Stressed Out School Leaders?

ISR has received the following commentary from a concerned Member in regards to an article appearing on The International Educator (TIE) website, New Survey Reveals Worrying Levels of Stress Among International School Leaders:

Normally I refrain from participation in online (or in-person) leadership discussions. I find them needlessly pedantic and self-serving even during the best of times. During this current crisis, I have attempted to seek guidance several times through online “leadership” portals, only to be either ignored or rebuffed for a wide variety of reasons.

After trying for this long and through this many avenues I reach the same conclusion that teachers reach when leaving their profession (which as we all know, they are doing in record numbers), which is that nobody knows what to do. The adults in the room have deserted us and are waiting for those who remain to simply fix the situation so they can return and tell us what we have done wrong. I am reminded of the quote by Roosevelt about “the man in the arena” (gendered speech not withstanding of course). 

This crisis has exposed the worst of our profession. Principals and Heads of School deserting their charges and their post when they were needed most. Those same “leaders” then demanding teachers return in-person to expose themselves to pestilence and disease while sitting safely removed from their schools or within the safe confines of their offices. To then read these same leaders tell us all about how much stress they are experiencing is beyond appalling. How difficult it must be to collect a large paycheck, written in the diseased blood of teachers, students, and families! How much more could they possibly take, these poor heads and principals?

I am continually shocked and appalled at the tone-deaf and out of touch missives written by those who are entrusted with our most sacred charges. The lives of children and workers who have no choice but to weather this pandemic and carry on are deemed less important than the vacation homes and retirement accounts of the over-paid and under-worked administrators who couldn’t be bothered to stay in the countries that employ them. Our industry, built upon the assumption that foreigners can somehow educate better than locals, has been exposed as the predatory and transient thing that it truly is. 

If I seem angry it is because I am. Working where I have worked, doing what I love with the people that I respect, has never been accorded the same level of consideration that other heads and principals have had. How many times have those of us working in “low tier” schools been told that we are lesser than, our students and teachers lesser than, simply because of their nationalities and the color of their passports? Blame then my naiveté for thinking that, during a time of worldwide crisis, we could somehow dismiss this damaging notion that those on top deserve life and luxury more than those on bottom.

The United States Marine Corps has a concept enshrined in every ceremony and circumstance: the lowest rank is the first to eat, followed in turn by the second lowest, all the way to the highest rank. It is this organization, distributing benefits in order from most-needy to least, that has become (and remains) the world’s most highly regarded fighting force. What would international schools look like if they embraced this ethos? 

In closing I want those who have remained with me this long to think about one thing and one thing only: When this pandemic hit, when our families and loved ones were dying unable to speak to us except though a tablet device, when our students and teachers cried out for leadership, where were you? Did you stand with these people that you claim to lead, or did you slink off cowardly into oblivion? I beg you all, ask this question of your leadership. If they cannot answer in the moral affirmative, they are not leaders at all.

a Concerned Educator

Comments? Please Scroll Down to Participate in this Discussion

24 thoughts on “Stressed Out School Leaders?

  1. My school leaders have been the first in and last out every day this term. They are not relaxed, they are alert and present. They are anxious and hoping for the best while doing the best they can. We did not have salaries cut or bonuses held back, we even got our raises! It’s a game of wait and see and they are being very transparent about it, sometimes too much information if you ask me. However, I feel quite fortunate. I would have thought the big organizations would be better able to weather this storm but my partner’s school have frozen salaries and no bonuses were given. That being said over half their parents hadn’t paid first term fees which had been reduced by 10% and admissions fees waived. So, if the parents aren’t paying then it’s more difficult for the school. At my school 85% of parents had paid by first term.


  2. Please, please people! Take a breath, consider the impact forced upon the whole world by this disease and revisit your bile when calmer. What we need now is to simply get through each day until sunshine comes. There are no guarantees, we must model good behaviour for our students and show them how we survived at this most testing time. This too shall pass. Please be kind.


  3. I’m an administrator. I feel caught between angry and upset parents who feel like they are not getting what they paid for, the board who has no contingency funds to support such a massive hit to the budget from enrollment losses and teachers who are not only stressed but angry for budget cuts to programs, pd and supplies. Meanwhile I have to make cut after cut after cut to ensure teachers get paid full salaries and there are no reductions in staffing. It is thankless. And ugly. And I have to do this all with a smile to assure everyone that everything is going to be ok.


  4. I’m used to teaching 20 periods per week with 3 or 4 preps but now, I’m teaching 30 periods with 5 preps. So yes, when I look at admin I don’t see a 50 % increase in their workload.


    1. Don’t you? You don’t see them up working through the night trying to head off whatever crisis is coming around the corner, or meetings they have to hold that go around in circles as they try and work out the best way to keep your job and everyone else’s.

      Or the considerable extra time that has to go into supporting and listening to concerned staff, no that isn’t work though, is it?

      If you aren’t happy, look for another school, one which hasn’t been impacted by COVID, that hasn’t had to rebalance contact hours.


    2. @ Prez – no I don’t see admin working through the night or heading off any disasters and no I don’t think that they are sweating bullets trying to save my job and no they aren’t busy listening to teachers concerns. I think they are doing exactly what you are doing, which is working a standard work week while teachers take on greater workloads.

      Of course I made the – as it turns out – wise decision to return to China from Cambodia while most everyone else was fleeing. I had three job offers on my return and that was with a family visa.

      What I do think is, I think they are lucky to have me.


  5. Actually Carol, gendered speech means using the male pronoun and noun to inherently refer to both male and female, where the male pronoun takes precedence. This is an old English grammatical and syntactical form that was often used in the bible and other public documents. The US constitution used it, but actually meant ONLY males, so it can be used both ways. In French, the male form when referencing or speaking about both genders, always takes precedence….but that’s the French for you!
    Most official documents today will explain that the male form is used but it refers to both men and women, in order to ¨simplify¨ the document…..not a great excuse,right?


  6. @Prez:
    This…this is precisely the sort of response I think the author of the article was discussing. They should be happy to have a job at a backwater school because at least they have a job? This is not the first time I’ve heard this ignorant, flawed supposition. So, by the same token, one should be happy to have a home, even if it’s at a mental hospital.. or one should be happy in an abusive relationship because at least they have a family? What a ridiculous position to have. I think they should be so lucky as to be put on your “do not hire list” because they sound like they’d be better off. Oops, or by your reasoning they should just be happy to have a job, even if it’s with some draconian head of school.

    Kudos to the author in many respects. Most if the onus is mostly on teachers. It is very apparent that we are more disposable these days, and bear the brunt of organizational restructuring. It also indicates that we must be beholden to leadership of we 1. Want a job, or 2. Want to keep a job.
    I understand leadership need to keep everyone happy, but why crap on the very people who try to carry out your vision. How do you expect us to continue to believe in you and your leadership if you can’t empathize with those of us in the classroom everyday trying to make everyone happy.
    I still believe in honor, and integrity among many heads out there.

    With that said, Prez, maybe you should actually be the one to leave your name, and school, so that we can all dodge that bullet. Don’t think that just because someone needs a job that they would be a masochist.


  7. Not all school leaders are bad as many teachers imply. Some of us truly believe in transformational leadership and providing a terrific environment for our students and staff. Even teachers have to acknowledge that there are bad apples in the teaching fraternity bust as in admin. Leaders are left to deal with some teachers who lie and cheat on their resumes, turn up with mental health problems and some who should simply be nowhere near kids! Principals are accountable to owners and parents. Good ones genuinely do suffer stress by trying to do the right and moral thing by all stakeholders.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Prez, it was disappointing to read your ‘threat’ at the end of your response, it implies that you think of yourself as someone with power over people’s lives that you can use as a weapon- not a good sign of leadership. The writer of the original piece expressed his opinion, not a desire to work for your school.


    1. It’s not a threat, I have no interest in people like the OP, who wail away on the internet about how tough their life is while fully employed. Tell that to the 30 staff from the school down the street that was laid off, or the 150 staff across town who had to take a 30% pay cut to ensure that everyone got paid.

      Or the half dozen KG that has shut down completely, leaving around 60 staff out of work.

      My staff, whether TA to SLT know that I am there until the end, that every decision is made to ensure that we, a collective we, get through this year and next without losing people to cuts. My annual bonus, the one I earn, this year has gone towards upgrading the health insurance for my staff to ensure that they have full covid cover in place. I can’t tell them where I found the funds to make it work, they just need to know they are fully covered.

      Do they bitch about me, yes they do, of course, they do, I’m their boss and you bitch about your boss. Do they go on the internet and write long anonymous missives about me, I have no idea. If they are writing just about me, then I can live with that, because it is about me.

      But this generic, broad sweeping piece, is as naive as any I have read so far.

      Schools with bad leadership, have always had bad leadership, pandemic or not, is the OP really surprised that their boss suddenly did a runner to save themselves? I highly doubt it.

      If the OP school is so bad that it is impacting your mental health, leave, whether a global pandemic is happening or not.

      One of the heads from another school has flown home for Christmas, to be there for a few days in the UK. His staff remain in country as they must be back by the beginning of January. That head is most likely going to be stuck there for a while now.

      I wouldn’t want to work for him, he’s a dick for doing that when his staff couldn’t. Is it worth a sweeping article on the ISR, not really, he’s still going to be a dick no matter what happens.

      How about an article that looks at the good some schools have done for their staff.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. So many teachers seem to think school leaders have carte-blanche to do the sensible thing or take decisions unimpeded. Whether in state or private schools you will have education authorities, companies or school owners breathing down your neck. Yet all they are interested in is getting as high a school inspection rating as possible using criteria that are often spurious, and if private, scooping as much profit as possible from as little expenditure as possible. Thus, the average school leader either tries to walk a tightrope between the two camps or jumps to one side or the other for a quiet life. If you value your integrity as an administrator, educator or human being expect to be fired on a regular basis. Usually for insubordination.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. About right there Lesley, stand up for what is right for the school and often we dance in the spotlight until the owners are either tired or hook us off the stage.

      It is a fascinating tight-rope to walk as we balance between making money vs educational values – ever wondering if we are about to make our own jobs unattainable.


  10. Fundamentally, I can agree with some of the narcissistic precepts and rampant injustices foisted upon your average teacher, whether overseas or at home. there are other considerations to take into account, and the first one is that not all administrators are useless windbags and self-centered opportunists BUT far too many are. Overseas administration is fairly ¨safe¨ and ¨unchallenging¨ as compared to home duties and demands, since there are rarely if ever, unions or syndical representatives to deal with. Secondly, the hiring process used by overseas schools and many private schools at home leave much to be desired. The entire educational system promotes former teachers or student services specialists into administrative positions with little or any training, support or preparations for good management practices. Overseas schools don’t really do their due diligence for their staff, teachers, student services or administration like them absolutely should.
    There is a mentality that any breathing, warm body, as long as they’re foreigners and English speaking, will do the job. Once the error is detected, it is hidden at all costs and poor managers are tolerated, protected or even promoted to avoid making the owners or the Board look like idiots.
    I have met many fine administrators overseas but I have also met far too many cowardly, spineless, ass-kissing minions ready to follow the party line as long as their bank account is secured. It is one of the major reasons overseas contracts are usually 2 years, in m y opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Omgarsenal – all the schools that I have worked at have done “due diligence for their staff, teachers, student services and administration”. Background checks, police checks, multiple admin candidates flown in to meet with students, staff, teachers, and parents, multiple phone calls to references and schools. I wouldn’t work at a school that did not have transparency. At the same time, as an administrator, I try to be as transparent as possible with staff who ask me questions and want to know. We have managed to keep all of our staff employed, even when in the case of local staff, their area of operation is not running this year. We are a team and we have a commitment to ALL of our members. We have had staff and admin leave for winter break, and took steps so that parents and students had the same opportunity after being unable to leave in country for a year. While others might rail against admin or schools or how easy the admin have it, the responder to the OP is correct – staff DON’T see all the effort and consideration and debate that goes into running the school in this cataclysmic time. I am a buffer between parents who demand schools open fully, parents who don’t want to send their children to school because they are fearful or have already lost loved ones to COVID, I talk to admin at other schools where there have been students who have lost both parents to COVID, or teachers have died due to COVID. There are schools that have opened fully, then closed fully, then opened limited, then closed limited. Schools that brought back sports, then cancelled sports. All of these decisions have to be made by admin – who face all the stakeholders and take into account competing desires, ideas, and needs as they wend their way through the year. I understand that the OP might be at a school or in a town where many schools are like that stated – but to tar and feather EVERY school and admin with the same brush is ridiculous. If I come into a school and have a bunch of lazy complacent staff (my opinion) – does that mean that all international schools carry lazy complacent staff who deserve sacking? The very idea of one-size fits all is gobsmacking to me. And should be to any educator – unless they are educators who believe in punishing EVERYBODY for the transgressions of one of two. The admin that I know are working like crazy to keep things going for everybody involved – and are largely successful, thank goodness.


  11. As a principal myself, I can assure you I am hardly overpaid and underworked and have tried, as many others have, to lead with patience, understanding, and empathy. Truly sorry for this writer, they must be in a terrible situation, but their experience can hardly be extrapolated to every IS.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Concerned Educator,

      The general painting of us all as heartless beasts who ran away is quite sad. I’ve stood by my staff all the way through this experience. Supported to them, listened to them, fed and cared for them when at times it got too much for them. Every decision, every change, every thought on how do we get through the next week, the next month, the next 24 hours, I have put my school, staff and students first.

      You’re unhappy with your employer, do something about it, rather than writing angry opinions wrapped in a self-loathing missives. It’s a global pandemic, it impacts everyone, even school leaders.

      I’ve seen the strongest teachers, reduced to locking themselves in their apartments 24/7 because they are scared of the virus. Why is it not conceivable that a school leader may feel the same? We are all human. We all react differently to stress. We all have families around the world that we want to see.

      Remember it’s a global pandemic, it’s not meant to be fun and you know what, even if you do have to suffer a salary cut, or a benefit cut, can’t leave whatever backwater school you are stuck in, at least you have a job!

      Please leave behind your full name and DOB so you can be added to our do not hire list.


      An incredibly tired head of school.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. My administrative team could not be better – they have tirelessly given their teachers a guiding hand, encouragement and varied support throughout our online educational experience (since last March). It has been an Art teacher’s nightmare – trying to teach art online to students who have limited supplies, but we are making it work for the students because we have been working as a team. I am quite satisfied with the education our school is providing to our students, and we enjoy the support of our parent body. kudos to Yangon International School’s administration!


  13. This comes off to me as painting with exceptionally broad strokes. And obviously written by someone upon whom the mantle of leadership has not been rested. I don’t mean to suggest that this doesn’t happen at all, and indeed it may be the writer’s experience in a school. However, the writer fails to acknowledge that these are unique times, and ones for which not a great deal of preparation has been done in advance.

    But let’s face it. A year ago we all — teachers and administrators — expected our students to be in schools everyday for the foreseeable future. When it became more evident that Covid wasn’t going away quickly, many schools did spring into action. There are numerous examples of school plans readily available for consumption online, many crafted as collaborative works between administrators and teachers, designed to work toward the needs of our school communities. Most of these plans would likely be deemed living documents as schools work to improve their plans and practices when new information comes to light.

    So, you’re angry. Welcome to the club. We’re all angry to some extent. We want our kids and teachers together in the classroom, provided it’s safe. We want to go to restaurants, malls, museums, concerts, sporting events, churches, etc., without masks and hand sanitizer as base level precautions. We don’t want sick students or teachers. And I would venture to say that the vast majority of us in leadership are working diligently to facilitate learning in a safe environment.

    If a teacher in my school was asked if leadership were just padding their retirement accounts and buying second homes while the masses suffer, I would feel confident that 99% would scoff at the notion. There are always one or two in a crowd that can’t be pleased, which keeps me from upping it to 100%. But the notion that school leadership is that tone deaf the world over strikes me as Monet trying to paint by throwing buckets of random colors at a canvas. I’d say for some it would represent art, but knowing the artist many of us would never recognize it as an accurate representation of the big picture.

    If the writer indeed has such issues in a school, then the writer might well consider a new place to work, perhaps including some serious questions about pandemic response in interviews. I would suspect that if the writer asked around a bit more, it may become evident that perception isn’t always aligned with reality.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I do agree with much of what was said-but I don’t want to use a wide brush to paint every school leader with that color. My most recent leader has had to deal with our owner group (GEMS-Education) decision, announced on 25 August (the first full day of remote classes this year) that the school would close permanently by the end of the first term. He has been caught in the middle between furious teachers, parents, and students and a soul-less global group that only thinks about money. Said group imposed a 7-working day “grace period” on when they would pay salaries, and then not once since August have they honored that non-contractual delay in pay. We are now closed-the school head is frustrated by the total lack of communications from GEMS-Education, while the teachers are trying to make ends meet, not knowing when the full November salary (that’s right-GEMS-Education only paid half of the November salary, during the second week of December) or the promised December salary will be paid. The salary is only the tip of the iceberg; ask any of our teachers how much else is still owed.
    The good leaders are unbelievably stressed. So are the teachers. Many of us at the now closed school are trying to keep food on the table. I, for one, cannot afford my maintenance medications when they run out, if the November and December salaries are not paid. Let’s put the blame where it belongs, and not damn all leaders.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You have every right to be pissed off and worried at the situation you are in. I’ve heard about how appallingly they have treated staff at that school. It goes to show you how much of a moneymaker GEMS is, that they can shut a whole school and not do anything about it.

      I hope you and all your colleagues find a way out of it. My last conversation with someone linked to you, was that families were living together to try and get by financially.


    1. “Gendered speech” refers to speech that routinely uses male pronouns and nouns in assuming everyone in the world is male.


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