How Long is Too Long at One School?

 Dear ISR, I’ve been at the same school for five years. I love it here! The country, the language, the school, the kids and parents…just about everything agrees with me…except the tap water. Last week the Director, who I respect and admire, asked us to drop a note in his box saying if we were planning to sign on for another year. It’s not a binding commitment, just a heads-up. I said I would be staying.

A few days later the Director called me in for a “chat.” I soon learned teachers who opt for a sixth-year, and beyond, are not eligible for expat status. This means, that if I stay, I will lose my housing allowance, medical insurance, yearly flight home and a number of other small perks to total about $10,000 in benefits–Thank you for your years of service. I didn’t see this coming and only have myself to blame for not doing the research. Although he doesn’t make the rules, the Director offered to take my case to the Board. I am keeping my fingers crossed.

I’ve been looking into the topic of International Schools removing expat status after a set amount of time. Apparently it’s not uncommon. I’m getting the idea that International Schools aren’t looking for continuity or longevity in staffing, but prefer a revolving door of educators. Growing up in Florida, my school was a place of stability for me. It was a given. A rock. The Teachers were well known and were respected, or feared if they were especially strict. I looked forward to having the same teachers as my older siblings. I feel our international students, many of whom are raised by nannies and drivers, are missing out on this experience and would benefit from long-term relationships with educators who know them well.

I searched the ISR Blog and Forum for comments on this topic and unless I missed something, it has not been discussed. If you would be so kind as to post this letter to your Blog and open it up for teachers’ comments, I would really appreciate it.

Have a wonderful day and thanks for the work you do at ISR,

Beth

22 Responses to How Long is Too Long at One School?

  1. Kelly Horgan says:

    Start looking for work elsewhere! Even if your country cuts off these benefits after 5 years, your school could provide you with the same benefits package you had before. But that costs them 10,000! Well.. that’s the price they pay to keep a long term teacher. If they really can’t cover the benefits package, they should told you before they asked you if you wanted to stay a 6th year.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    Hi Beth,

    the practice is not entirely uncommon. I am a little surprised that, after so many years in your country, it took you so long to find out?

    Not to belittle your disappointment, of course, but ALL countries have rules on how long they will keep guests. International schools may be at power to negotiate those rules to some extent, but they never make the rules and they have to follow local laws.

    The conflict is not limited to teachers either. Most expat professionals who like their host country will face it eventually.

    At one of my prior posts, you at least had the option to become a citizen of that country–or leave. If you became a citizen, voila: Local hire, and a lot less money!

    Schools are not by default happy about this either. I would rather keep an excellent and dedicated teacher for the long term than invest all the money in hiring a new teacher from overseas. At the same time, I can’t blame people for wanting to take a new job elsewhere because I legally *have* to change a contract to local hire!

    Best of luck in finding a new post!

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  3. Anonymous says:

    I haven’t heard of this practice in international schools per se, but I have heard about it’s happening in the private business sector, so I’m not surprised that schools are following suit. It is also becoming law in some countries. Businesses don’t want to finance the expat lifestyle (I know it’s not the same for teachers) long term, and governments want to collect taxes and social security contributions from high-earning expats. It’s good to know to ask these questions before being hired! Teachers asked to give up their expat contracts should also look into the law for local hires…in some countries, the school is required to pay more for social benefits for local hires that international hires won’t use.

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  4. sandjuggler says:

    Could the OP tell us which country or at least which continent they are on where they experienced this? I am sure it could appy to many places – I immediately thought of the UAE – but it might be useful to know.

    From my experience, of the Middle East, schools do seem to want faculty to move on around the 5 year year mark so they can replace with younger and cheaper alternatives.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Curious – where have you heard of this happening in Middle East specifically? I know teachers at my current Dubai school who have been there as long as it’s been open – 10 years – and teachers at more established school in country who taught there over 20 years – all without losing overseas hire benefits. That being said, benefits and pay do seem to level off as one moves up the scale….

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  5. Anonymous says:

    Wow just wow. This is the first I’ve ever heard of this. I knew that teachers were sometimes hired as ‘local’ hires when moving from one school to another within the same country (which is quite unethical) but I’ve never heard of this before. This is my 2 cents. Most international schools are for profit schools and they do this simply to keep the salary costs down. They also do it to squeeze highly competent ‘overseas hire’ teachers who marry locally and have children ‘locally’ i.e. you will stay in this country as your partner and children are from here so accept being a local hire or goodbye. The least schools could do is write this in everyone’s contract so everyone is aware from the get go. I’m really getting tired of the squeeze international schools put on teachers. I see some of you call this as a trade-off as living overseas and working internationally, but this type of action simply can’t be condoned. Maybe these unethical owners view this practice as being ok for the 20 and 30 year old unattached teachers or for those teachers in their late 40’s and 50’s who are well established financially in their home countries? However, it absolutely screws over young teachers under 40 who marry locally and have children locally. This is yet another example of unethical practice. Whilst international teaching is great, I feel totally unprotected when I read posts like this. I really do have a healthy disrespect for a lot of local owners that operate international schools. Beth, may I ask what part of the world are you teaching in?

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  6. Just looking says:

    We actually rejected a job offer this past recruiting season because there was a rule that you couldn’t stay (even as a local hire) after 5 years. There was a loophole because you could avoid the rule for another five years if you switched roles at the school, but we didn’t want to take the chance.

    We have kids that we’ve been dragging from school to school for several years now and wanted at least the opportunity to let them stay in one place until graduation (7 years for the youngest). Of course you never know what’s going to happen, but at least we know we have the option to stay long term.

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  7. Jason says:

    I worked at QSI in China. Their policy was to make you local hire after five years. Or you could transfer to another QSI in another country and still be overseas hire. It always seemed absurd to me to make people local hire.

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  8. mlesurf says:

    Another way to look at this is sue is that after 5,6 or 7 years are you really an expat? By that time you should have assimilated a fair amount many teachers by this point have decided that this is their home. So the benefits that are supplied; because you are living away from home, don’t necessarily apply. This is what I see as the logic behind the policy. That said I hope that the school is up front about it and people are aware in advance, it sounds like this school was, but the teacher just forgot.

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  9. lesley says:

    Hi

    I have not heard about changing contracts to local hire after 7 years.However, I would agree that international schools are looking for young staff who cost less in the end. As a mature teacher with family I have had a hard time finding a job in the U A E.They appear to be looking for 20 somethings who don’t threaten their management positions.

    It is unfortunate that the kids in schools do not see the same teachers each year. They do miss out on long term relationships.

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  10. China Teacher says:

    I worked 7 years at a school, a great school, that kind of likes a few fresh faces around each year because they bring new ideas and updated curricula and help the school progress forward. But to encourage this they don’t touch salaries or housing or benefits — they give you a $1000 allowance and paid leave each year over 5 to defray recruiting expenses. You can use it to cover any kind of airfare, hotels, fair registration expenses, etc. — but of course, you have to resign to be eligible.

    Another factor to consider — moving on after several years will help you grow as a professional as well. When I was teaching in the US (which I will never do again) I encountered so many teachers who could sit on their butts year after year, stagnating and waiting for retirement, because seniority protected them.

    It’s kind of inevitable, really. The same sense of adventure, willingness to take risks, desire to push yourself that brought you to your current school will someday take you away;

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  11. expatdaze says:

    I worked in a school in Ecuador whose policy it was to transfer overseas hires to local hires after 7 years. This was made known to all teachers out of the gate. I am pretty sure there was a local/national law that had to do with taxes/VISA status etc., but it was certainly a financial decision on the on the part of the school. However, this school also offered annual signing bonus to each overseas contract teacher (Caveat: only one bonus per couple though) after the 3rd year up to the 6th year.

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  12. Anonymous says:

    My last school operated in a similar manner. I think the limit was 6 years before you were considered local hire and received considerably less benefits.

    I say get what you can and move on. That’s what they do with teachers.

    I still take international schools over the mess in the USA any day.

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  13. Seonaid says:

    Adding to previous comments, I think lots of international schools also like to take new hires because it allows them to keep up to date with whatever country’s curriculum they happen to be delivering. I know from my experience that new hires are often seen as a valuable source of information regarding changes in the home country.

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  14. Dr. Barbara Spilchuk says:

    You might want to check to see if there is any regulation in the country where you are teaching regarding a timeline for maintaining ex-pat status vs applying for residential status. It may be that your school’s hands are tied because of immigration/ex-pat visitation laws in the country.

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  15. omgarsenal says:

    There are a number of reasons such schools use to justify this tactic:

    1) Most overseas contracts are for 2 years, longer than that means the overseas employee is increasing their benefits and salary compensation, not a desirable option for many owner-managed schools,

    2) Hiring new staff every 2-3 years means they can bring in less experienced people and pay them a little less,

    3) Playing with the definition of overseas versus local hire is a technique school management can use to force a teacher to resign or better still, lower the overall wage bill, which is always the biggest cost for any school,

    4) Being a local hire means you have less protection and more competition than being an overseas hire. Some schools believe they can apply local laws and norms to you,once your status changes and they will also feel they have more control over your future, often mistaking you for some desperate and obedient local servant.

    5) Management love to boast about how fluent their local hires are in English and adding a native speaker or two can be a feather in their cap when trying to impress parents and local education officials.

    There are numerous other ‘ positives’ these people see in reducing your status and since they are often very shortsighted in their personnel policies, you cannot expect them to be any different. That said, you can fight any reclassification and if that fails, move on.

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  16. A parallel issue is when you switch schools within a country and are therefore considered a “local hire” without any of the international perks. This happened to me when I started at an international school in Mexico City after teaching for three years in Culiacan (and many more years before that in other locations). My salary was lower than that of new international hires with NO experience, and I did not get a housing allowance. I fought for the latter and eventually got it, but I should never have taken that job in the first place – and in fact I am no longer at that school.

    In fact, I’m out of the international school and language school rackets altogether, and good riddance! I’m still in Mexico (Queretaro now, the nicest city imaginable), with my Residente Permanente, teaching Business English to some private students and mainly making a living by freelance writing and editing through the Internet. I’m making less money, but I have more freedom and control, and I can’t be easily abused.

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    • omgarsenal says:

      We probably worked together, as I was at JFK for many years and loved Queretaro as well. Your term rackets is a perfect description of this entire overseas school mess.

      Like

      • I haven’t actually taught at an international school in Queretaro, although of course I am well aware of JFK. When I left the school in Mexico City a year ago, I came here because I felt that Queretaro represented a superior quality of life – and boy, was I right about that! I love it here; I don’t intend to ever leave.

        It’s too bad about international schools, but they really don’t have teachers’ best interests at heart. They are not sentimental, so we can’t afford to be either. And of course private language schools are even worse, and pay abominably; I have experience with those in both Korea and Mexico.

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      • Anonymous says:

        I love Queretaro. What a great town to live! Lucky you!

        Like

  17. Certified Teacher says:

    Hi Beth,

    My current school here in China does not do that, but in my first international school in Mexico, 6 years was the magic number. Then those expat benefits disappeared. I have also heard of this happening if the teacher marries a local or switches to permanent resident status (this is possible in some countries, including Mexico). I don’t think it’s right by any means, but I’m not sure what can be done about it. The fact is that regardless of how long we stay at a school, we still have overseas financial commitments, so we count on expat benefits that allow us to live overseas while still meeting those commitments and allowing us to return home to see family in our home countries. Good luck to you, but my advice is to start looking!

    Rebecca

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    • RD says:

      You don’t have a choice about it in Mexico any longer – after 4 years you are legally considered a permanent resident. Thankfully, I haven’t heard of any schools then taking away all benefits. Thought marrying a local does mean you lose the yearly flight at my school.

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