mulch-campus organization in China. Anyone who complains about the ethics is suddenly up on disciplinary or competency in the classroom actions. Turnover is 50 to 80 of the teaching staff per year. The management monitors and post their own false reports on a regular basis. They also even post as themselves to say the problems are fixed.

    This puts ISR about six months behind the information curve, as until you are employed elsewhere and physically out of the country, you dare not say a word, even to your fellow employees.

    The question that need to be added to the ISR evaluation survey is, who runs the school? The Parents? A Local company using puppet foreign management? Professional educators who are doing the best they can under the circumstances?


  11. The schools are in control of this issue. If a school wants to conduct a thorough, transparent, and anonymous survey to get genuine feedback and grow professionally they can do so. Schools choose to have courage and be professional and keep things “in house” or they force the feedback to blogs “out of house.”


  12. I think there is a time and place for everything. ISR, as a teacher, is essential in order to get some information about where we are going, and what we are walking into. In the digital age, it is only a matter of time, before the information on a school is out there.
    I agree with the above posts, that schools that have nothing to fear, and if they are open about understanding different perspectives , ISR can become a tool. (No matter how much we encourage feedback, there are environments where you are keenly aware that you are vulnerable and cannot take that risk) The truth is though, there are many schools out there that seek to make money, not educate. If I was one of them, ISR would scare me.


  13. Perhaps ISR could create a kind of “Seal of Approval” in which schools willing to publicly commit to a reasonable code of conduct and teacher treatment, and whose aggregate reported histories do not belie such commitment, could be designated as such.


    1. Oops. I just read about the ISR “Bill of Rights” – which does exactly what I mentioned above. (Sorry, I’m new). Good for you!


  14. If a school is truly reputable, treats its teachers and students properly and with respect, lives up to its mission statement(s) to the best of its ability and as forthcoming about its weaknesses as it is about its strengths, then it should have no fear of (but should actually welcome!) teacher reviews on it appearing in ISR!


    1. Money.

      Search every once in a blue moon does boot somebody out, but they have to be really really really really bad.


  15. As a school, we have taken a different approach to ISR. Considering that many prospective teachers are going to use ISR to check up on the school, I believe most schools monitor (or should monitor) the posts therein. ISR gives a perspective of a school. Multiple perspectives are needed in order to effectively gauge the culture of a school. We encourage all prospective candidates to contact as many people on staff as they want. When they want to know about the cost of living in Macau, we point them to a staff survey that lists differing perspectives.
    At the end of each year, I forward the latest 2 reviews to all of the staff that are leaving and ask them to consider giving their own review, this includes staff whose contracts we have chosen not to renew.
    This year someone wrote a scathing review of me accusing me of being a bully. What do you do? I chose to expose it to all of the staff. Why? I wanted staff to be aware of it for a few reasons:
    1. Bullying behaviour has no place in a school. I gave explicit permission for any staff member to confront any bullying behaviour they saw in me or in anyone else on staff.
    2. I hoped that the person would come forward so we could find some reconciliation. Clearly this person was hurt.
    3. Remind staff of appropriate channels for feedback and concerns. If they couldn’t come to me then there were many others safe channels.
    4. Avoid the gossip mill. Hiding things only makes it worse.
    ISR is here to stay. Issuing gag orders isn’t a solution. The best solution is to create a culture and community where feedback is sought and handled in more constructive ways. This is what we are working towards.


  16. While I do not condone the use of threats or reprisals to people who want to voice their opinions. I do understand schools wanting teachers to voice concerns at the school and not on the ISR website. The amount of negative comments about schools on the ISR website makes it seem that there are not good schools in the world. I caution most of my teachers and friends who want to work overseas to use this site as part of a larger look into international teaching.


  17. Foreign educators(particularly Westerners and specifically North Americans) are often seen as trophy teachers who bring in students and parents money because they are native-language speakers, Western educated and ¨supposedly¨ superior models.
    The truth for many of these disreputable, often owner managed schools is that such foreigners represent both a bonus and a real threat. We are used to being protected by unions,coming from a society that usually punishes arbitrary or dictatorial work regimes and that has a long tradition of supporting human rights. This is the exact opposite of many pseudo-international schools whose principal interest is to protect their cash cows, hide the truth and punish anyone who steps out of line.


  18. An ‘international’ school in Angeles City, Philippines has made it clear to staff that there will be reprisals for any comments to ISR or similar sites. They are particularly dismayed about ISR, though.

    Last year a teacher spoke out about mismanagement, unethical behavior, the unreported rape of a student by a teacher, and other practices that shared nothing in common with the image that the school tried to sell. The teacher got nowhere with the school board who didn’t want to review the problems, but wanted to bury them. They created a website to warn other teachers and parents because the school was extremely dishonest and opaque in their dealings with prospective students, parents, and teachers.

    The collective heads of the Korean board and their financial backers almost burst. The NBI (philippine national police) were paid to arrest the teacher for libel. If you’ve lived in Luzon, this statement will not strike you as outrageous. Only because the teacher was a long-term permanent resident with some contacts and resources, was his stay in jail limited to 5 days.

    The case is still in court, over a year later. The teacher escaped to another country and is being ‘tried’ in abstentia. The school doesn’t acknowledge the situation. The NBI trick worked so well, that they have now been called on a few teachers for various situations. The teachers who stay beyond one year or less all have some tie to Angeles that they don’t want to break (families, homes, no certification, etc.).

    Back to the original point. While it is true that there may be reports on ISR that are less than perfect, ANYTHING is better than only having a schools word. The school in Angeles City preys upon inexperienced teachers eager to make a living internationally. Without exception, every teacher who has left the school has lamented that they didn’t know about ISR before they took that job.

    Any school that makes these threats is more than likely not a good place to be. A really good school would ride on its reputation and let people recognize the complainers for what they were. A really bad school has a lot to lose if the truth gets out.


    1. Hi, I’m curious…. is this school St Paul’s? I know a teacher from there who came to my school (Vietnam American International School, Hanoi) last year February-ish 2012.
      My former school is also part of the St. Paul “family” of schools. I left that school after 1 year (my contract was complete and I did not enjoy the managment).
      I think it’s important to know what schools are involved in what behaviors so that others can make wiser choices of employment.
      Thanks, Steven Bentley


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