School-Issued Gag Orders

If you’re not familiar with Gag Orders, here’s how they work: Let’s assume a  company wants to prevent its employees from sharing valuable company secrets with competitors. To do so, a Gag Order can be written into the contract of employment. As such, this clause would prevent an employee from sharing product development information and innovative discoveries with other companies that would benefit from such knowledge, but without the means involved to make such discoveries on their own. Gag Orders can also be used to silence people who want to speak the truth about real-life situations. When used in this manner they become a means of suppression and censorship.

It should come as no surprise that Gag Orders have worked their way into the world of International Teaching, something ISR finds completely contradictory to the spirit of education. A director recently wrote ISR to say “by contract his teachers agree to not speak negatively about their school during the term of their employment.” ISR was asked by this director to remove a Review suspected to have been written by a currently employed teacher. Of course we did not.

We note that many International School Mission Statements expound on the lofty ideal of creating “global citizens, future world leaders, active thinkers, achievers, doers, contributors,” et cetera. Interestingly, the very schools that proudly display these goals on the walls of their administrative offices will often squelch any such “thinking and doing” activity among the individuals hired and entrusted with the responsibility of creating these “future leaders.” ISR calls this hypocritical.

The reality may well be that some “International Schools” are solely businesses masquerading as educational institutions. Based on some of the Reviews posted about these “International Schools” on International Schools Review, it is understandable why some would want to include a Gag Order in their contracts. Fortunately, educators are willing to risk the consequences of breaking such an Order and will post to ISR in an effort to warn colleagues about what lies hidden behind a contractual clause designed to mislead well-meaning educators.

Have you ever been confronted with a Gag Order? Would you accept a teaching position at a school that included a Gag Order in their contract? What is your take on on this topic?

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29 thoughts on “School-Issued Gag Orders

  1. Gag orders are reprehensible. We see them often in our school in Egypt. That said, it should be noted that many schools seem to mirror the socio-political context where they are located. Censorship is rampant here, so one should not be surprised by the alignment.


  2. “If the school doesn’t meet their contractual conditions or is endangering teacher or students safety, job security or academic careers then this clause is null and void and one can then blow the whistle.” I agree wholeheartedly. When a colleague posted a review about the school I work at, the school went into “witch-hunt” mode. Administrators were trying to figure out who wrote it and someone from the head office came in to “interview” groups of teachers. It was clear that these people were thugs and bullies to anyone that heretofore may have missed it. In the end, they treated the person who’s safety and person had been harmed, and whose experience had inspired the review, to even worse treatment. He’s fine and is happy that someone spoke up for him in the ISR. He moves forward with his work knowing that they have breached the contract in so many ways. They have no idea the monster they have created. So, yes, blow the whistle. By all means, let others know. You will save some poor soul the trouble.


  3. I’ve been reliably informed that staff at my institution are asked to sign a gag order when leaving the school, thus preventing them from criticizing the school even after employment. I can’t confirm if leaving staff must sign this in order to receive their leave entitlements, but it is worrying to hear this. Since this isn’t mentioned in the original contract I don’t see how they can deny a teacher their leave entitlements if they refuse to sign off to receive such entitlements. In this case I’m not referring to staff fired before the end of their contract, but staff who have faithfully completed their contract and are to be paid their leave or contract completion entitlements. Having a clause in your contract about not speaking ill of the school during employment is very much stock standard today. However, if the school doesn’t meet their contractual conditions or is endangering teacher or students safety, job security or academic careers then this clause is null and void and one can then blow the whistle. If you argue otherwise you are either a sheep or work in administration. I use to think that local administrations were the worst of the lot, but I’ve come to see that foreign administrators are just as bad, if not worse in this regard. International teaching is a lifestyle in many cases. The best part is living abroad, buy unfortunately, in far too many cases, the worst part is actually the 8-5. Sad, but this is the reality.


    1. As you have so rightly pointed out, “speaking ill of the school during employment is ‘very much stock standard today’ ” This is the case with companies within our own countries, i.e. the U.S., England, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. How teachers would expect the case to be different abroad really flummoxes me. I’ve been accused on this forum of being a director or simply being against good employment standards. No, that’s not correct. But, I taught and did training to a great variety of clients and students across a number of countries in the world for 20 years, so I believe I know of what I write.

      And again, if the school has not held up its contractual obligations, then there’s a problem, and it should be signalled, first to the administration you’re working for, and to the education ministry of the country–and even on a forum such as this. This kind of forum has existed on Dave’s ESL for years, well before ISR. Working abroad brings with it new adventure, new Learning and different ways of approaching employees. It can also bring unpleasant surprises, breach of contract and so on. These have to be approached in some ways the same as you would in your own country. It can be frightening, but a teacher/trainer has to have the resolve to think that the problem might be resolved. I’ve arrived at the airport with no one to meet me, at 11pm when I’d just gone through a journed of 17 hours. That’s frightening. But, I did have a telephone no. to call, and 2 hours later, someone came to pick me up. This has happened to me 3 times in different countries. Had I automatically jumped to the conclusion that the school/institution didn’t care or didn’t want me in the end without letting me know, I would have not been able to work through this problem and would have been stuck at the airport with no one to call as I didn’t know anyone else in the country. But, in all three situations, it was resolved, and apologies made. Was it a good way to start? No. But the situation was resolved.


    2. Peggy ….you are avoiding the core issues;

      1) If you are criticizing your ex-employer in front of your potential new one, you deserve what you get….usually a refusal!

      2) Whether you are ill-treated or nicely supported is a moot point, gag orders should be entirely necessary in a well run and well administered school.

      3) Everything can be resolved PROVIDED both parties are open to resolving it, but that is all too rare. Bad schools try and hide behind gag orders and bullying administrators but they are soon found out.


    3. Most of us who have taught internationally for a while realise that practices that restrict what you say or where you work are par for the course. International schools play on the uncertainty and ignorance on part of the teacher concerning the local legal system or their legally afforded rights under it.

      My problem with your point #2 is, aside from schools wanting to censor or control information about them that may be important to both prospective employees or students (i.e. is the school well-run? Is it environmentally hazardous? Does it have a record of employing suspect individuals? Does it do criminal record checks on prospective teachers? Does it even hire qualified teachers?), that now many schools are attempting to extend that reach after the teacher is no longer employed by them. That is flat-out wrong. If I am no longer employed by a given school, I should be free to say whatever I wish about my former employer. After all, I am no longer employed by them. This applies doubly so if I am residing in a democracy. If a school feels aggrieved by my actions then they are welcome to seek redress legally. Then it can be determined it if what is being said is malicious or has merit. Moreover, many gag orders may in fact be illegal, in which case they would be null and void.

      It’s schools we work for, not the NSA. We’re not talking about information vital to national security. We’re talking about a business attempting to control information that may be important for consumers to know so they can make informed decisions about said business. That it may be damaging to the school’s reputation is irrelevant; if it is untrue then the school can challenge it legally. If it is true, then maybe the school should spend some of it’s resources on rectifying issues it may have, rather than trying to cover the problems up.

      It is not the place of any international school to act as if they are, or are above, the law. Schools are there to educate, nothing more. If a school doesn’t like what is being said about it, see you in court. If a school has nothing to hide, then it shouldn’t need gag orders.


  4. The term “unprofessional” loses all meaning in privatized cash cow educational institutions. Directors and principals love to levy this criticism, to demean and humiliate authentic educators who truly care. They care enough to try for better methods, and higher standards. And they get called unprofessional by narrow minded corporate prostitutes. Welcome to international education. Best to keep your mouth shut in reality, should you choose this ‘profession’


  5. I had a situation where I tried to write to a parent saying I would not let her child be given a different text, because although she felt the book went against her beliefs , censorship was against my beliefs and I could not in good conscience go against my own beliefs in order to accommodate hers.
    1) I was told I could not send that email
    2) I was told I could not speak to the parent, my students or other teachers about the issue.
    3) A note was put in my file for refusing to offer an alternate text.

    I did speak with my colleagues. I found it hard to believe that I could not even say that I was standing up for what I believed, knowing there would be consequences- thus teaching the value and sacrifices of following your heart and mind.

    Ironically, I have a wonderful recommendation from the parent of that child, and she never knew the trouble she caused me or that she was the reason I quit working at that school.

    On the other hand, we have an obligation to be fair about our reports on ISR and our comments to our peers about schools. No school or country has ever been 100% awful, but if a school is so sure every teacher will bad mouth it, maybe they should think about why their teachers are so miserable or angry and change the school.


  6. Our school placed a gag order in a severance package agreement whereby the leaving teacher was not allowed to disclose any of the terms of severance package nor of his reasons for leaving the school. The agreement was not written in English either. The severance package as well as the terms, reasons and conditions that the school forced the teacher to leave were not good PR for the school by any means, meaning that the teacher had excellent work performance and professionalism. The school was simply trying to save money at the expense of teachers’ careers and livelihoods.


  7. I worked at school with a gag order in their contract. I posted to ISR and the director went crazy trying to ferret out the culprit. It was worth if I only saved one teacher from this hell hole.


  8. Perhaps ISR would like to comment on the recent occurrence when one of our teachers wrote to refute a very false, accusatory posting by an extremely negative colleague and was told no more postings were being accepted for our school? The person had posted a very negatvie comment about the school and her colleagues. The director brought it to the attention of the staff but NEVER indicated any individual teacher merely said, you are welcome to write in support or against what this person wrote. The entire staff knew who the person was and she was called on it, by other teachers, not the director. She then went back on line and you again posted lies when she said the director had accused her publicly of posting a negative comment. One teacher was able to post a rebuttal to her caustic negativity but when others tried to support the school they were informed no more posting were being allowed. If this is true, then you ISR are also using gagging methods.

    ISR BLOG MODERATOR RESPONSE: Please take a screen shot of this alleged email from ISR and post it to this blog. I would ask that you kindly include a wide enough view to show the “From” and “Subject” of the email as well our associates name at the bottom. Care to mention the name of the school in question?


    1. Of course he won’t do that – by the way great response moderator! Another self serving Director no doubt


    2. If THEY were informed one of the THEY surely must have the email. Show it to us. My bet is you’re a director trying to discredit ISR because a teacher dared to tell it like it is. Please do post the name of the school so we can all avoid this place.


    3. Edward, if everyone on the staff knew who the reviewer is then the director did indicate the employee. The words do not need to be spoken by the director if the director is creating a atmosphere and nuance of accusation. It sounds like a bullying tactic and am inclined to imagine a toxic environment by the scene you painted with your words. The director is using social pressure and it in no way leaves the director free of wrong doing just because the words are not taken directly from their lips.


    4. I wrote the negative review. I was called out (not by name) by the director. I was encouraged to apologize to the staff, and I did so. I apologized for hurting anyone, as that was not my intention.

      The next day I was called into the directors office with two other men, the lower and upper school principals. I was forced to either resign or be terminated. I was given, if I recall correctly, about 48 hours to leave the country, as the school revoked my visa.

      From my first week, I was called into the office because “other teachers” had come and said I was negative. These are people I had never even spoken to.

      I heard more gossip about at least half the staff, in just a few shorts weeks, than I’d ever heard in any work environment.

      Two reviews made it on after mine. One is DEFINITELY written by the upper school principals wife. (They have since left Chiba for personal reasons). I’m fairly certain the other review is from the director, as it contains verbiage directly from their hiring materials.

      I wrote that review because my personal experience was very unpleasant, as far as the way the school ran.

      It’s funny, after I was told I was negative, I worked very hard to change the image people seemed to have of me. Met with my principal and director both, a few weeks later, and they both said they saw a measurable difference. Then, when I was being fired, the statements made and written, basically said I had been a miserable hag the entire time.

      I stand by my review and had thought to not go ahead and review the principal and director but now that I see this, I reckon I will.


    5. I’d like to clarify that I “went back online” to try and have my review removed. I had no idea that anyone from ISR would go any further with it.

      If the school is so great, there should be no problem with my review. Certainly lots of teachers will be happy to give glowing reviews!

      I failed to mention my review that I was physically assaulted by a parent at this school…and the incident was completely ignored.


  9. It is completely understandable that systems/ schools do not want negative publicity about their schools. All over the world, professional ‘Codes of Conduct for Teachers’ are as much about supporting the education system you work for in a positive light, as well as unifying and articulating what this means for an educator.

    At one of my more recent schools, a visiting academic asked me to contribute a chapter to an academic book about the impact of my weekly professional learning on teaching. I had the data, as part of my role in the school was to appraise the teaching of each member of the staff each term, and of course, I had a record of the training that had been provided. Therefore, I was disappointed when the school owner refused to support the initiative, because it might be seen as stealing ‘ company secrets’, and also because I could not guarantee the information my analysis would reveal would necessarily be positive (although of course I hoped it would be).

    As I believe this type in information is crucial for the advancement of education, particularly in IS contexts, responses of this kind are exactly the reason I am no longer interested in working for proprietary schools generally and have returned to a national systemic educator which requires all schools to gather data on the impact of different projects on student learning and engagement.


  10. Of course a private education institution is going to include this in a contract. Most companies and social agencies do as well. I’m not surprised by such a demand. Part of the contract. One can always post after leaving a posting. Bad-mouthing a place because you’re not satisfied with the working conditions while you are employed–unless it’s something quite egrecious–is really not Professional either.


    1. I strongly disagree with you contention that this gagging is a natural and acceptable part of a contract. I would hope that an educator who feels unjustly managed by a school’s administration and whose contractual promises were not respected, would first off approach the admin. and try and resolve the issue. That said, if they receive no satisfaction, and the issues are egregious, then they have every right and perhaps even an obligation to contact ISR and show the school for what it is. Other educators have the right to know If a school is a fair and serious educational institution or simply a charade.
      I presume you have seen on this website what horrible things seem to occur in far too many so-called schools and under these circumstances, a self-imposed or institutional Omerta-like silence is NOT professional.


    2. I did write “egrecious”, did I not? Here in Canada, since returning, both places I’ve worked have a “gag” order in the contracts. One is a supposedly non-profit agency helping newcomers find work, the other a religious social service agency. Sorry, it’s not just in profit-making, foreign schools where this exists. It just feels more onerous when we are in a foreign country. Again, if it’s in the contract, and you get to sign it BEFORE you take the job, you have two choices….


    3. Signing a contract without reviewing it is an invitation to disaster!
      My entire point Peggy is that there is NO place for any gag clauses in any contractual agreement, other than reasonable non-disclosure requirements, because;

      1) They go against the Charter of rights and freedoms in most places, including Canada and in some cases against the labour laws as well (in Québec they are specifically excluded),
      2) It reveals a fundamentally flawed perception of the employee-employer relationship where silence is golden,
      3) It displays a horrible mistrust and implicit judgment of an employees intentions, before the fact,
      4) It portends a very unreceptive, negative attitude towards honest and positive criticism in favour of preserving a façade,
      5) It closes the supposedly open-door policies of administration and highlights an attitude of circling the wagons and paranoia ,mistrust and secretiveness often rampant in poorly managed and guided organizations.

      Nobody denies that there are other organizations using this gag technique, but that again is irrelevant. The very existence of this tactic, as I tried to highlight above, bodes ill for the organization AND the management and the fact that they can try and get away with it is not as justification for permitting it in the first place.


    4. Neither is treating teachers like dogs Peggy. no doubt you’re a Director so you’re on the giving end. hope one day it catches up with you and some of the terrible treatment listed on these pages of ISR comes back to you – what IS unprofessional is denying another teachers to the few recourses of action that they have in the face of schools which break contracts, go back on the terms and conditions and place teachers one step down from the cleaners!!! I know a thing about this I’ve been an international teacher for 22 years!!! People like you who tell others to ” suck it in” are the ones who create the bad conditions in the first place. Schools which take professional educators and treat them like maids need to be closed and ISR is a step in the right direction,


    5. No, I was never a director. And I agree, that egregious behaviour should be signalled. And, until I was about to leave the country where I was working, there wasn’t a forum like this online. The worst “employers” or directors I had actually were Canadians and New Zealanders. Tore my heart because I just thought we were more “Professional” than that, but it wasn’t the case. I found for the most part that the local directors were quite understanding or at least congnisant of possible complaints. Of course, much less so if the school or college was a profit-making one. But, that is the same deal in Canada–profit first, education second. How far down the ladder is “second” differs with the institution. Cheers.


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