Teaching Lord Fauntleroy

We International Educators teach at thousands of schools across seven continents. We teach in every imaginable climate, in urban and rural settings, and in societies that range from predictably stable to utterly chaotic. Yet there is one detail that unites pretty much all of us no matter our tier, continent or subject area: We teach rich kids.

Some of us teach the top 25% of our host country’s socio-economic ladder. Some of us teach the top 1%. Some of us teach a slice of the global elite so exclusive their parents think nothing of flying to PTA meetings in their private Lear jets or gifting Rolex watches to faculty at the end of the year.

Even when a student’s family income wouldn’t turn a head back home in our own country, the family money is still many times what it would be for the majority of Chinese…or Bangladeshis or Indians or Africans. You get the picture.

Wealth facilitates a great deal of what we do, from the tuition money that keeps our schools running to the budgets that fund our departments to the salaries that put food on our tables and pay off our school debts–if you went to university in the US that is. Endowments give many international schools the freedom to make improvements to their facilities that would take significantly more time and paperwork in many state systems.

At the same time, affluent student populations present considerations we would be less likely to encounter in a state system back home. Students from affluent families may come to the classroom with unrealistic notions of how the world works and how it should serve them. They might be lulled into academic disengagement because they know, or have been told, their future is assured for them no matter the effort they put forth.

In this season of giving (and getting), let’s trade ideas on the perils and perks of being teachers and administrators of the affluent. The following questions strike me as important to tackle:

  How can we best realize the IB’s  goal of fostering “the intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills to live, learn and work in a rapidly globalizing world” if our students are only interacting with a small percentage of that world?

  How can we teach for social justice when the true sacrifice required to achieve it would be unpalatable if not unthinkable to many members of the elite?

•  How can we teach socio-economic awareness across the curriculum?

•  How can service learning projects be meaningful, life-changing experiences instead of token charity work?

  How can administrators deal with particularly powerful parents?

  How can we instruct students and families that money, perhaps more than at any moment in the history of the planet, needs to be a force for creating good rather than a badge for advertising status?

Weigh in on this topic. Scroll down to post

31 thoughts on “Teaching Lord Fauntleroy

  1. I am an educator with experience in a range of countries in education. I would say that almost all of what has been expressed is true to some degree, the fact is the experience changes hugely from country to country, my experiences in Moscow are not the same as my experiences in Egypt, Turkey is also different from Egypt. It also differs from school to school. In my present school we have worked hard as an administration to break the parent power and bullying of pupils and surprise surprise the parents have respected it. All the times I have refused to meet with powerful important parents because they did not have an appointment have really made a difference, for all my staff. All the times we have backed our teachers but at the same time have taught our staff how to manage that all important parent teacher interface are also paying dividends.


  2. Thank you for the article and thoughtful comments. This question has been in my mind throughout my teaching career.

    I have taught the wealthy, the middle class, and the poor in both developing and developed counties at schools dedicated to service and social justice. It is hard. All teaching, to some extent, maintains the social order (with the exception of Paolo Freire…). I have come to understand that so much depends on the administration and the limits/ tone they set with parents. When parents feel that their wealth is essential to the school, they often act in ways that do not respect those who work in the school. When the administration sets limits and does not cater to parents irrational and sometimes destructive needs, all people seem to be treated with more respect.

    I don’t mind having few resources for myself, but it is different now that I have a family. My children deserve options and resources, too.

    I have directed service programs. The best ones help students develop long term relationships with people who are different. Again, it is hard to move students beyond gratitude that for what they have and congratulating themselves on their good works. It does happen. When trying to influence people to make good choices (social justice or just human kindness) I have found words relatively useless. Actions are more powerful. How we, as teachers, assert our dignity when confronted with belligerent parents and then treat them with respect also teaches our students.


  3. I have taught overseas largely because of the lack of opportunities and indiscipline at home in the UK rather than for motives of social altruism or seeking high salaries. The downside is the insecurity and exposure to abusive intimidation by school managements pandering to “stakeholders”, whether political and/or socio-economic. That said, I have found differences in terms of regions involved. In Africa it was possible to come across at least some parents who were there to assist with aid projects. However privileged they and their children were, they had at least some positive motivations and an understanding of educational internationalism. Asian elite groups have proved far more ruthless and self-serving in their expectations of foreign educational servants. The ideal would be to provide international syllabuses for middle class and working class students in a mass democratic environment, in whatever country, but that is a tall order, particularly given the current political and economic global order.


  4. Boy, anyone else here disturbed by the incredibly patronizing and morally superior tone of that article? Particularly this:

    How can we teach for social justice when the true sacrifice required to achieve it would be unpalatable if not unthinkable to many members of the elite?

    Yet I only see one responder here who seems to have actually made those sacrifices him/herself. I know I haven’t. Face it, for all our altruistic ideals, most of us wouldn’t be doing this if the money (or other opportunities weren’t good). Glass houses, people.


    1. Perhaps that’s morally superior but it also brings up an enormously relevant issue. As for making sacrifices, the day you sign up to be a teacher, any kind of teacher, you have already made a sacrifice. There are few more physically, mentally and emotionally taxing professions. Many of us could do easier work. If that’s not a sacrifice, I don’t know what is.


    2. Right. Because only the rich lack global-mindedness and concern for the planet. No middle class or scholarship student ever made a disparaging remark about, say, the guards or cleaners in the school. I just find the whole assumption that all the kids are rich, entitled brats extremely off-putting. Many of the students come from families who really sacrifice to send their children there. Even if the bulk of the students are wealthy, most of them are pretty decent, and the jerks are not limited to a specific class. I think most of the oblivious-ness this thread is discussing comes from being a TEENAGER more than from class. As others have commented, the education towards other-mindedness needs to start early. And with a bit less of the holier-than-thou attitude from the teachers.


  5. This is an incredibly valuable paper that EVERYONE working in international schools–or any affluent school anywhere–should read. I think educators should always remain optimistic about the possibilites for their students to become globally minded, altruistic change makers but, even more importantly, I think we need to be realistic. With the (wealthy) IB students I teach, I would echo the poster who said they are much harder to engage and influence than younger MYP students. Their wealth and the structure of (unearned) privileges that surrounds them gives so little reason to truly adopt the habits of mind that would benefit the planet or aid the less fortunate. We pay a tremendous amount of attention to service learning, but sometimes I just ask myself what for? After their CAS is completed, they all just drive off in their Mercedes and in a few years are working in daddy’s business anyway. I’ve watched it for a decade now.


    1. Well said Eric Walker. Thank you for sending us this paper. You’ve hit on something important here. You’ve just increased my motivation to work with these super-rich students with renewed purpose.


  6. I agree with Proud KG Teacher. The younger they are, the more impact you can have. I’m teaching IB now and most of the kids have rich parents who will give them a job doing whatever they want in the family business when they finish school. It’s much harder to reach them and motivate them at 16,17,18. I’m not giving up though.


  7. Life is ironic. I became a teacher because I wanted to teach the poor and less privileged. Like an humanitarian kind of teaching in poor countries. Then, I found out about the conditions ( almost no salary, no health insurance, basically nothing…) and I just couldn’t afford it! So I entered the intenrnational school circuit and now, I am teaching rich kids. Anyone had the same experience?


  8. I attended a private elementary school in my home country and I can attest that some outstanding teachers there had a phenomenal impact on my life and more specifically, on my development of environmental, social, and international awareness. I don’t think that I would have the same passion for working, living and positively contributing to my community overseas if I had not had the privilege of being taught by those teachers. Never doubt that you are having a positive impact on those you teach, and the way that they look at the world!

    I would disagree with the opinion that one cannot teach wealthy children while upholding a belief in social justice. As teachers, we have the ability to encourage our students to explore concepts of social justice no matter what their socio-economic backgrounds are. On a personal level, I also find that teaching internationally has given me a much greater ability to contribute financially to socially progressive causes because my salary and benefits are better than back home. Also, where I’m from, it is currently very difficult to find a full-time teaching position, so most teachers there are barely scraping by financially, and are therefore not in a position to donate to causes that are important to them.


    1. I agree with what you’ve written. I too grew up overseas, attending a variety of different types of schools, international and public, and my experiences growing up have had a dramatic effect on my life, and on the lives of my siblings. My sister is now a prominent figure in the US and almost single-handedly brought recycling to America from Europe 30 years ago, and is currently working on fighting the plastics industry. She admits that her passion for the environment stemmed from her experiences of living overseas. Sure we’re ‘worker bees’ for the wealthy, but our students (when they grow up) will be the ones in positions to make a difference globally!


  9. In America privatization of schools is sweeping the nation by storm, so Americans no longer want to teach in a system that compromises their values. “International” schools in most cases are privatized schools. So this wave basically hit the world first before it came
    to America.


  10. If one really cared about educational equity and justice, one would not be employed in a school that catered to the rich. I would find it difficult to reconcile my values for educational equity while teaching rich kids only.

    American teachers no longer want to teach in American schools due to incessant testing and being held accountable for standards. Some American teachers idealize international schools only to be confronted with the arrogance of the rich, and those teachers trade off their treatment as a servant for a chance to travel.


  11. I currently live and work in the riches city in the world where my salary is on par of that of a house-servant. The teachers here make a fraction of the monthly salary that the local teachers make. The local kids know they will never have to be “productive” because their money is guaranteed to them. These kids act like barbarians (they get it from the parents) and if I can help develop an awareness in them that extends beyond their own tiny little brain, then I will feel like I’ve accomplished something.

    I definitely feel a big portion of my job is that of social worker/counselor. It’s true, many of them will not leave the walls of this country but that doesn’t mean they won’t interact with folks from around the world and therefore need to understand the importance of what could be considered socially acceptable behavior and to be able to hold some semblance of an intelligent conversation with them.

    I teach the very young ones so I think my job is a little easier when it comes to instilling sympathy, empathy, and altruistic behaviors with these students. We just had parent/teacher conferences and several of the parents pointed out how “different” their children are behaving at home from helping out to recognizing someone doing or saying something that hurts another’s feelings. I’m thrilled to hear that the parents are noticing it because I don’t know any other way to get it through to them except through their child.

    It’s a tough job for a teacher to tackle because we are only one and we have the rest of the world pushing back at us.


  12. This article definitely made me think as I am finding myself in a classroom with many local royals. I have been told that students and parents have the power to have to teacher fired if they don’t like you for whatever reason. This put me in an awkward position of using discipline equally throughout the classroom and in effect compromises my belief system that all students should be treated equally. Of course I use best practice and would never treat the students unfairly but it scares me to think one wrong move and I’m out. It certainly doesn’t seem like the way it should be or a way that I am suited to. Anyone have any feedback on this?


  13. I agree that it can present a challenge. So can teaching children who have only experienced life in a few mile radius of where they live and haven’t had anyone help them or prepare them to learn. I’m guessing that teaching 50+ students in a crowded Filipino public school with not enough books or seats is a challenge also.

    A few points about the questions:
    Point 1, interacting with only a small percentage of the world. Compared to village children in many 3rd world countries, the’ve interacted with a huge percentage of the world. Most K-12 students anywhere haven’t interacted with much of the world. The point, I think, is to recognize that there are other parts of the world, which is simple enough.

    Point 2. “Social Justice…when the sacrifice would be unbearable.” I’d have to say that almost everyone in the 1st world would be making sacrifices that they aren’t actually willing to make.

    I have similar thoughts down the line. I’m also kind of turned off by the missionary strain of telling them what their responsibilities are. I wouldn’t appreciate them, or anyone else, telling me how the world should be and how I should act in it.

    I think that we should be educating people to make those decisions and distinctions in a well-informed and thoughtful way. In other words, teaching them how to think rather than what to think.

    I can’t think of anything that turns of a student’s brain faster than preaching to them. But, internal worlds change when they come to those conclusions on their own.

    Last, it seems a little hypocritical for people making a salary many times what the average host national makes (I’m one of them), telling others that they are overprivileged.


  14. Of course we can be a force for change and a force for good – if we really want to be!
    We can foster environmental awareness and make our students quite passionate about environmental issues. We can make them care and try to make a difference socially too, in line with the CASS element of the IB. Of course this influence could wear off in time but, when I think back to how some of my school teachers influenced me – even now that I’m very, very old, (!) I know the importance of our influence as educators.
    Not on every child, granted, but if, when I come to the end of my teaching career, I have influenced even a few students to care deeply about our planet then I think that I will have had a worthwhile career all around the globe.


  15. Finally, after all these years in the “international” teaching profession, we are beginning to understand our clientele. I would say that as international educators we are very fortunate to be able to work and live in many a foreign locale and receive a pretty decent salary. I know it would be much more comfortable to live and work in our home countries at a very good salary, but right now the teaching opportunities are in these “far flung” places and we must remember that yes, many of the students we teach come from priveleged and “high status” stratums of their own societies, but no matter what our background or social status in our own society, we are in a unique position to promote democratic values and a “civil”
    society in places where such concepts are not well understood.

    I would say to many an international administrator (principals included) and also to many teachers that are on the front lines in the classroom everyday, to not be pessimistic, because although you may not think so highly of the local culture and society, remember that the parents, for all their faults and prejudices are putting their children in your trust.

    Allan Walker
    Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada


  16. I think there is a distinction between teaching in a private national school and an international school in a developing country.

    In the private national school one might have an influence on future leaders of that country, but international school students are either
    a) international kids – sons and daughters of western business/diplomatic types or
    b) local kids who want to study and live in the west.

    So I don’t think we can kid ourselves that we are somehow contributing to the country in which we live. Mostly we are simply enabling the resources drain of that country.


    1. Interesting comment. What is an example of a private national school? And what do you mean by “mostly we are simply enabling the resources drain of that country” ? Thanks for the clarification.


    2. For example, most (not all) of the schools from Turkey you see at recruiting fairs cater to wealthy Turkish families. They are not international schools but they try to bring some international perspective by hiring English teachers from abroad.


    3. That depends on where you live. I’ve taught at several international schools that also included sons/daughters of the local political elite.


  17. Teaching the rich has even greater potential because they are rich and powerful and have the influence to change the world if we ‘commoners’ can infuse some sense of social justice and responsibility into their minds. Besides servants, we, as teachers, are the best thing that will happen as far as influence and while they are still malleable. I find it a challenge every day to influence and instill awareness, to help young people to empathize, to take seriously our shared problems of population and resources, to think creatively how they can use their elite foreign education to make a big difference in their own countries. Catch their dreams and put sustenance to them. Some privileged kids do great things for their world. That is significant enough for me. I’d like to think I played a part.


  18. Unfortunately when teaching the more affluent teaching is seen by one’s students and parents as servitude as opposed to a profession.


    1. This is sometime the case and when I first came across it I was dismayed. But I decided to resist this attitude by expressing the vital importance of teaching. I regularly talk about having chosen the job because I love it. I talk about the breadth of my life experience outside of teaching and I do my best to inspire the classes I teach with comments about how much they can do to contribute to a fairer world. Most children bring with them a strong sense of fair mindedness which may get lost on the way to adulthood but we can do much to help them retain that powerful message. Democracy isn’t just about casting your vote now and again, it’s about how you live your life.


    2. I have also taught in very low socio-economic settings for many years and children will respond to quality teaching whatever the setting. The amount of money your parents have or don’t have should not be a barrier to a good education. It is our job to get that message out there.


    3. the truth is though, that kids from Western Europe and North and South America seem much more likely to at least be open to picking up after themselves, recycling, environmental awareness, civic responsibility, etc. Even those who are very rich and are going to be entitled to their fathers’ businesses.

      And, many times, the parents’ employer pays the tuition, it is not necessarily the family shelling out 4X25000 dollars for four kids.


    4. and Africans, I am sorry. My experiences in Asia led me to believe that Eastern European and Central Asian wealth has more often come from connections than from hard work.


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