The 3 Things YOU Absolutely Must Know Before Signing On

top-threeIf you were able to know just 3 things about an International school before signing a contract, what would those 3 things be, assuming, that is, you’ll be provided with absolutely truthful answers?

Michelle, an ISR staff member, said she would want to know: Does the school consistently honor its contractual obligations? Followed by, How international is the school? She elaborated, “A classroom of 30 Pakistani boys, some with dual citizenship, does not an International school make.” And third, How adept are the kids at speaking English? “Try teaching high school English Lit (think, George Orwell) to kids who can barely ask to use the bathroom in English!”

Ben’s response was completely different: His number one question, Can I see the benefits package? You know, air fares, moving, housing, insurance, that sort of stuff. Followed by, What sort of support can I expect from Admin? In other words, are teachers supported against powerful parents? And number three, Is there 100% academic integrity?

Both Ben and Michelle agree that having no more information than completely truthful answers to their 3 questions would be enough to base a decision to commit, or not commit, to an International school. Of course, both are seasoned International teachers who expect to experience some awkward situations with specifics of a new school, admin and location.

Without a doubt, singles in search of a vibrant social life will have different top priorities than couples. Seasoned International educators will have different priorities than “newbies”, while those traveling with children or non-teaching spouses will have different criteria still.

In our effort to make ISR an ever evolving tool to help our Members make informed decisions, ISR asks: If YOU could know only 3 things about a school before you signed/or refused a contract, what would those 3 things be? To help qualify your response, please precede your answer with a status update–(i.e.: I am single/married, have children, number of schools taught at, years overseas).

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22 thoughts on “The 3 Things YOU Absolutely Must Know Before Signing On

  1. Dear Jettekh,

    Thanks for the comment. As regards visitors visa’s (some cannot understand why experienced Teachers advise against going on one) you can have a trouble free run for 9 schools and the tenth can go terribly wrong. NOTHING TAKES AWAY THE FACT EVEN IF IT GOES WELL THAT YOU ARE WORKING ILLEGALLY AND YOU KNOW IT AND YOUR CONSULATE ETC WILL NOT HELP YOU. BUYER BEWARE!! Mea Culpta


  2. (married, overseas 12 years)
    1- May I see a full copy of your latest accreditation report?
    2- May I have a name and telephone number of a current teacher at the school, preferably one from my country or teaching my subject?
    3- Why would a teacher leave employment at this school — Why did the last teacher leave?


  3. I believe the ideology of international education, where staff were valued, where we were of equal value no matter what position we were in has long departed. . Then I believe we could teach, we could inspire, we could grow. The world of international education was new, we were the pioneers, those young or then some who wanted something more than home could give, the new media out there that showed us the world.

    What we are faced with today, is a whole lot of owners who have bought a school as a business model, take in school fees pay out salaries, accommodation and other monies. As a business they have expenses and have budgets of their own to meet, their lifestyle challenges. Teachers become commodities and no longer valued or respected as knowledgeable talented people. They become sheep lost in the translation, the translation of what a minute I’m pretty darn great at what I do and you need to value what I can bring.

    So the long and short of it is while we all have high and mighty ideals of what we want in a school, we are nothing more than someone on paper or a Skype or personal interview, we have no relationship with our impending school, ask away but your ideals will be sort by you and you alone. .


  4. Hey people – I’m wondering if you read the question. It simply asks for the three things you must know about before taking a job. It also tells you that in this hypothetical situation the Director is telling the absolute truth in response to your questions. I’m very interested in what your responses and what seasoned educators find important. would be to this question, so could we please stay on topic? Please?


  5. Dear China Teacher, Your comments are naive as that is not what happens in many places in the Middle East and other GCC countries plus other places. In one school I worked at in Kuwait we were denied as a management team to read the report from a consultancy that visited from England.. When a new Principal started and she asked for the report and demanded to know why we had not read it and acted on in we got the opportunity to read it and improve in areas noted. So please do not assume that things are the same in every country.


  6. Virtually all of these questions can be summarized in these two questions: (1) Is the school accredited by a major western accrediting agency, and (2) may I please see the latest accreditation report?

    An accreditation team asks, and actively investigates, all of your questions and more. Why take it upon your lonely self to vett the school when the experts have already done it? (or not)


  7. Like Catherine and anonymous below (at 10:21 am), I too have been burned with filthy apartments… vomit, cockroaches, you name it. It is a crucial indicator to what lies ahead. In fact, everyone’s contributions are very perspicacious .

    As an senior administrator:

    1. Can you describe the roles of your middle managers? What type of teaching load do they have? (if it is just an allowance and these people have full or nearly full teaching loads, then these people are operational managers not pedagogical leaders for their subjects).

    2. Dio fixed contracts include an opt-out period for the teacher? Of course there may be some penalties in terms of return airfares and so on, but this statement recognises the school also cares about fit. Some contracts attempt to lock teachers into conditions resembling modern slavery.

    3. How frequently is the school’s strategic plan reviewed? (ditto policies etc). Some school’s window dress with these documents, which are then ignored as ad-hoc decisions are made by owners at midnight, without consultation.

    Well, I’m looking forward to meeting everyone in our ‘ideal’ hypothetical school, if such an institute exists!


  8. I must be getting cynical in my old age but come on think about those questions that M and B asked, is a school director going to answer those honestly. Probably not, possibly tarnished with some truth in one or two words said. Are you going to hold them accountable when it’s shown the school doesn’t live up to your ethic or moral code. What are your going to do about it when admin doesn’t support you to your way of things? It’s a hard ass world out there.
    Think about how low on the ladder you are and how many steps above you there are, someone is pulling someone pulling someone. Admin have their strings pulled they may not like it but they are more times the face that has to face you and often times tell you half truths about what you need to do, not ideal but we don’t live in an ideal world. Most of us aspire to work in an environment where we can work harmoniously, with great teachers and management around us, where we go home at the end of a day have a meal and savour the days experience and yearn for the next day and the next.

    Get real most of us are working for people who take their cut and we get a little of what’s left over take it or leave it.

    At interview, your questions say allot about you, some not all directors are trained in knowing what the questions are really showing about the questioner. They aren’t going to hire people who are going to be in conflict with the heads, they want compliment people who can do the job. On the other hand the school is in an area where it’s impossible to get staff they probably will take you on.

    Top 3 circumstance dictates what those might be they are situational and last experience often has a large bearing on what next.


  9. I’m gonna have to give my top 3 some real thought before adding.

    Have read the comments above and have to say that a wee time ago I did go to a school a friend at been at for some years ( was leaving at the end of that year) and on their recommendation of… great school, you’ll like it…super kids…parents hm… owner…well some get on some don’t…HR great… I took the job…BIG MISTAKE… this person must have lived in some vacuum cause sure as… wasn’t anything like the description… instead low wages…poor accommodation… lack of teaching materials…no support from management with parents…parents ran the school…long stayers a number A cause husbands on huge salaries and B cause they were yes people and didn’t like new people having a say of any kind…bullies.

    And I have neen around the international circuit a wee while, so after that experience I wouldn’t be listening to a friend again unless they were still in the school… and I could actually visit and see for myself.


  10. Number 1 for me is not a question for them but for me: Could I work for this person? If the leader is someone I respect, then it will go well- except when his boss is an ass, but I try to steer clear of that boss.
    There is more but that is the one that clinches the deal for me.


  11. Thanks to the previous posts as there is so much truth to their comments. I am single with a dependant and just completing my first year abroad. I have learnt many things during this year and only just realised there are no policies at my school and that I have been assigned to write one of them!!!
    1. Accommodation well it was filthy when I arrived so spent the day cleaning (there was ample cleaning products left in the apartment).
    2. Luckily my director fully supports us professional teachers but for others, I mean the local teachers, its another story. It could be because us expats politely insist on doing the right thing, I am talking about my own experiences and colleagues.
    3. The contract is one of the most important documents that you need to understand as I failed to understand the exact amount of fees I would need to pay if I left before completing my 2 years. Now it seems its more than half my final months salary.
    Finally if you can gain first hand info about the school from a parent or teacher then get it to help you find out crucial info before you make a decision. Its important to realise the educational culture of the country before you decide. If its totally against your ethics find another place to work at.


  12. This question would never have appealed to me except I arrived at my current school to find out there is NO curriculum.

    Everyone is doing their own thing! We have curriculum document which is loosely articulated and at a glance can be seen as completely inadequate, Students are several years below grade level with the picture getting worse as you go up grades. So now I am adding to my question about schools, “Please tell me about your curriculum and may I see your curriculum documents.”

    I think rather than focusing on questions to ask at an interview it is far more helpful to talk to people who know someone at the school or are working at the school. Any admin person can lie at an interview and many do. I am not sure why they think this a valuable strategy to lie as then assuredly there will be a poor fit between the teacher and school but some admin just need to get a warm body in the classroom quickly and any teacher will do for them.

    Personally I have decided I will never again work at a school where I do not know anyone who has worked there recently. There are too many bad schools out there and directors who can ruin your career simply because they are jerks. It is terrible that we are the only profession that allows confidential references to be placed with an agency!!!! This allows directors to lie if they have a dislike of you. This happened to 3 teachers I know of simply because they spoke their opinions which were contrary to the director. Best to be safe and network. Even better to have no opinion once you arrive at a new school until you see the lay of the land.

    My other two questions would be:
    What is the average age/years of teaching experience/ degree held by your teachers? At this point in my career I want to be somewhere that I am fed professionally by colleagues who are at the same place in their careers. If all the teachers are beginning then the professional development at the school will be geared towards them. Iron sharpens iron and I want to be in a place where people have advanced degrees and years of experience. I don;t want to work for an administrator who is brand new as they tend to have the worst ego issues ever.

    What is the average length of stay for teachers at your school? This can reveal a lot. If teachers don’t stay for long perhaps the country is difficult or the director/school burns through teachers.

    I figure I am not that different from other teachers so however they are treated will be what I get and if they couldn’t make a go of it for at least 5 years then it is not the right place for me.


  13. I’m part of teaching couple. We’ve been over seas 6 years. This is our second school. The three questions I would have to have answered are. 1). Is the Director a PR man that rolls over every time a parent complains? I got screwed by a spineless no body that actually agreed with a parent that it was my fault their kid failed geometry. The parent argued that junior was in class more than 1/2 the time so he should at least get a B. My Jelly Fish agreed and chastised me in front of the parent for being so unfair to the kid. 2) Exactly what materials are on hand to teach Chemistry? Kitchen stuff from a departing expat’s kitchen is not chem equipment. No we can’t do experiments on a discarded electric cook top. So for me a big one is to see a comprehensive list of equipment on hand. 3) Are there groups of clicky-ass teachers that run the school? Can’t stand that type. I can put up with anything except a group of “insiders” that have the ear of the director. So that’s my three. If you steel my money, fail to fix the AC in my house, try to cheat me on the return flight home, I can deal with it. It can be fixed….you don’t know me!!! But the three I listed…. Gotta have ’em or I ain’t a goin’.


  14. I am single and on my seventh post. All of them have had different situations but the 1 thing I know now is that if the website of your future school is not complete or does not show the school or enough detail then there is a very good reason for that and avoid it if possible. Second. Housing is adequate and that differs from person to person but dirty apartments that have not been cleaned before your arrival show you that management do not care and if you want it clean then do it yourself!! Health care is often promised on the contract but if if often just put there to look good. When you price private insurance you pay. Local care can be good and it can also be totally unsatisfactory. Might I add that you usually do not get answers from the schools who are dodgy and if you do then they do not deliver on those promises once you are on the ground. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES COME TO A POSITION ON A VISITOR’S VISA WITH PROMISES THAT IT WILL QUICKLY BE CONVERTED BECAUSE YOU ARE ILLEGAL IN THE COUNTRY AND SHOULD NOT BE WORKING.


    1. No sure why everyone writes not to start in a country on a visitor’s visa. I have entered my last two countries that way with no problems. The visa couldn’t be processed until I was in the country, took specific local blood tests, was fingerprinted, etc. I am not sure I would do that in an unstable country at a local school, but if you are coming to a stable country at an established international school it shouldn’t be a problem.

      The problem is the word “International,” “American,” or “British” in the name of the school doesn’t necessarily mean anything remotely to do with the school. Going to for profit schools is a real risk and all of the many problems listed above are unfortunately common. So buyer beware. I agree with knowing something about the administration, the facilities will be adequate, the class size workable and housing decent. But expecting the green lawn and picket fence in Kansas is not realistic.


    2. Well put. Don’t put yourself in a potentially illegal situation with immigration and don’t bother with a school that has a website that wouldn’t get a passing grade in your own class.


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