Built on Teachers’ Backs?

A team of several people work together to lift an arrow and theDear ISR: Maybe you can offer some advice? I signed up at my current school to teach children. Next thing I knew, I was expected to participate in 5 fund raising events so far this school year (with more planned) to help the owner finance what he calls a ‘Performing Arts Center’ for his already posh school.

It’s been made very clear that failure to participate in these fund raisers will result in termination. Unfortunately, my contract says I can be called upon to function in any manner the school sees necessary for the good of the school. Considering how much time gets sucked into these events, it looks like I’ve been duped! 

At our first all-faculty meeting the director told us about his plans to build this performing arts center. Okay….sounds good to me. Next thing I knew a schedule was handed out listing the fundraising events we, as teachers, were expected to participate in. Like I said, there’s been 5 of them already this school year. All funds go towards the construction of the new building.

Next comes Easter and here we go again: We’re having a carnival all day Saturday and into the evening, with food brought by the parents to be sold by the school for a 100% profit and activities run by the teachers. I’ve begrudgingly signed up to run one of the game-booths. Not exactly what I had planned for my weekend! I’m feeling taken advantage of and to be honest, I feel abused and it bothers the hell out of me. This all seems like one more corrupt scheme in an already very corrupt country.

Where the hell has all the tuition and capital funds money gone? Let me guess! Seems suspicious I wasn’t told about all this at the recruiting fair! Well, I was mislead about a lot of things. So, for self esteem’s sake I’m secretly planning to not return after summer vacation. Maybe I’m being ridiculous but I don’t feel good about myself wasting my time to make a rich man even richer. If you have any advice I could sure use it right now. Maybe your readers can shed some light on this? Do I have legal recourse? Do other schools do this?

20 thoughts on “Built on Teachers’ Backs?

  1. Well,

    The sooner professionals realize that only a handful of international schools are just that – schools – whereas the vast majority are nothing more than for-profit scheme. It doesn’t matter if a school calls itself non-profit or not because most schools are for profit for someone.

    You are immediately replaceable often by someone willing to do whatever because they are incapable of getting a job back in their home country. The reality of this career path is that you are a mercenary who is wise to do it all for the money (but be professional about it) because there is no real safety net or union to protect you. Don’t expect parents to go to war for you because they continue to pay for services at substandard (and even outright fraudulent) institutions because they are scared and desperate.


  2. Before accepting your next post, do your research on any school you’re considering. Use ISR posts, former teachers. If there are no or few posts, ask the school for the email addresses of FORMER staff, as present staff may be afraid of giving a true picture for fear of being found out should their identities become known to the school.


  3. From my 20 years of teaching at international schools in Asia I can say for a fact, the teacher is the one who has the power. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. The school always has more to loose than you. If you want to get even with a school for abusing, mistreating and deceiving you than you always have a number of options open to you. One way is you can us the legal system in that country. But that’s only one option. I worked at a school where the contract cited 8 hours of daily work but the owner forced us to work 12 hours! So I had several options open to me. The school made the mistake of sharing the parents email addresses with the teachers. I got as many parents emails as I could before I quit. Once I left, I told all the parents the truth about that school. Trust me, I hit the school owner where he was most vulnerable. The school reputation started to go down in the community. A friend once told me “A little vengence is good for the soul”. He was right!!


    1. I agree with that. The teacher has more power than they imagine.
      Remember that amazing scene at “American Movie”, where Lester has a conversation with his boss about his leaving: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0169547/quotes
      You don´t want to go that way, because then you will be at the same shameless level than them. But it is true that schools have a lot to loose if they piss off a worker.
      Don´t tell lies, don´t do wrong things, because you are a good person. But don´t let other people play with you.
      And if you are leaving anyway, tell it like this before and get as much as you can from the school.
      THEY DON´T WANT TO HAVE PROBLEMS. Just get to agreements with them: full salary, recommendation letter, training…

      And I tell you: maybe for you is good, but it will be even better for the rest of the teachers, that will follow the example and in the end will make the school be more respectful with them.


  4. Working overseas has demonstrated to me that we are all pawns in the owners money making game. Figure out a way to make such situations work for you. Perhaps see them as ways to make new friends, promote a business (tutoring), etc. Try to get something out of them that is meaningful to you.


  5. Been there, done that. The parents or PTA need to step up and ask where the tuition money is going to. Though at one of my past schools the Owner disbanded the PTA because they asked too many questions and kicked out the students whose parents dare question him. That was my sign to get the hell out of there.


  6. Unfortunately, it is becoming more common at international schools to hold lots of events such as ‘international day’ and turn them into fundraisers for the school. On top of that, parents are being asked to contribute through extra fees to things such as ‘IT Funds’, ‘Building Funds,’.. the list goes on. Teaching becomes secondary.
    Most contracts have a built in notice clause so either quit and get references from fellow teachers or have a family emergency back home. Some jobs are not worth the stress of staying.


  7. I too find nothing unusual in this. It is all to common the clause ‘and anything else as directed by the principal’. Saying this though many schools now do include the amount of days you are supposed to put in outside of office hours. Five seems steep though I now do 10 most of which are a complete waste of time and as you say are to increase the funds of some millionaire owner, such is life in for profit schools all over Asia. Usually there is no legal recourse because money talks and the school owner will be richer than you, plus he’s on his own turf while you are merely a visitor. If you are really unhappy at the school and can’t resign properly, then fail to return after the holidays, but remember it doesn’t help ones C.V. and the lack of references is also an issue.


  8. I see 2 different matters here:
    -the first is that clause that I am seeing too much in contracts, where the school can change your duties or make you more overtime (paid or not) at any time. Can we do anything about that? For me that is abusive, but more and more schools are including open clauses like that which in fact is: “you have to do what you are told every time”.
    -the second is about that non-ethical behavior. BE VERY CAREFUL: if you are involved in something about economics that is not clear: YOU are going to have a problem. Not the owner, that can blame everything on you if things come out, and you really don’t want that in your file.

    Well: life is like this: go from one place to another until you find your own.
    The problem is that when you sign you don’t know what you are going to find, and you are tied for 1 or 2 years, and you will have problems if you break a contract, with little impact on the school…

    Yes, leave that school, and good luck with the next!


  9. I presume you did your due diligence before accepting a job at this school? Due diligence means talking to current and ex-employees, checking sites like this one, talking to your embassy in the school’s country, visiting the school’s website and corresponding with the administrators. If you did this and didn’t hear about this practice, then you either were not probing deeply enough OR they hid the truth from you. If you didn’t do it, then tough luck. There are few legal recourses you have other than reporting them to the current embassy powers and the local education ministry just before you leave. Rest assured there is little chance that anyone will do anything.
    Is there any way you can get a look at the budgetary and financials for the school? That should tell you whether the owner has put money into a capital development fund or something similar. My guess is that he hasn’t and won’t. Parents who are pissed off at the constant demand for money through fund-raising might be willing to ask about the financials and budget, if they threaten to remove their kids…. Money is always a powerful tool.
    Good luck in your new job search.


    1. I worked for an ostensibly “non-profit” international school in Mexico where it is well-known that the (non-Mexican) family that owns the school (and for whom it is named) finances all kinds of personal extravagances out of school coffers. No one apart from a few recently arrived expat teachers saw anything unusual about this.


    2. I worked for both an owner-managed and a Board-managed school in Mexico and did see the owner (a Mexican empress) launder drug money, alter results to allow failing students to enter her university, and countless other irregularities. Thank God we didn’t have to fund-raise as well.
      We are powerless to change this but we can always do our research before accepting anything.


    3. Have you actually been to a career fair Domhnall? Look, I hear what you are saying and of course in a perfect world a person would have all the time in the world to research such things ringing the embassies of the country to chat (really?) and looking at the budgetary and financials? (wow) Let’s keep it real ok? We have been at top tier schools that flat out lie about the reality of the the job. Nice to offer advice about what he “should have done” but don’t go out of your way to make this person feel like a loser.


  10. Best advice I ever received when I started international teaching was to never work for a for-profit school.Even non-profit, proprietary ones are tricky. Anyone can call themselves an ‘international’ school these days. They prey on the uninformed ‘new’ North American teachers and sometimes snafu us more experienced types. You’re probably stuck with this contract. Tough it out and start planning to leave next fall. it’ll get you through.


  11. I have been with several schools over my three years in china, a university, 2 middle schools, couple summer camps some private students and even some online teaching.
    In my experience china is all about lying and cheating with very little ethics or morailty ( that is me being kind )
    the contract means nothing, it is there to serve them only, there is nothing you can do about it, they can keep you or fire you at their whim.but it gets worse, if you dont complete your contract well they can withhold references, cancellation of foreign experts certificate and more, making addtional work in china impossible.i have been lied and cheated to in every contract i have signed and as far as i know my teacher friend have too.
    if they ask you to sign something but tell you it wont happen, they are lying, my last job the contract said 40 hours with lessons and office hours but they told me i dont have to work the office hours, just do my lesson plans, a couple weeks after i started they said all office hours now have to be worked,
    the university had no office hours in the contract at all but insisted i work them, both of these jobs fired me when i refused.
    beware, even a great reference can be useless, when employers would call the university they were told i was shit even when the ref was great. this story continues thru most of my experience in china.
    i could write a book on it.
    good luck


    1. What I get from your reply is you were not working at an accredited international school, which is where I would guess the majority of those who come to this site are working. I have worked for 6 years in China and never been cheated or lied to. Everything in the contract has been honored, and i can say the same for my colleagues.

      I know the ESL type jobs in China can be like that field is in a lot of countries – shady. However, most of the accredited international schools in China have great reputations. Of course not all do, but as someone who has been involved with ACAMIS I can say I have come across great schools throughout China.


    2. And still most of them are exactly as was described by M Levi. Lying and Shady. FYI: ESL is a real subject as well in your posh international schools taught by real teachers some of whom hold high degrees of Master’s level and beyond. Always interesting to see the “caste system” at work with subjects areas and educators who would not have jobs at all in this international schools if the kids didn’t speak English as a Second Language. Tired of seeing people throw the ESL teachers down at the bottom there “Curious.”


  12. I´m afraid that ¨making rich men richer¨ is a lot of what we DO in international education. I´m not at all surprised by anything you have written. I have run into this kind of silliness mysef (although commandeering your Easter Saturday is pretty extreme). I switched back to for-profit adult language schools after several years of teaching in international high schools, because even though the pay is much less, the pretenses and hypocrisies are fewer too, and there are not so many extravagant extra duties constantly being imposed. You teach your classes; you leave and have your free time. It’s cleaner. High school administrations are hellbent on colonizing every spare minute of a teacher’s life with duties, “special events,” meetings, paperwork, etc., ad infinitum. They own you and want you to know it. The actual teaching of skills and content is distinctly secondary at many schools, where lining the pockets of the rich owners and making nicey-nice with the rich parents is all.


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