A Hard-Learned Lesson

Nearing the end of 3 satisfying years at my current school I eagerly & naively signed on for a fourth. Not surprisingly, it came as a shock when a couple of months later our beloved Director announced he would not be returning.

My future had been cast into limbo. I would have to live with whoever showed up to take our Director’s place. The Board assured us they had made an excellent choice. I could only hope for the best.

As the new school year got underway the “excellent choice” quickly revealed himself to be everything I loathed in a leader. I classify him as an arrogant, insecure, under-qualified, know-it-all who views those ideas contrary to his own as personal assaults, especially if those ideas are coming from a woman. This character turned out to be 180 degrees opposite of our previous Director, for whom we all had the utmost respect.

From the git-go Mr. Excellent Choice went around singling out returning teachers. He gave us extra lunch & after-school duties & nixed most all our supply orders. He scrutinized & called us out on every insignificant thing. He even sent “coaches” in to observe our classes. These “coaches” came from his group of 10 hand-picked sycophants he had recruited on his own. It was clear he was working towards getting rid of those of us who had been here for years.

I like change, don’t get me wrong. But change for the better. Change instituted with no rhyme nor reason is nothing more than a frustrating exercise in stupidity. From day one Mr. Excellent Choice began altering each & every procedure without first observing what was already in place. School life became stressful. It was in a continuous state of flux for no apparent reason, except, of course, to stroke this little man’s ego.

One afternoon I chanced to enter the office of Mr. Excellent Choice. The new dismissal procedure for middle school was causing considerable confusion & I had an idea how we could remedy this. He told me “don’t bother.” His plan was not the problem but rather my inability to institute it. As such, he would be entering that specific “failure” into my employment file. No discussion, no clarification, no nothing. Just an ignorant, insecure bastard who held all the cards.

If the Board had had the decency to announce our former A+ Director was leaving, & if they had had the moral/ethical fiber to have done so prior to asking us to sign on for another year, I would not be here! Feels like they actually planned it this way. I feel completely screwed as do other staff who signed on for another year. And let’s not forget those teachers in the second year of their contract!

All in all, this experience has been a hard-learned lesson. The takeaway for me is that when things are good, even great, don’t take it for granted that they will continue as such. International Schools are in a constant state of personnel turnover. Here today, gone tomorrow. School Boards & owners often see teachers as mere pawns in the game, & are more than willing to sacrifice our well-being for the good of the kingdom, so to speak.

The lesson learned? Look out for Number One & always protect yourself in the International School game. We’re talking about your career here, your future. Take nothing for granted! Ask questions! Rock the boat if you have to. Just be sure you get all the information you need to make an informed decision.

(Name withheld)

Comments? Have something to add?

37 Responses to A Hard-Learned Lesson

  1. Susan says:

    I think they also try to get rid of long-serving teachers as a way of cutting the budget. Not nice, but common, in my experience and according to stories from colleagues.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mr Andrew K Short says:

    First and foremost you need to be true to yourself, regardless of the years of experience both in International Schools and in home schools. Unions are terrific but not going to exist in International Schools where owners are responsible to fee-paying parents. Whether your owners are greedy profit-making money-grabbing ignorami, or educationally astute they still need to to satisfy their clients.
    You do need to put yourself first and ensure that you have a backstop plan. If you feel the need to stand up for something you believe in then choose your moment and fight the fights that matter. I learned a hard lesson when working as a Secondary Head I felt the need to challenge my Director on a matter of Examination principal. I knew I was correct even though the local examinations officer supported my director, so I produced evidence direct from Cambridge which stated how correct I was. The end result was that my director refused to speak to me of meet me and terminated my 2 year contract. Though it was incorrect procedure and I could have fought it in a court of law, she could have held it up for 10 years as she was a citizen of the country and I was not. So though I was owed a years pay I had to find a new job for the new year.
    Also Parent power is something that can be very difficult to combat as a new administrator especially if it has been embedded long time in the system.
    Change is welcoming but needs to be gradual, measured and appropriate. Advice is always welcome but cannot always be actioned upon.
    I truly believe that to be a good leader one must listen, plan and spend time getting to know existing systems, not just those one is familiar with, and dealing fairly with all obstacles. Respect goes both ways, if you want respect then you need to show respect (something many administrators know little about).
    I am almost at the end of my teaching life and am pleased to say that I am still learning.

    Like

  3. Anonymous says:

    Having worked mainly in the Canadian public school system for 15 years before the archaic world of international school leadership and countries horrible labour laws, I find that unions in international schools are desperately needed. Will never happen, but I have come to appreciate the unionised environment where you CAN’T be bullied and harassed at work or and expected to work all hours and have unmanageable demands go stretching beyond the regular day and week. Many put up with incompetent, very old style leaders and top down uncollaborative admin. I’ve seen contracts broken for next to no reason other than an admin doesn’t like someone, or someone hasn’t responded to sexual advances. They don’t even know the most basic ways to run effective meetings, encourage staff and create positive morale and the whole school stays stagnant just generally unhealthy with staff bonding on complaints, legitimate complaints .. highly educated competent teachers who are silenced. Improvements, enthusiasm and a general good learning environment for children in international schools is lost. I have seen directors fire people to bring in someone they worked with bags of nepotisim, favouritism, racism, sexism and ostracisim from managers who haven’t had proper professional development and act like gods as if they own people’s careers and lives. It would never fly where I came from and where I need to go back because being mistreated and getting rude emails and seeing colleagues suffer and be humiliated is the norm.

    Like

  4. brad says:

    Because of ISR, I was able to avoid some real landmine offers that seemed like good opportunities. Please please please post and name this director. He could very well be any teacher’s boss in the future.

    Like

  5. AKH says:

    Reads like the Burke files of my school in Dubai. 80% of the staff have either left or been removed since the new director took reigns this year. The board is shameless going gaga over the changes. The new buzzword is bums on seats, hard sell through social media. Teaching and learning has a become a formality, as long as the displays are okay and social media targets are met, this is a great school as per the new vision.

    Like

  6. Expat_Egg says:

    Unfortunately in the business of International Education, bad managers are more the norm than the exception.
    1) take this year as an opportunity to work on the “keep your head down” philosophy.
    2) take every new rule/ changed policy as an opportunity to stretch your creativity— not as another domino in the falling line of aggravating things Mr Director has done
    3) (whispers, gently) It’s not all about you. OF COURSE you will say that his changes are detrimental to the students — and, yeah, _some_ of them may be. MOST aid them, however, are just ill-conceived and ham-fisted — but not truly BAD for the students.
    4) No matter how much you hate him, be professional. Faculty Rooms already have a terrible reputation; please don’t pile negative upon negative.

    Like

    • Anonymous says:

      I would disagree with the “keep your head down” as it only propagates and normalises the bullyish, negative and toxic culture that heads, directors and admin can inflict on schools. I am constantly appalled by the quality of decrepit human beings that serve as leaders in international schools.

      Like

  7. Anon says:

    As a “youngish” international school teacher (14 years in the international school sphere), I have seen the comings and goings of principals and heads. I learned one important lesson: It REALLY is the head and leadership that makes or breaks a school. I have seen how heads come in and observe quietly in their first year but then the changes start. Look to the new principals and heads in place and what schools they came from…and sure enough, teachers from such schools and areas start to get recruited into the school. It changes the culture. This is not a bad thing if a head brings in people from his or her old school..so long as the people are actually good people and extremely qualified to inspire the lives of young people.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Anonymous says:

    Very consistent with my experience at four overseas schools. Changes to management have usually been negative as the high turnover at international schools includes management and the first thing new managers appear to want to do is to fix things, often things that were not broken. I now think if you get three good academic years at a school, have good references move on while all is well. If a manager who is particularly gifted and liked moves on, see if you can follow that person to a new school. Often they also like to keep some of their highly regarded staff.

    Like

  9. David Xanatos says:

    I have some similar levels of apprehension for next year. We’re losing a lot of quality admin this year which makes me a little apprehensive for next year but hopefully it all works out well. Change is part and parcel to this lifestyle. I would say if I ever get into the mindset of “I’m only looking out for number One,” then that’s the signal it’s time to head somewhere else.

    Like

  10. Joe says:

    First, if I’m ever worried about the future just bc there’s a change in admin coming…it’s time I move back to Kansas. Here’s a paradox: someone who packs up their life and relocates to Indonesia, only to find their future “thrown into limbo” when their boss leaves.

    Second, I’ll tell you from experience that colleagues who get terrified about a beloved admin being replaced are 10x more likely to complain about the new person.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anonymous says:

      Kansas. Wow. The most backward area of the entire western world

      Like

    • Nyet says:

      I agree that when a favorite leader is replaced, the incoming has a harder time to build those relationships necessary to lead. However, I do think the argument is not necessarily about change itself, rather it is the methodology of change and then the character of the person pushing the change. Kotter speaks to how to manage change. In my opinion, wisdom in leadership is a much required trait and one that is sorely lacking today.

      Like

      • I really don’t understand your argument. Boiled down, the “methodology of change” was just a one-sided view of how a teacher viewed an incoming head’s implantation of a change of process. The OP allegedly did not carry out properly and was subsequently reprimanded for it and we have this rant. The rest, in my opinion, was just fodder for this article.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Nyet says:

          Well I suggest you read Kotter and you will understand. Of course the original post was one-sided as we don’t have the luxury of the other side. That said, I don’t care about the original incident, I was commenting on the generalities which point to weak character, poorly timed and thought out decisions by heads which seem to be all too common in international schools. Leaders need to understand that, while they have the organizational authority to cause change, there is always ramifications to those changes. This many of them do not understand nor think they are deserving of.

          Like

  11. Not to discount any of this but I would like to hear the other view point as well. Doesn’t sound like you much enjoy change and liked things “the way they were”. Maybe it’s you undermining the head and what he’s trying to do? Also, don’t be so quick to pull the “doesn’t listen to me because I am a woman card”. In a field dominated by women, it’s highly unlikely your head got where he is being a sexist.

    Like

  12. Shahin says:

    I blame the board!! Even in a school in Pakistan the board controls who they hire and then of course interfere in the day to day running of the school as well as rig elections so the same crowd remains in control. and the sad part is they are housewives ( not to be rude) but who have no clue about running a school and one thought that the IB was a clothes company!!!

    Like

    • Don says:

      Yup it is the same with many of these school and boards are clueless about hiring educators and end up with conmen in admin. like my current school in Thailand .

      Like

  13. Nyet says:

    At present I am in a school that is doing this same thing. Our new head came in with the idea of being approachable, open and interested. This seemed refreshing as he was actually replacing an incompetent and very divisive head. What happened next though was anything but the impression he had first given. Rather, he knew what to say but this was far from who he truly is as a person. Soon after, he would undermine the principal, without any prior warning about his decision to do so. In fact, he did not even give them opportunity to defend themselves. Certain poisonous leaders were able to persuade the head and he could not see through these peoples’ issues. Next he allowed those people to take over, skipping over the principal, without so much as informing staff of his decision. This has caused much confusion and chaos in the school due to his “empowering” choices. Then if he sensed your dislike, you found yourself a victim of his wrath. Shunned also by these other staff. This is my last year here. While I don’t feel pushed out, I am leaving nonetheless. The atmosphere and the leadership is too much to want to stay and wait it out. His autocratic means and small character is just not the place in which I wish to work. Oh one last thing, add to that that this is a religious school too!

    Like

  14. Anonymous says:

    This doesn’t only happen in International schools – it happened to me in Australia last year, a new Director and within a few years dreadfully unhappy staff and a sociopath for a boss. The only difference was, I walked out and took my concern much further. I received a large payout, but the stress of standing up for yourself is horrendous. Dealing with lawyers and a huge organisations insurance company is also horrendous.

    Like

  15. PM says:

    Been there myself, school I was at a school that hired a person to be IB coordinator who had never taught IB before, also happened a few years later. The director by passed many other applicants who had numerous years of IB experience. Also hired a HS principal who knew nothing of IB, did not know the the difference between SL and HL

    Liked by 1 person

    • You teachers and your IB just kills me. A fresh face out of college with 2 years of IB experience doesn’t not equate to a seasoned professional with or without IB experience. IB is part of the picture and just because YOU have IB experience doesn’t make you a better teacher!

      Like

      • Anonymous says:

        Quite a chip on your shoulder about the IB

        Like

        • David Xanatos says:

          Indeed. One would assume that the bare minimum requirement for the person in charge of all the minutiae of the IB program at a school would at least be some experience with working within the program. Arrogance has nothing to do with it. That’s just logical.

          Like

          • I have worked in both. I see some come in waring IB like a suite of amour and obfuscating other good teachers without IB experience. 20 years into teaching, IB didn’t teach me a thing about dealing with classroom management, parents, or administration which is a huge part of being a good educator. Correct me if I am wrong.

            Like

            • David Xanatos says:

              It’s not supposed to teach you those things. It’s a curriculum. That’s it. You’re ascribing something to the program that it’s not even designed to do in the first place. Do all curriculum frameworks set you off or just this one? Does AERO also make you angry because it doesn’t teach classroom management?

              Like

  16. Anonymous says:

    Yes I had the same experience as the writer two different times. Funny how they penalize our resumes for staying 2 years when they are looking to hire new staff but then when we try to stay on at same school that gets new director, the new director is fast to try to eliminate existing staff! I had been at one school 6 years and new (incompetent) director told me best to find new school because too much of the same is bad. Then 1 year after I left the board fired the new director. Sometimes we do get to see karma in action.

    Like

  17. Anonymous says:

    Best to move on. Persevere in your applications and just wait to see what comes up. The next job will be another experience but don’t take anything for granted. Make the most of what life has to offer.

    Education is expanding around the world so there is likely to be positions going every term and every year for atleast the next decade.

    I have never regretted moving on and have done it several times.

    Starting my career at several of the toughest schools made me what I am today.

    Empty threats these days are made so often and is no different to the politics of many of our elected and unelected world leaders.

    Like

  18. Anon says:

    I feel you. I had a very similar situation. We had the best and was replaced by the worst, and as a women hated the fact I would pamper his ego. Tried to not renew my contract after only knowing me for 6 weeks and then did a 180 degree turn when he realised he had no evidence to base the decision on. I fought for my job and worked hard at doing it well. To make sure the student and teachers got the best of me. In the end I couldn’t take his dictatorial style leadership. Decided to move on. Trust was also broken after being thrown under the bus, and hard to rebuild. I learned a lot from the experience, mainly about the kind of leader that I don’t want to be (or ever work for again) I also grew a thicker skin which was needed. However, I am currently refilling my bucket back in the classroom- and loving it!

    Like

  19. psycho says:

    Administrators who are leaving should be upfront at interviews. There is no point in establishing a rapport with someone you think you’d like to work for it they ain’t gonna be there when you arrive. Boards often make dumb principal hiring decisions.

    Like

  20. Toady says:

    I am going through the same experience in Thailand and teachers are voting with their feet and walking. The clueless charter school bum the directors hired is tearing apart the school. Nothing is worth staying around this toxic administrator

    Like

  21. Name Withheld says:

    I have quite the opposite experience. I love the city where I currently teach, the people and the culture. However, my 3 admins where all inexperienced and has no leadership skills. I was ready to move on to another country. Just when I was ready to sign a contract with my new school an announcement was made. 3 admins are moving on and at the same time announced who will be promoted. People that are amazing. I quickly contacted HR to sign my 3rd year.

    Like

  22. omgarsenal says:

    I wonder if parents are getting the same feeling you now have. Have you considered asking a few discretely. Maybe having staff who are unhappy and parents who are concerned address themselves to the board might force the Board to review their decision?

    Like

  23. Will says:

    Don’t be a door mat. Also, never let anyone tell you to put the students and the school first, to stick it out for their benefit. In a foreign country, far from home, look out for number one and only number one. This may be a narrow view but you have to ask, would the school and the students look out for you?

    Like

  24. Jon Cristofer Miller says:

    I had the same experience at a great school in China. The first year was outstanding, and faculty as well as students learned a lot while enjoying the process. The second year’s “saving grace” came from being with students; the classroom became the haven from the office.

    Like

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