Tolerating a Terrible School for a Great Experience

When I signed my contract I knew what I was getting into. I’d read all the reviews & most of it was not pretty. So, right then & there I made the conscious decision to go with the flow at the school in exchange for the long-desired opportunity to live in & explore Thailand.

It’s been said many times over that if/when you venture overseas expecting everything to be perfect (like some utopia), you let yourself in for an overwhelming let-down. Signing with an overseas school solely based on the words of a fast-talking recruiter can only lead to frustration, resentment & anger as you day-by-day come to realize you’ve been royally duped.

Recruiters/directors who misrepresent their schools do themselves & their newly hired teachers a great disservice. However, thanks to ISR School Reviews, learning & accepting what I was actually committing to put me in the right frame of mind. The majority of my colleagues came here expecting a top-notch educational institution as described by our admin, and not the compromised diploma mill described in the ISR Reviews. It escapes me why they’d take the words of admin tasked with recruiting teachers over that of the teachers who worked here themselves.

I’m loving Thailand & having the experience of a lifetime, while my colleagues still struggle trying to make reality conform to their preconceived ideas of what life at this school would be like. I neither support nor outwardly buck the admin. I knew the score when I signed up: spoiled kids, entitled parents, grade-fixing, lack of effective discipline &/or procedures. Nothing came as surprise for me. It was all right there in the school reviews:  “This school sucks! But…Thailand is incredible!”

Am I a sell out? My answer is a NO! My method of effecting change is to be the change I want to see. I model the person who I’d like my students to become. I give them the grades they deserve & impose discipline as needed. If the admin overrides my authority, so be it. I march on but not without gently telling the student in question that it does not work this way in Western high schools or universities. I can see in their eyes that I’m hitting home — I’m planting a seed, helping them acknowledge reality.

I hope sharing my experience will help conflicted teachers at lousy schools to take full advantage of the great opportunity they have been afforded & not squander it swimming upstream against an administration with no interest in changing.


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30 thoughts on “Tolerating a Terrible School for a Great Experience

  1. Haha…this is one of the primary reasons I actually left Thailand after two years, the perception that foreigners were only there to have fun/travel/score with the local ladies, etc.

    Unless you’re teaching at one of the ELITE Bangkok international schools, it’s going to raise a red flag, in terms of being a resume builder.

    Now, it’s not that big of a deal to course correct…but the thing that stood out to me was that I was considered someone to “be wary of” by my (at the time) girlfriend’s family. She was a well-trained Chulalongkorn medical school doctor/resident. It struck me that her earning a salary 3-4X mine and having her own car actually made me a bit of a suspect in their eyes, and definitely not the catch all (well, the majority of male) foreigners suddenly believe themselves to be when living/working outside of their home country.

    In the end, leaving the attractive but extremely low-paid university circuit and going back to more reputable IB/AP/CIE international high schools in another country (in this case, China) may seem like “settling” in a sense. That said, the higher salary/increased stability and organization made it the right decision, ultimately. You do have to respect the way that Thai students revere their teachers, but that lack of seriousness and respect is ironically not always there for accepting our idea of a Westernized education. Something of a paradox. Thailand was a place where physical appearance, wearing your uniform to attract the most attention and FB/Instagram were more important for social success than academic achievement and high test scores. In China, conversely, we have to tell the kids to develop their hobbies/passions and not study so much that they become AI robots that dutifully regurgitate standardized answers…to try to be more like regular teenagers. If only there was a compromise in the middle!

    All those things said, it’s easy to judge others for living/working there (and make assumptions) without knowing anything about the individual involved.


  2. My biggest problem with this article is the attitude towards other teachers who aren’t doing the same thing the author is doing. Choosing NOT to stay quiet in the face of injustice is a laudable quality. Choosing to keep going along with it so you can continue living the good life in Thailand is a coward’s mentality. At the very least own up to what your choices make you rather than negatively judging others who’ve chosen another path. And keep dreaming that you’re planting seeds in these children. They may hear what you say, but they also see the results. You claim it doesn’t work that way in the west, but you’re a western teachers willing to make it work that way for them now. Their take-away inevitably will be that there are rules, but that people like you will help them be exceptions to those rules and that the rules will never apply to them. THAT is the reality you’re helping them acknowledge.

    But never mind all of that, just keep enjoying Thailand!


  3. The fact is that if we attempted to start out listing all the “local” school administrations around the world that actively sought out the advice of their foreign teachers…and cooperated/collaborated in the most effective way to bring about positive changes or reforms, the list would undoubtedly be QUITE short.

    I think the biggest problem some of those responding are having here is with the idea that travel opportunities should take precedence over educational responsibilities. That’s a slippery slope.

    It might be the BEST benefit of international teaching, but it shouldn’t be the reason FOR international teaching…otherwise, in a country like Thailand, there are plenty of English training centers for backpackers and “tourist teachers.”

    So we’re in this grey area where an accredited teacher or someone in an IB/AP/A Levels type of program still puts at the top of the list. Easy to judge all those out there who are “coasting along” and fulfilling their job requirements but not really going above and beyond the line of duty. It’s not like there aren’t many in the US who are quietly doing the same, waiting for their years of service and age to add up to an acceptable retirement age.

    In the end, the majority of students at elite or “super rich” privileged international schools will be fine with or without us…so it simply comes down to values/ethics/morals. For every 1-2 teachers who will leave Bangkok for the challenge of countryside schools…5 will just “go along to get along” and another 3-4 will burn out or change schools or countries every 1-2 years. Within that 5 is a number of teachers (as a male, I’ll be the first to admit it) who end up putting down roots because we marry a local woman and then have our own set of compromises to reconcile in order to protect our families and stabilize earnings since we’re no longer stereotypical “single wanderers.”


  4. I find your reaction to be expedient, even prudent, but not so easy to adhere to. I recently worked at a school with a horrific bullying problem. Staff were using a ‘give it to the kids’ ethos to justify and excuse serial bullies, social bullying, and just general meanness right under their noses. Many also used the concept of teacher autonomy as an excuse for not posting an assignment to school communication calenders and just putting them wherever even there were students with IEPs in their classes. Long standing staff would excuse bullying by pointing out how welcoming our the school was to guests. I might have maintained your level of detachment if my child did not attend there. Then I remember that kids going to bad schools are someone’s else’s child. But then again, as one of the long standing members of the school said
    “(School’s name) has always been here and it is not going to change.” Your actions are prudent and expedient. I am not saying you are wrong. Perhaps if my own child had not been on the receiving end of the bullying and abuse so many times, I would be able to take your stance. I left early and wish I had left earlier. The country and people outside of the school were amazing, but it was still not worth it.


  5. Let’s be realistic, many if not most, international schools are big business. They run according to ‘other world’ business principles not western educational principles (even though recent US university revelations speak otherwise). This original post speaks to why most of us are overseas in ‘other world’ places. We wanted to travel, right? Most of us likely did not have the motivation to go because we thought we could save the educational world for other countries. The author’s philosophy is probably the only and best one to hold or else go back home to our glass castles in the West. Sincerely my selfish gene has loved the dozen countries I’ve lived and worked in and mostly crappy educational institutions. I don’t think I have compromised my core principals but have made positive contributions to every crappy school I’ve worked in and impacted the lives of children and parents, I know that for a fact. Purpose served both ways.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Yes you are realistic and this is the way it is in most schools.
    Well done. Continue like this. There is no perfect school out there.


  7. Folks who take jobs at unaccredited, under-resourced, for-profit schools get what they deserve! Just left one in Sudan where the locals were treated like sub-humans by the rich dingbats who played at running a school and where some of the teachers were downright nasty, lazy, unqualified cheats and had no right being anywhere near kiddies. Overcame my principles for a year but also made the best of it with saving and travel. The saving graces were a decent pair in admin and three other “normal” teachers to hang out with. Sudan is dangerous but the right place for anyone who wants to inhale teargas, pay extortionate prices for imported essentials, be unable to escape when the airport is closed or the school couldn’t be bothered getting an exit visa.!


    1. The moral here is don’t go to countries run by tinpot military dictatorships. Not only does your career screech to a halt by having taught at an unaccredited school but you end up teaching the kids of the corrupt creeps who leech on the rest of the struggling populations… so much for morals!


  8. Regardless of whether I agree or not with RB’s comments, just the fact that we international teachers have this space to use and share and debate our experiences is truly wonderful, and therapeutic!

    I’ve been teaching in a horrible, horrible school in Colombia, and it’s been an emotionally abusive situation dealing with rich, spoiled, entitled brats. I’m done now, but over the past years it’s been beyond wonderful to have read articles of others who also been going through hell.

    Thanks to all for sharing. And, thank you ISR for creating this space.


  9. I think “selling your soul” and “giving up your principles” is very harsh criticism indeed. It is better to make some change, than NO change at all….which is what will happen if everyone avoids these schools. The bottom line, as to why I teach is to make an impact on my students and to earn a living. Each to their own. Well said RB!


  10. I think that when teachers put up with poor schools we become part of the problem. Are you a professional teacher or an opportunist traveler? I see the world and teach as an international teacher, but the MAIN reason I travel to far away lands is to TEACH! The travel is a secondary perk and if/when the school becomes secondary, then yes, I’d consider myself a sell-out.


    1. And what about school communities that want to improve? Such a cavalier attitude means some will never have that opportunity. Additionally, educators that have worked outside their comfort zone make for better hires. They tend to be more reliable, more dedicated and better able to lead their learners through their education. I’ve lost count of the number of prima-donnas that have arrived, been unable to adjust, complained, bemoaned the differences with their home country or that ‘tier one’ school they worked at…… only to be surprised when they aren’t renewed.


    2. Truth be told international schools are private and unregulated. Teachers are at times, taken advantage of by school owners and administration. If you and your school community want to improve and change, I applaud your efforts, but don’t under estimate how teachers are treated. As a single person, I need to look out for safety and well-being in country and school that’s unfamiliar. I have stayed in schools I have not been happy with to fulfill my contract, so as not to tarnish my reputation. So, cavalier is not a word I use to describe me or my opinions. Maybe you don’t know just how bad the situation was and are quick to judge.


    3. The improvement of dodgy, private so-called “international” schools is a matter for national education ministries that host these establishments. The other force for change is the professional development work undertaken by international exam boards such as the IB, GCE and AP. International educators who hold to their standards will help improve classes for learners and colleagues. Tourists there for some sort of multi-cultural “experience” will not. They are part of the problem of corruption, to which no professional with basic ethical standards should ever “adjust”.


  11. I’ve worked in some rotten schools, and still value the experience. One was in the KRG, Iraqi Kurdistan. The project (with refugees) was very well intended and there were many people, including volunteers, who gave their heart and soul to it. Then there was Dr Evil, the director. Fortunately he wanted all of ‘western educators’ out asap and we duly obliged, so it ended up being only 5 month gig. But the experience was unforgettable, even living just 30 miles from Mosul when it was being bombed. As long as you get paid as contracted, value the experience and move on. You will have interesting things to include on your CV and in interviews.


  12. I agree with the poster here. Taking a job at a school in a largely unregulated sector with few, if any, employment rights requires one to be realistic about what one can achieve. If you arrive at a good school, great. However, with the current growth fuelled in some countries by a new middle class understandably intent on bettering their child’s life through whatever means they can now afford (paying school fees in the first place, a level of coerciveness, outright bribery), you’ll most likely end up at a less than authentic school that bends to parent pressure. Be prepared. Be realistic. It’s the nature of the business and life in some countries. There’s nothing worse than trying to work with naive educators who expect international schools to mirror their home country’s expectations and standards. These teachers never settle in, allow themselves to get bitter and resentful, and cast a dark shadow over their colleagues. Eventually, learners pick up on negative emotions and attitudes which is so sad. We encourage resilience in the children in our charge, a skill sometimes absent from educators.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There is nothing worse than working with unprofessional tourists who undermine basic educational standards by accepting corruption, indiscipline and bullying directed against anyone with elementary ethical standards who does not “fit in” or “go with the flow”. Such characters need to be reported and removed by relevant national education ministries that host private so-called “international” schools.


  13. You are newcomer…and it will take sometime to understand the culture. You signed a contract to be a teacher …..first do your duty according to the regulations of the contract. If your advice is needed, ONLY then give them to the authorities…otherwise its is a waste.

    Why do I say this?
    I have lived in a similar school in Thailand..and now 5 years up. The newcomers do not understand either the school culture or its parents.

    Let me give an example….my new principal wanted many graduating students to go to foreign countries to study…….None of his business….why?…..The Parents think that the local Chula and Mahidol are very good institutions where students study appropriately, and also embedded on the foundations of Thai culture…….Hence do whatever you want ……..but “Be with the parents’ and schools’ pulse”…..Never go overboard to do a sea of changes ….when you have only little knowledge of the system and its context. Thanks!


  14. Wondering if this is a genuine comment because it reads like a promo for ISR….if genuine then the writer comes across as naive, arrogant and self righteous so not sure what to make of it


    1. It comes across as authentic, true to their experiences and review-like; the purpose of this site, Mr/Mrs Anonymous maybe-possibly person/robot/retired/NQT…

      Liked by 1 person

  15. There are a few fundamental principles that modern education has barely addresses and among many others,there is the question of grades representing ¨learning¨. Another is the question of school and classroom discipline and another, the actual role admin. should be playing in providing a workable environment for students and teachers to prosper.

    RB was brave enough to try and enjoy his(her?) experience despite the obvious aberrations existing at the school. However, there is a tacit and disturbing acceptance that ¨grades¨ are the ultimate goal, that incompetence and corruption are tolerable and that pseudo-international schools should be encouraged to roll merrily along by disgruntled and dissatisfied staff who actually do the school a big favour by staying there.

    Almost every educator I have known or spoken to has bought into the trinity of falsehoods; ¨good grades¨ making the student ¨good¨, that administrators’ major focus is often protecting their collective asses and that leading by ¨example¨ is possible and game changing in some esoteric way for their students. There is another one; that parents deserve a say because they pay.

    As long as we perpetuate these myths, then, by example, we perpetuate anti-educational and learning practices that have hindered education and learning since Dewey first criticized them in 1910.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hear, hear! Educators have a professional and ethical responsibility to teach and award grades according to criteria set out by international exam boards (whether IB, GCE or AP). If there are cases of malpractice, they need to be reported to the said boards and university colleges. Then it is in their hands, even if we cynically suspect too many colleges turn a blind eye to dodgy transcripts from wealthy overseas candidates.

      By the way, I sometimes wonder about well-worn phrases like “doing your research”. What cave does someone live in if they do not actually know that Thailand is a royal military dictatorship backed up by fascist yellow shirt mobs; or that Gulf monarchies abuse their own subjects, and particularly foreign migrant workers, on a systematic basis? Not even tourists, let alone international school teachers, should try and pretend they live in bubbles divorced from reality, trying to extract some sort of “experience” fit only for the Lonely Planet Guide.


  16. This post makes some very astute observations but with all due respect, it has a great deal of naïve self-righteousness running through its premise. When there’s an ethical problem at a school – grade inflation, blatant grade changing, behavioral issues ignored – the reality is that there are only so many times a teacher can “give the grades the students deserve and impose discipline as needed” before the administration (usually propelled by the parents) is causing undue stress and problems for the teacher. As such, teachers who constantly go against unethical practices of schools don’t typically last at said schools, even they wish to remain. Anyone who’s taught for more than several years knows this. Furthermore, while it’s great to think you are the “model” of proper behavior and are helping students to “acknowledge reality,” the truth is often far less, shall we say, sanctimonious. For one thing, it’s NOT a “reality” that such behavior doesn’t occur in Western high schools and universities; as someone who just finished five years teaching at a top IB private school in the States, I can state from direct experience that all the problems expressed so frequently in ISR reviews are also rampant problems in U.S. educational institutions. And of course, the recent University of Southern California admissions scandal should make this unfortunate fact abundantly clear.

    Again, this posting makes some good points about needing to understand that what you’re sold at an interview or job fair should never be taken at face value, and there’s definitely no such thing as a pie-in-the-sky school for international teaching. But I take issue with the underlying premise that teachers who are unhappy at educational institutions have no-one but themselves to blame, and simply need to be some kind of “living model” of proper Western behavior (the cultural biases alone in this assumption are problematic, but I’ll leave them alone.) Teachers become upset and unhappy for a whole of reasons, some of which are ridiculous, and others which are quite valid problems. While I’m happy for this writer of this post – he/she clearly is enjoying the job and feeling integral to the classroom – but it’s naïve to assume the majority of unhappy teachers haven’t attempted to likewise “go with the flow’ of their school.


  17. RB, your post was the best thing I have read on ISR. Just so! Leading by example is always sound practice. Good for you. And good for the students, colleagues. Thanks!


  18. I couldn’t agree more with this author. Some of these overseas schools are as corrupt as can be, then again so is the upper class of the society who are willing to pay for grades. It’s all a vicious circle.

    Heck, we all just saw how Felicity Huffman and a bunch of over-paid movie stars paid tons of money to get their unqualified kids into outstanding schools. The kids have to have known, especially when they were exempt from the entrance exam. It happens everywhere, some places are just more open about their dishonesty. Go with the flow, try to make changes if you can, but don’t own it or you’ll make yourself crazy. It’ been going on long before you got there and will continue after you leave. Any influence you can have one an entitled kid will have a ripple effect and you can feel good about effecting change, no matter how small that change may be.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I don’t know if it is about selling your soul to stay. I think selling your soul is if you have given up on yourself and you don’t get yourself out of a situation where it is beating you down. If you stay because you can see the good in it and have an awareness of what you can and cannot change, you are in a realistic and emotionally intelligent frame of mind. When you are in this frame of mind (most of the time) everything becomes more bearable. Especially if you have time to take care of yourself and still have the energy to notice what is special about where you are.

    Unfortunately, working in a crappy school more often than not means having the life sucked out of you because you are trying to establish a learning environment where none exists. You have attention seeking students that wear you out completely. Your personal time is used preparing and marking school work. If there is any time left you are trying to keep a home organized, so that housework and errands don’t snowball into an overwhelming urgency.

    Holidays are about finding your sanity again and catching up with the world outside of your environment. If you still have enough positiveness to see that everything is temporary and that you can take in some awesomeness in the culture you are in – good for you. In the end, you will be kicking yourself for not doing this- because you gave everything including your soul to a bunch of people who are ungrateful and would replace you in a heartbeat.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I suppose if you don’t mind “selling your soul” and giving up your principles, then taking a position at a crappy school isn’t such a bad idea after all.


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