Are YOU Cut Out for This?

Problem And SolutionDear ISR: I’ve been an ISR member for several years now. Based on what I’ve read, I’ve concluded that a percentage of reviewers go overseas with preconceived ideas and expectations. When reality doesn’t meet the fantasy, it seems they became frustrated and embittered, and then the next step is that they post awful reviews about their experience.

Let’s be honest — International teaching is not for everyone. For educators who think life overseas is going to be a typical teaching job similar to theirs back home, but transposed into a wildly exotic setting, there are some harsh realities to face. For the benefit of those of us who love the challenge of teaching internationally, I would ask teachers to consider the following before recruiting….

I often hear the phrase, “You need to be flexible to teach overseas.” This is true, yet I would say most people already consider themselves perfectly “flexible.” However, to make it as an international teacher you must truly be capable of accepting different ways of doing nearly everything, even when you know there is a better way. You must be “flexible” enough to remember you’ve been invited to educate students, not bend a culture to fit your ingrained ideas of how things should be. Real change starts from within an organization and until you accept what IS, you are not in a position to effect changes. If you can’t accept this philosophy and think everyone should jump to institute what, you, the great educator from the West is proposing, the answer to Am I cut out for this? is a resounding NO!

I hear teachers complain that their opinions are not taken into account when administrators make decisions. They feel belittled, unappreciated. The bottom line is this: Teachers are hired to teach. If I, as an administrator, wanted a mentor I would find one. I do listen to my teachers but anyone just coming into my school has little understanding of the community we serve. Their perception of what needs to be done, while appropriate and valid in their home country, may be completely out of place here. My job is to administer to the overall needs of my school, making decisions that take into account elements of a situation to which teachers are not privy. Again, if your ego tells you that you, as a teaching “professional,” should be consulted on every decision made at the school, the answer to Am I cut out for this? is a resounding NO!

Finally, I want to mention that housing, roads, school materials, transportation, communication, water/air/electricity quality, level of corruption, construction quality, and just about every other facet of life internationally may never, ever be like it is back home. If you are going overseas for an international experience, let it be what it is and experience it with all its ups and downs, its occasional discomforts and daily delights. No one suggests you have to like everything about it, but if you feel the need to reshape your school and community to conform to your perception of what’s “best”, you’re plainly not going to enjoy it overseas. Ask yourself the hard question and be honest: Am I cut out for this? Hopefully, the answer will be, for YOU, a resounding YES!

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Also see the sequel to this topic: I’m Not Cut Out for THIS

37 thoughts on “Are YOU Cut Out for This?

  1. It is my experience that it is not the local culture that teachers in international school struggle with and reflect on in the school reviews but the leadership quality in their schools.
    I have recently completed my Masters in Educational Leadership which gave me the opportunity to read about what is considered exemplary school leadership. Having discussed this with colleagues who are completing similar courses in two from two other countries it is clear that what constitutes excellent school leadership is the same throughout the Western world. However, the leadership in international schools (which the original post exemplifies) not only does not meet this standard but in fact flies in the face of what the experts think.
    The idea that an administrator does not need to listen to his/her staff is ludicrous, arrogant and often stems from a lack of expertise in the job and the associated lack of self-confidence. In my experience that lack of confidence usually manifests itself in an aggressive attitude toward what they consider dissenters.
    With some notable exceptions in schools I have taught in most school administrators seize the opportunity of being away from unions and other professional associations to do what they like. Many schools promise working and living conditions which far exceed reality and wonder why teachers are disgruntled.
    I have also experienced a lack of flexibility in school administrators as very few genuinely have the ability to adapt their leadership style to the new situation, rather they try to relocate what they are used to to their new environment.
    I have only had positive experiences with students in international schools so I may be in a completely different international system than some of the earlier bloggers. In my experience it is the sheer pleasure of teaching international school students that keeps teachers coping with the inadequacies of the school leaders.
    It would be advantageous for all of us that the original blogger stated which school he/she ‘leads’ as I would avoid it at all costs.


    1. I am at an international school. I asked my principal three times to visit my class and observe. It has been three weeks and no visit. Those of us leaving at the end of the year were told we don’t need to have an evaluation. Ludicrous! We are the first teachers who should have them. I find principals overseas lacking in many things such as diplomacy, telling the truth, and knowing the curriculum.


  2. In my years as an “international teacher” I found the culture and practices of the country I was in to be new to me in some regards, but I did my homework before going there and enjoyed the differences as either new pleasures or at least sources of new insights as an educator and a human. I remain in touch with many students and parents and count those relationships a treasure. The issues I had were with Western administrators who were way more inflexible and set in their ways than most faculty and, to deepen the problem, way more out of touch and less prepared and responsive to the culture and practices of the country we were in. Beyond that, the ways they were set in were far from the “best practices” of their home countries too, whether as managers or educators. Rather than contribute the best practices of their own background to their new background, they seemed to revel in abandoning the hard-won virtues of their own heritage and strive to concoct the worst of both worlds. This is precisely not how many of us would like to shape our shared global culture of the future.

    What dawned on me eventually is that the mentality such administrators brought to international education meant that the culture I experienced at their school was not “international culture” but “international school culture”–and the two were not only different, but often diametrically so. The “international school culture” fostered by such administrators was basically an expat ghetto of small-minded insider cronyism and petty politics and self-promotion, a chance to earn more money and have more sway than they would likely every earn “at home,” though perhaps a path back via resume bullet points to a higher position at home than they would ever achieve by just staying there. This is every bit as destructive, if not moreso, for the host country (students, parents and society) as it is for the faculty with hopes for a positive international education experience. So let’s be careful about which version of “us v. them” is being proposed here. First canon of rhetoric: definition of terms. It’s not about “faculty” vs. “local population,” at least not in my experience.

    For me, “international schools” were not an arena dominated by struggles between faculty and local pseudo-international student populations. That exists, can be a challenge, but so can any teaching job. Indeed, working to overcome such apparent divides can foster some of the most valuable education in this area, for the benefit of all involved. Yes, teachers ought to do their homework in advance of the move to international education, and some don’t, but that does not excuse the “bait and switch” tactics of admin hiring processes in the over-heated market expansion of international schools. And, frankly, some of the teachers with the least interest in the local culture and society prosper most with admin who are more concerned with blind fealty than genuine passion for trans-cultural communication and education. I’m an experienced teacher, have lived a life evenly divided across several continents even before teaching, and had no trouble “adapting” because of that. But precisely because of that background in education AND as a lifelong “global citizen” I was appalled by the degree to which the international school scene is soured by incompetent, bullying “leadership” who conduct their administrations with a siege mentality, the very opposite of the open exchange one would hope to find in schools with these self-declared missions of connecting the world in new ways. Yes, there are good administrators in this scene, but there are way too many pompous, aggressively defensive products of the Peter Principle, and the culture of blame the victim and shoot the messenger is too far gone.

    I kept thinking of Albert Memmi’s book, The Colonizer and The Colonized, as I observed this type of administration and the faculty attitude that prospered with it. These people are hijacking an important point of leverage that could do much good in the world and souring it for too many other people on every side of the equation. I plan to keep working in international education, but will never again work in international schools. There are simply too many lousy working environments, and too much cover up of such situations, for this to be a desirable career or life path. (Though thank goodness for ISR.) The notion that true reform is from the inside, and defining the inside as only these brick and mortar fiefdoms, is a classic example of blinkered vision. The 21st century is already well into its second decade. Khan Academy? MOOCs? There are plenty of alternative paths to international education, far less exclusive, more meritocratic and, frankly, less corrupt and corrupting. There’s no reason to be held hostage. To those who do good work in international schools, including faculty and admin both, I wish you well. But overall this system and culture is broken and there are better ways, and surer bets, to further the cause of global education. As someone born into a country and culture that was “post-colonial”, I have no wish to be a party to neo-colonialism in any fashion–and that, I’m afraid, is too much of what I saw as central to the mode of “international school education” as opposed to “international education.” The West does have much of value to offer, but not via this degraded, mercenary version of itself. I cannot imagine why accreditation bodies are legitimizing so many badly run schools. Shame on them. Whether it’s their own empire-building, or a runaway train, they need to put the brakes on and start doing some much more probative quality control. Who accredits the accreditors?!

    If you’re one of the good guys, you may be offended by what I’ve written here. But you’re not the target. What I do suggest is you look around you, at the international school scene, and ask yourself how many other good guys you see, balanced against how many examples of corrosively negative behavior. Life is too short, education is too precious, other paths too available. I’m taking a different route to our hoped-for destination, but I hope you get there too.


  3. Isn’t part of the problem the mere fact they are hiring teachers from overseas to take part in the teaching of the children. To say ‘suck it up’ is not a true consideration of the fact of why you are hiring a teacher. The reality is that the schools say they are hiring teachers to bring with them the ‘Western’ style of education, but many are merely bringing in foreign faces as a method of marketing.

    The second point I would like to make is that many issues with teachers can be easily resolved in the hiring and orientation process. Hire teachers that are a fit to the ideology of your school use of them. If you merely want a foreign face, then hire based on that fact alone. Let the individuals know that is the real goal here and that while you do want them to teach, you want them to teach the style of the school or the culture. Then when you orientate them, simply show them how they are expected to perform.

    The admin, who wrote this, should realize also they are a representation of their school and their culture. While they can dictate what they feel at their school and rationalize out the idea of not posting a bad review. The fault still lies upon them. They are supposed to fully represent what they want from an employee and show that employee what is expected. That is either basic psychology or HR 101. Regardless of the culture, I always attempted to make my students learn this, regardless of the culture or school I was at!


    1. Adminstrators need bodies in those classrooms. This is not to say that they are not looking for the best educators possible; some are some are not. The need of teachers dictates the recruiting process. If the need is small, there is space for details; looking for instructors who will fit the school´s mission. If the need is critical, an administrator will get who he/she can find and hope for the best. Full and complete expectations are wonderful, if there are enough bodies in the classroom. Unfortunately many schools force the suck it up´´ attitude, because they are not focused on their mission and most importantly are not focused on the children´s education. Administrators want their jobs and school boards determine that! Ride that fence, boy ride that fence!


  4. Agree with some of the points made in the original posting. However the problems he talks about are mainly a result of ill considered recruitment on the part of the school. Bringing out young teachers with a couple of years experience, who have never travelled abroad and have no idea what to expect unfortunately is the norm is some institutions. While many are very professional, I have worked with several who did arrive expecting everything to be the same as in their home country. They became angry as their ideas were not given the credit they felt they deserved or if we didn’t immediately change the way we did things to suit them. If you are going to work in a private school in another country, you have to accept that you need to adapt to the environment and school, and to make the effort to understand cultural differences. Of course you should make suggestions, but it should be done in a diplomatic manner, and after you have taken the time to observe, question and listen to people already working there.


  5. Some excellent points made on all sides. The best advice I got (but never took) while working in China was to embrace the “This Is China” mantra. I could accept frustrations that came as a result of China — traffic, pollution, communication breakdowns — but could not accept the actions of administration that to me seemed unethical.

    Looking back, I realize now that I could’ve saved myself a great deal of burned energy by shrugging my shoulders and saying, “Hey… T.I.C.”

    I’ve gotten better at it. I’ve come to accept that “This Is” wherever I happen to be. Even true in my home country, because god knows our education system has more issues than Esquire.

    To me, flexibility is, as Robert Downey, Jr. says, “Listen, smile, agree, and then do whatever [the fudge] you were gonna do anyway.”

    Which is good enough for most everyday classroom business. But the culture of a poorly managed school will inevitably interfere with your best practices. If a child exhibits a pattern of negative behavior, and you’ve used up your bag of tricks for stopping the pattern, and you’re forbidden from contacting the family, but at the same time told the administration “prefers to leave behavior management in the hands of its teachers,” what’s left to do? Let the child’s negative behavior infect the rest of the class?

    It may well be the case that this really is the only way administration can keep the school operational. In the Gulf, for example, “international” schools are pressured by the government to allow in more and more local kids, which would be fine, except those children aren’t held to the school’s behavioral or academic standards. Teachers who have a problem with this are told to suck it up or pack it up. But understand why: administrators could punish those kids, or let that poor report card stand, but they themselves would be looking for a new job pretty quick.

    But hey, the money’s really good. There’s your trade-off.

    I agree with posters who say recruiters could do a better job managing expectations at the time of interview. I agree with posters who say prospective teachers need to do their homework. I agree with everyone who thinks life isn’t fair.


  6. Most of the teachers I have met overseas are incredibly flexible but also professional. It’s when the administration, who are also expat, bow to local custom of allowing bullying by students, assaults by students, and cheating by students that really upsets me. Weren’t they brought in to raise the standard across the board? Most of the administration are puppets for board members, parent councils, and upper administration. They are handed a script and follow it to a T. When teachers challenge the accepted behaviour and are told to just go along, I believe that to be wrong. I work at IB schools which have codes of conduct that teach moral behaviour. when administration undercuts my teaching and says students can behave less than IB, that is wrong.


    1. My wife and i have been abroad in international schools for 20 years. I agree with one of the comments that it has changed a lot. We have been IB teachers since the last 18 years. Unfortunately, the training, and experience do not count anymore. We have 10 degrees among ourselves inlcuding my wife having a doctorate. However, she has to listen to her superiors who have no connaissance of her subject, neither mine, and they tell us what we have to do in most of the time. We are flexible. We even accapted a job in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and that was the best school in the IS environment for us and for our 3 children, unlike the “rich” countries that offer good package but we were not happy in those countries. And we worked int 6 countries around the world during the 20 years, so we are not backpackers. But the admin power has significantly increased and sometimes you just cannot bring up your ideas because they litereally threaten you by firing next week. (I had four occasions like that during the 20 years; maybe I am too stubborn.)


  7. To be successful internationally as a teacher, you need to be open minded to new cultures and different ways of doing things, while at the same time, maintaining your professional integrity as a teacher and giving the best that you can for your students. One of the negatives is lousy administrators who operate with impunity and without any checks and balances. I recently taught at a school that had four bad HoS in three years and a high staff turnover with several “runners” each year showing the quality of the hires. It was so demoralising that despite having great students, it was time to move on. Being ‘cut out for it’ depends on how you handle it.


  8. Wow! Where do I start? First, it is definitely true that if you are not ready to accept a wide range of adversities and diversities, you should not sign an overseas contract–for your sake, as well as the sake of the school, administrator, and faculty. It is true that if you think people should listen to your opinions and adopt your better way of doing things, you should stay home. Generally, most institutions will expect you to do things the way they have always been done–whether it is, in your perception, the ‘best’ way, and it is true that one cannot make changes anywhere overnight. If you don’t think you can find a way to work within someone else’s [probably flawed] system that doesn’t make any sense without being unhappy or frustrated, you should stay home. However, having said all of that, the truth is, anyone who has ever been truly successful working with others knows that the best path to that is through creating a cooperative environment where everyone feels respected, listened to, and brought into the decision-making process if those decisions will impact them personally or professionally. This is a model for a good classroom; it is also a model for a good school, as well as a successful business–let alone a happy society. Those who think this is unimportant will succeed only as long as they can force others to accommodate to their authoritarian methods, but neither they nor those who are subjected to their style of leadership will likely be happy or prosper. The administrator who wrote this piece certainly does not sound happy, and he/she sets the tone for the entire school. It is important that teachers try to deduce a prospective administrator’s leadership style before signing a contract that will subject them to that style of leadership for the next 1-3 years. The brevity of an interview makes this difficult, but that is where the International Schools Review comes in! There is a wealth of information on this site that teachers can consult prior to signing a contract, which will make it possible for teachers to avoid working in an environment where they feel their professionalism will not be respected.


  9. Since educators should have undergone post-graduate training in how to teach their subjects in schools, they are professionals without quotation marks, and it is important they bring with them the educational practices and ethical expectations they received in their training and experience from whatever part of the globe. School cultures that accept classroom disruption, bullying, patronising contempt for teachers and their contracts, abuse and assault as normal behaviours must be rejected outright and changed by legal intervention. Any school “community” not only includes parents and business sponsors, but also teachers; the overall needs of a school should always prioritise education through inclusive administrative means such as regular staff meetings, Heads of Department meetings, and staff representatives on management structures.

    The overt hostility to Western culture displayed in the lead article confirms my own managerial experience in overseas schools over the last thirty years; the spread of so-called “international education” beyond expatriates to local elite communities has enabled widespread and systematic abuse of Western citizens in overseas schools. I therefore have to match the negativity of the writer’s advice to “put up and shut up”: No, No, Never.


  10. I really think you need to do your homework, re where you wish to work, there are international schools and there are really great International schools. What I found was a (and I was lucky with my employment, because I was quite niaive) is that you have a mix of mostly great educators that come from very different backgrounds, cultures, beliefs and teaching frameworks. This can evolve into messy, trivial business. Often these situations become professionally, and personally political. Get yourself embroiled in this life and it can become very messy. I have a great job in Oz, but since my State is now in the process of the ‘Independent School’ scenario I am literally witnessing the same flaws in younger teacher versus more experienced, ( budgetary vs balance) and quite frankly I would prefer to be working in my previous overseas location. I am very aware of bad scenarios and International schools that are put simply dodge, so I was extremely fortunate to have worked in a complex environment overseas but one of my most rewarding memories. There are plenty of sites that can give you an idea of place of employment.


  11. My partner shared this with me – its good and I need to comment too. Its a simple question really. Are we cut out for this? Things have changed, International Teaching is not what is was or was perceived to be 20-25 years ago when we came into the career – so, are we still cut our for it and are we really doing our homework properly when recruiting. I write this as a non administrator who is pretty unhappy in my current post and I too have had to learn the hard way – over the last 6 months I have been asking myself this very question?.


  12. I find this post both patronising towards teachers and typical of the malaise of some modern administrators.
    I’ve been an overseas teacher for 20 years and had to deal with a variety of administrations, some of which are good, and some downright awful. Many fall somewhere in between.
    Before going on to highlight the good administrator, I’d like to address some of the points made:
    Par 1: “preconceived ideas and expectations.” Of course they do. When teachers make the huge step of moving to a new country they understand that things will be different, but no human being (with imagination) takes such a leap of faith in going to live somewhere new without hopes of finding something interesting, different and challenging. This should not be a criticism, but needs to be tempered by accepting that utopia is not to be found anywhere, and most teachers seem to accept that.
    Par 3: This is rambling and ill-considered. The writer talks about the need for flexibility in teaching and suggests the inflexibility of teachers is a main stumbling block , yet, then says that change should occur from within an organisation?? The main criticisms I hear from teachers is about the organisation they work for – and largely the quality of the administration that inhibits such change. I’ve never met a teacher who attempts to change the culture of the country and the people – oh they may moan about internet and power cuts, but most accept that as the inconvenience of life outside of the west.
    Par 3 (continued): “you must truly be capable of accepting different ways of doing nearly everything, even when you know there is a better way.” What complete nonsense! If you know of a better way, then speak up! In fact, I would say that this is the greatest area of conflict for the international teacher – knowing things could be done better but being told “this is the way we do things here” – this a reflection on the inflexibility of the administration, not the teacher.
    Par 3 (blood beginning to boil here): “everyone should jump to institute what, you, the great educator from the West is proposing,” It seems to me this emphasises the real issue for the writer of this article – almost without exception I have found the teachers from all over the world who gather at international schools to be professional and humble in their approach. They understand they are there to teach the children, and they do so with great integrity – they do not bring with them the baggage of a “superior education system”, as, many of them are critical of the ways those systems are now chopping blocks for political ideologies, rather than for the educating of children.
    Par 4: The writer does not seem well suited to being an administrator. S(he) seems to think that teachers are there to jump through the hoops provided by the admin staff. They are again confusing the issues of changing what schools are and what the country offers – teachers moan about inadequate, but attainable, facilities within the schools. They don’t worry about roads, infrastructure, water and other amenities – those are personal moans – unless, of course they are exacerbated by the school structure.

    My thoughts: the best schools in which I have taught have a structure that does not have distinct divisions between teaching and administration – there are blurred lines, over which both the teacher and the administrator can cross – each understands the needs of the other.
    Basically, at the heart of the school, is the education of the child – Number 1 understanding is that the teacher is there to facilitate that – Number 2 understanding is that the administrator is there to give the teacher as much support as possible to facilitate their teaching of the child. The writer of this article seems to think that the teacher and the administrator have 2 completely separate functions – the teacher should follow the administrator’s rules, and the administrator is free to withhold as much information as s(he) feels adequate to give them power over the teacher.
    I hope I never have to teach in a school with this person. I suspect I already have – or someone very much like them: they are becoming more common.


    1. Excellent observations David. Your response is connected to a previous blog posting about what to do when an administrator has you in the dog house. Any look at most reviews on ISR are not about roads but about administrators who impede the process of learning and undermine the stated vision-mission statement of a school.


    2. I completely agree with David’s reflection on this article. It is both patronizing (treat with an apparent kindness that betrays a feeling of superiority) and on some points just wrong. The author has the persona of a benevolent dictator who knows best when his staff’s input would be troublesome or permissible, and when he alone has the wisdom to make the best decisions for the school.

      I am an international school administrator and I involve my staff, both local and expat, in as many decisions that affect them as possible. Good ideas abound from all directions, much better than my own alone. We don’t distinguish between “western” and non-western ideas, which is what makes us truly international.

      Yes, often I do hold important information that I cannot share with the team due to confidentiality issues. But that is the art of administration – working with such information while being part of a vibrant process that engages all appropriate voices in the school to come up with the best decisions for everyone involved.


    3. Hear, hear!!! I had the exact same reaction to this blog as you, David.

      I would like to add something else that sticks in my craw about the original post. As much as teachers should be asking “am I cut out for this?”, administrators need to recognize that it is their number one job to recruit wisely for their school and to sort out who IS “cut out for it” and sign them up!

      In my experience abroad, the most successful and enjoyable places to work (and not so coincidentally, where the schools with the least amount of people “not cut out for international teaching”) were the places where the school administrators put a lot of time, effort, and energy into recruiting good faculty that were a good fit for the school.

      The faculties I have worked on that have had the highest percentage of people who seem to not be “cut out for it” were the schools wherein administrators didn’t quite have a knack for discerning who would be successful and happy in that particular school in that particular country (or, in some cases, should probably not have left the comfort of their home nation). It is interesting to me that the administrators of these schools loved to call out these teachers as “inflexible”. In my observations, many of these teachers were not actually inflexible at all; either a) they were duped into joining the faculty with false promises or impressions about what life would be like or b) the administration should have clearly seen that this teacher would not be a good fit but, in an act of desperation, hired them anyway but then when those teachers are on the ground and say “wait a minute…” they are accused of being negative, inflexible or “just not cut out for this”.


    4. Well said. In the US, there is an open assault on public school teachers as being the rotten core of the problem while incompetent administrators enjoy plush and comfy offices, dead heads walk around board of education buildings doing nothing, but only the teachers get the blame although we did not hire or review ourselves.

      I have seen several teachers get blasted as being incompetent by international administrators who would not survive a week in a US school but the fast is as you describe – the administrator lied about the expectations of the school and the natural fall out occurred.

      I have witnessed myself a principal arguing against the very school’s mission statement and yet I was the one who was not being flexible or accepting of a new culture.


  13. I can’t help but feel that this was written by a very heavy-handed administrator of an “international” (ie: in name only) school. If you do not seek input from your teachers then you are merely looking for foreign names to give your school a little “international” cache while you tyrannically dictate “this is how it is.” No one is trying to change the culture of a place; I believe most teachers merely want to have a voice and some buy-in of the program being offered to students.


  14. While the article apply preaches to the choir it’s so unfortunate that the majority of the congregation has deaf ears.


  15. Why does there not appear to be a standard for International Schools in what they expect from their staff.

    Ie: to obtain legitimate international status it must follow guidelines on service delivery an hiring practices.

    I mean in Australia schools will vary particularly from state to sate. But there are policies/procedures and legal recourse.

    Why do schools have WASC, IB and PYP/MYP accreditation but no continuity in products and staff treatment?


  16. Clever article, but it will fall on deaf ears for those going international teaching just for the money. The best way to survive international teaching (I have just completed 10 years), is to do what the writer of this article says, PLUS be the best teacher you can possibly be despite the teaching conditions, focusing totally on the needs of your students.


  17. If an administrator wants only obsequious little robots with white faces to sell the lie of being an international school, then that administrator needs to be more up-front with what kind of employee that they want. There are code words to use and ways to get the point across. Teachers should also be up-front about their values and expectations more than just professional ability – every licensed teacher looking abroad is theoretically ready to teach on day one so being the right fit is more important.


  18. I think that this was a great evaluation that touched on quite a number of important points. Well written. I certainly encountered a lot of these things and – as you pointed out – the reality was not what the expectation promised. However, you are correct on what you have said in relation to brining your home life expectations and protocols into another culture. Your teaching skills aside, accepting the changes and working with them are the real challenge.


  19. What upsets me is having an administrator admonish me for being firm with students both in my class and in the cafeteria. i dared to be vocal about behaviour not acceptable anywhere. He told me i am too stern with my voice and said ‘what the heck’ which he took to be swearing. I was also told that I ‘don’t fit latino culture’ by a fellow non-latino administrator. They cannot back this up with examples but threatened me with early release because I went public with my situation.


  20. The biggest issue in adjusting to overseas teaching is not addressed here: you may have little or no support with out of control behavior students and can’t get them removed from your class. I just came from a visit with four colleagues who are all breaking contract this summer because the high and middle school classes with very little to no support are almost completely unmanageable. They try to use discipline techniques which worked well for years in the US and find that the administrators forbid the use of any effective techniques they might try. Their last resort is to scream at the top of their voices over the din of student voices who refuse to stop talking the rest of the period. This is the reality of teaching in many Middle Eastern classes, but many schools are loathe to share this with prospective teachers probably lest they decide not to come to the school.


  21. I would agree to a degree. Having lived in the UAE and KSA for the past 6 years, I have seen and been a part of things I would most likely not have seen in the US: Manual laborers assaulted by teenagers, a co-worker fired by a military general who was unwilling to admit the circumstances were not what he was originally told. A family worker shot at point blank range by a teenager with a paintball gun. Drivers made to stand in the mid-day sun for an hour, while the car air conditioning was running. Contracts suddenly terminated. In order to remain in this region, you need to understand that the value system is often VERY different, based upon a combination of Sharia Islam and local cultural traditions. If you expect Western values, you are sadly disappointed. If you learn to play by the “local rules,” you are likely to survive and even prosper.


  22. So true, maybe more-so in these interesting times? Acceptance of the “total institution” aspects of some schools designed to serve a wider community can be the greatest challenge to your own learning. Observe the leadership profiles of some of the most successful directors – those who withstand the tests of time in volatile political environments, who balance the business of international education with staff training, who attract and retain the top IB teachers. They are gurus for teachers who have taught abroad for decades and will move schools with their families to follow them. The teachers who thrive seem to do so by adapting like chameleons, innovating in the classroom, but stepping back, modelling collaboration, rethinking some ideals, and finding a balance of rights and freedoms with a healthy respect for authority designed to protect their communities abroad.


  23. Very well said. I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment expressed by this director. There are some truly awful schools and directors out there and no one wants to feel cheated or taken advantage of. But that’s not what this article is about. Relax, go with the flow, leave your ideas of how things should be at home. Don’t take them with you.

    I have always found the philosophy of the Buddha very true and for those going overseas for the first time it is very useful to keep in mind . He said that our failure to accept reality as it is and our attempts to superimpose our perceptions of what we think it should be on the world around us is what leads to our anxiety and frustration. Creating and then trying to control what isn’t will never lead to inner peace and contentment.

    Just let yourself enjoy your life overseas and you will.


    1. No Surprise here and others of similar viewpoint: Have you ever tried to teach an overseas class and found the students to consistently do everything in your power to prevent you from teaching AND then find the administration opposes your attempts at bringing order into the classroom as several of my colleagues have?


  24. Very true. Studying the culture you are in and being prepared to make adjustments is key. I will say this particularly in regard to hierarchical structures where administrators with little or no teaching experience will make decisions about what happens in the classroom without discussion with faculty, and when challenged will bite. You will also need to understand that in status-conscious countries, admin knows very well who the most important (ir richest or politically connected) parents are and will bend rules to please them. It may not sit well with your notions of democracy, but then you are just a visitor – don’t try to change it from the top, but if you can nonetheless try to instill a broader sense of fairness in students, consider you have won.


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