Are International School Directors Above the Law?

constitution19624112From the ISR Forum: “I find it difficult to understand how Americans who head International schools think they have the right to ignore American laws. I guess it’s just because they can!

“Our new Director states in job ads that he is looking for teachers under a certain age. Bingo, age discrimination! There is no retirement age here and the school’s former Director hired qualified teachers and did not care about age. There is a fairly large exodus happening at the end of this year which suits our new Director just fine. Now he can hire all the ‘little Miss Sunshines’ he wants who will bow and scrape and worship his ‘vision’.

“This year I tried to form a Teachers’ Association. Over sixty teachers and staff members signed up, but our new Director is trying to shut us down. He can barely contain his resentment and arrogance even though the American Constitution gives us the right to convene as stated in the Bill of Rights. He wants me to produce ‘data’ for the Talent Committee to submit to the Action Committee which is made up of administrators who get the final vote on whether or not a TA will be allowed. Ridiculous! In the US he would certainly be facing a law suit.

“I don’t understand how an American, one who heads an “American School” with students from the US embassy, is able to completely put aside US law, leaving us all vulnerable to his whims. I was toldcriminal that an American who breaks US constitutional law is subject to legal proceedings in the US, even though his actions took place on foreign soil. I’m not saying I am going to start a law suit, but I would like very much to hear from International educators on the topic of International Teachers’ Associations and teachers’ rights.”

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97 Responses to Are International School Directors Above the Law?

  1. Anonymous says:

    International schools and directors do have more authority and the environment can be a little like working under dictatorship law…….depending on the country, school and ego of the director. In any case, they do not have to deal with a union which does make a huge difference. I just signed a new contract with a school, and while I am happy about the offer, as I was looking over my contract and what I was obligated to was ridiculously in their favor…….I mean the contract may as well have said you will do what ever we want when, where and how we want you to do it. Of course, the school I signed with has a good reputation and the director/my colleagues are very nice, but when ever I have analyzed the wording and fine print of any international school contract it does become clear that school directors are pretty much above the law with regard to ethics in the work place.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    Too many International school directors like to abide by local country laws that favor their point of view and hope foreign-hire teachers don’t learn otherwise!

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  3. Interview for an expose says:

    I want to write an expose about this topic. If interested in an interview, please email me at exposeforexpose@gmail.com. You can remain anonymous. I didn’t realize so many people had such similar, terrible experiences, which means the curtain should be pulled back. The public should be aware of what goes on to well-meaning individuals who are mistreated by those in power wearing a lawless cloak. I’ve been wanting to write this piece for a while, so I would be grateful for your stories if you’re willing to share. Thanks.

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  4. Linda says:

    It has to do with principles and values. If this director was working in the US he would behave in the same way if not for the standards that have been long fought for in America. The values are not intrinsic but are the result of external control. Although I don’t like it I’ve come to realize that if I don’t like what’s going on at my school and the director does not have the same values, in the end, the director and the board hold the power and if I’m attached to staying at the school I need to try to enact change thru creating rapport and being a model. Sorry to sound moralistic but after 17 years at the same school, and having tried various strategies, this approach seems to be the most effective for change and the preservation of my reputation.

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  5. C1994J says:

    Point already well made above about US government funded schools.

    Another influential grouping of international schools is COIS / CIS. Member schools – searchable directory here
    http://www.cois.org/page.cfm?p=229

    must meet the membership criteria http://www.cois.org/page.cfm?p=231

    and must abide by the code of ethics
    http://www.cois.org/page.cfm?p=232

    quote: “If it is drawn to the attention of CIS that the guidelines have been breached, CIS could take investigative action.”

    If your school is not a CIS school, (list here – bit.ly/HYgAUh), then this very site ISR suggests a Teachers’ Bill of Rights few of us would argue against arguing for !

    http://www.internationalschoolsreview.com/nonmembers/bill-of-rights.htm

    Remember, evil (administrators) flourish if good people (teachers) do nothing !

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  6. Anonymous says:

    ” I was told that an American who breaks US constitutional law is subject to legal proceedings in the US, even though his actions took place on foreign soil”

    Well I will assume that when you say “American” you mean someone from the United States of America specifically and not somewhere else on the continent of America. That aside,does this statement apply to “non-americans” from other countries? It’s a lame brain attitude, that isn’t unique to a, fortunately, minority of international educators from the US. Same can be said of some from the UK and elsewhere.

    We all deserve respect, and a “bill of rights” ISR style would be a good thing and I would hope that the major recruitment agencies would all sign up to it – but asking for your countries laws to be enforced in other countries begs the question why don’t you stay at home? Two separate issues – schools and directors treating teachers (and other employees) well, and lame brain think I’m still at home attittude.

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    • dfresshh says:

      Am wondering, can teachers also expect to be able to break their contract/law without any sort of legal ramifications? Wondering if teachers have faced trouble with The Law over breaking a contract, or would it be more of a case of being blackballed? Is it that the law is not there or only protects employers?….that aside, calling somebody lame brained who disagrees with you is lame brain, just saying.

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  7. Wilbert says:

    For everyone saying that these cases should be actively pursued in the country if they have labor laws:

    I did this in the Philippipnes, the school paid the NBI (like American FBI) 25K US to put false charges against me. Luckily for me, a student’s uncle was a judge and we had a duel of influence until i was able to literally escape the country.

    2 out of about 30 staff members did anything to help me. The rest tut tutted, but stuck their head in the sand to avoid the same fate.

    I can pretty much guarantee that anyone saying to pursue it in court has limited experience with 3rd world judicial systems.

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    • Anonymous says:

      People simply except that u cannot use that countries court system or set up unions that is why experienced teachers chose schools with good rep because they protect u the best but we are still there at there discretion

      Sounds like a lot of u have not lived and worked in 2nd or 3 rd world countries

      1st world countries u are protected by the countries laws unfortunately cannot save in those countries

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  8. B.Rawlins says:

    The crucial aspect is clearly whether management behavior is in accordance with local labor laws. Where it is not (as, for example, in the case of assault and intimidation) then a teacher must consider a number of options, including local legal action (if realistic and affordable), reference of a dispute to local unions (if they exist, but seek registration if they do), informing your union back home to warn fellow union members (e.g. the UK National Union of Teachers Overseas Section), letting your embassy know what is happening (as they may have a list of local lawyers), telling local police (if you feel they are trustworthy), and definitely letting people know the details of the abuse on this website, as a form of legal testimony.

    My personal experience is to have recently received a threatening and insulting e-mail after I posted here about my time as a teacher and acting manager in north-east China. Apparently, according to the new ‘manager’ my “ass is cruising for a bruising”. I passed the e-mail on to the sender’s internet service provider, the local police and the Chinese State Administration for Foreign Expert Affairs. After two attempts to gain managerial posts elsewhere in China, he is now leaving the country. So sometimes pursuing official channels can achieve things, even if positive results cannot be guaranteed.

    The lesson seems to be always take legal action of some kind. Never let school managements and their mercenary “good ol’ boys” get away with bullying intimidation without a struggle.

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  9. Nikki says:

    Unfortunately, there are a lot of schools that see themselves as “above the law” – not just American law, but also the national labor laws.

    Despite the fact that it is against the law, I have consistently been offered lower salaries based on my marital status (read: gender) and the fact that my spouse was born in the country we currently reside (he is not a teacher at the school). These are “prestigious” schools who pride themselves on their international reputation, but will bend over backwards to get experienced, qualified teachers as cheap as they possibly can, through discriminatory and deceptive means.

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  10. Anonymous says:

    I had to attend a lecture at my last school on importing and exporting (the school was run by a large multinational and the training was mandatory ). From this I understand that if a company has an office/ site in the us then they come under American law and a court case can be brought even if something happens abroad. My company did not have any base in America for this reason! So if your school is part of a group with schools in the us or an office in the us you are covered. If the company only operates outside it you are not. Hope that helps.

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  11. papillon says:

    This happened in the Philippines. The director, though no longer facing criminal charges, has thankfully been removed. She may be above the law, but not above poetic justice of the universe.

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  12. papillon says:

    Well, after reading all of these posts, how about this: a new twist on being “above the law.” New teachers are sent on a required “week with out walls” field trip that was organized by local staff and staff who have finished their contracts the year previous.Two students drown on the field trip and all of the teachers involved, and the director, are charged with “homicide due to reckless imprudence. The director is able to get out of the charges because “she wasn’t present when the incident occurred,” but the other teachers are still on the hook. Yet, the director approved the itinerary and forced the teachers to go on the trip. Teachers who had been in the country for 6 weeks and who had no hand in the organization of the trip are now on trial for HOMICIDE. Now who’s above the law???? Just a cautionary tale to others who may not think of the consequences of following the orders of an inept director.

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  13. Archer says:

    Interesting idea, Pierce. Why are you so sure that US law has it right? Why not European law? I worked in a school where a woman who was an alcoholic and who kept a bottle in her desk to keep her going through the day (after all teaching G4 is tough) couldn’t be fired because “alcoholism is a sickness”. By the end of the day, she often couldn’t stand up. But workers do need protection…
    Another school in the same region still has a teacher who has hit, shaken and verbally abused children (Grade 1s can be worse than G4s!). The case has gone to court, but labor law says he deserves another chance.
    In much of European labor law, there is now no compulsory retirement age, and teachers cannot be terminated after the age of fifty on the grounds of incompetence.
    What about European citizens claining those same rights when they are working as teachers in the US?

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    • Provocative line of reasoning. I still think the answer is an international teacher organization to monitor abuse, provide legal counsel, serve as an outside source of support, activism, and whistle blowing. It is workable. There are international labor norms and standards (ILO) to use as precedents, NGOs that would probably be very supportive and actively helpful, and most countries have some internal system of labor regulation, as mystifying as that can be to access as a foreigner.

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  14. sr. frog says:

    You are a teacher ABROAD not in the US. You had better get used to it. You don’t have a union PLUS in the country where you are there might not be legislation regarding age and sex discrimination. That is reality, YOU ARE NOT IN THE US ANYMORE.

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  15. Snorks says:

    you save a lot more than back home, travel the world, less paper work and teach more, higher social economic students (I worked in inner city schools back home)but you have to pay your dues first before working at proper schools

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    • Anonymous says:

      How much do you save? And how can it beat a far higher US union-fought for- teaching salary, with pension, 403b and other investments?

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    • RD says:

      You don’t have to “pay your dues” first. I’m at my first international school (after 6 years in the inner-city in the states), and it’s a great, well-respected school.

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  16. Still hoping says:

    Debates like this are why we have blogs to read, though it would be helpful to know the names of erring schools. Middle East or Asia–be careful. And just do your research before bothering to apply.

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    • gillian says:

      yes, researching is a good idea but not all schools have information we can access and anyway, we are all not so fortunate to ‘cherry pick’

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  17. Scott says:

    I think the writer is highlighting a very large problem but is perhaps going about it in a way that is to focused on his/her own home country. I also think it is unfair for other “professionals” to be attacking the writer simply because he/she is American and is writing based on the experience and view point he/she has. I would hope that as international teachers and professionals that we bring our own ideas, culture and ideals with us. It is easy to target someone because they are an American (I am Canadian) as they are the “big dog” out there. By doing so and throwing out comments like “go home” and “you’re in their country” you miss the whole point of the blog. He/she is frustrated at the mistreatment the director is displaying and is asking for advice/help. Yes talking about American law in a foreign country is a bit naive and presumptuous but he/she was speaking in legal terms towards another American. Others seem to have ignored the main point of the blog and read only “American” and zeroed in.

    We are teachers abroad and we know that that means we are vulnerable to the dictated of the schools. We don’t have to like it and if we are lucky we can leave or have a school that will listen to reason. Attacking each other based on citisenship is no better than hiring based on age. It is discrimination just the same. Think about your own situations and potential for problems and the support/advice you may want/need before you condemn others.

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    • Interested... says:

      This is definitely where the dialogue should be going…as it is evident that this issue is of huge interest to those of us who have grown accustomed to the liberal “ideals” of the so-called “American-system,” yet may find themselves subject to those in positions of school authority (internationally and even in the US)…which may or may not always operate on the principle of fairness.

      School leaders who display unethical leadership practices should be exposed and removed from their posts…period (and those teachers as well)!

      The notion that ANYONE should be subjugated to unethical employment and labor practices just because their employer can is rubbish…hey, is this what educational leadership has become, especially on the international school circuit? If so, then I’m in it to combat that type of injustice..effective.teachers “teach” because they truly care for the communities they serve…as an educational leader myself, I view my role as a support to them…but then reality sets in…and you think, “oh well…what’s the use?”

      Wonder where we would be if those who have given so much for the rights to justice had that same attitude…sometimes, one has to take a stand against injustice or we will never advance as a global society!

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  18. And no experience of administrative heavy handedness at international schools? Just (respectfully) asking.

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    • gillian says:

      thank you Scott, my point entirely. we should be supporting one another with advice, not making ourselves feel superior by attacking others.

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  19. boris9678 says:

    Lets put actual contract law and other legalities aside and just approach this from a place of “good practice.” We can start with the example of independent/private schools actually in the states. There are a variety of laws and procedures they don’t have to follow as closely as public schools because they don’t receive any public, especially federal, funding. Employment law and other provisions still apply but some issues regarding religion, free speech, and others are a bit messier. However, most independent schools still voluntary follow practices and policies that would fit within the legal requirements of publicly funded schools.

    International schools should consider a similar approach. At times local laws and/or customs will require some difference. At other times the market needs or other forces may also have an influence but international schools, especially those generally following an American curriculum, shouldn’t be violating some basic best practices in American education and general law.

    Keep in mind here that most independent/private school in the states don’t have unions, they use at-will contracts, are board directed non-profits, etc… International schools following the American independent school model are much more likely to have happy teachers, strong financials, and provide a great education. The increasing role of proprietary schools or schools trying to reflect an American public education system that is full of cracks are mostly likely to have issues.

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  20. dfresshh says:

    Can we cut all the conjecture already & get the opinion of somebody versed in international contract law?

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  21. RD says:

    The US Supreme Court in the Downes vs. Bidwell (1901) ruling decided that “The US Constitution does not follow the US Flag”. Everyone is always and only under the law of the country where they are. It’s too bad there are unethical people in the world – but – there are unethical people in the world.

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  22. Anonymous says:

    I will take up a teaching position with a leading International School, hired by an American Director in conjunction with an American principal and I will turn 60 within 6 months of taking up the position.

    I was lucky enough to have been offered other, attractive teaching positions, in Asia and one in a top tier European school after attending my very first job fair in January – so no evidence of age discrimination in my case.

    However, when asked to interview by some representatives from an Indonesian school I was grateful that they had indicated the age limit so I didn’t need to waste my time.
    Was I offended by the age limit ? NO -simply because that is the policy of that particular country ( and there a few with restrictions re granting work permits for those of us over 55)
    Similarly, I was impressed with the large number of prospective employers who were impressed with the wealth of experience a more mature teacher had to offer.

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  23. CL says:

    It is true that we cannot expect our laws to be applied in a different country but I do not agree with people in power who instead of trying to make a school better by hiring competent people insist on putting excuses such age, race or gender to decide who is getting a job or not.

    I think that it is the easy path just to do nothing and think that since we are in another country, we do not have the right to complaint or change things when they are wrong. It is so sad to think this in a way.

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  24. Two brief responses: What makes you think because you are in a foreign country you have no guarantees of standard labor conditons or democratic entitlements (e.g., right to petition, associate, organize, and express opinions)?? There are very few countries on the planet that don’t have some set of employment and civil entitlements set in law. The challenge is finding out what locat statutes provide and then having the backbone to seek the assistance needed to challenge abuses in the international school. Secondly, even if local labor and civil regulations are weak, there are always recourse through regional and international associations such as the ILO, the ICC, the International Commission of Human Rights. At least 80% of all the abuse I have seen in 25 years of international school work is directly the cause of teachers who are too intimidated to speak truth to power, and others who seem to somehow identify with autocratic administrators and take an absurd “put up or go home” line of defence.

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    • Interested... says:

      Hi…can you elaborate a bit more on the role that the ILO and the ICC may play in addressing an appalling employment situation…and having taught for several years overseas in a pretty liberal, Mid-Eastern country….I just wonder if those organizations can be or are effective in evoking a “change” in existing human rights abuses!…Thank you!

      PS:
      As professional educators (international or State-side), is it possible that others posting keep ugly and rude comments out of the conversation…constructive and informative points of view are what I am seeking…thank you!

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      • Thanks for the question, and I am very much in accordance with your “PS” comment. I think sometimes we forget that we really have some very basic common interests as overseas educators. Not actively supporting each other enough is of course one of the reasons those in power at international schools are able to make such a mockery of established labor guarantees.

        Regarding petitioning international bodies: Those agencies whose job it is to monitor, evaluate, and exert public and political pressure on states to comply with established international laws and standards invariably have a grievance procedure available to individuals. While of course the degree and scope of the kinds of abuses they routinely deal with far overshadow the kind of complaints you or I might express, it nonetheless remains their responsibility to review all grievances received and to issue a determination, e.g. whether there is grounds to investigate further. Without this mechanism in place to field individual complaint\s , many of the more momentous abuses in the world (such as child labor, ethnic cleansing, etc ) could very well remain hidden and unchallenged indefinitely.

        I personally have worked in several international schools where the director and principals were clearly violating basic labor standards in terms of contract violations, coerced extra gratuitous labor, overt stifling of basic rights of expression and association through threats, harrassments, and intimidation. I helped to launch a school-based teacher’s association for the purpose of representing the concerns of teachers and staff at a school in Africa recently. The administration and those who allied with her were nothing short of ruthless in preventing the group from openly expressing its views to the school board, or to anyone beyond the school itself. THAT in my opinion would and should have been a cause for a more formal labor grievance, either locally or through one of the larger agencies. I know full well that local agencies which oversee labor and civil rights can often be inefficient and prone to corruption, especially in developing countries. Yet, they remain a good starting point. Also, many international agencies have branch offices in developing countries, (ironically, many of the parents whose children we teach work for these agencies), and could serve as a more direct initial line of contact. With the exception of mass and extreme violations, such as genocide or large scale rape and forced labor, the most these agencies might do is serve to bring some open attention to a problem, perhaps informing the school that a complaint had been filed. This in itself, though, because of the potential legal action and loss of face implied, could very well go a long way toward moderating extreme work conditions. It is always a gamble, but the loss of a sense of self felt in doiing nothing in the face of injustic can far outweigh the risks. For those of us who feel sufficiently violated by the labor conditions and excesses against civil liberties at international schools, seeking outside help is certainly defensible and i have to believe will never be entirely wasted.

        What I see as sorely missing, though, is the “common will” of international educators to support each other through any kind of grievance process. Without some show of unity, it is very hard (although not impossible) for one person to pursue justice. Certainly without some kind of broad school support, the one noble person who steps forward can be marginalized and scapegoated, and their very livlihood brought into jeopardy. Ways to garner school wide support for labor and civil liberties concerns is another conversation, but one which is deeply needed. As is ways to begin to get media attention to some to the abhorant work and teaching condtions at many international schools. Dialogue is always a good place to begin.

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  25. Anonymous says:

    If the school receives any sort of grant money from the US government then the school is subject to US Law no matter what country the school is located in. School’s with US Embassy students usually are recipients of these grants. The most common are security grants, in the form of fencing, guards and video cameras.

    As of yet I haven’t seen a case brought up in the courts dealing with American International Schools but their are similar precedent cases, dealing with US court impacting foreign lands. The Lockerbie bombing case is one example.

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    • Anonymous says:

      US isn’t even giving grant money to schools on US soil any more. Who are they funding overseas? Not very many, I’d say.

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    • Snorks says:

      only DOD schools are subject to laws and they use to be the schools to get into but so many have closed the last 10 years and the existing ones have lost so much funding that they are just like regular tier 2 schools

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      • Anonymous says:

        Any school which receives federal funding no matter which country it is in, is subject to federal law. If you are an International school and an offer for US federal grant money is an option think long and hard about it’s long term consequences. Make sure the school lawyers are alright with it.

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  26. Anonymous says:

    I have been teaching internationally since 1986… almost 30 years. I love education. I am an education consultant as well as a teacher. I have planted schools and aided many in going through accreditation as well as in marketing, pedagogical training, curriculum planning or HR management. Many of the teachers I have trained or that have started out with me are now heads and principals of their own schools. I have also served, at times, as a head or principal in several schools over the years. In all this I can share that every experience is a different one, and not always pleasant. One thing that many seem to miss is that directors/principals/heads are quite often not in a position of authority, at least in the context of western thinking. We from the West feel that a CEO (which a principal or head actually is) should be actually in charge, make decisions and should have support from their board (who generally consist of men and women without the qualifications to make the decisions necessary to run the operation). Responsibility and authority should and must be balanced. In the East, it is quite the contrary. The “board” is often only a legal formality for a single decision-maker (main stakeholder) to hide behind, and those even on the board wishing to voice an opinion are quietly gotten rid of. The next step “down”, would be the Director/Principal/HoS… these are usually expats from the West for reasons of image only (for clients), but have little or no real authority (all decisions being unilaterally made from the hidden stakeholder upstairs). That doesn’t mean that they were hired with that understanding, but once in place.. things change quickly. The survivors out here tend to be extremely flexible, bide their time and try to be as much of a buffer as possible for their staff without upsetting the powers that be. Others, that stand on principle (forgive the pun) tend to be set up ruthlessly from the board for a quick “execution”. The weapons used to expedite the execution are unreal and shocking, always ending in the board looking squeaky clean and the ex-director or principal being the bad guy. Gossip, slander, outright lying.. bringing in others who “bear false witness” and slowly and thoroughly taking out the leader by undermining him or her. This usually starts with dropping seeds with the leader’s subordinates and parents, often at church (!) and quickly accelerates into a massive pogrom of nonsense. I have seen a board, with over 60 years experience in local school management, which is extremely adept at throwing their leaders (local and foreign) under a bus. In their international school- 3 expat directors in the first 3 years of operation.. the math says it all. This board (accountants and architects.. also having been reported to ISR) which is out of their depth in international education, nevertheless insisted on making all operational decisions and informing the directors and principals later. Any attempt to slow them down when making huge errors in judgement were met with “it’s already been decided” and the voice of reason and experience is usually quashed- the directives are forcibly implemented. Once done and the mistakes made- the results are usually disastrous. When the clients react to this, the board quickly and expediently meets secretly with parents, brings in a new “trouble shooter” and promises to get to the bottom of the problem… reports to them it was an error made by the director or principal, and forces another change. One parent wisely figured it out after the third execution. He realized that 3 out of 3 couldn’t all possibly be wrong and decided to do his own investigation and what he found was shocking. 1 of these “roadkill” victims is now on sitting on the board of a large school in a western country, doing quite well, and another is the principal of a large school in the US, also doing quite well. I am thankful I was able to do the digging to find out what really happened here. The board screwed up in a big way. Not their fault actually, it’s just their culture and nature. They operate on a very different bandwidth than we do. I often try to get this image in my mind: If some guy is playing with snakes and gets bitten, it does no good to be angry at the snake, it’s just following its nature. The guys needs to take ownership that it was his decision to play in the first place! If the snake turns out to be venomous, and he didn’t know it, he still needs to realize he should have done his homework. Snakes need to eat, and don’t often advertise the fact to their victims.
    Teachers and clients when frustrated in a school target the head as being arrogant or corrupt. But in the context of international education, that isn’t always the case. Of course, I’ve seen some incompetent leadership as well. But I have seen very good men and women being trapped into positions that were awful, and who did their very best to do it right while trying to educate the stakeholders (who were at best unteachable) and who were quite often were just ‘toying” with the foreigner until a bus came along when they needed to escape another round of poor judgement or decision making.
    My advice to anyone wishing to enter international education: It can be rewarding. It often is. But know that our laws and ways of thinking just might not be applicable out here. Our position is one of adaptability and sensitivity to a new culture. Right and wrong are often flipped. It can be an Alice in Wonderland trip, or a Narnia one. And, as happens, one from Dante’s Inferno. Roll the dice, take a chance and find out. But know that not all is as it seems out here. In the end, you will come out wiser, stronger and better suited for leadership due to having been through a wringer not seen back home.
    I hope I have been of some help. Best wishes to you all.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Thank you so much for this honest approach. Much appreciated.

      Like

    • American principal says:

      I agree. Being a principal doesn’t mean you have the autonomy to make decisions. Often times the Board or members of the Board have hidden agendas. What the Board presents to the prospective principal and what the newly hired principal discovers once they are in situ can be light years apart.

      The vice chairman of the board of the school I recently resigned from made secret deals with parents and guaranteed the parents their child would graduate. The parents were charged double and triple tuition and fees. When confronted with the facts, the vice chairman lied.

      Staff and faculty salaries were often arbitrarily docked based on the whims of the vice chairman. As the principal, if I was informed of the deduction, it was always after the fact.

      The vice chairman felt as if she was above the local law and had no problem breaking immigration and labor laws. As the principal, I had no control of these areas. Staff and faculty were working illegally and were told their work permits and residence visas were being processed. This was simply not true because the school was blacklisted by government agencies for multiple violations of labor law, immigration regulations, health/safety agencies and the equivalent of the board of education. As the principal I was ordered not to disclose any information I had to any member of staff or risk legal actions.

      US law doesn’t apply in sovereign countries. Age discrimination is often times de rigeur and set by the host country. Equal opportunity employment is not the norm in non-western countries. Before anyone considers accepting a contract, do your homework. Multiple principals/directors indicate an unstable board and school. Large turnover of staff is also an indication of an unstable school.

      If possible and if I have the green light to employ teachers, I always try to hire a well balanced group with all ages represented. Depending upon the country this can be difficult to accomplish as the laws of the host country are discriminatory.

      Teaching overseas is rewarding. I’ve been living and working overseas my entire professional life except for one year in the US. I’m proud to be an American but not naive in thinking my home country laws and practices are applicable outside of the US.

      Like

    • primadonna says:

      Excellent article, I believe, based on my years of experience as an international teacher. Thank you.

      Like

    • jaja says:

      I have similar experience to the above poster and agree with what they say. The world of international education is governed by many factors, which vary from country to country and from one owner/board to another, and, as he says, “our laws and culture might not be applicable..” Know, right from the start, when you enter international teaching, that nothing is permanent and that you must be prepared to leave if you or your integrity feel compromised, threatened or taken advantage of. This is the nature of the beast; sometimes wonderful, sometimes terrible. But you can rarely seek redress from your country of origin, whatever the reason whether financial or practical, so, again, be prepared.

      Like

  27. Jon Cristofer Miller says:

    Several times, I have received job offers that were rescinded when the local government official refused to issue the “Foreign Expert” visas. On the other side of the coin, a “Director of Studies” used the practice to rid himself of experienced teachers in favor of cheaper ones.

    Like

  28. Expat from MN says:

    Administrators have no protection from owners and boards either in international schools. Those who invest have the say of how the school is run and the parents who are paying the tuition have a say or they go to another school.

    Like

  29. Meschi says:

    Dear All,

    You have to pay attention to the laws of the country that you are working, in and in the majority of cases hiring ages for a school.. US law does not count much. I have lived outside of the US 30 years or so with a a year or two in there. These rules apply to teachers and everyone else as well, all nationalities.

    Like

  30. weedonald says:

    We are all hostages to those reprehensible dictators whose careers floundered in North America but who have found the safe-haven of owner-managed or board directed international schools. There they can run riot over any normal rights and protections and can easily influence or ignore the laws, courts and human rights in the host country with relative impunity. They are often aided and abetted by the aforementioned owners and boards because, as one autocrat told me repeatedly, ¨teachers are a dime-a-dozen and we can do what we want, regardless of what they say or do! ¨
    An international association or brotherhood (sisterhood?) of educators will be a very hard sell for the following reasons:

    1) It has to have impact in every country where members are applying. If such an organization is prohibited in a specific region or country, its influence is also limited.
    2) Too many so-called international educators are against such a collective movement to protect their rights, curiously enough.
    3) Managing and administering such an organization would be complex indeed, but not impossible. It would be quite expensive and require a lot of staff.
    4) Teacher recruitment organizations would likely resist such an organization because it would add extra expense and limit candidate selection and options significantly. Recruitment organizations kiss the buyers posteriors, not the teachers.
    5) Schools will try and bypass such an organization by hiring non-members. Unfortunately there are enough desperate educators out there who will collaborate willingly in bypassing their own colleagues. That said, once a few more are abused and demeaned by schools, they’d likely boost the brotherhood’s membership rapidly enough.
    6) The cost of being a member would have to be low enough that it was financially attractive to be a member. Worldwide, there is a concerted effort by the rich and profiteering owners of business and organizations to eliminate unions and collective bargaining rights entirely……so the battle has been joined!

    I am a big believer in syndicalism, teachers’ rights and responsible collective bargaining but it would take hundreds, if not thousands of others to collaborate in forming such a brotherhood….not an easy sell and very challenging indeed.

    Like

    • dfresshh says:

      Great points, important issues to consider, how to make an international teacher’s union. Maybe connect up with a union in the country you teach in if there is one? At least we could have some knowledge of recourse, some solidarity.

      Like

      • Anonymous says:

        suggest the United Nations since it global reach would have resilience for everyone

        Like

        • Your good will is palatable, and appreciated. It is my opinion that the lack of basic labor safeguards at so many international schools, (I am sure we could exchange stories for hours), is undeniably scandalous. Worthy of a good, extended bout of muckraking, whistle blowing, media exposure, and appropriate NGO investigation. And then there is the elephant-on-the-sofa conversation about how international schools promote and reinforce brutal inequalities in host poor countries. Tragic that a global educational system with the potential to do so much good in the world falls so terribly short of making the mark..

          Like

          • dfresshh says:

            Uh oh, now we’re getting real…Yes, agree there is so much potential in teaching internationally, but also harm. I worry about how America & Americans are perceived overseas through the lense of international schools. What sort of example or leadership is being set. Would be interested in your elaborating more on how brutal inequalities are reinforced through international schools.

            Like

            • RD says:

              I would think the fact that we get paid a significant amount more with significantly more benefits just for being Americans reinforces the inequality…as does the fact that most schools will take that all away if you marry a local, as if you’re worth less just because you fell in love with a local person instead of another American.

              Like

    • We could begin by registering as an international nongovernmental organization, establishing a mailing list of teachers at international schools, sending out notices seeking those interested (perhaps request one designated representative per school), making up a list of members, and begining an internet based process of writing a list of goals and principles, governing guidelines, and scope of involvement. From there, through grassroots democratic processes, we could move in any direction we (collectively) deemed valuable, so long as we stayed true to our nonprofit / NGO status and our founding documents. I’m in: lyonsjlee@gmail.com

      Like

  31. Second Time Around says:

    If you think subjecting yourself to poor treatment all in the name that you’re in a country then come on over to my place and let me pay you half what I promised and cut your shipping allowance. I need more people like you that like to be treated like dirt.

    Like

    • Wilbert says:

      If you did that, I have the resources and ability to go somewhere else to work. It would be your loss. But the fact that you want to treat people like dirt shows that you are in the right racket.

      By the way, show me an example of an American being tried in US court for not hiring someone who was ‘too old’. You’re barking up an imaginary tree.

      Like

      • dfresshh says:

        Wilbert, lucky for you to have these resources. What if you weren’t so priveleged to be able to up and flee? What then?…Think you missed the sarcasm of Second Time Around inviting us all over to his place to be treated like dirt…

        Like

  32. Second Time Around says:

    To poster number one. I think you missed the point. When a director acts in a way that breaks with ethical conduct, such as changing contract terms upon a teacher’s arrival, canceling health insurance or withholding pay for trumped up charges, he or she is acting outside the law and getting away with because he is in an area of the world where labor laws don’t exist or are not enforced.
    If you think this is okay because you are in a country where this can be got away with, then you really should examine your reasoning.

    To poster number 2. You are wrong. Any American that commits a crime against another American while on foreign soil can be held accountable for that action in a US court. Do your homework!!!

    Like

    • Tee says:

      Hmmm…I did not miss the point of the post. You clearly have, as you have added information not stated in the original post. You have gotten personal. Where do you see what you stated mentioned in the post? I didn’t see anything about someone committing a crime. Sounds like the director is going by the law of the country, which should be the case. As I stated before, GO HOME if you don’t agree with laws that differ from the US.

      Like

      • dfresshh says:

        Wow, Tee, brilliant. “Go home if you don’t like it!” That’s the most insidious comment possible. Looks like we could all brush up on our international contract law and what to do if we are wronged. While I admit to not knowing what could be done, this is the best you can tell someone trying to find justice in a foreign land? Come on, you can do better than that.

        Like

        • Chris says:

          The justice you find in a foreign land with its own laws is unlikely to be the same as you find in the US

          Like

        • Snorks says:

          That is the nature of the beast of this job, we dont have rights, except that or stay home, that is why you try to work at the best school you can get, so you will hopefully be treated justly, so dont go somewhere and complain. Any teacher of the circuit with half a brain has a little stash to fly out if s— hits the fan. Complainers never get it, that is okay makes it easier for me to get a job at tier 1 schools. what are you going to do if wronged sue them ridiculous, in egypt, thailand, china, mexico, by the time you get to court, after spending thousand of dollars, over stay your visa, they might award you 1/3 of what you spend staying there while you waited and missed the new hiring season,

          We are visitors to their countries, I hear but it is wrong, read what bill gates told recent grads, “the world isnt fair”

          Like

        • Snorks says:

          Find justice in Mexico, China, Egypt, Colombia, Japan, you are obviously living in stateside heaven.

          Like

    • Andrew says:

      We’re not talking about a crime here. Just something that wouldn’t be done in an outrageously litigious USA.

      Like

      • Actually…breach of contract IS a crime in the US under certain circumstances. The action has to be considered larcenous, which means that the plaintiff has to prove that the defendant willfully withheld promised funds or “stole” contract monies. It’s hard to do when the defendant is the funder of the contract, but it can happen.

        Like

  33. Wilbert says:

    This is what the internet has done to international education. Not so long ago, the people who made it overseas to teach had a greater sense of adventure and more travel sense. Now, anyone can find out about it and, because they’ve watched some movies, or traveled lightly, they head out to work overseas. Then when the reality of living on foreign soil kicks in, you get posts like this.

    Like

    • Tee says:

      Wilbert, this is why I am often embarrassed to admit I am an American. The ignorance and ARROGANCE is unbelievable!

      Like

      • Andrew says:

        The difference in the USA is that we allow anyone to say pretty much anything they like – whether it is fact or fiction or overblown. I’d suggest the OP isn’t telling the real story.

        Like

      • Anonymous says:

        Where do you live and what do you teach? I am never ashamed to be American.

        If you hate it that much, renounce your American citizenship and become a permanent citizen of wherever you are teaching.

        Like

        • Stephen says:

          Off topic. How can an anonomous person ask someone else to give personal information?
          The issue here is the behaviour of the principal. Unfortunately many principals arrive in foreign counties with high ideals of focusing on educational excellence but soon become disillusioned puppets of their employers.
          Sadly, most international schools are businesses where money counts.
          In Rome you do as the Romans do and sometimes principals have to ged rid of the “old dogs” if they have to change policies and the “oldies” dont want to change and speak their minds..
          Some international principals are idiots and they usually don’t make it for more than their first contract term.
          Here where I work the wisdom of a riper age is highly valued. Backpacker teachers are no asset to any school – the more mature teachers tend to stay longer but rarely you get older teachers who don’t do a lot more than collect their cheques.
          It’s true that the country of residence makes the laws and it’s also true that a lot of the so called first world countries thrive on the exploitation of individuals in the so called developing nations.
          Think about big brand factories and construction companies hiring workers and paying them nothing.
          Being an expat teacher does not elevate me to a level where i can expect special treatment. Most school owners see teachers (and principals) as hired hands that can easily be replaced.
          The challenge is to love and educate the children and not focus on these things that we can do nothing about.
          I am thankful to be a happy South-African expat teacer.

          Like

      • Snorks says:

        I confront this image of americans as ignorant and arrogant every country i work for, and sadly as an American, I agree, people here that have actually worked overseas (forget the ones stateside) are arguing for countries to respect american law, I must agree with the world attitude about my countrymen, sad we are on the downslope, learn mandarin, because that is where we are headed

        Like

  34. Wilbert says:

    Who told you that ‘an American who breaks US constitutional law is subject to legal proceedings in the US? Why would any organization in a foreign country have to follow American rules? Just because they have ‘American’ in the name?

    Maybe I’m jaded from living and traveling overseas for so long, but I can’t even imagine why anyone would be hoping from protections from the American government in a different country.

    If a Libyan opened a private school in the U.S. would it be reasonable that they were beholden to Libyan laws above U.S. laws? No, of course not.

    The best that you could hope for is to make a report to the U.S. Embassy, which may have someone on the Board. They may support the school, which would make the school beholden to the money, but not the laws.

    My experience has been that you are lucky to get an international school to follow the laws of the host country, let alone some ideal that you have about American laws applying to everywhere in the world.

    Like

  35. Tee says:

    If you want to abide by American law, go back to America. An international American school usually means that an American curriculum is being taught, not that American laws are enforced.

    Every country has its own laws, and many differ from the US. That being said, foreigners should research the country before committing, or stay home.

    I have worked in Egypt, and now Thailand…laws are different, I am a visitor, and if I don’t like it, I can go home.

    I suspect many Americans would be pissed if foreigners, or visitors would try to implement their country’s laws and beliefs in the US.

    Like

    • Gordie says:

      This is why age discrimination through employment procedures is rife outside of western countries especially at International Schools. Try being an older teacher (I mean over 40) applying for positions at International Schools in Malaysia. Unless you get in through nepotism, forget it. The Principals know they can get away with it. They promote the ‘values’ of their country and yet they use the developing world employment procedures. Luckily for me, I have an employer in Malaysia who values all teachers of any age.

      Like

      • Andrew Somers says:

        Are you aware that the country of Malaysia has a mandatory retirement age? Same in Indonesia (60, there). It’s cultural as well.

        Like

    • dfresshh says:

      What are you teaching about at your school? Anything about fairness, contracts, the rule of law, etc.? Not sure why what you are supposed to be teaching about, American values, should be so divorced from school principles. Why are you even teaching if this doesn’t matter? As foreigners in foreign lands we need to be especially concious of the examples we are setting, that we aren’t a bunch of frauds saying one thing and doing something else entirely. The democracy in our classes must be present in school policies and actions.

      Like

      • Snorks says:

        dfresshh, you sound like a preacher, we are not going over to help teach the natives, We teach critical thinking.

        Like

        • dfresshh says:

          Snarks: Who is this We you speak of? Not me. You teach nothing of the Constitution or rule of law in your classes? Or fairness if teaching younger students, conflict resolution, doing what you say you will, bullying, etc.? Obviusly, people paying the big bucks to send their kids to an international school have some interest in American culture or western concepts of democracy, as well as American education styles, the English language, & prestige. I see nothing critical toward your boss in your comments, this critical thinking, which I agree is important. If you see a preacher in me, amen brother. I see something of a bully in yourself sir, one who will undercut his fellow teachers at any opportunity to get ahead, land that next tier 1 job, etc. So there.

          Like

          • dfresshh says:

            Never said anything about installing US laws in other countries, not sure where you get this. But am saying that signing a contract should mean something to both parties doing the signing. Would also guess that in most countries this also is the case. The problem would obviously be one of enforcement or making sure that teachers have each others backs in the event of a breech. Though just complaining about things has little value without a focus on results.

            Like

            • john lyons says:

              Having each others backs” has been and probably always will be one of our biggest challenges. I have seen many situations in which the active willingness of teachers to turn a blind eye to abuse and excess, openly justify and rationalize legally and ethically questionable school directives, actively ally with administrators and help to scapegoat other teachers who find the courage and integrity to resist (this is perhaps the most mystifying of all), passively comply with policies that are clearly intended to exploit and intimidate, or attempt to cut their own preferential deal with admnistrators behind the scenes while heads are rolling around them were so commonplace that it sincerely has led me to believe instructors are often a much larger obstacle to decent labor standards and democratic change at international schools than are administrators or directors!! Go figure.

              Like

    • George Carpouzis says:

      Tee! Remember this blog when you are a bit older in age, are happy in one school yet an injustice happens to you or a director gets on your case because he/she feels like it. You can’t always just get up and go home.

      Like

    • gillian says:

      I take your point but what the writer was refering to was not a director following the laws of the host country and I find this consistant attitude, ‘well if you don’t like it go home’ very annoying. Many teachers are treated very badly by directors and heads whose actions don’t conform to any laws, UK, American, host country or common decency. In many countries, and I have worked in four, directors do what they like because they can and contracts are worthless. In one school, mine was changed 3 times in 3 years. This was nothing to do with the law in the host country as my contract was not valid there anyway. The country had very strict labour laws but none applied to me. Andrew and Kevin, you should take the exploitation of your colleagues more seriously and if you haven’t experienced this, then you are fortunate. This forum is supposed to support others but I do agree that, when working abroad we should try to concentrate on the positives.

      Like

      • I’m wondering, Tee, are you an international, who is anti-American? Or, are you an American, who has now considers herself/himself intellectually superior to Americans now that you are teaching abroad? You seem very judgmental of people. There are those of us, who believe that some things in America have value in an international setting. In this case, I believe that American law has it right. Workers do need some protections. This concept is also accepted by most developed countries. However, Tee, from the tenor of your response, it sounds like you don’t buy into the concept that employers should be fair to employees and that workers do have some rights. What about freedom of speech? Do you think all people, who believe in that basic right, should go back to America too?

        Like

    • This only applies to schools that are not sponsored by the State Department. If they are, then they are subject to American laws.

      What I find more troubling is how many schools are intertwined with national systems of foreign countries. If an “American school” is teaching to local standards or does not seek a diverse population reflective of international schools, then I really think it should not call itself an American school. That’s certainly a problem at many so-called “international schools,” and it defeats the purpose of having one — just call it a fancy private school so teachers are clear on what they are getting into.

      Like

      • Andrew Somers says:

        Cruise through school names in the middle east. Any school can call itself “American.” There’s no limitation on this. BTW, being a sponsored school (by the State Department) does not in any way require a school to follow US law. Schools are to follow the laws of the country in which they operate.

        Like

        • I teach in the Middle East, so believe me, I know.

          The Office of Overseas Schools pretty clearly states that schools sponsored through the State Department are expected to follow State Department rules to retain support. There are resources available for teachers in need if they are at one of these schools.

          Please see the State Department site for details: http://www.state.gov/m/a/os/

          Like

          • Anonymous says:

            Really? So all of those schools follow all US Labor Laws? All of those schools adhere to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act? I don’t think so.

            So which US laws are they required to follow?

            Like

          • Anonymous says:

            That’s correct, that’s why the list of school’s on the State Department page is so little. Those school’s follow those rules and that’s why those school are Tier 1.

            Like

            • Snowden says:

              Even the schools that are sponsored by the State Department don’t give a crap about U.S. laws. I can also assure you, from personal experience, The Office of Overseas Schools doesn’t give a crap either. They’ve been notified of the egregious abuses of the director and former principal I used to work for and did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about it. I KNOW THIS FOR A FACT. If you want be certain you’re working for someone who cares about you, look in the mirror. That’s about the only place you’re going to find someone who truly fits that description.

              You’re in a foreign land, your contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on, many of the directors are in bed with the recruitement companies and the Office of Overseas Schools and they will try to have you black-balled if you fight back after your rights are violated. If you get fired, for the rest of your career you have to state it on your application every time you go for a new job. I assure you, there’s a director and a principal out there who will think long and hard before making up lies about someone in order to fire them in the future.

              We must stop these corrupt bullies, even if it means destroying their personal lives by exposing their perverse lifestyles, finding out where they’re hiding the kick-backs they’re getting from lease agreements for school housing and exposing it, or by reporting their undervalued properties in the U.S. in order to increase their property taxes. Let’s make ’em hurt. Let’s make ’em think about what they’re doing if they think they’re above the law.

              Like

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