Teachers of Color Overseas – What’s Changed?


In our 2009 ISR Discussion Board, Teachers of Color Overseas, we asked International Educators to comment on life as a teacher of color in the arena of international education. We posed the following questions in September, 11 years ago:

International Schools teach diversity. Are ‘minority’ teachers well-accepted in the International teaching arena?

Do non-Caucasians find it more difficult to enter the profession? Are ‘minority’ teachers treated differently by parents and/or students?

It has been reported that some schools are just looking for a ‘white’ face to sell the image of an American / British education. Have you found this to be true?

Educators across the globe responded. Hundreds of teachers shared experiences and perceptions, and offered advice. Some even shared email addresses, inviting private conversations. The overall atmosphere of the 2009 Teachers of Color Overseas Discussion Board was supportive and informative.

Skip forward to 2020 and ISR began noticing hate-type speech creeping into Teachers of Color Overseas and other similarly related ISR Discussion Boards. A handful of lurkers had unfortunately begun to post spiteful, prejudiced comments in response to Discussion Board participants with whom they disagreed. Considering the recent global protests for racial equality, we would expect to see the opposite. We, of course, removed all such comments.

What’s changed since 2009? Why has 2020 taken on such a different persona? Is today’s proliferation of social media providing a platform for cowardly haters to hide behind? Do haters feel more emboldened in the shadow of the current US ‘president?’ As an International Educator, do you feel the profession is becoming more diverse or succumbing to negative forces? Are parents and students realizing a ‘white’ face is not a prerequisite to be a teacher?

ISR invites YOU to revisit the topic of Teachers of Color Overseas 
Please scroll down to participate in this Discussion

11 thoughts on “Teachers of Color Overseas – What’s Changed?

  1. I had a job teaching in China and the best thing you can do is to stand up to the owner and admin and call them out as as unfair and racist. That is when they will start to believe in you.

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  2. 1). International Schools teach diversity. Are ‘minority’ teachers well-accepted in the International teaching arena?

    International schools I worked at tend to give a white-washed perspective of diversity. I am an Asian Pacific American so I was shocked when “one” American partnered school in Shanghai kept promoting Amy Tan as the “ideal” Chinese American model for students. I have told white teachers to read “The Big Aiiieeeee” before promoting this author to students. It goes nowhere though since many in the management positions, mainly white males, still prefer the “oriental” perspective of China where they have their “China dolls” serve them.

    2). Do non-Caucasians find it more difficult to enter the profession? Are ‘minority’ teachers treated differently by parents and/or students?

    Definitely but in China I hope they will give Asian Americans, in particular, a second look. My school in Shanghai fired an African teacher after students complained they could not understand his English. His English was excellent and better then the British curriculum coordinator who harsh accent made it difficult to understand him.

    In short, if you are a “minority” teacher, you will have problems. I am not even sure why I have to use minority here because my ethnic background would be the majority here in China. I still have to constantly defend myself with management on what the “majority-minority” teachers say about me behind my back gets tiring.

    White teachers at my school almost get no complaints. All non-white teachers have at least one reprimand in our evaluations. Our white curriculum coordinator always give “us” satisfactory marks during observations. All the “best” teachers at our school are white.

    3). It has been reported that some schools are just looking for a ‘white’ face to sell the image of an American / British education. Have you found this to be true?

    Yes. Our school posters always have the white teacher to promote the school. When the local news media came to our school, I was asked to leave “my” classroom so a white teacher could use it for the news report. When our school holds exams, only the white teachers, particularly male, are used to access the English of potential students.

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  3. First, there is a certain irony in the fact that you are asking teachers of color for an explanation of the influx of overt racism on your site. Second, if international schools are overwhelmingly white in this day and age, it would logically follow that many of the teachers there like it that way. So why wouldn’t you think those same teachers would be members here. Lastly, racists are like roaches: turn the light on, and they start angrily scurrying about.

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  4. Not much unfortunately. Sure since the BLM movement, there’s a magnifying glass focused on the issue. Schools are getting on the bandwagon to announce their support using words such as diversity, equality and inclusiveness. However, too many schools and administrators hold implicit biases that do not equate to equal opportunity practices in the workplace for non-white applicants and teachers. As a brown skinned person from a non-western country, you are very low in the ladder of influence and it doesn’t matter how experienced or qualified you are, it’s harder to get through the door or to be truly ‘seen’! Even when employed, you deal with microaggressions on a daily basis. Unfortunately, many white skinned teachers enjoy white privilege secretly and behind closed doors, they exhibit a lack of understanding, empathy and inclusiveness that is required in this day and age. And these are my colleagues! I have been a keen observer of this over 20 years being an international school teacher. Speaking up before had too much repercussions in the past. But it is time to speak up!

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    1. So what are you going to do about it? I understand you have to be in the right environment and have the right support but it has been too long. Little has changed and if we do not step up now, when will we. I am really pushing this in my school. The are being very supportive and listening.

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  5. When I was hired at an international school in the Middle East nine years ago, I did not find it difficult to secure a position. I had several job interviews at the job fair with a few offers on the table. Fast forward to the present, I have applied for multiple internal administrative positions (with the qualifications and certifications) and have been denied each time. It seems as though I am only “good enough” to be a classroom teacher but my face isn’t “good enough” to sit around the administrative table. To note: I have a principal’s certificate, master of education degree in administration and supervision (more qualifications than most of the current administrators).

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    1. I agree that it is hard to break the glass ceiling. We know from experience in the US that interview committees will hire people who look like them. Administration needs to be aware of this and push through. With that said, what you have described as your qualifications I would expect would be the minimum for the position (at a good, decent, reputable school). Did the successful candidate have more education, experience, and/or expertise in an area that the admin team lacks? If not, I would have a candid conversation with the HR Director. Finally, internal candidates have a very difficult job. You can’t hide your warts, everyone knows you. I remember a time an internal candidate lost out on a position because once in his history at the school he had taken someone’s yogurt from the faculty fridge. You might want to take pause and ask yourself how have you presented to the staff and admin— as a leader? As a positive contributor? Is there something in your past you need to overcome? The great thing about education is we can move on, start over, and learn from past experiences.

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  6. Unfortunately, the first thing admins look at is your passport.
    No matter how qualified the teacher is – all they care about is a white english-native speaker face to present.
    I don’t quite understand why recruiting agencies are allowing to post vacancies with such racist requirements like “native speaker”, EU or US citizen etc. I really hope that progressive schools will leave this practice in the past and make international education truly international…

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    1. It’s so sad but these so called international schools, are not. Instead of value the diversity they practice racism. How many CVs I have sent to schools in Asia, middle East, Russia and some European and they didn’t even answer. Even I had the required qualifications. And I could see the same job advertised through the years. It’s painful to be judged by the color of your skin.

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  7. The black lives matter movement has grown this year. It has become a bigger movement and allowed many international teachers of colour to feel empowered to speak up more. We have an opportunity to use this momentum to push for change in our schools. I am a teacher of colour and have predominantly taught in international schools. Even very recently, I have found it hard to secure a teaching position. I believe the colour of my skin may be part of the cause. This should not be happening in 2020. It still is. The unconscious bias that lies behind many of those in leadership positions in schools is at the heart of this. The racism may not be explicit, in your face, but it is underlying and systemic.

    I now have a full time position and have started to push back. I started a Facebook group ‘International teachers of colour’ where those teachers and any who want to help can join us. We have already started to engage directly with educational organizations and recruitment companies with positive dialogue.

    I have also been empowered by my school to begin a diversity, equity and inclusion council and involve the students, teachers and parents. It will be a uphill battle but one worth fighting. Now is the time to stand up and be counted.

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  8. Yes, I have tried so many times and I am qualified teacher with good experience but I am told off as soon as they come to know that I am Indian. You disqualified right away in the ad it self when they say ..’native speakers’ , ‘Few nationalities’, ‘particular passport holders’. So it is a straightway no for you cannot even try. People who are hired newly graduates just because they have the a passport, language or they come from a particular country. I never understood how come instead of looking at the qualification you are looking at these things to hire someone.
    Even if you land an offer you are under paid given no house/travel allowance.

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