Contracts vs Circumstances

At what point do circumstances override Contracts? Who & what should determine the circumstances under which teachers can break Contract, consequence-free?

In the aftermath of 9/11, for example, the American Embassy in Pakistan was among the first to pack up & leave, essentially telling American teachers to fend for themselves. Some International Schools in the region, however, insisted teachers continue working throughout the worldwide threat. International Teachers were expected to simply cope with the circumstances, or plan/finance their escape on their own, while also dealing with the serious long-term aftermath of breaking Contract.

Can schools legitimately expect teachers to stay through a currency collapse rendering salaries worthless? How about a civil war? Growing anti-Western sentiment? An invasion from a neighboring country? Think about an extended COVID lockdown like the one currently taking place in Shanghai, China where a stint in a detention center is imminent should you test positive during one of the almost daily COVID tests. See ISR Member Forum for more on Shanghai lockdown. Does anyone seriously believe a teacher should sacrifice physical, mental or financial well-being out of commitment to a two-year teaching Contract?

ISR believes International Schools must have a detailed plan in place outlining crisis policies & procedures, including a clearly delineated explanation of under what circumstance it is acceptable for teachers to leave, consequence-free. Recruiting agencies would do well to require a copy of this document from every one of their member schools. Ask to see this document while recruiting! As we all know, stuff happens!

ISR asks: When circumstances change for the worse, who & what should determine the point at which YOU can leave, consequence-free?

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25 thoughts on “Contracts vs Circumstances

  1. I was working at a school in Taichung, Taiwan. We are supposed to our contracts in May. I never got one. Was never told I wasn’t getting one. So I started applying elsewhere. I finally got a contract in mid-June as a teacher was leaving. I signed it. But then I got a job at a university in Cali. I gave my notice to the HOS as I was literally walking out the door for the airport. I never looked back. I now have 2 state pensions, 403 B, and I own a home.

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  2. Well, the bottom line is health and happiness. There are some truly terrible things happening in some international schools and at the end of the day, teachers are just a cog in the machine and easily replaceable. Life is short. You make your choices and so do schools who will get rid of a teacher without any warning or final pay if it suits them.

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  3. Schools pretty much sacrifice primarily mental, often physical, and sometimes even financial wellbeing of their teachers on a daily basis, why would “extenuating” circumstances be any different? It’s unilateral on the teacher’s end as far as they’re concerned, and only creates complications for the school. The only thing that’s worse than no way out is a selective way out for those within particular cliques.

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  4. If you’re in danger, leave. If the school is not protecting you or helping you or offering you a fair way out, just leave. As others have said, you can explain the circumstances to your next employer and they should understand. Your previous good references should suffice. And if not, just tell them you took a year off to be with family. In this day and age, that’s an extremely plausible excuse.

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  5. Most schools in Shanghai are being unreasonable and what else would you expect when a lot of them are run by Chinese billionaires with zero empathy or understanding. SAS have been the only decent school in terms of supporting their colleagues to get home. I broke contract a month ago – excellent decision. I applied for quite a few new jobs and I told all of the schools that I applied for about my situation right from the start. None of them were put off by this and quite a few principals agreed it was a good decision even when I mentioned it might affect references. It was ok because I have plenty of good references from two other schools. In the end, secured a new job that I am happy with. I would encourage all teachers to leave China especially Shanghai. Break contract, life is short and it’s not a big deal given this current dreadful situation. Your admin will try and convince you to stay and that there will be massive consequences – there won’t be – fuck them.

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    1. I’m doing the same leaving in less than a month , tho whole idea of being locked and god knows what else is enough for me to pack up and leave , my parents are happy to have me and I can’t wait to be with family and friends , after all I’ve been saving for years , this is a good time to spend those savings and spending time on myself and my loved ones

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Your comment is very ignorant, please do some research about what is going on in Shanghai. If you test positive you are forcibly detained and sent to a centre where the lights are on 24/7, you are in close contact with thousands of sick people and resources are completely inadequate. A breeding ground for disease and infection. Anyone reporting on this and not referring to this as a detention centre is doing the people in Shanghai a massive disservice. Nothing foul or emotive about it – factual indeed.

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  7. My school asked us to sign next year’s contract in December, about 8 months before the contract period started. I’m in China. Before signing, I specifically asked HR what the consequences were for breaking contract should I need to leave for a family emergency or other matter. They said I’d mainly have pay back my flight allowance. I also asked if they expect China to re-open for normal travel during the summer and they said most likely. I haven’t been home in 3 years and I’ve left behind a fiancé and elderly mother. Well, after the most recent lockdown, I have decided that pending a new job offer in the States, I won’t come back next year. I’m also getting married (in the US) and adopting a child. I’m 51 years old and don’t have 30 more years to wait before starting a family. I also have had another successful career in communications. So for me, I’m planning to stay back. Should a future employer judge me for breaking contract, I think “COVID restrictions” and not being able to leave for 3 years may suffice. If not the future employer is not worthy.

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  8. Hi! Teacher in China, here. And yes, we literally do have daily COVID tests. In the last month in three occasions I’ve actually had 2 in a day. A foreign teacher in my school group, working in SH, literally had his door forced open with a pry bar in the middle of the night. He was forced out to one of these detention centers (yes, that really is an accurate description) and held there for 8 days before testing negative 3 daily tests in a row. When the police came for him, they were police, none spoke English and he didn’t speak Chinese and they couldn’t make themselves understood. Pointing at the door, they fired up their tasers and he complied. He was asymptomatic.

    Police knocking down doors and forcing isolating, asymptomatic cases to makeshift hospitals and held against their will…sounds pretty detention center-y.

    There’s video circulating on Chinese internet sites, the government’s not even taking it down, an elderly (90+) woman and her almost as elderly son also had their door knocked down at 2am and were literally dragged out into the street and into the ambulance. They had a positive home test 3 days before and had since already tested negative.

    Foul and emotive? Come here and check out what’s happening and see how you’d describe it. And before you come with the “why don’t you leave” trope, I’ve gotten a job elsewhere for next year and I’d leave now if I could but even though my city’s not in lockdown, the city itself is sealed off like many other cities in China. Low case-count cities have still had airports and train stations closed and even through we’re only a couple hundred kilometers from Vietnam, it might as well be on the other side of the ocean. Embassy assistance? My country’s closest consulate is…Shanghai.

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  9. My case, a medication was no longer available in country and impossible to.sjip in. ( China) school modified to a 1 year but se**** counts it as a contract breach.

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    1. They shouldn’t – if you have some sort of agreement, or an amended contract, then it isn’t a contract breach. More likely what happened was the school reneged on part of their payment to that agency, and you’re getting the blame for it.

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  10. I’m not sure I would call them ‘detention centres’ either but I definitely did NOT want to end up in one of Malaysia’s portable Covid centres. I had a student who had to spend two weeks there after testing positive upon his return from Korea and he told me it was ‘hell’ ☹️

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  11. I broke my contract at a school in Malaysia last year. I finished my first year but just couldn’t bring myself to stay another year. The continued covid lockdown yo-yo was killing me and as it turned out, my former colleagues continued to teach online for another three months after I left. I literally did not sign up for any of that! I simply flew back to Canada and got work subbing in my old district. Fortunately my husband has a good pension so I didn’t have to suffer. I feel for those teachers who have no choice but to put up with poor working and/or living conditions.

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  12. I think it is justified to leave when there is a very substantial difference to what the job was promised to be, and what the reality is. I’m not talking about a 5 minute change in the timetable, but some so called international schools are notorious for the bait and switch, and to expect teachers to put their career on hold because of lies (not necessarily a change in circusmtances) is unfair.

    There may be consequnces, but hiring managers should be aware that a large percentage of schools are not ethical.

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  13. There are three different scenarios implied in this article:

    1) Forced termination due to war, acts of war, national economic catastrophes, pandemics, natural disasters, etc. This is not a question of breaking contract but of survival and schools, for the most part, will do all they can to protect their staff. In Kuwait, during the two wars, almost all international teachers and most local ones as well, were evacuated.

    2) Voluntary contract breach is another kettle of fish. Continued late or non-payment of compensation, forced change of work status, failure to respect agreed to conditions, unnegotiated changes to an existing contract, physical,sexual or psychological abuse, parental or admin. abuses,etc. are all valid reasons to breach a contract if they cannot be remediated successfully.

    3) Teachers who take a “runner” for reasons other than the above , are imho, taking risks for their career.As one poster above said, schools depend on teachers remaining at least until the school year ends. It places a serious burden on them if they have to find someone in the middle of the school year.

    I don’t judge teachers who do a “runner” for whatever reason(s) but i also see how hard it can be for the school to replace them. I had to “fill in” for a teacher who left at Xmas and it took 2 months to find a replacement….it was hard for all of us, as I wasn’t certified for the subject but did do my best.

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  14. The fact is that breaking a contract early can make it very hard for you to gain another international position. References are gone! The reason doesn’t really matter. It’s one of the most important things to schools that a teacher fulfills the contract. The dependability and reliability of the teacher is one of the most important things schools look for when bringing in a new teacher.

    I say this as someone who has to break a contract early in my first year of teaching. I suffered from an unexpected health issue and had to leave a month before summer break. If I was in my home country, I would have easily just gone on sick leave. Sick leave is not an option when teaching internationally, unfortunately. There are many risks involved in international teaching and there’s also a lack of protection – protection that would most likely be afforded to you if your home country is in the West; hopefully the high pay offsets these risks. But it is definitely something to consider before you become an international teacher – it really isn’t for everyone.

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    1. J, you cannot claim that every country and every international school does not offer sick leave. I worked in Mexico at a large American International school and had to have back surgery. They authorized this and the school insurance paid most of it. I was off for 6 weeks, which is a long time but they were really decent about it.

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    2. I agree with omgarsenal.

      I had a serious accident while working at a school in SE Asia and they covered my sick leave for I think about 4 weeks during the busy exam period. This time included me travelling back to my home country for treatment. I returned at the end of that school year and completed my contract.

      I appreciate this may not always be true, but I have not yet worked in an International School where it is NOT true.

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    3. “The fact is that breaking a contract early can make it very hard for you to gain another international position!” That’s not true anymore, depending on your reasons. I’ve broken a contract, and still found positions at top-tier schools. Many teachers I know have done the same. It used to be true, back in the day, but now with so many fly-by-night schools opening, and certainly with COVID situation being what it is, most directors understand as long as you didn’t do a midnight runner.

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  15. I was in Guatemala when the military overthrew the government. Cell phone service was cut and the only thing on TV and radio was a general giving a speech. The school had no way plan in place for contacting teachers in such an event which everyone knew was more than possible. We were completely on our own. Tanks were common in the streets as were Helicopters on patrol. Automatic gunfire was frequent. Stores and banks were closed. At 4am one morning we drove out of the city to Rio Dulce and took a boat from there to Livingston on the Caribbean coast. People in Livingston didn’t know something was going on in the capital. For two weeks we were unable to get a call through to our school. When we finally did make contact they were upset we had left the city instead of coming to the school for instructions. To try and get to the school on the main road through the heart of the city would have been a poor choice and they knew it. Even if your school has a plan in place, which this one did not, make your own plan in case of an emergency.

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  16. Look at the international schools in Shanghai and see what the consequences are for leaving early due to the lockdown.

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    1. I lived in Shanghai from 2016 to 2021 and still have a few friends there, plus have many contacts in wechat groups telling their current stories. Some of them are breaking contracts but still plan to finish the school year since they can’t really leave now anyway. And once they do leave, it seems likely that the rest of the year will be online anyway. So the only problem is having to work through the night if they are going to US/Canada. This is also causing some schools to get desperate for teachers and I am benefitting from this right now since I just got a couple offers for schools (in Shanghai and near Shanghai) for next year and they are willing to negotiate terms more than usual.

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  17. If the situation is causing the teacher to leave the country then it doesn’t matter too much if the school says they are not “allowed” to break contract and leave. But they will most likely give up any further payments, so probably best to wait for pay day if that is coming soon. If the school demands money back (and some schools would) then it is almost impossible for them to force payment from a teacher who has left the country. The only problem is lack of a reference from that school which is the main thing most teachers would worry about.

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