Breaking Contract for an Offer You Really Want

contract107782763greyMore than one school has hired teachers at a recruiting fair, only to later discover their staffing needs changed between the time of the fair and the start of the school year. As a result, these schools broke contract with some or all of their newly contracted teachers, leaving these educators unemployed and without compensation. International Schools Review shows such unfortunate events do happen. Fortunately, not often!

A current post to the ISR Open Forum outlines the exact opposite scene in which  a teacher signed a contract, received a signing bonus, and is now considering breaking contract for a “better” offer.

Some, but not many,  International Educators feel recruiting is an “every man for himself” affair. They consider it okay to continue looking for something better even after signing a contract.  At the other extreme the majority belief is that just because schools have dropped teachers prior to the start of an academic year, it doesn’t make it right for teachers to break recruiting-fair contracts without extenuating circumstance. Here’s an excerpt from the ISR Forum post that sparked this discussion. You be the judge:

Pluke » Sat Mar 05, 2016 1:43 amI was wondering what the possible ramifications might be if I took the European position after already signing a contract for another school for next year? From what I read of the contract and had a lawyer friend read I would just forfeit the bonus. I realize people do this all the time. I do not like to go back on contracts or my word in general but life is short so what would be the best move?

Here’s a sampling of reactions to the post:

Wrldtrvlr123 » Sat Mar 05, 2016 3:20 am…Worst case, jilted school raises a fuss, it gets back to your preferred school, they withdraw their offer and you are left with nothing. Or possibly something in between where there is some rancor but you still end up with the better job/school.

Clio » Sat Mar 05, 2016 9:23 am…Grab what you can now because you could be dead soon? …Lie because you don’t have the guts to be honest? Do you permit students the same sort of latitude?

PsyGuy » Sat Mar 05, 2016 3:52 am…I would wait until the EU IS actually has an appointment or offer for you. Then you have to look at the connections between you, the agency and the ISs and then determine your level of risk. If there are a lot of connections and you have a low tolerance for going bust, then you might have to sigh, and wait until next time. If they were impressed with you once you are likely marketable again. If there are few or no connections or you are a maximizer then you go for it, and hope you have enough karma in the cosmic bank of luck.

Shadowjack » Sun Mar 06, 2016 9:19 am…if you take a job, to me, you take a job. You have given your word, especially when a signing bonus has already been paid. If you wanted a “better” school in Europe, you should have said no. End of story. And keeping the money IS stealing. You can try to use logic and rationalize all you want, but taking money to do something and then NOT doing it and not paying it back is theft, pure and simple.

What’s your stance on this topic?  Scroll down to post

33 thoughts on “Breaking Contract for an Offer You Really Want

  1. There are a lot of good comments here (and some laughable ones), but I’d like to share my perspective as someone who is relatively new to the international scene but has lots of experience with recruiting, offers, and contract dilemmas in higher ed.

    This isn’t a black and white issue, and every circumstance is different, but the original scenario is a pretty dark gray. The teacher agreed to a contract and has no real grounds for breaking it.

    The only thing keeping me from totally condemning that move is what several folks have pointed out: it’s an asymmetrical marketplace. There are plenty of horror stories out there regarding schools exploiting the lack of legal protections to break contracts, change terms, and mistreat teachers in ways that would lead to slam dunk lawsuits in most western countries. Does that justify teachers breaking contracts with schools that have done nothing wrong? No. But it does feed the justification of the “go on to greener pastures” crowd.

    For me, the community needs to step up and level the playing field. Governments need to help foreign teachers whose contracts are being ignored. While the recruiting agencies are not “governing bodies,” they certainly like to scare teachers with their “honor the contract or we’ll blacklist you” spiel. I’d like to see them apply that same admonition to schools. If a school breaks contract, no matter how reputable they are, they should be blacklisted–and that information should be shared with other agencies and publicized (preferably not behind a paywall).

    Let’s be honest, even if governments and agencies really stepped up and acted in the most egregious cases, schools still have the power over educators. There’s a lot of discretion in hiring and promotion. Recruiting fairs are still high-pressure meat markets where candidates are put on the clock and lack the ability to consider their options in the same way they would in other fields. But we can at least ask for some of the worst actors to be held accountable.


    1. This is slightly off the point but anyways… A few years back I signed a contract for a well-known international school in Singapore. There was no sign-on bonus or anything given/booked for me in advance by the school. A better offer came along so I cancelled with the first school and signed the new offer. The first school blocked me being officially hired by the second school by refusing to withdraw their application with government for my work visa (two applications for the same candidate are not allowed).

      In the end I had to pay the first school 3,500$ Singapore dollars to remove their application (it was in the contract so legally they could do this) even though I had terminated the contract three months in advance of the start date.

      Sooooo, schools do this too.


  2. Be honest. Tell them your dream job came up and return any signing bonuses. International teaching is a racket for slimy owners and crooked administrators. I’ve seen plenty of teachers canned and lied to at my current school. But don’t stoop to their level. Tell them a better offer came.


  3. I think the problem is that if school 1 has made you a fair offer and have your signed agreement, then for you to get out of the agreement simply because there is a better offer from school 2 is not the right thing to do; in particular if you lie and raise a medical or family issue as the reason. We’ve all had personal emergencies of this kind; good schools will be sympathetic. Not all schools are great; equally not all administrators have horns and a tail. Why not take school 1 and re-apply in a couple of years to school 2 ? And although there is no blacklisting of teaching staff, heads do talk to each other on a regular basis – if you make a habit of this behavior it may be picked up eventually.


  4. This is a tough situation. On one hand you have integrity and “the word” on the other—opportunity and fulfillment. If you were in your current school and simply were up for renewal—I think honesty would be the best. Depending on how long you’ve worked with the institution—why not be honest with your Director or Head of School? Let them know that you’re devoted to your professional craft and your service to the school but desire a move elsewhere. Most of these Chiefs have been in the circuit a while and know the intensity of the recruiting season. I would think that establishing it up front and keeping it honest would be the best and most-honorable means of going about it. In that way you’re allowing them to know your truest intentions and provides them with adequate maneuvering to fill your position if the opportunity presents itself. For Directors or Heads to deny an opportunity to staff would be bizarre…especially if that individual has provided a lengthy service to the school—in International the average stay is 2 years with 4 years for those even more committed or comfortable with the institution and of course those with longer stays related to lifestyle changes. But really, if someone puts in over 4 years to a school I think that should buy them some credit and support/favors for the recruiting season….especially if its still in the season…still plenty of time to get excellent educators.

    If this is a situation of one signing with a new school only to dump them for another then that is tricky. I would say it is a breach of one’s word and commitment. Especially if you have a written agreement…verbal…perhaps you could sneak by on…but a written signature agreement puts you more firmly aligned with the choice you made. If it’s verbal, it is also binding but not legally as both have not committed to an agreement document or formal contract.


  5. It’s a hard call. Which is more important for your identity? Your sense of integrity as related to written deals? or your pursuit of quality of life and achievement?

    That being said, many companies and schools renege on written contracts, too.


  6. Schools have zero qualms about breaking contracts at any time. and neither should educators. I advocate for life. Live the life you want to live. break the shitty contract, and go to greener pastures. The institution of cash cow education will show no mercy towards you. By having good natured working class ethics, we hamstring ourselves in an incredibly cutthroat atmosphere. Do not fear breaking a contract. If the golden land is calling, then follow its voice.


  7. The essence of the problem lies with the untenable dilemma of leaving a sure thing your job and have to rely on the big head hunters at a fair or very different hiring practices at potential schools . As family responsilities get more complex both parties loss- teachers stay for the wrong reason and right fit schools miss out. I think the whole needs a rethink and a revamp- why don’t out big data and tech experts help with this by designing a rolling match service for hiring rather than holding teachers hostage to a 1st semester signing date or throw a meagre resignation bonus so schools get their ‘ducks in a row early’. What does admin do? Go recruit in the school calendar for a job the year after- holding their spot as they SECURE their next position. I think we could diminish the power of the ombudsman recruiting expensive fairs and go more virtual, flexible and make it a more mutually beneficial process for all. Don’t get me started on vapid debates over ‘loyalty’ – that’s too old school to even consider-thanks for the chance to share!


  8. I say, every experience is a good experience so stay with the signed school but let the school in Europe know where you are going and that you would want to come to them next year. You could say to them that you wouldn’t renegade on them (Europe) if it were the other way round. Having said that, if you have been in IS for long, then go for your dream school and deal with whatever challenges you may face there, because you will face them! I personally prefer schools that want me – with signing bonuses and all – than schools I want! Also, the grass always seem to be greener on the other side! Finally, it’s your call. Good luck.😊


  9. Let’s get real here: if you have a signed contract with a new (or existing) employer and this employer changes their mind for no good reason then they will NOT be paying you ANY of the salary promised, even though the school is in breach of the contract. These contracts are asymmetrical, so to expect the individual to behave differently is ridiculous.
    If you get a better offer, be professional in your communications, express regret, and request understanding for what, for you, is a life changing experience. The employers (should) have better things to do do than pursue such individuals. Tell the truth to your new employers and forewarn them in case of any ‘flack’, and then they will not be surprised or disappointed.
    UK employment law, by the way, is designed to protect the employee, and courts will not restrict the individual’s ability to pursue his/her career, taking the view that it is the employer’s cost of doing business (recruitment).
    I have worked in a number of industries, and only teacher, bess ’em, would take a job that no longer suits them due to a ‘restrictive contract’!


  10. This quote may fit. It does for me. Maybe I value my reputation too much, but that is why I became a teacher.

    “Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” — John Wooden


  11. I had accepted a good post in the middle east one time when a brilliant offer came up in July. Far too good to refuse. I knew they’d be annoyed if I told them the truth so I told them that my mother was sick and I had to go and look after her. Generally, one should never do this. I once worked for a different employer who had a clause in the contract stating that they would take you to court in your own country for leaving the job.


    1. I’d respect this move a lot more if, instead of lying to School 1, you approached them honestly explained the situation before asking to be released from the agreement.


  12. As there is no workplace protection for Teachers in countries such as Asia, China and Middle East. Teachers are open to exploitation, abuse by employing schools.
    In most cases working in overseas schools is the experience we all set out to gain. Many schools are genuine and want to operate trouble free with no problems. However there are always exceptions, especially when school boards and parents are involved.
    Once there are complaints made about a teacher for whatever reason genuine or not. The teacher might as well start looking for another placement as the work place environment will become difficult.
    Always keep your options open, always keep searching for a better position. Always have a card up your sleeve. Try and maintain a bank balance for a easy getter way. Don’t feel guilty, don’t look back.
    Always remember education is about the bottom line (unfortunately).


    1. You are so right. There are many cases of teachers who fall foul of individual owners and get canned for no reason.


  13. For me, the decision would depend upon who had been the recruiting agency. There is one that I know does not usually work in the behalf of candidates, but only of schools. I know this because I once signed a “letter of intent,” but then had to renege because I became ill and had to remain in the United States for medical treatment. That recruiting agency tried to pressure me into going by informing me that they’d never represent me again. Later in my career, after I had accepted a position in India and had difficulty obtaining an employment visa and knew I’d be late arriving in-country, I called the second recruiter to ask what were my options regarding the contract I had signed with their client school. They told me to contact the head and ask the head directly if he was setting aside funds as per the contract, even though I had not yet arrived. They told me that, if the answer was “no,” that I would be, as far as they were concerned, a free agent, not obliged to wait for the visa, and that they would, under those circumstances, continue to represent me in the future. Fortunately, the answer was “yes,” and I went shortly thereafter. I’m sorry, but I will NOT behave “honorably” for schools and agencies who treat teachers like expendablr “hired hands,” because, for one thing, I know from this and other experiences that–to paraphrase someone who argued differently above–such institutions are generally treating students and their parents in a wholly selfish way, as well. ( The second recruiter later contacted me during the year, to ascertain that everything in the agreement with the school was being honoured; I believe the first agency never does that.)


    1. dismas, would you share with us who these two recruiting agencies are? I have my suspicions but would really appreciate some clarity.


    2. That’s a shame. I’ve had the drastically different experiences with those two agencies. I’m sure time and turnover are a factor (especially at ISS, given that Search is basically a one-man show with his traveling band of franchisees). Have you ever reached out again to ISS? Clearly, you’re not someone who breaks contract without cause–your track record backs that up.


  14. Of course it’s never as black as white as this. There are many considerations that play into each situation, and no blanket answer for all of them… except the one I will add 😀

    The best advice I have is to follow the path that has the most integrity. Communication and honesty are always the most important in these situations, though often the hardest and riskiest thing to do. If you do break a contract, be upfront and honest about why. If you are not willing to be honest, but are hiding instead, are you really making a choice that you deep down believe is right? Will this conflict cause you some amount of insecurity and guilt within you? Or lead you to be cold and disconnected in some way? Your integrity is very essential– it is where your true self-confidence and strength will come from in the most difficult situations. Deception and manipulation, on the other hand, erode them.

    Be willing to apologise if your decision causes inconvenience for others, but stick to your guns if it is a decision you believe firmly is the best one. People recognise that kind of integrity, and in the end often do respect you for it. Life is often more nuanced (messy), and mature people understand this. Things sometimes get broken, but it is up to us if we are willing to clean up what we can.

    No relationship in life (business or otherwise) is simple in this respect. But integrity and communication goes a long way to stabilise things when our relationships start feeling like a selfish game.

    Commitments are very important and help align our energies to achieving certain tasks that are not achievable otherwise. But they can be broken if necessary. You just need to understand the consequences and responsibilities of that, and don’t take breaking commitments lightly.


  15. The only way I would break a contract after I had signed it would be if after signing I determined that the location I was going to was unsafe or if I had an emergency and had to return home. I think once you give your word you are obligated to take the job. If you are a great candidate you should not have a hard time getting that other job the next recruiting cycle.


    1. Baloney. You are not obligated. Their signature is worth toilet paper, and often the contract applies only to the teacher, not the employer. This is a game of chance with no recourse should you be taken under. Don’t feel bad about living your life the way you want to. Go for the better deal. Corporate mentality goes for the better deal with laser-like precision. If you are international educating, then you play by corporate rules.


  16. I’ve been in this business a long time, and have always acted with integrity. So my advice might seem a little strange. But my advice is–there’s no one out there looking after you. *You* have to look after you. I’ve seen schools do some terrible things in their own best interests. You have to look after your own best interests, because I can assure you, no one else is. Having said that, I think you have to act honestly. Be honest in why you’re not coming–you had an opportunity at your dream job. It is a small world and you will run into those people again. If you’ve taken a bonus and don’t take the job, of course you must reimburse them. The other school can easily find another teacher–the ranks of international teachers have swollen with unemployed teachers who don’t really want to be overseas but will for a job. The school will survive–we are all easily replaceable. It’s not a habit I’d recommend getting into, but if you truly believe it’s a once-in-a lifetime chance, go for it. And for you bright-eyed, “it’s a noble profession, we’re held to a higher standard” folks, I commend you for your ideals…noble, but naive.


  17. Far to many teachers are in the job for what they can get out of it and certainly not for the students sake. If you sign a contract fulfill the terms and conditions. Exception , if you are being treated unfairly or the school. Do not break a contract which you have never started because you had a better offer. I have recently been offed a job and then another turned up. I explained that I had already accepted the first job and did not go a head with the second post. If you have a job then feel thankful and stop wasting schools time and money looking for rainbows.


    1. “If you have a job then feel thankful” – working class mentality working against us. Go for the life you want. Forget this guy’s glorification of subservience.


  18. All kinds of things happen in Int’l schools that would make a system with legal due-process and unions head spin. Whether it’s a school treating contracted faculty with dishonesty and disrespect or a faculty breaking contract etc., I’ve seen it all overseas – since 1999 and not just targets toward teachers or other staff – admin have been mistreated as well.

    I think the real issue is one of individual and institutional accountability. There is no governing body out there that is protecting or governing either party and that is the most terrible flaw of the int’l school system.

    I’ve witnessed some serious unethical hiring practices at schools. I’ve worked at schools where “personal” favoritism being the basis on which people are hired and promoted – it’s almost a popularity contest. It makes me sick that that goes on.

    At the same time, I’ve known teachers who travel for a holiday break and not return without a word to anyone – that’s disgusting.

    I know there are schools out there that one feels justified in a no-return/about face sort of of thing, but at minimum, leave a note, send an email or make a phone call. Similarly, schools that treat education like a retail business continue to baffle me.

    In the end, we must all do the right thing, just stop and think about the impact a single decision can have on the lives of people – just stop and think for a minute…may be at least 10 minutes…or more!


  19. People who sign contracts and then take a different offer are worse than the worst of the schools that abuse us. They need to leave the teaching profession as I am certain their lack of integrity comes through in a general sense and negatively influences their students. Politics should suit them better.


    1. This person is can have their “personal integrity” all they want. doesn’t mean you are a bad person if you follow your heart to the better place. Educators are better than cold concrete administrators working the company line any day. I’m not impressed with this comment at all. Sanctimonious self righteousness might make this person feel better about themselves, but you should not feel bad about breaking a ‘contract’ which will never serve you in the first place.


  20. I have been on both ends of this stick! I was let go after the recruiting season by a Mexican school, despite being promoted to a new position and signing a renewal contract. I had to scramble to find a job which was far less than I had but I took the former school to court and won a settlement.
    At another school i had agreed to work at, when I arrived , the contract was disregarded from the outset and I was treated very badly but I finished the contract nonetheless, because I did NOT want to descend to their level I respected my original agreement….hard to do when you are being abused.
    We are educators and as such are role models for our charges….and for the community as well. We are expected to maintain higher standards than your average employee because we represent the noble art of teaching but that is a bit unfair, as we are not regarded very highly by our employers or the public quite often. We are among the poorest paid professions in the world but we are held to very high expectations…..that is what being an educator is all about!


  21. A friend of mine did this…was offered a contract at a school in southeast Asia but wanted a school in Europe. The school in Europe didn’t make an offer at the fair so he signed with Asia. A month later the European school contacted him to see if he was available. He was honest with them and told them he signed with another school but would prefer Europe. They didn’t seem bothered by this so he broke contract to go to Europe. The recruiting fair agency said he was no longer allowed to attend their events and the school in Asia was quite irritated. In the end he attended many of the recruiting agency events and still seems to be working in international schools just fine. Ironically, he left Europe after 3 years because it was too expensive. Not sure he made the right choice but he had no major repercussions other than his bank account depleting.


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