Could This Be Normal?

A month into the COVID pandemic, with still no concrete ‘start date’ for the upcoming academic year, I telephoned the principal at what was soon to be my new school in Italy. I was simply looking for a little reassurance before officially resigning my teaching job in the States.

The principal was sympathetic. She understood my predicament. At least that’s what I thought….until she told me in no uncertain terms:

“If you fail to show up for school when we decide to open, you will be responsible for all expenses associated with hiring you, plus penalties. On the other hand, if we decide we don’t need you due to reduced enrollment, your Contract can be nullified with no financial compensation. Of course, in this situation you owe us nothing….”

It was painfully obvious I wasn’t going to get the reassurance I was looking for. I did, however, get the information needed to make a firm, much-needed decision. Jeopardizing my health and financial security for an organization that obviously could not give a damn about me was not about to happen! My final words to the principal? ‘Find yourself another teacher….I’m out!’

I realize I’m one of the fortunate ones. At least I still have a job. What if I had resigned my position here in the States? Worse yet, what if I was already working at the school prior to the pandemic, only to find myself put in the position of becoming a disposable commodity?

My Questions: Is it normal for International Schools to take such a hard-line stance, especially right now? Who in their right mind would expect educators to put their future in limbo with no assurance they won’t be left high and dry? Can this school really collect their recruiting fees from me?

Comments? Please scroll down to participate in this Discussion

52 Responses to Could This Be Normal?

  1. Anonymous says:

    One problem is actually that almost no one names names! If the names of schools that cheat, lie and manipulate were put on the public internet, they would have an incentive to clean up their acts. But even on ISR many will not name names.

    Like

  2. Got the t-shirt says:

    Nice? No. But real? Yes.

    Schools all over the world are forced to make difficult decisions right now. In all likelihood, it’s not personal; it’s business.

    At least the school was honest about what to expect. Plenty of unscrupulous schools would leave you hanging until the last possible moment. Now you have a little time to make new plans. I’m sorry to hear you’re dealing with this. It’s not ideal for you, but it’s not ideal for any school, either.

    Like

  3. Stephen Simpson says:

    “If you fail to show up for school when we decide to open, you will be responsible for all expenses associated with hiring you, plus penalties.”

    This is absolute nonsense. It is hugely costly and legally very complicated to enforce debts or court orders in civil cases across international borders. It is something not even large companies do unless it is for very large sums of money.

    Well done you telling them where to go.

    Like

  4. Liz says:

    I don’t think it can be seen as unusual in this unprecedented time. Schools can, as in any business (for that is what most schools are) legally use the force majeure. If their student numbers fall and they need fewer staff, surely it is better to retain current staff than sack them and bring in new? In addition, if there are no flights and you cannot be physically present in the classroom and schools are open, one cannot expect schools to pay new staff who haven’t completed a day of work for them.

    Harsh but realistic. My new school, which is part of a large established brand, reassures us our contracts stand because they have student numbers they can maintain and rely on being similar come August. Other schools might not have that security when parents may lose their jobs or be relocating themselves.

    At the end of the day, despite the many benefits of international teaching, we are disposable, eminently replaceable and have little or no collective power unless working in a Eropean heavily unionized school.

    It is good the school were straight with you. Staying put might be the safest route to secure employment for most folk this year.

    Like

  5. Anonymous says:

    This is not as cut and dry as some people would like to believe. I work at a good not-for-profit attached to the US Embassy. We were told in no uncertain terms that the board was expecting a significant reduction in tuition due to increased enrollment and therefore would likely have to make cuts to the teaching staff. We have been told that if we would like to back out of our contacts and stay in the US (where we have been since March) we can do so with full benefits. However, more cuts are possible.

    I don’t think this is evidence of a slimy board who treats employees as disposable. Rather, it’s what happens when you’re looking at your funding source being cut in half. From talking to my colleagues, it sounds like none of them have been RIF’d before as they are shocked and appalled that a changing financial situation means that their contracts may be terminated.

    I’m just going to hope I still have a job at the end of this but make a back up plan just in case.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Anonymous says:

    Hi!

    Unfortunately this is a normal trade off for the possibility of increased salary. International Schools are notorious for extremely selfish treatment normally but now there are no assurances at all.

    Most of us have been treated very badly due to this virus but to be fair, many of these schools are struggling due to political reasons and lack of enrollment.

    Your timing into this industry is really not in your best interest. Stay with your U.S. job until this is sorted out…

    Like

  7. Anonymous says:

    Normal and good practice are not the same. I have been blessed – and careful – to choose good schools in the main part. They see the importance of honouring contracts. Few good schools penalise you for dropping out early after accepting a post. However, international schools are vulnerable too, so perhaps consider their side too.

    Like

  8. Anonymous says:

    I would agree with many of you. The international schools admin. are often rogues. I have also seen it, even in schools where the country has legal back up for its teachers.
    It seems that teachers are disposable because the next teacher is waiting to be hired and will put up with the treatment.
    Good that you did not wait to see how you would have been treated once you got there.

    Like

  9. Anonymous says:

    I’m tired of reading reports on this website of school treating staff like dirt and teachers behaving like naive children. We seem to excuse this kind of behaviour because we are dealing with countries which don’t have the most supportive legal structures but I very much doubt there is any other profession which allows itself to be so easily taken advantage of – do we really think that oil executives and international lawyers allow themselves to be pushed about like this and do people really believe that a school would be able to chase recruitment costs from you or to sue you from the otherside of the globe?

    My most recent school in the middle east started by threatening people not to do ‘runners’ as they will be blacklisted and arrested during transit in any other GCC country – it’s laughable that people will believe and be bullied by these threats. More recently they have announced that the school will not reopen this year but that you can’t leave the country- what does this even mean? Teachers are choosing to stay indefinitely alone and with no community and often with no contract for the next academic year because some manager says they can’t leave even when the embassy is encouraging them to take flights. I’m waiting for colleagues (and I count most of the international teaching community in that) to grow a spine and not stand for this rubbish, the longer we go on being intimidated and pushed around the worse it becomes for everyone.

    Perhaps it’s because the job is such a dead-end back home, perhaps its because people realise that they can’t ever hope to achieve such a salary in any other walk of life that they are willing to put up with this stuff. Either way it’s encouraged me to think about whether this is a profession I want to continue to pursue when Covid wanes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Stephen Simpson says:

      Excellent post. Well said. The claims schools make about legal action etc across international borders are nonsense.

      Never do a runner.

      Always walk slowly out the front door and tell them, in no uncertain terms, where to go.

      Like

  10. Steven Teoh HK says:

    I can emphatise with you. I was verbally offered an English teaching position at a so-called Malaysian international school in June last year. The chairman and COO of the international school told me that they weren’t sure yet whether the new campus of the school in Penang would open its doors in October last year or early this year. But they said they would inform me when the school’s new Penang campus was ready.
    And so I waited patiently until mid February this year, during which time I had to pass up the opportunity to work at two other schools in Kuala Lumpur. Unfortunately, when I emailed the COO to enquire before the coronavirus lockdown in Malaysia, the reply I received was anything but definte. I quote, “We do not have definite plans for our Penang campus yet. Should we start our school this year…,” unquote. In other words they had offered me something which they didn’t really have. So I took the same course of action as you did. Whatever happened to ethics in the private education sector?
    Teachers of the world unite!
    Regards,
    Steven T.

    Like

  11. Tammy says:

    Many kindergartens here in China simply creased to pay staff, as did some schools. My school is late paying us but they are paying staff who are still abroad for months of doing virtually nothing. A friend in Uzbekistan was at a particularly awful school where they let everyone work online then, on payday, simply didn’t pay some or half paid others, making them work all day online without breaks. They were captive because there were no flights out.

    Like

  12. Arjun_L_Sen says:

    https://www.eurofound.europa.eu/observatories/emcc/erm/legislation/italy-severance-payredundancy-compensation

    Check this is it is authoritative. You dont get severance pay but you get something. I’m a teacher in an international school in Spain. The laws are much better here. Employers will try to cheat you relying on the idea that teachers are stupid. They try to cheat in Spain, too. Check with am employment consultant before signing anything. In these hard times employers will do anything to avoid liabilities.

    Like

  13. tough_talker says:

    Well, I wouldn’t worry about the money collection part. I walked out of a job in Khartoum because I got a better offer after arriving elsewhere and didn’t dig Khartoum. I stopped showing up for work, claimed I had mental health problems and the school finally gave me a ticket out and they couldn’t go after me for repayment. This is fairly common. Life is too short.

    Like

  14. Anonymous says:

    Many not not for profit, board run schools have little in the way of reserves. Many can survive less than 6 months and in a lot of cases 3 months based on the cash reserves in hand. Most international teaching contracts have a 3 month payout clause for teachers. This means that schools are looking at a situation where they are unsure if they can pay salaries. Moving forward, even very good schools are nervous. I have been the teacher rep an 3 very good international schools including ones backed by embassies so I have seen the books. As well many embassies have already told their connected schools that they will not be looking at family postings for the 20/21 school year and some businesses are reluctant to commit as well. I know of a few embassy schools that are looking at reductions of students at the 1/3 to 1/2 level. Some may be able to fill up with local students, but with the resulting economic changes, parents locally will be leary as well of adding to their own costs.

    So in short, even good schools, if they are honest, are looking at scenarios that involve cuts in staff. They may not need to enact them, but if the board is not doing this then they should be sacked for failing to meet their fiduciary responsibility to the long term survival of the school. Food for thought. I would rather work for the honest person who tells me the situation and the possible problems in a non-threatening way than the one that tells me it will be all okay.

    Like

  15. Anonymous says:

    American School of Barcelona operates in a similar manner. Contracts mean nothing, the administration treats foreign teachers as an easily replaced resource. The additional challenge is a lack of honest communication. I am pleased to be moving to another institution.

    Like

  16. Anonymous says:

    This is a really tough decision and situation. My first teaching job was at a Chinese for profit training center. Then at an international for-profit translation/teaching company (founded in the US in the 1800s and now based out of Japan) but run in China. My first part-time real teaching position was at a large non-profit school in Shanghai. For my first full-time position, I had a choice of my preferred position at a quasi-public/for-profit school in Shanghai (a city I loved), or a large non-profit in Beijing.

    I chose the latter exactly for circumstances like this. We have been paid in full. No one has been let go. All renewed contracts for next year are being kept on, despite a freeze in tuition price. The likely “worst case” is that with some people leaving in the Summer 2021, we just won’t hire new staff.

    There’s been a lot of stress and other issues with moving to a large non-profit in Beijing, but the stability during this period has made me thankful I’m still here.

    Like

    • Mosebye@gmail.com says:

      Would you say China is a decent bet at the moment to work for fall?

      Like

    • thejulian1@hotmail.com says:

      China is a very decent bet right now, and is a whole lot better than one imagines. However, my principal here (of a large international group of schools) told me that recruiting for the next academic year is being done within China. Right now your best qualification for a getting a job is being here!

      Like

    • Anonymous says:

      China is certainly a good bet if your already here. Otherwise probably going to be a delayed start due to visa restrictions etc.

      Like

    • Anonymous says:

      The word around Shanghai is that if teachers aren’t back by October, they would be held in breach of contract and let go, even though they will start the school year out of the country. Nobody, especially admin, wants to continue home-based learning just to keep a few teachers employed- the parents want the students in school. The possibility exists that those teachers who are stranded would start off the year at a reduced salary, then if not back in country, be let go. Most of the students are here while many teachers are not. With the possibility of teachers not returning and a guaranteed reduction in enrollment, the schools are not reopening with the full faculty and it is demonstrating that the school can work without the missing faculty. So as someone here, I would not recommend China now….it is a very fragile environment. Everything I have passed on is a worst-case scenario. I don’t mean to paint a dismal picture, I just want the original poster to see exactly what some of the stranded teachers may be up against. We hope for the best and plan for the worst.

      Like

  17. Anonymous says:

    Its nice to hear that there are others in the same boat. I am kinda stressed out to work abroad my first year in China. I signed a contract months ago and have been preparing to leave. If I stay in Canada …situation not great for work. If I leave to China, its a risk health wise and also, if lets say they just let me go like many of you say a school just might if there’s not enough students attending class. Also, if you back out last minute, maybe you get black balled?…sucks either way it seems.

    Like

  18. James Thomson says:

    Quite common. I suggest the prudent thing is to stay where you are right now. Travel is going to be difficult or impossible for many months.
    If, like me, you had already resigned from your existing job and had found a new one, in my case in the EU, you just have to cross your fingers and be careful with your money.
    The good thing is, there are the same numbers of students in the world and much smaller class sizes; we will find work, be it domestically or internationally, private or state.

    Like

  19. This is not the time to leave a job in education in the US. Overseas opportunities are iffy at best. They just cut salaries at the school I work at and increased the number of days we have to work from 5 to 6. Even after much discussion about the impact on kids. So pay cut and increase in work pretty normal in many schools. However if you get into a proper school it may be different.
    Also if the school is built upon the idea of sending students to university then teachers be wary. 2020 and 2021 are going to be a mess for everyone involved. Do your homework before you head over seas you may have a 14 day waiting period upon entering a country all expenses paid by that governments military.

    Like

  20. pam says:

    I am in the exact same position….it is time to decide to turn in my resignation here in the US, and prepare to head to the EU, for a teaching job I accepted in February. Am I being foolish? Is it more prudent to stay put? The whole state of the world, and the inevitable changes in education that are likely to result, brings me pause. I have been so overwhelmed with the transition and challenges with digital learning, I have not had the ‘head space’ to turn my thoughts to a job change and move in the coming months. With only one teaching week left, it is time to give the situation the careful thought it deserves. My fear is if I back out now, I might be black-balled from any other international opportunities. :/

    Like

    • Mark Munday says:

      If you have job, stick with it. There will be better and more certain opportunities later.

      Like

    • Nadia Bretone says:

      My school has been very supportive and as an oversubscribed school in the ME it is recruiting staff fro September. We have not had paycuts so far and the company keep us as informed as they can.
      It isn’t an easy situation for anyone but it will pass. No one can say their job is secure even without Covid. But the lifestyle here is worth coming to the safest country in the world. UAE

      Like

    • Depends on which country you are heading to.Check with your bank, get the police background checks done ASAP, and which school you are going to will make a big difference.
      What grade level you teach will make a big difference and the language of the country. Also how hard was the country hit by Covid-19? Are you in a major city with a major airport in case you need to catch a flight out. How high is your willingness to jump into very fast moving water?

      Like

    • Anonymous says:

      “Stay Home.” Agreed with the previous comments- If you have a teaching position it is not a good time to leave it for an overseas post. All international schools non-profit or for-profit, embassy supported or independent will be experiencing low enrollments, budget cuts, visa restrictions, preference given to low cost local hires (either national or expat already living in the country) etc. etc. Things will not be back to “normal” anytime soon, travelling for leisure on your breaks will not be as leisurely as before, and you will be experiencing your new host country under new rules, new regulations, new vibes… I would wait for another school year or two to embark on such journey. I don’t think you will be blacklisted from other international opportunities for that. It is an extreme situation for the whole world. On the contrary, your new director may be even happy to hear that you’re not going, as many of the directors I know thinking about managing the next academic year with essential core staff and hoping for “natural attrition” let alone bringing new hires.

      Like

  21. omgarsenal says:

    Well done and well met! your deciding to speak to your future principal, who clearly had an agenda. I believe she was testing you to see how much you wanted the job and to what extent you would compromise your values to keep that job. You dodged the bullet. In answer to your three questions:

    1) Is it normal for International Schools to take such a hard-line stance, especially right now? ENTIRELY NORMAL IF THEY ARE UNSCRUPULOUS AND WILLING TO TREAT THEIR EMPLOYEES LIKE CHATTEL…..yOU ARE JUST PAWNS TO THEM.

    2) Who in their right mind would expect educators to put their future in limbo with no assurance they won’t be left high and dry?
    EDUCATORS DO THIS ALL THE TIME, THAT’S ONE OF MANY REASONS WHY ISR EXISTS. ISR TRIES TO PROTECT THE NAIVE FROM THE SNARES OF IGNORANCE AND INNOCENCE.

    3) Can this school really collect their recruiting fees from me?
    THEY CAN TRY BUT THEY’LL NEVER BE ABLE TO PROSECUTE ANYONE OUTSIDE THEIR COUNTRY SO USUALLY ITS NO. SOME MAY BLACKBALL YOU, WHICH IS FAR MORE COMMON . THE INTERNATIONAL SCENE IS A SMALL WORLD.

    Like

  22. Mark Munday says:

    International schools are often bloody-minded. Contracts don’t mean much because, as foreigners, getting legal satisfaction is difficult for teachers. Once the contract is terminated, you usually have 30 days to leave the country. International schools can usually get away with staff treatment they wouldn’t be able to get away with in their home countries. Teacher salaries are typically a much higher percentage of operational cost, so it comes with the territory ….

    Like

  23. Di Alpers says:

    My experience (other than that with one honourable employer) is that contracts mean nothing. Most International schools are run for profit and hire and fire at will. Equally though, I’ve worked with teachers who’ve shown little regard for their contracts.?

    Like

  24. Julie Ryan says:

    Reputable schools don’t operate like this, whether they are for profit or not. There are many much more positive examples out there right now of schools forewarning teachers sensitively,, offering to repay visa expenses, giving new hires a chance to withdraw without negative consequences, offering one to several months compensation, etc. A key here is do your homework before accepting a position. Always ask to speak to a couple of teachers at the school first and be sure a contract has specifics (not just vague language such as “per school policy”). Having said all of this, it is going to take a lot of flexibility and optimism for a US-based teacher to begin an international school position this summer (or fall or winter?) due to the dismal record of the US with COVID-19. No country is going to welcome you with open arms any time soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Anonymous says:

    Most international schools are for profit, money making institutions. Their source of income to pay salary bills is student fees. If student numbers decrease suddenly or schools can’t open they sure won’t be financially solvent to pay teachers’ salaries. Just based on my experiences, I would suggest that people do NOT go overseas to teach unless they have minimum 6 months of liquid cash in the bank to cover their essential bills, living expenses, and emergency airfare and medical expenses (if the need arises). Protect yourself and your family financially first and yes, we teachers are very easily disposable. Internationally, contracts are suggestions and mostly favour the employer(s). Also, do not expect rule of law as exists in your home country. You are the outsider and many countries have significantly different court and law systems that are neither transparent nor fair to their own citizens and much less so for outsiders.

    Like

    • Anonymous says:

      You clearly don’t understand the concept of non-profit. Whilst agree that many are for-profit, and most of what else you said, a not-for-profit school still makes enough money to pay the bills. However as the name implies, they are not out to make a profit. This mentality is the difference in how they treat or view teachers.

      Like

  26. Kar says:

    No Money, No Honey!

    Wow, even low-category prostitutes have more self-esteem than international teachers.

    Are teachers expected to pass a “I happily allow schools to treat me like trash”-test in order to get a job?

    Like

  27. Ruth O'Neill says:

    There are no unions internationally so yes, schools more or less can do what they want. They’re a business. This is why you really have to do your research before you sign up or even enquire in the first place.
    I wouldn’t even be thinking about teaching overseas this year though.

    Like

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s nice that you have that option. Others who have resigned jobs and accepted international placements elsewhere do not.

      Like

    • anonymous says:

      There are newly-hired teachers who are stepping back from their contracts. As a result, here are last minute jobs out there and there may be the potential to negotiate specifics of the contracts. The school I am leaving in HK has had both new ICT hires back out and they are desperately looking. My new school was able to replace the two new hires who changed their minds, but it was extremely stressful. This situation could be an opportunity for those who want to pursue it.

      Like

  28. Anonymous says:

    It is very often the terms in the contract and the Principal is simply stating it. It is rare for schools to pursue it

    Like

  29. Will Riker says:

    You now know how the school treats the teaching community. I would say you dodged a bullet. Tell the Principal that as a proud American you don’t negotiate with terrorists and walk from that job. They would have made you life a nightmare! With both scenarios, the fall out and consequences rest solely on you! If that a place you would choose to work at?

    Like

  30. Anonymous says:

    Lucky. You got the bottom line before it was too late. That info saved you and she was right to give it. Many get it after the fact. We have become the engines on the Jumbo many of these people want to fly painted in the school’s colours!

    Like

  31. mbkirova says:

    My first thought was, wow! They really hire Americans in Italy? My experience has shown that due to visa difficulties, unless the teacher is already ‘married in’ and has their visa situation sorted, it is unlikely the school will be interested. But back to the main topic, so far I have had no rude responses to queries although they will say ‘but there could be visa issues’. Again, a probable warning to stay where you are for now. In my case, though, I have no other job at the moment because my school made such a mash of online teaching (no tech support at all) that they decided to close early. So now, like many, I’m on a job hunt at a very bad time, but have been getting preliminary interviews on the basis of hope from both sides.

    Like

    • Teacher says:

      I was thinking the exact thing! Although I believe the American international school in Milan hires non Eu residents

      Like

    • anonymous says:

      Yes – I have taught there with MANY Americans.

      Like

    • Kennedy, Melissa says:

      I am an American teaching in China and have accepted a job in Italy . . . . the visa issue IS a nightmare, especially now with the immigration office being closed for so long.

      Like

  32. Anonymous says:

    In most countries you can blow your nose in your “Contract”. It’s generally useless in protecting you from the school owners. International education is now little more than a business and good schools, with decent administrators are VERY hard to come by. In the UAE, when we went to online learning, we were told that schools would not be allowed to reduce our salaries without our consent and a signed contract. Guess what just happened to many teachers? Yep, you got it, many schools reduced salaries and screwed all the teachers anyway. The laws are always in favor of the employers or they have connections. Do your research about any school that makes you an offer. Ask for the contacts of other teachers that work there or, if possible, go there and observe & speak to them yourself, in private of course. But also look into the labor laws. See if there is any effective protection for you. I don’t think any country has that anymore.

    Like

  33. Gerhann Swart says:

    Welcome to the international teaching circuit. Been doing this for a very long time. It is not just the pandemic, the majority of international schools that I know of, operates like this even under normal circumstances. Be very careful out there

    Like

  34. Brian Meegan says:

    In these uncertain times, employees are becoming disposable, especially in for-profit institutions.

    Like

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