Help Me Find a Top-Tier School

To my knowledge, there is no agreed upon criteria for what constitutes a Top-Tier School. I imagine if my current school were 180 degrees different than how it is right now, it would stand as a symbol of Top-Tier-ness. At this point in my career, I unfortunately know all too well what a Top-Tier School is NOT...

Obviously, there’s more to a Top-Tier School than meeting teachers’ basic needs. Getting paid on time and receiving administrative protection from parents of overindulged brats who blame their child’s academic failures on everyone but themselves, should be a given. Diversity, standardized tests, accreditation, professional development, facilities, materials and much, much more certainly belong on a Top-Tier checklist. However, when teachers’ basic needs are not met, as in my current situation, it’s hard to prioritize much else.

Experience naturally influences each of our perception of what makes a Top-Tier School. And even if there were an agreed upon list, it would no doubt be skewed priority-wise in regards to what’s most important to each individual. In my current situation, my priority this recruiting season is finding a School that does not abuse their teachers, as evidenced by ISR Reviews. Everything else should then fall into place, moving down a list of priorities.

Your Tier-2 School may well be another person’s Tier-1. Do you have a short/long list of priorities? What indicators tell you a school is a GO? What sets off alarm bells? I could use some help this recruiting season separating the real Top-Tier Schools from those masquerading as such. I do not want to be fooled again!

Comments? Please scroll down to Participate in this ISR Discussion

13 thoughts on “Help Me Find a Top-Tier School

    1. To be fair, the CCP is the Third Reich of the 21st Century and THEY ARE responsible for this. There’s no need to us veiled language. But their is a direct need to overthrow them and help liberate China and the world from their lies, deceit and irreparable damage they have caused.

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    2. Best not for individuals or institutions to tie themselves too closely to China if they want to maintain any credibility in the future…

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  1. The China Virus has been helpful in revealing which schools are “for profit” bottom feeders and which ones genuinely care about educating children.

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  2. Hmmm. international schools are not what they used to be. Sprouting up like toadstools all over the world. there are many local schools owned for-profit calling themselves “international” just because they offer a few Cambridge GCSEs but are not international in any shape, form or philosophy.. In some mediocre schools, salaries have barely increased over ten years and they are not particular about hiring as teachers are expendable. I think it is a question of finding a school that suits your style, pays sufficiently well with benefits, and is pleasant to work for. Having been trapped in a less than amazing location for a year during the pandemic, I am seriously thinking of quitting teaching and doing something else. Visas and travel are a huge hassle and in some countries, foreigners are less welcome. International teaching has lost its allure after 20 years.

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  3. This is a really interesting question. I’m fine with being at a school that is not particularly high-performing, as I value inclusive education and a more relaxed pace. We have some very high achievers, of course, but a lot of learning support needs as well. I like that there is less pressure, both on the students and the teacher, to produce amazing results, and more of an emphasis on goal setting and growth. Our school would never meet anybody’s criteria for a tier 1 school, but it’s exactly the environment I want to be in. My priorities are not being micromanaged, the kids not being overtaxed, support for diversity (including LGBTQ kids, learning needs, neurodiversity, etc), and a generally supportive environment for and among teachers.

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  4. Teaching internationally now has lost a lot of its allure. There are many more private, for profit schools out there with unscrupulous administrators. What I would advise is to plan for the worst. Have an escape route and a plan B. I left 2 lousy schools at Christmas and it did not hurt my career at all. There’s lots of jobs out there.
    Just don’t be idealistic. Look most closely at the schools that pay the most. For example, I was able to deal with the issues of living and working in Saudi Arabia because the pay was so good. i realized you work just as hard in a low paying school as you do in a high paying school.
    Remember you will likely not have a nice pension waiting for you when you complete your international teaching career, so being able to save a substantial amount of $ is important.

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  5. The day of reckoning has arrived for shutting the world down for an extended period of time. The very notion of a tier 1 school has been turned on its head. Simply put, teaching internationally has lost its gloss as every country faces the devastating reality that bringing an economy out of hibernation is far more difficult than the pundits predicted.

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  6. Well here goes, based on my personal philosophy and experience of one top-tier school:

    1) Ideally owned or run by a board that values a leader who is an experienced international educator with progressive ideas and an openness to improving the school, the stakeholder relationships and the services offered.

    2) A school focused on staff wellbeing and comfort….ready to ensure that this is their priority one, from day one.

    3) A school with minimal turnover because staff want to stay, it being a great place to work.

    4) A school that honours their word, applies their disciplinary protocols fairly but firmly, and promoted the growth of all their stakeholders, but particularly their staff.

    5) A school that is at the cutting edge of modern educational and instructional technology and is ready to invest what it takes to remain there.

    6) A school that welcomes constructive criticism and suggestions from stakeholders and prioritizes the professionalism and personal development of their employees as a mission goal.

    The above implies that you have done your due diligence, spoken to (where possible) actual employees at your target schools, if not, to your country embassy in that country if there is one, verified with ISR about your target school(s), visited and critiqued the school website(s), etc. Failing to do due diligence is a egregious error and will get you into real difficulties when the s**t hits the fan, with you standing directly in front of it!

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  7. My experience is that international school directors are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to hiring. They are required to attract top-tier talent — but all too often they are unable to retain top-tier educators. Why? Because what they promise is a fiction or, at best, an aspiration.

    Ihave worked overseas for 20 years. In all that time, I have had only one terrible experience — at the International School of Yangon in Myanmar under Director Greg Hedger’s leadership. During recruitment, there were a few things that I failed to do, which would have saved me immeasurable heartache. I want to share these with people so you may have an opportunity to learn from my mistakes.

    First, I would be alert to a director who consistently positions the school as “one of the best”. Can the director speak to the challenges, both professional and cultural, that incoming teachers will face? Can the principal speak transparently about the challenges that teachers with your level of experience will likely find on the ground? Is the school willing to let you speak to someone who has struggled, either professionally or personally, at the school or in the country? All schools have challenges — and the best school administrators will know precisely who they want to hire, and why. I would rather a director say, “We need top-tier experienced teachers so we can look good to the community — but we can’t promise the school will meet your criteria of academic excellence. We have a long way to go in that regard, because parents want one thing and we want another.” I would rather know I am going to a school where IB principles and inclusion are still posters on the wall. A good director will manage expectations — not set you up for a fantasy. After all, there are multiple reasons for going overseas and/or working in a specific country.

    Second, I would have looked closely at the contract I was asked to sign. While everyone knows that “international school contracts aren’t worth the paper they are signed on” (quote from a well-known international recruiter), the language of said contract could illuminate the school’s values — and where it is willing to put its money. Forget what the “letter of intent” says. What does the actual service agreement say? The service agreement I signed for ISY, for example, did not mention benefits per the Faculty Handbook. It did not mention the Faculty Handbook. There was nothing in that agreement about housing, health, evacuation, vacation leave, child tuition, shipping in and out. Nothing. Only language about a salary.

    Moreover, the service agreement I signed had language that *eliminated* any rights I might claim about benefits. The agreement also had a clause indicating that all disputes would be adjudicated by the director (red flag!). The indemnity clauses in the service agreement were larger than any other section of the agreement. If I had amended the agreement to refer specifically to the Faculty Handbook and therefore reflect the promises made during recruitment — and the school was willing to enter into a legal agreement about those promises — well, things would have turned out very differently for me. Perhaps I never would have signed! As it turned out, ISY lured me and my family to Yangon in a post-pandemic world based on misrepresentation and empty promises. When new teachers “complained” and asked for what they had been promised, the director told us we were getting what we “signed up for.” Who signs up for housing with open sewers? Who signs up for zero support during strict lockdowns? Who signs up for a military coup? When matters got so bad that faculty appealed to the board for help, the board chair said its position was “strategic” and had zero obligation to faculty.

    Third, I would have made sure that my school had a clear standard for evacuating overseas faculty (and their dependents) in case of force majeur — coup, pandemic, natural disaster, terrorist strike. Is the standard based on the US Embassy’s “ordered departure”? If not, what is it based on? Does the school follow OSHA guidelines? Get it in writing. Who pays when faculty has two days to leave — with one suitcase each? What subsidies might you get if you must work outside the country of the school? In this day and age — you better hope the director can give you some answers. Better you know up front that you are on your own. At ISY, faculty were forced to choose between their personal safety and their job — so most stayed even with bombs going off.

    We all envision the best, and moving to a new place with a new culture and new challenges is exciting. It’s why we are in this. But my advice: international schools are hurting, especially those in developing worlds where enrollment is drastically reduced. Many of these international schools are no longer international — which could influence you if you are moving with a family. Statistics on school websites are pre-pandemic — not post-pandemic — so ask post-pandemic questions. “How has the school changed?”

    With international schools, it is caveat emptor. I am grateful for the schools I have worked for in the past, where the directors and school leadership operated in good faith. But directors are under enormous pressure these days — so do yourself and your family a favor: protect yourself with due diligence before making a commitment.

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