Compromise: The Key to Success Overseas

alter-avoid-accept-116651054In this brief article composed expressly for ISR, I hope to offer some timely advice that should be of help to teachers deterred from teaching overseas due to the many negative reviews found on ISR. Likewise, my words may be of assistance to teachers already overseas and dissatisfied with their current situation.

To begin, let me say that I am fairly certain most of us began our teaching careers in the public schools of the Western world. Funded 100% by tax payer money, these schools are free to focus their energies completely on education with no need to compromise their ideals to raise money needed to pay salaries. Private overseas schools by contrast, to survive, be they For-Profit or Non-Profit, raise funds through tuition and are therefore forced to walk the line between being both a profitable business and a School.  If you are going overseas or teaching in a private institution in your home country, you would do well to accept the fact that when you cross a business with a school there are going to be practices that fly in the face of what a true educationalist would consider best practices.

Accepting a student half-way through the school year who speaks little English can be par for the course in a tuition-funded school. You may even be expected to “move” this student on with a better than passing grade. An administration that refuses to discipline unruly students may also be the norm in a private school where a gossipy parent who feels their child has been unduly singled out has the power to organize parents to leave the school. Mixing business with education has its undeniable draw backs. In any business it’s important to cater to the customers. The question is, at what point does such catering conflict with your own sense of ethics as a Western trained educator?

I’m not suggesting I agree with much of what I have seen go on in International Schools. As a school director I have had to compromise some of my ideals for the continued existence of a school and the continued opportunity to serve students, teachers and parents to the best of my abilities under the circumstances. Where I draw the line is when I see a school owner reaping bountiful financial rewards and neglecting to fund the necessities of the school. I don’t expect any school owner to sacrifice their well-being or that of their family for a school – philanthropists are few and far between. When I found myself a pawn in a host national’s plan to get rich at the expense of children’s educations, I made every effort to get everything I felt the students needed. I was later “released from duty” and immediately posted the truth about this school as I knew it to be – or better stated, how the situation exceeded what I was willing to compromise.

We each have a threshold for what we can and cannot accept. One thing is for certain though, when you immerse yourself in an overseas culture and tuitions are needed to fund a school, some form of compromise will have to be made on your part. The same will hold true in a private school in your own country. I highly recommend teachers read between the lines of ISR reviews with an eye to deciphering what sort of compromise on the part of the author could have made the situation a better experience. If the compromises needed to succeed at the institution are within your realm of acceptance, this could be a school for you. If not, and you consider yourself a pure educationalist, you may never be happy in an overseas school.

Comments Anyone?

17 thoughts on “Compromise: The Key to Success Overseas

  1. Thank you for your comments, it is charge with a lot of common sense and from now on I have another perspective on this issue.


  2. A majority of overseas schools cater to the expat population. For the expensive for-profit schools, the employers pay the tuition for, usually, 2 children. The actual amount of engagement with the host culture is on a sliding scale from minimal and lip-service to engaged through community service. I won’t begin to comment on teaching in a for-profit institution… suffice it to say that I’d never do it again.


  3. Whatever one’s response to the lead article, at least it brings out the fundamental and unavoidable contradiction in the relationship between business and education that has been well known since the nineteenth century:

    “That labourer alone is productive who produces surplus value for the capitalist, and thus works for the self-expansion of capital. If we may take an example from outside the sphere of production of material objects, schoolteachers are productive labourers when, in addition to belabouring the heads of their scholars, they work like horses to enrich the school proprietor. That the latter has laid out his capital in a teaching factory, instead of in a sausage factory, does not alter the relation.”
    (“Capital” Volume One, Chapter 16)

    Professional teachers are best advised to avoid any compromising involvement with the sausage factories of “international education”, particularly when they may have the misfortune to come across characters (“colleagues”??) who regard younger teachers as “kids”, or who condemn the objective reporting of systematic and unprofessional abuse as “whinging and whining”.


  4. A teacher’s response to this director’s response. I understand that schools run on a business model. I also understand that a lot of foreign teachers I work with force their own culture and beliefs upon their host nation, school and students. I loathe this behavior. For example, when an immigrant arrives in the west they are told to assimilate, but then when many foreign teachers go abroad they actively work against the host nation’s culture. I find this very hypocritical and it is a major problem in international schools. However on the flip side the word compromise to many owners and administrators means to inflate grades, have your reputation defamed and remain quiet and to turn a blind eye to owners who unjustly enrich themselves at their students’ expense. For example if your owner owns several lucrative schools, then opens 2 more, then slashes your school’s IT budget by 40, 000 US dollars and doesn’t assign the high school a librarian you have a problem. This problem is something some teachers won’t compromise on. I was going to contribute a school review but already saw two recent responses outlining this very issue of compromise. To all the owners and administrators out there who review this site and unjustly enrich themselves and then ask true educators to compromise I have a message. We are anonymous and we are watching you.


  5. Your words sum up a lot of frustration that we as overseas teachers experience. It is unbelievable sometimes for us to have to endure what SHOULDN’T exist in private schools (unruly/unreasonable/disrespectful parents, inadequate administrators, unsafe facilities, lack of materials, etc. etc.) for the sake of money and saving face, keeping the school open.

    Teachers face problems EVERYWHERE in the field, in every country, because of budget cuts, etc. But when we have high standards of teaching and are taught to maintain such standards, again it is very frustrating and quite stressful when we hope to make a difference in every student’s education.

    As you state in your post, compromise is important, but giving up quality should never be an option. Sadly many private school owners are more concerned with the bottom line than with the school’s educational offerings or standard of education. And more sadly, many teachers give up working in their dream field to take other jobs instead of fighting the continual stress.

    We don’t mind working overtime; we don’t mind spending our own money on teaching materials; what we do take issue with is an administrative policy that doesn’t stand up for teachers and quality education.

    Money is not the most important thing in the world.


  6. I have had an International career for 6 years and read the reviews on ISR with an open mind. I think it is quite easy to distinguish the honest, helpful reviews from the personal grudges. I wrote a review on a previous school and wrote it from the perspective of what I felt a newbie should honestly know. I had negative experiences with the school but they pertained to my situation so I didn’t “vent”. I wrote the issues that would affect everyone in general. We have a couple of disgruntled staff who are “leaving” this year after making students and some colleagues miserable with their unprofessional and disgraceful behaviour and I am waiting for the scathing review. I have already collected the evidence needed to send to Admin if they do review that will hopefully have their post questioned. I have always found ISR extremely helpful and recommend to thers looking for employment but there are always two sides … Just putting it out there.


  7. I appreciate this article. Any insights from admin about the behind the scenes realities should be appreciated by teachers. I know for me personally, hearing about why an unpopular decision was made would make it easier to accept it. Is this possible in the moment or only in retrospect? Again, thanks for this, these dialogues can only help teachers, as long as it is a 2 way dialogue.


  8. I am.approaching one third of my career overseas. There are some pretty unrealistic expectations out there. Some of the “kids” I have taught alongside would likely not last a year in a Western school. They have huge requirements for the school that signs them, yet their expectations for themselves are almost non existent. Stop the whining. If you don’t like it out here, go home. Flip burgers for a living. I fear if I hear one more entitled brat complain about how tough it is in front of a national who is struggling to raise a family on one third of what he makes, I will throw my suchi at him


  9. No matter if it’s a for profit school in the West or abroad the education of students should not be sacrificed ever. But it does all the time as my few years abroad taught me. Private schools in Canada make lots of money in tuition and this is usually reflected in the quality of teachers and supports. This does not happen as much as it should abroad. Often the international schools are just a place to for the elite to continue to be elite. With the amount of money taken in for tuition the schools ought to be top notch. Sadly this is not the case. A true educator would not sacrifice the education of students yet that is who they hire. They hire a person who will toe the line and that is it. I don’t agree with the OP.


  10. the reality is that the degree of compromise required is actually along a spectrum and will find it very hard to with two extremes; total subordination to the will of the owner(s)/administrators where one is a pawn or figurehead used to attract clients because you speak english or whatever. The other is a school dominated by a powerful clique of teachers who are aggressive and confrontational about everything the admin. tries to do and rarely accepts needed compromises. I have been in both types of schools and neither is a welcome experience.
    I do agree that a purist will rarely be comfortable in a purely profit-driven enterprise (business first,school third) and will find it almost impossible to maintain their self-respect and professionalism. The time to ask the hard questions is before a contract is signed and ideally during your due diligence as you search information about the target school(s). ISR is an excellent resource but just one of many elements needed to help you make a decision. Getting things in writing can help you if there is a disagreement with the owner or admin BUT that is never a guarantee of them respecting what they wrote.
    Wedon’thave unions in most overseas schools and we rarely have any group supporting us so it is best to ask the hard questions before you arrive. IF you later learn that you were mislead, then another paradigm kicks in; flight or fight!


  11. Excellent article. I see too many teachers making themselves miserable trying to change the world. Keep in mind we are guests in a foreign country and things just aren’t done like they are back home. The first step to changing anything is accepting what is and then working with it from the inside to effect change. I’ve met teachers overseas who are shocked to think the school owner is reaping a profit. To these teachers I say, why aren’t you teaching for free? Seems many teachers have lofty ideals for other people. As a convert from the corporate world to the world of international education I must say many teachers I have met have lived a pretty sheltered life and lack a grip on reality. Thanks for this article. I think it is spot on!!!


    1. Completely agree. Many teachers have very unrealistic expectations and delude themselves but it is also true that international schools attract the types of people into management that would never even get a look-in back in the West – most of them couldn’t even hack being a teacher….


  12. To the original contributor of this ‘free advice’:
    You wrote the article as a ‘director of a school’.
    Now let’s hear the ‘teachers’ perspective’….


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