Director-Made, Overly Positive School Review Site?

ISR recently received the newsletter of a school review website that openly claims on their login page to have “a better idea,” further insinuating ISR is merely a collection of disgruntled teachers doing not much more than “venting.” ISR can’t help wonder if this is the school-director organized website we were told was in the making some time ago.

Back to the newsletter… Upon opening the forwarded newsletter, we were struck by its glaring colors adorned with party popper confetti. It appears the message they are sending is: Teaching overseas is a party and don’t you worry about the rest of it!

In any case, the design, better suited for napkins at a kid’s birthday, served to introduce an uninspired article about “11 schools with hard working teachers and students.” Among the group included were schools in the UAE, Philippines, Uruguay, Zanzibar and Thailand, each accompanied by a quote from a teacher saying how “absolutely great the students are,” plus a link to more “great” comments.

We won’t dispute these teachers have a wonderful classroom of kids. However, and this is a big however, when you’re contemplating relocating to a foreign country, with little to no laws in place to protect you from your employer, there’s more to consider than simply how the kids behave in a few classrooms across the globe.

Beyond the atmosphere YOU create in your classroom, there’s a whole world of scenarios related to living and teaching internationally that will impact your personal security and career future. ISR’s School Reviews remove the rose-colored lenses and party poppers and unmask schools that withhold salaries, switch Contract terms, substitute poor housing for that promised, fail to reimburse travel and/or shipping allowances, renege on health insurance, cancel Contracts with little to no notice, fail to stop bullying, discriminate against minorities and otherwise engage in dishonest and unethical practices. Any website that considers telling the truth a form of “venting” is a website YOU might want to avoid.

There’s a lot of positives at every school and ISR’s School Reviews delve into them. The question is: Do the positives outweigh the negatives and can you live with the negatives? Overlooking the negatives could be detrimental to your career and personal safety. It’s always wise to consult various sources when considering an International School for a career move. It’s irresponsible when websites fail to reveal the reality of life at these schools. Then again, a site created by directors and/or supporting schools by advertising job openings, could have a “narrow” viewpoint with an potentially dangerous agenda. Is this really “a better idea”?

13 thoughts on “Director-Made, Overly Positive School Review Site?

  1. When I read school reviews on the ISR website, I look for patterns from as many reviews as I can find. Only then can I come to a reasonably confident conclusion about a school. The really negative reviews are generally outliers and should be viewed as such (albeit they may be true)
    I can understand why administrators feel threatened by ISR. MOST lack ethics and MOST don’t really give a damn about the teachers. They need to be to account, and ISR helps to do that.

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  2. I have mixed feelings about all review sites. If the site that’s being referenced is the one I’m thinking of, I absolutely agree that it errs on the side of trying be too positive. However, as valuable as I think ISR can be, it also has significant flaws.

    Other commenters have already pointed out that it tends to attract the teachers who have had very negative experiences rather than those who are largely satisfied with their schools, which already skews perceptions. I’ve had firsthand experience in seeing this happen, and two cases regarding a former school and a former colleague come to mind right away.

    One teacher posted a negative review that lambasted my former school…yet failed to mention that he was bipolar and had stopped taking his meds (something he only revealed upon being fired) and that he had purposefully tried to instigate fights with other teachers (while openly saying “conflict is the spice of life” to them). When someone writes more positive reviews in response to posts like these, they’re labeled admin cheerleaders.

    In another case I’ve seen a former colleague in leadership ripped apart as weak, fake and rude. I spent three years working with him, and he was one of the kindest, most thoughtful leaders I’ve worked with—an opinion shared by most in our previous school. (As an aside, it was not the same school as the one above.)

    I have no doubt that there are elements of truth to many of the reviews on ISR. Yet the challenge is that it’s incredibly difficult to take them at face value when there are cases such as these. It would be helpful to have some sort of means of verifying reviews or reaching out to schools to offer a one or two line response if they choose, but that approach would also have pitfalls. The bottom line is that ISR is in a really tough spot, and I don’t think there’s a good solution to solving this issue.

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    1. I always check ISR when hiring new staff, it is only part of the recruitment process, but it can give you an insight into what the school they are coming from is like.

      In general, if it has continuous poor reviews year in year out, I will explore during interview some of those areas, obviously without saying I saw it on ISR is it true.

      If it suddenly has recent poor reviews, I explore that.

      If it has only good reviews, then I explore the strengths of the school.

      What I find amusing is that I am in the director reviews; I know which group of people reviewed me and following what sanctions were placed on them. Nobody else knows the context of the reviews about me or that I dismissed a group of staff due to their enjoyment of less than legal activities outside of school.

      It reads as if I dismissed them and interfered in their private lives, rather than I dismissed them for doing blow publicly and being spotted by staff and parents.

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  3. ISR provides one important source of information for educators searching for overseas jobs. In my own searches, I have found the reviews extraordinarily helpful. I believe I have been able to differentiate criticisms that might be due to differences in style from ones that could be job-ending. I have also worked at schools and for administrators who were criticized in the reviews. For administrators with negative reviews, some honest self-reflection would be more useful for everyone’s growth than merely rejecting the review, reviewer, and the website.

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  4. As helpful as ISR is, one has to do a lot of reading between the lines as well as knowing that not finding a school here could be a positive reflection on that school. I would suggest a series of well thought out open-ended questions for teachers to answer would make for more helpful reviews. I also disagree with naming and shaming.

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  5. I posted a comment that suggested that ISR should include a Teacher Review section on the website. While anonymous teachers may post whatever they choose, so administrators could do they same to highlight incompetent, dishonest and unprofessional teachers, as well as those who deserve praise!

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  6. Most of the reviews posted here are negative…and those are the ones you tease in your emails. I’ve worked at 4 good to great schools the past 20 years, and they have very few reviews here. Very few happy teachers post reviews. So before calling another kettle black, you might want to check your own pot.
    The service IRS provides is more useful for warning flags rather than finding a great school.

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  7. As one commenter said above, you have many accurate reviews on ISR, and you also have disgruntled teachers choosing to vent, sometimes unfairly.

    The bottom line is you have to be smart enough to do additional research.

    About the other website mentioned, I highly doubt that the majority of international directors have the time for the creation of such a website. Most international administrators could care less what is written about them in these reviews.

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  8. Although there are some dire administrators out there who do not deserve their job titles and high salaries, there are a few good ones who get libellous reviews from one or two lousy teachers that amount to personal attacks. I worked for a fabulous principal who really cared about her staff but ended up with two really nasty reviews that were totally fabricated by a couple of really lousy staff members who shouldn’t have been anywhere near a classroom.

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  9. Any review site is as good as the people who write on them. ISR has some great reviews for schools that are current and consistent. Then there are schools with very old reviews. There are obviously disgruntled employees as well. This is stuff kids are taught though. To do your own research and look at multiple sources for consistent trends and not take any one site as the only site. Better yet, look at these reviews then ask people about the school in your own network. So, do your research.

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  10. Interesting, I feel I read honest and detailed issues about a variety of schools. I find it maddening when you know directors or admin have either gone on to ISR themselves to sweeten up reviews after individuals have bared their souls.You’ll have 5-6 bad reviews and then1-2 to amazing untrue ones to even out their ratings. Some schools are all about keeping whoever happy!

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  11. Yes, agreed. And the reason why some of us subscribe to ISR is to find out what life is really like at individual international schools. NOT to read tendentious political articles by sociologists such as the recent one about being not white enough or being too white and about “evidence-based” research which ignores any evidence that does not fit the predetermined agenda.

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  12. I’m familiar with the website your article mentions. Personally, I thought about asking for my money back after realizing the “comments” prompts almost preclude a negative response. It’s like stacking the deck. I’ve relied on ISR for many years and will continue to do so.

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