Agreements: Contractual & Otherwise

It’s probably safe to say most teachers believe the majority of International Schools have every intention of honoring their contractual agreements, as well as noncontractual/verbal promises. If this was not the case, no one would leave home.

But what of schools whose Contracts turn out to be worth little more than the paper they’re written on? Legal recourse is expensive, and shady schools know few teachers have the financial resources to follow through. Additionally, many developing countries have extremely weak labor laws, giving the school the upper hand in almost all instances. Yes, teachers have successfully sued their schools, but who wants to find themselves in this unenviable position?

Sometimes, even before leaving home for a new school, subtleties in emails between you and your new Director or HR department send up a red flag signaling a possible lack of commitment to promises both contractual and verbal. Is this a glimpse into what is to come? Do you listen to your gut feelings, break Contract and conclude you fortunately dodged a bullet? Or, do you go on to fulfill your Contract and take your chances? It’s a tough decision.

A recent, real life situation facing an ISR Member:

I accepted and signed a Contract a few months ago. At the time I queried certain aspects of that Contract and received assurance that the school is flexible and accommodating where possible and does its best for the staff.

Now some changes have become evident and it seems that, precisely in the key areas I asked about, there is not so much flexibility at all. At the moment there is intransigence and this is being blamed on having already put in place certain arrangements which I had raised concerns and doubts about at recruiting time. Had my concerns been taken into account, those arrangements would not have been made and the current situation would have an easy solution.

I feel like this is a ‘Big Red Flag.’ Maybe I will feel differently in a day or two but right now I feel as though travelling across the globe to work for a company which promises one thing and delivers another, which ignores concerns raised, would be a huge mistake, particularly in Covid times when moving on or moving out might not be so easy.

If I back out now, I will feel very bad about it. On the other hand, if I get there and find this is typical behavior, I will feel bad for not having heeded warning signs before travelling and may be, or will be, stuck there.

ISR hosts a great many School Reviews written by teachers at schools that have failed to honor their Contracts and their word. From contractual agreements like housing, health insurance, travel, and shipping, to noncontractual promises like specific classroom supplies to support your program, the COVID crisis has made a very convenient scapegoat for both written and verbal promises clearly not met. Now, more than ever, it’s important to consider carefully before accepting a position at a school with ISR Reviews pointing to a history of Contract discrepancies.

The bottom line: Contractual and noncontractual agreements are only worth the integrity of the school behind them. Stay safe! Research, research, and more research is the key to a successful career in International Education.

Comments? Please scroll down to participate in this ISR Discussion

12 thoughts on “Agreements: Contractual & Otherwise

  1. Always find out what your rights are, and seek legal counsel if necessary.

    I know of quite a few teachers who received severance payouts of up to a year’s salary and benefits when the school decided to terminate their contract.

    This took place in countries we might think of as “developing”, “third world”, or just not having a “reputation” for great labour laws.

    As far as I know only one of them had to get a lawyer involved.


  2. Remember if you take the job at a stressful time such as now, you are navigating a foreign law and with no union to support you if it all goes wrong.
    Schools know this and my last employer just wound people down into not making a fuss or fighting contractual changes made in the name of covid. There tactics were fairly mean.


  3. Better to turn it down but if you go ahead then you need to assess the financial cost to yourself if it goes wrong as well as the lost of earnings until you find your next role.

    Learn from your experiences even if you have face these situations several times. Some have.


  4. From my experience the contracts at the international schools at which I have taught are full of loopholes and escape clauses for the school (not the teachers). That is an expected reality in this game. Directors work for the board, and admin. works for the director and board. We can all be replaced quite quickly even in hardship posts. Do your job the best you can, but you are foolish to die on your sword.


  5. Hard to comment without knowing the exact specifics of your situation.

    Honor the contract. Try to fix the issue that prompted this once you get there. But honor the contract.


    1. If the school fails to honor their contract, there is no contract to honor any more. Only a fool would allow themselves to be manipulated by a dishonest school. There are extenuating circumstance such as COVID greatly reducing enrollment and a possible just cause for changes. Other than that, all things being equal, I feel no compulsion to honor a contract if the school does not keep up their end of the deal. Of course, such schools know, that unlike their owners, teachers have integrity and the school is counting on the teachers sticking it out. Not Me.!


  6. Contracts often are not worth the paper they are written on for the teachers in many countries; most notably Asia and the Middle East where you can be thrown out of the country or arrested for making waves and demanding your rights. Always be wary of location.


  7. I had a contract to teach ESL and serve as a counselor. Without a new contract I was asked to teach Sociolgy, Pyschology, English Lit, Critical Reading, Global Studies, etc… I gladly did this to support the school and students. Plus teaching all of these subjects look really good on my resume. It helped me get several other jobs. Sometimes saying yes is a good thing.


  8. Contracts, when written and backed up by actual actions, may be respected during the term of the contract. Verbal “contracts”, legally speaking, are non-binding understandings that are almost invalid from the moment they are made. A written response promising certain conditions and compensation , whether b y e-mail or in letter form, IS a legally binding agreement enforcable in most civilized countries, but as the article says, who among uis has the time, money and patience to fight an employer in a foreign country where they know the laws, politicians and tactics to win their case?


  9. Between international teaching jobs, I accepted a non-teaching position… after talking to several employees who had rejected the promotion. I should have pushed on why they turned down the job, but felt desperate about being unemployed. It was a painful two months dealing with my new boss. I was put on a one-month probation, and terminated a week later. Your “gut” feelings may not be “rational” but they are worthy of being taken seriously. Listen to them!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. As a Head of School, I always give an opening for the incoming the staff member to speak to 1 or 2 current staff members. Now, to parry off any “cherry-picking comments” – one of the most important elements is to ask the incoming staff member, before they sign, to let me know the profile of the staff member they’d like to speak to; eg, single male, 30s; someone with a family; someone in the LGBTQ+ community, etc.

    One never knows what they talk about during those sessions or meetings, but they do. Sometimes they take the job, sometimes they don’t.

    But for me – those that do NOT take the job, it is for the best of us – because maybe there was something about our philosophy that they thought was just on paper, and not a reality. Maybe when we promote a certain value, they didn’t expect it to be real. So, they’d rather go elsewhere.

    Nevertheless, I always recommend my colleagues to only take things in writing, in contractual terms; any that is verbal is disposable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Impressive. I once asked to talk to the person I’d be replacing, the school refused. My current director at the time said it’s nothing to worry about, given china is usually like that. Things I later went through at that place, though… Now that’s stuff worthy of Hollywood scenarios.


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