Peccadilloes & Other Innocent Transgressions

May 23, 2013

peccadillo_1_45637465A peccadillo is a “petty, little offense or sin.” And as you can imagine, a peccadillo in one culture may carry no overtones or negative connotations in another. For example, sitting in such a way that you expose the bottom of your feet to someone is considered an insult in Thailand and certainly something that fits the definition of a peccadillo. Unfortunately, the reality is that an innocent peccadillo could land you in jail as we just saw in the case of Dorje Gurung who went to prison in Qatar for using the word “terrorist” while talking to taunting 12-year-old students at Qatar Academy.

International Educators aren’t the only ones who accidentally commit peccadilloes. President George H. Bush, caused himself a hugh problem in 1992. While driving past a group of farmers demonstrating against US farm subsidies in Canberra, Australia, he thought he was giving them the peace sign when he was actually telling these farmers to ‘f#@k off.’ After being told about his peccadillo, the President apologized. Even a simple ‘thumbs up’ can get you trouble in some cultures. Most everyone recognizes the ‘thumbs up’ gesture as a sign for good or A-OK. But in the Middle East, a ‘thumbs up’ has the same meaning as the American middle finger thrust upwards gesture.

As International Educators, we obviously don’t enjoy the same support and security as American politicians who travel accompanied by the full protection of the US government. No, as international educators we are dependent on our schools to stand up for us should we inadvertently cause a few bruised feelings. The ISR web site is dotted with Reviews, Blog and Forum posts in which teachers describe how they unknowingly offended a rich parent, or disciplined a student and found themselves detained and/or jailed. Sadly, in most cases their schools abandoned them.

A recent post to the ISR Forum tells of a teacher’s experience in the Philippines in which his school called immigration and had him arrested for reporting the inappropriate relationship between a teacher and a 15-year-old female student to authorities. The school called it “libel” because the report brought unfavorable attention to the school. “In hindsight, it was a pretty cool adventure. At the time, I thought I was dead. We had a 6′ x 8′ cell for six of us. They gave me the bed (a raised bamboo platform) because they felt sorry for me. The other prisoners were incredibly kind. After I got out, I visited all of their families with messages and big bags of rice because I owed them so much for being so good to me.”

ISR can help you know if a school stands up for its teachers or simply throws them under the bus during a peccadillo crisis. Additionally, you’ll want to learn all you can about a school’s location and its culture before you arrive. Imagine landing in Kuwait and upon being cleared at immigration you give the agent a big ‘thumbs’ up…Now that’s a peccadillo!!

To read & share first-hand information on living in Asia, Africa. the Americas, Europe and the Middle East, ISR invites you to visit our What’s It Really Like to Live Here Blog/series. Remember: a peccadillo shared means a colleague may be spared.

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A Parent/Board Member Speaks Out on For-Profit Schools!

May 16, 2013

legal_matters44019925Dear ISR,
I read with interest your recent article about legal threats made by schools and their attorneys against ISR. Apparently, reviews considered critical of schools, or the people who run them, have the potential to hurt some feelings. From my perspective as an executive in a multinational corporation (currently living in Asia), I recognize this knee-jerk reaction. A loud threat from attorneys is the way of business everywhere in the world.

  I had a brief experience working as a substitute board member for the international school in which our daughters are enrolled. A sitting member became ill, had to leave the country for treatment, and I was invited to step in for the remainder of the school year. In my time there I saw that this school was in all ways focused on the financial advantages of “providing an education.” In many ways, they ran a much tighter ship than my boss at my corporate job. This experience opened my eyes as to the disparity between the sense of caring found in public schools back home and the hard line profit motive found in private schools. This was a startling realization for me. Schools and teachers carry an aura of hope to save/help the world; but the reality is, this private school, and I would imagine others, was purely a money-making endeavor.

  I believe international teachers need to keep this financial focus in mind when applying to teach at private schools. Owners most certainly see you as a commodity and your value for XYZ School may be simply to provide one small cog in the wheel that drives the school. Yes, you may be a superb teacher with a heart full of life-enriching talent and knowledge to share with your students and administrators. But, more importantly to the school, you are a Western face in front of the classroom, a promotional tool to get more wealthy local and expat parents to enroll their children. It may be hard to accept that you’re just not that special to these school owners and your opinions and suggestions, however well intended and enriching, may not be welcomed. That is simply the truth of operating a business focused on profits.

  During my time as board member, conflicts arose when a teacher (and his division) pushed for sweeping changes to align the school more with the American education system. Although the school follows American accreditation requirements and the school is considered an “American International” school, these costly changes were never approved and ultimately, the teacher was drummed out of the school in an ugly manner for his efforts. I, too, found that I was seen as a nuisance in calling for fairness when dealing with this teacher and his frustration over the situation. I could see that he was trying to implement his leadership skills to guide the school in becoming the best “American” school possible.

  I have a new-found appreciation for my children’s teachers and coaches. When faced with a strictly for-profit motive, these teachers consistently carry out their duties, act like enthusiastic professionals and deliver a top-notch education. I salute their dedication and commitment in the face of what must be, at times, a miserable experience. The reviews I have read of this school on ISR mirror what I saw happening as a temporary board member.

  That being said, I applaud the communication and advice shared on ISR. Teachers take care of each other by writing reviews to laud good schools and administrators, and warn about others. Parents like myself search the reviews to find where good people are directing quality schools, where teachers are treated fairly and with respect. That’s where I want MY children to go!

Just remember, it’s business as usual no matter what country you work in.

(name withheld by request)

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Qatar Academy Teacher Jailed Over Alleged Insults to Islam

May 9, 2013

Doha News  reports on May 9, 2013:

“Dorje Gurung, a chemistry teacher at Qatar Academy, was seen this morning leaving the court in handcuffs. If convicted, Article 256 of the Penal Code dictates that he could face up to seven years in jail.

“On Monday, April 22, Gurung said he had a sit-down chat with three 12-year-old boys who were making fun of him. Among other things, the seventh graders poked fun at his appearance, calling him ‘Jackie Chan.’ On Tuesday, April 23, the mocking again began in earnest while Gurung was in line for lunch. At first, he said the teasing was light-hearted, but then one student put his hand on Gurung’s shoulder and a finger up his nose. At this point, Gurung grew agitated and said remarks to the effect of ‘How would you like to be stereotyped i.e. called a terrorist?'”

The Qatar Academy confirms that after formal complaints were made ‘appropriate’ action was taken. Doha News reports: “On Wednesday, April 24, Gurung had a meeting with school management. On Thursday, April 25, he submitted his account of what happened and was told to go home. On Sunday, April 28, he was fired.”

A Qatar Academy colleague, who asked to remain anonymous, told Doha News that the ordeal has had a ‘chilling effect’ on faculty members:

“A lot of teachers are very nervous about their own jobs. If they reprimand or discipline students, what’s going to happen to them?

“It’s all very unfortunate. These 12-year-olds have really spun it out. Almost every year, a teacher has been let go for obscure reasons. Everyone is really upset and anxious.”


See ISR’s Letter to Eric Sands (Director of Qatar Academy)

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Sign the Petition to Release Dorje Gurung

Let’s Talk: Legal Matters

May 2, 2013

hammerIt can be stressful here at ISR when a school or attorney threatens us. Usually they express outrage over a poor Review or a critical Comment and want it removed. These schools would like us to prune Reviews to represent their school as they think they should be seen rather than as Reviewed by their teachers on ISR.

Some excerpts from recent mail:

We consider this as an abuse from an unethical few teachers. And you as professionals, we expect you to take action towards these reviews, or at least remove their posts. Otherwise, unfortunately we have to take a legal action towards the owners of the web site.

If all libellous comments are not removed within 31 days of this notice, or libels are repeated in the future, legal action will be taken in the US, UK and Malaysia, and substantial compensation will be sought.

What has been posted on your web site is a pack of lies by people who failed to do their jobs and were let go during the two month probation period. Also please note, that what’s written under Director Report is personal slander and libel. If you don’t remove the post immediately you will hear from the school lawyer. (see blog for more letters)

You will be receiving a letter shortly from our attorney.

I hope you will see the wisdom of this request as if not I am authorised to begin legal proceedings against your company as we consider you to have been complicit in this libel. If the material is deleted we will consider the matter closed.

I formally request that all comments that are personally related to myself (and totally inaccurate) are removed before I decide to take legal action. I await your confirmation of removal of the slanderous / libelous comments…

We should add that in light of the nature of the violating content and your refusal to cooperate the damages could be substaintial….You should take legal advice if you are in any doubt abut the seriousness of this matter. Please confirm if you have instructed lawyers and, if so, ask them to confirm they are authorized to accept proceedings on your behalf.

Of course, we take these letters seriously. Still, we’re waiting for someone to call and lavishly praise ISR for the outstanding reviews we host of  their school and leadership.

ISR would like to confirm that when you join ISR you become a member of a global network of International Educators Keeping Each Other Informed. ISR does NOT remove Reviews. Although at times it would be an easy way out, we will not allow overbearing individuals to force ISR into hiding the stark truth of poor schools and/or leadership, as reported by teachers in the field.

An ISR member sums up the situation succinctly: “If these directors only worried about why so many people leave their schools and address the problems, rather than blaming others, they might actually begin to solve some problems and improve their schools in the process.”

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