A Positive Side to Negative Reviews

Dear ISR. I have a unique way of looking at ISR School Reviews that I believe your readers will find interesting. I’ll explain in terms of a short history…

Some years ago, I interviewed for a secondary position in Ecuador. After telling me the job was mine, the interviewer, the school director, said he wanted me to know exactly what I would be committing to as far as living in Guayaquil, a port city where the school is located, is concerned. Words like ‘hot, humid, dirty, dusty, little cultural redemption, aggressive drivers, greasy food, not very friendly citizenry’ were among the adjectives that stuck out. Yet, I accepted the position.

Weeks into the school year I realized the director was spot on, but just partially. There was still plenty to enjoy about Guayaquil. In many respects it was better than described. And having been prepped for the worst, I had no rude awakenings. No let downs. No feelings of being deceived by a smooth talker telling me some BS like ‘it was once the Paris of South America.’ I hit the ground running and shrugged off what otherwise may have felt like a deal breaker and found a lifestyle that fit me perfectly.

I think of ISR School Reviews in much the same way I do the director of the school in Ecuador: They both tell it like it is! As an ISR Member, I’m privy to the inside story on schools and locations. If I accept a position, I go in eyes wide open. Surprises don’t taint the experience. I’m prepared for them and I deal with them. It’s when, as in past jobs, I’ve been deceived that countless hours are wasted wondering: Is it just me? Is what I think happening here actually the reality? Frustration and resentment soon follow.

I’ve relied on ISR for 11 years and counting. I accept there is no school with 100% positive reviews. I don’t, however, think negative reviews are a red flag that screams, Don’t go! In the same way the honesty of the director in Guayaquil helped afford me a great experience in Ecuador, I find that same positive aspect to negative Reviews. Knowing before you go can make ALL the difference in the world. It does for me!

All the best and thanks for the great service ISR provides,

(name withheld)

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Survey: Your School’s Reaction to a Poor Review

At ISR, we believe the majority of International Schools take the concerns of their teachers to heart. After all, when teachers feel valued they exude a positive attitude & work to their highest potential. Everyone benefits: students, staff, admin & parents, alike.

A supportive school, confronted with a negative Review, sees an opportunity to improve. They may call a staff meeting. They collaborate with teachers. Together, as a team of educated professionals, they change for the better good of all. This process is what you would expect from an institution dedicated to education. Such schools are well represented on the ISR website.

Given the opportunity to improve, however, not all schools act in accordance with how you would imagine an educational institution to proceed. Discovering one or more negative Reviews, some schools summarily brand the author/s as disgruntled malcontents & launch extensive witch hunts to ferret out the culprits. Calling in an attorney to interrogate teachers has been the tactic of more than one school, as revealed in ISR School Reviews. Some schools simply jump to sending attorney-written letters to ISR, threatening legal action if said Reviews are not removed in X number of days.

When schools threaten teachers, they are often acting in accord with the Review/s they find objectionable, essentially validating teachers’ comments. Subsequent Reviews submitted by teaching staff frequently speak to this unprofessional reaction to criticism in all aspects of administering the school.

ISR asks: If your school has received a negative Review, how did they react? Take our short Survey:

Upon becoming aware of negative Reviews,
my school did one or more of the following:

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Health Insurance Gamble, USA

If you’re moving back to the States following an overseas teaching gig, or just planning a short visit, think health insurance! Without it, a freak accident or sudden illness could leave you burdened with a debt that makes a student loan from Yale University look like a bargain. On the other hand, the sky-high premiums insurance companies charge those of us returning from extended periods overseas could tempt you to risk going uninsured. It’s a gamble.

With no recent State-side medical records to help insurers assess current health status, International Educators are a statistical risk. A teacher who not long ago returned to the States on a permanent basis tells ISR she pays a stiff monthly premium, with all health conditions exempted from coverage for 2 years, except accidental injury which carries a deductible of $4000 along with a 30/70 split until her 30% of any bills reaches 5k out-of-pocket. Do the math…

Exasperating the situation is the practice of charging those individuals seeking coverage a higher premium than someone who is part of a collective of individuals applying as a group. Interestingly, when insurance companies raise your premium each year they base the increase on total claims in your area, not your personal claims. You’re part of a group only when it’s convenient for them.

Consider the following: The CEO of Humana makes $16M a year. Anthem’s CEO takes home a cool $15M. I make $45K. The best policy I could find upon my return to the States was $950 a month (just over 20% of my income) with a $5200 deductible. I’m not willing to go uninsured, putting my house and financial future in jeopardy. This feels like extortion, not a safety net in case of illness or accident.

To cut to the chase: An International Educator returning to the USA pays high health insurance premiums simply due to circumstances and insurance company greed, not health status.

ISR asks: What’s the solution? Forego health insurance, putting your financial future at risk? Head to a country with reasonably priced health care if it’s just for a couple of months while you’re between schools? What about a family of 4 returning home who are living on savings while job hunting? Any advice or experiences to Share?

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Retirement Goals

When you move from school to school, country to country, there’s no district office to tie a career in International Education into a sponsored retirement plan. If, for conversation’s sake, individual International Schools did offer retirement plans, how would it realistically work to have a small pension set up for you in 4 or 5 foreign counties, depending on how much you moved around?

Retirement after a career in International Education will be what each of us creates for ourselves. The best advice is: “Make a plan, start early & diversify.” Volatile markets, unforeseen global events & worldwide pandemics, as recently witnessed, can put a serious crease in the best-laid plans. The more financial irons in the fire, the more secure your plan will be. At least that’s what we hear from the economic gurus of our day.

ISR asks: What do YOU consider your retirement goal to be? What are you currently doing or plan to do to meet that goal? Naturally, goals will differ depending on what age you are now & what age you’d like to be when retiring, your current & future financial responsibilities, where in the world you plan to retire, & how extravagantly you’d like to live — a beer & bread budget or a caviar & champagne budget? Sharing plans, ideas & concerns, we can help each other to make informed, forward-thinking decisions on this important topic. We hope you’ll join in the conversation!

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Throwing Stones from My Glass House

Is their a point at which human rights violations dictate that I won’t let myself live and teach in a particular country? China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Myanmar, Israel, Russia, Venezuela top the list of human rights violators, and each hosts International Schools. As an Educator, how do I feel about teaching the children of the host country monied elite, and in some cases, the children of those oppressing the masses?

I ask myself:  Does the opportunity to influence and possibly plant the seeds of change in children of the rich and powerful outweigh the fact that in some way I may be actually supporting the wrong people by educating their children? I choose to believe I’ve been given the opportunity to change history by influencing future leaders of industry and government. It’s a tremendous responsibility and one I’ve chosen to accept. And in exchange I’m willing to accept certain realities.

As an American you might ask if I have the right to throw stones from my ‘glass house.’ To call out other countries on human rights violations could be considered hypocritical while America holds thousands of immigrant children in cages,  peaceful protesters are scattered by force as an ex-President’s security personnel facilitates a photo opt, and more than 2,000,000 Americans (mostly minorities) are being held in for-profit prisons, while communities in some states/areas are also losing their free speech, voting rights and even their lives on a all-too frequent basis.

I’m aware I live in a ‘glass house.’ My country is not above reproach for past and present actions. Does this mean I can’t, as an educator, strive to not only make my country a better place but also other countries of the world? In the words of the Dalai Lama: “Peace does not mean an absence of conflicts; differences will always be there. Peace means solving these differences through peaceful means; through dialogue, education, knowledge; and through humane ways.”

What about you? What are your feelings about teaching in countries with Human Rights violations?

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Tattooed & Pierced Educators Overseas

What we in the West have come to accept as a simple body adornment may well create the wrong impression on the first day at an International School in a foreign land. Over the years ISR has visited the topic of tattoos. We revisit the topic here with the addition of the ever more popular body piercings.

Cultural norms die hard. Ingrained perceptions of the types of people who wear tattoos & body piercings don’t change in an instant. Adornments in some societies can & will be interpreted as the mark of an unsavory class, not the type of person parents want exposed to their kids. In other societies, piercings & tattoos may be perfectly acceptable.

As an adorned educator, making a poor first impression is the last thing any of us need. Depending on where in the world you’re teaching, it could be wise to first earn the respect of students/parents & later reveal your “artistic side.” This approach should go further to assuring acceptance than simply strutting your stuff on day one & thinking you’ll transcend cultural norms because you’re “the educator from the West.” This approach has worked for more than one educator.

ISR asks: What’s the current level of acceptance of tattoos & piercings in the International School arena? If you’re an educator with body adornments, How did YOU approach revealing them to parents & students, if at all?

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“Check Your Own Damn Privilege”

Minimizing the Influence of Wokeness and Identity Politics
at International Schools Worldwide

The following Article does not reflect the views of ISR. Written and submitted by an ISR site member who requested anonymity, we open the following Article to discussion.

The Coddling of the American Mind by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukinoff outlines three great untruths in their seminal book that have stunted university students in the last several years. The first untruth is that whatever does not kill you makes you weaker. The second is that your feelings should always be trusted and validated. The final untruth is that life is a morality struggle between good and evil.

Coming of age in the 1980s and1990s when political correctness first began, I recall that phase as being primarily instigated by administrators at universities. A few students were involved, but most were indifferent. Now political correctness has gone into hyperdrive, and a minority of vocal students are now demanding that they be protected from other people who see the world differently. Think of all the terminology and ideas associated with the illiberal desire to demand conformity to certain ideas: social justice, wokeness, identity politics, critical race theory, intersectionality, equitable spaces, safe spaces, triggering, trigger warning, microaggressions, cancel culture. The list goes on and on…..

The ideas they bring with them are starting to affect all institutions, but international schools in particular have been disproportionately affected. The result is inevitable: emotional excess, moral vanity and exhibitionism, and avoidable conflicts that should be molehills but become mountains because of the greater proclivity for younger teachers to seek out reasons to be outraged and offended.

Does your lunchroom have young teachers who feel the need to correct the language that others use? Are you or your students taught to adopt identity politics, which means the most important thing about you is your race and gender? Are there ideological litmus tests where one must accept these ideas at trainings and seminars? Have you ever been afraid to speak out against a policy that seems wrong to you but has been justified under the guise of diversity, equity and inclusion?

All ideas have a heritage and a past. These ideas have an unseemly past, rooted in two major schools of thought. The first is Marxism, which was supposed to usher in a grand new age in the 20th century, only to fail in every single culture across the planet and lead to, oh let’s see here, over 100 million deaths. It seems that the suffering and failure that Marxism produced has not changed its adherence from many intellectuals, even though one would think these people are supposed to care about empirical realities.

The second school is postmodernism. I remember being attracted to this worldview at first, because it seems to offer a view of freedom and emancipation from old assumptions. But that’s not what postmodernism is. Postmodernism, rather, is the believe that we are nothing more than representations of power of our unchosen groups (race and gender), and life is nothing more than a power struggle, as there is no other reality to the world than power.

These ideas have stunted the emotional and intellectual development of a whole generation of students, and now many of these younger students have now entered the workforce and seek to impose the worldview they learned in college on the rest of society, and of course, international schools.

They are not appealing or accurate ideas. They have a lot of surface appeal, but it does not take much time to see these ideas inevitably lead to a totalitarian dystopia They represent all of reality in a two-dimensional (dare I say binary?) way where there are only good people and bad people, and all people should think of themselves as merely a member of a group in order to be considered “good.” At a time in their lives when their own personal development is so critical, students are now taught that who they are doesn’t matter; feeling the right way and settling for the role as victim.

To the extent that my views are political, I am doing nothing more than impugning and insulting the totalitarian left, because a world without free speech, free expression and individualism can never be compromised, both at international schools or anywhere else. As educators, open and free inquiry and self-expression have to be the cornerstones of our practice, free from ideological and social coercion.

Any argument that this article promotes white nationalism in the slightest is libelous. But I expect and welcome strong dissent to what is written here. I am challenging the core beliefs of many people, so I welcome criticism.

But can I make a request? Please, pretty please, with sugar on top, don’t proclaim your precious privilege. All of us are fortunate by almost any standard to have careers in international schools. But that is gratitude, not privilege. My experience is that those who proclaim their privilege are doing the following: aligning themselves with the oppressed on the cheap, proclaiming their moral superiority on that basis, and then using this unearned virtue as a means of telling other people what to do.

Which is why when I hear someone announce how privileged they are, I can only say, “You’re right.”

Anonymous author

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Recruiting With 4-Legged Friends

Are your chances of landing an overseas teaching gig diminished if your travel companion is a full-sized poodle? How about an 8-pound Siamese cat? Most everyone loves cats & dogs but that doesn’t mean they are always invited. Going international with a 4-legged friend requires extensive planning. Travel arrangements, documentation, vaccinations, dietary needs & visits to the vet are just the tip of the iceberg. An obstacle you may not be able to overcome is a destination that considers dogs & cats ‘unclean’ animals, not to be touched.

At interview, pets could be seen as a complication that might keep you from showing up for the job. Extremes in weather have prompted airlines to restrict pet-travel months for animals shipped in the cargo hold. Oftentimes the start of school & airline pet-travel restrictions conflict. Also consider that in this time of pandemic concerns, it’s hard enough to enter most countries as a human; a pet in tow could complicate matters beyond resolution. Are you ready to leave your companion behind? Are you prepared to answer that question at an interview?

The key to a successful recruiting experience with pets is to know the laws related to bringing your pet into the country you’re considering for a career move. Showing the interviewer you’ve done your homework & see no obstacles to your pet coming along goes a long way to making the topic a non-issue. Loads of educators live overseas with their pets & even travel with them through an array of countries during school vacations. The key is Research & Planning.

ISR asks: Were you a teaching candidate this recruiting season with a pet in tow? How did that experience play out? If you’re already overseas with your pet, what advice do you have to Share? Is Covid playing a factor in recruiting with a pet? Would you leave your pet behind if it meant that’d be the only way to get the job?

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It’s All About Priorities

When you stop to think about teaching overseas, is your priority to have horizon-expanding adventures in select parts of the world? OR, is your priority to work towards financial security with a willingness to live and teach in not so desirable locations in exchange for a great salary? Maybe you’re after a little of both?

If your bucket list wish is to live and teach in a cultural icon like Paris, Berlin or Madrid, be prepared to settle for a mediocre salary in exchange for the chance to fulfill a long sought-after dream. To make ends meet in these cities, teachers report taking on a second job. If, on the other hand, accumulating money is your goal, Kuwait or the UAE might be your first choice since salaries allow for travel, savings and more, although the trade off may be a less vibrant experience.

It’s all about priorities but keep in mind, the uninitiated can find themselves in an unpredicted situation. A school’s published “savings potential” could actually be based on eating street food, watching TV, and never taking a trip outside the city. Living a life that approaches a first-world lifestyle in some developing nations can be quite pricey. Know before you go!

Connecting with people who have ‘lived the life’ is your key to an overseas experience that satisfies your priorities and fulfills your expectations. We remind ISR Members that the ISR Member Forum is the perfect place to connect on a no-holds-bared basis with someone who lived and worked in the place you’re considering for a career move.

ISR asks: What were YOUR priorities when you accepted your current overseas position? Has reality met your expectations? Did your priorities evolve once you were in mid-Contract? If so, how did that work out?

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China Visa Gamble

Good news: One hundred fifty teachers and more than 60 schools with multiple available positions have so far registered for the upcoming Shanghai Virtual Recruiting Fair. The odds of landing a teaching position in China are looking strong! Bad news: The odds for Obtaining a Visa for China at the current stage of the pandemic are not looking good.

Issued by the Chinese Foreign Affairs Office, the first step in the China Visa process is to obtain a PU letter, essentially an invitation to apply for a Visa. Companies apply for the letter in the name of their foreign employees. Individuals and agents cannot. With a PU letter in hand, Visa candidates visit the nearest Chinese Consulate/Embassy in their home country to complete the process. Herein lies the problem.

With the pandemic muddling up the works, many Chinese Consulates/Embassies are closed until further notice, or simply refusing to process Visas at this time. An ISR member reports that an open Chinese consulate refused to process her Visa, even though she had a PU letter. Teachers waiting for a PU letter have not been guaranteed a date of issuance. The word is it could be June before Visa processing resumes, with the most likely applicant to receive a Visa being a single teacher or teaching couple. A trailing spouse and/or dependent children could be denied.

The odds of landing a teaching position in China look like a slam-dunk. The odds of entering the country to assume that position, even with an invitation letter, look like a gamble. It’s a waiting game and one that strongly suggests teaching candidates have a viable plan “B” ready to roll should August come around with China still on lockdown.

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It was as if the school had literally fallen off the face of the earth. After 2 interviews at the Fair & an ongoing exchange of emails during the next few weeks, the school Director who’d led me to believe I was on the verge of being hired, suddenly & without warning, disappeared from my radar. I never heard from him again. Texts, emails & 3 phone calls were not answered. He had ghosted me!

Call it “ranting” if you choose, but soon thereafter I submitted a School Review outlining my negative recruiting experience with this Director. He can wear my Review as a badge of dishonor for the rest of his career. Thank you ISR for giving teachers a voice & holding Administrators who treat us like commodities, accountable.

As it turns out, ghosting is not uncommon in the International School arena. Although a poor business practice at best, I can almost understand not responding to every single resume/cover letter submitted for consideration. To lead a teacher on, get their hopes up & then disappear is, however, without conscience, manners or morals. Imagine passing up another offer only to be ghosted by your first choice! Do schools realize they are playing with our lives? Our careers? Maybe some just don’t care…

I read an amusing comment by a teacher on the ISR Forum who reports that after a few weeks of being ghosted he sent an effusive email thanking the school for the job offer, telling them he’s excited & looking forward to meeting everyone at the start of the school year! He goes on to say, “It’s funny how this elicited a response! Although not professional, neither is ghosting.”

Have many International Educators experienced ghosting in this unprecedent recruiting season? I reported my experience to the recruiter & could sense the manufactured tone of concern. Has COVID pushed ethics & etiquette out the door to become merely a handy excuse? Beyond posting Reviews of these irresponsible Directors, how can teachers avoid being ghosted, or what can they constructively do about it?

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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”?

Sycophants, Brown-Nosers & Snitches

Full of compliments, wheedling for information & eager to use you for their own end, sycophants, brown- nosers & a snitches have one thing in common: They’re not your friend, & given the chance, can prove quite detrimental to your emotional & professional well-being at your current school & beyond.

The aforementioned species of teacher is easily spotted. They compliment admin no end at faculty meetings. They pump you for information when they just happen to run into you in the hall. They have their noses where they don’t belong. They’re the self-appointed eyes & ears of admin, reporting all they see/hear back to their “master.” Members of this species may even enjoy favored teacher status, chumming around with their Director or Principal who have been known to send them out on “spy missions” like so many minions. Sadly, instances of this are well documented in ISR School Reviews.

My last school had its share of sycophants, brown-nosers & snitches who hung out with the Director. A member of this group unfortunately had it in for an outstanding teacher & filled the Director’s ear with gossip & half-truths. Sadly, the Director encouraged & rewarded the ‘snitch.’ Soon the situation led to a conference where differences of opinion quickly escalated into an ugly situation. The targeted teacher was soon thereafter drummed out of the school.

The question is: How do YOU deal with sycophants, brown-nosers & snitches? If they are supported by a weak, suspicious administrator it can be a particularly delicate situation. Short of isolating yourself in your classroom, how do YOU rise above this situation?

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Pros & Cons of a Home ‘Back Home’

Owning a home ‘back home’ comes with some major Pros & Cons for International Educators. A big Pro of home ownership, and I think you’ll agree, is you have a place to retreat to in an unforeseen crisis such as Covid-19 putting a sudden end to your job. On the other hand, a huge Con for home ownership is the question of ‘How do you take care of the place and protect your investment when you’re 1000s of miles away?’

If you are planning to own a home from overseas, the Con side — a mortgage, potential troublesome tenants, regular maintenance and upkeep, annual taxes and insurance, emergency repairs — needs to be balanced against the Pro side — potential rental income, property value appreciation, a home to park yourself during the summer, a place to call home in the event of an emergency.

If a mortgage and other house-related bills are dependent on your teaching position and/or tenants, you may want to think twice. The headaches may not be worth the benefits of long-distance home ownership. However, if you’re financially solvent, home ownership could be the way to go, provided you have trustworthy people to oversee your property in your absence. Teachers report making more in rental income as compared to their salary.

ISR asks: Do you own a home that you maintain from a distance? Has it been a positive experience? What advice do you have for other International Educators considering owning a home ‘back home?’

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Your CV/Résumé Beyond Words

How many pages should a résumé/CV be? What about a cover letter? Should a résumé be 1 page and the cover letter 2? Or is it the reverse? And what about references? Do references belong on a separate sheet or do you even include them? All of this may be worth considering but none of it will make or break the deal because ultimately, you need to stand out, and today more than ever! Here’s how…

Competition is stiff this Recruiting season. As a result of Covid, borders have closed and the market appears flooded with teachers who would have otherwise returned to their positions. All things being equal, your résumé and cover letter are YOUR first and best opportunity to display unique capabilities and that special something that makes YOU the best candidate for the job. After all, teaching requires creativity. Show them you have it!

An internet search quickly yields hundreds of clever, catchy résumé and cover letter designs. It’s good to know what’s out there and what the competition is up to, but adopting the flavor-of-the-month, hook, line and sinker, could cast you to the bottom of the pool along with the rest of the copy cats. More importantly, how unique can you appear within the confines of someone else’s creation?

We’re all unique in our own special way and it’s that incomparability that makes us attractive to recruiters. Take chances and don’t be afraid to get creative with your résumé and cover letter. Let your personality leap off the page! Color a little outside the lines. When recruiters see what makes you unique beyond words and format, it’s obvious why you’re a great teacher and the perfect candidate for the job.

ISR asks: How do YOU tweak your résumé with an infusion of creativity?

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The New American President’s Effect on International Education

On January 20th, a new American President, Joe Biden, was inaugurated into office. America’s relationship with the world is about to change. In YOUR opinion, will the hand-off of power in America help or hinder the average Western International educator’s image in the eyes of host country nationals? Take our short Survey.

As an International Educator, I believe the new American president will:

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Are you White enough?

by Alexander Charles Gardner-McTaggart (Alex McTaggart)

In many international schools, remuneration is based on where you come from. For example, Ex-pat hires, recruited abroad get the full deal. Ex-pat hires recruited locally get a lesser deal. Local hires, get an even lesser deal and unless you can ‘fit’ the field, you get no deal at all. Writing this now, I still find it difficult, as none of it makes any sense. Worse than that, it is stupid, ignorant, deeply divisive, and unjust. Yet, as most readers will recognize, this is the non-collegial reality that we call international schools’ teaching. 

When you walk into one of the ‘good’ international schools – the ones that can ask the higher fees – you will be greeted by a happy registrar who walks around a school campus of superlatives: theatre, pool, sports-fields, cosy student areas etc. The staff are helpful and friendly, educated and purposeful and for the most part, white and Anglo European. 

When you teach at one of these schools you walk into a world where payment is appropriate, working hours are decent, and benefits are the defining measure of its prestige as a school. Particularly if you are white and Anglo European. 

When you learn at one of these schools, you hear all the words, write them down, and repeat them when asked. They are about fairness, justice and making the world a better place. When you think about internationalism, you understand that being international, well-paid, and just, is about being White and Anglo European. 

When you sit down to think about it, none of it makes any sense, except in the most cynical and caustic manner. How can leadership of schools set up for a multicultural international reality officially condone, encourage and reward openly racist policies of recruitment, and fail so badly to address issues of criticality in thinking? We are all led to believe these issues are what they specialize in, and not what they fail in. When you research this phenomenon as I do, the truth ends up being clear, unjust, and entirely predictable. 

For most of its history, the field of international schools has been a small one, where the romanticism of the word ‘international’ became an alternative way to educate children of internationally mobile parents, and expats of various descriptions. In the grander scheme of ‘educational’ things, the field is mostly irrelevant. After all, research aims to find truth and generate knowledge so that the world we live in can be a better one. This is the purpose of knowledge and knowing, not having to repeat the same old errors and failures over and over like Sisyphus, but building on what works, improving what might, and avoiding what doesn’t. International schools tend to be quite clear that their international remit validates their approach to ‘making the world a better place’, to coin an International Baccalaureate (IB) adage. They have always been ‘alright thank you very much’, in that they have plenty of money, well-paid staff, and cohorts of students who come from comfortable backgrounds. 

Since 2001 the international school’s sector has expanded from 1 million students to nearly 6 million worldwide with now 500,000 staff – and growing. For perspective, England has around 475,000 teachers. What was once a small field is now nation-sized and remains small in one way only: in knowledge. Added to this, the diffused, and distanced nature of these thousands of institutions means that finding truth is expensive, arduous and mostly what researchers might call, ‘snapshot’ in nature. That means that there is little data available on the human reality of these schools and plenty on the ‘do good’ nature of their curricula, teaching, and outlook. The research has been skewed in this way, and it is understandable, as state education over the last 40 years has witnessed a dismal decline towards PISA stats, teach to test, and underfunding. For many, international schools represent a new hope where pedagogy is progressive, and teachers are valued. 

Finding knowledge is not a cut and dried matter. If you survey a thousand teachers and admin, you will find truth of a certain kind. It is the kind that policy makers tend to like, because you can put it on a graph, or chart, present it in a board meeting and talk about trends and averages. My search for truth is different. I look for lived reality, the stories, ideas, dreams, and experiences of those in education. This kind of knowledge is of the type that policy makers tend not to like because it shows what life is really like for those who live it. Not for those who live above it, aside from it, or distanced from it.

For this project, and over the course of two years I was connected with six of the most influential international school directors in the world in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. My objective was to understand their truth, see the world as they saw it, and allow them to express themselves and present their vision as they saw fit. Having collected this data through unstructured interview, observation and questionnaire I made sure they reviewed the data, and the findings just to be absolutely certain they were being represented accurately. With this done, I applied theory of the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu alongside the more general work from the field of educational leadership. This is called a theoretical triangulation, and lessens the impact of my personal interpretation, putting the focus on the social theory. 

What I found was that these leaders were very powerful, with freedoms and responsibilities that go far beyond what a national school leader may expect. This is good for policy makers, good for people who agree, good for those ‘on board’, and potentially disastrous for those who think differently: or are different. Welcome to the staffing reality of an international school. However, I found these people were unequivocal in their understanding of internationalism and global mindedness as the core aspect defining leadership in international schools. They drew enormous strength from their biographies of white, Anglo upbringings: service, hard work, merit, deep belief, and most of all, their values. This is what made them distinct. This is what made them successful. 

Time for a bit of light sociology. Bourdieu tells us from a social perspective that humans (agents) create ‘fields’ wherein they work. International school leaders exist in just such a field. Bourdieu posits that the more successful you are in a field, the more power you will gain, and the higher you will climb in that field. The schools I researched and the teachers in them are positioned at the top of the field, and if Bourdieu is to be believed, they play an instrumental part in defining what it is to be a successful international educator. The sociologist makes it clear that being successful is a direct result of how well the agent fits the field. That means that if your field is defined by whiteness, and stories of it, then you will be successful in it if you align with it. Conversely, if you do not fit the field, then you will experience something called ‘symbolic violence’. This means the field will reject you, and you will remain unsuccessful in it until such time as you either change or leave. 

Teachers cannot change their skin colour, nor can they change their past. Teachers are agents of transformative change, shapers of futures, and representatives of our planet to the young. 

My research found that the most senior leaders and policy makers of international schools lead the field without any open awareness of, or willingness to change the whiteness status quo they inherit. They live and embody a powerful and deeply ‘international’ reality through the lens of whiteness. These are the people, who by their own admission, shape and form the field of international schools. Despite this, they develop, monitor and sign-off on policy that privileges white, Western teachers and makes it difficult for the rest. In this way, these sites of transformation are sky-bound Elysiums where the teaching of emancipation and fairness is available to the white Western candidate who has the ‘right’ teaching qualification, the ‘right’ experience, and the ‘right’ degree. 

It is a curious situation. International schools are prepared to spend the lion’s share of their considerable budget on their white, Anglo-European staff. They retain them with expensive salaries, accommodation, repatriations, insurance, and the rest. By doing so, they actively define the field, and enact ‘symbolic violence’ to those unable to take part because they didn’t grow up in California or Berkshire or Melbourne, didn’t go to a tier one university, and didn’t train in ‘the West’. Are international schools (and by this I mean their directors and owners) really saying that some teachers are not as valuable and their contribution is worth less because they are not white Anglo-European? After all, they should know because as the name on the tin suggests, these schools are diverse spaces. It is stranger still that these schools which build their identity on values of multiculturalism and internationalism are unable to invest ‘the lions share’ of their budgets in teachers from non-white Anglo-Europeans. As if this were not enough, the question remains, why can’t international schools pay people the same money for the same job? (Some may, many don’t). Why is payment often due to local or expat status? What is this nonsense that keeps the illusion of a post-colonial advantage alive in the 21st Century? Not in some tobacco-chewing, gun-toting, white supremacist training camp, but in multicultural international schools. 

The reason is to do with something called ‘The International Gaze’. Where once internationalism was implicitly connected to sophistication, knowledge and even fraternity and solidarity, it is now much-changed, and refers more to material advantage. It is this tantalising ‘International’ advantage that these schools sell. The customers are the burgeoning upper-middle classes around the world and particularly in the global South. ‘The Gaze’ is a term that refers to how a person reacts under the eyes of a more powerful other: a patient to a doctor, a woman to a man, the colonised to the coloniser. It denotes the reaction to this power and corresponding appropriative/pandering behaviour that the gazed upon employ. The international gaze as applied by the parent-customer demands what it perceives to be advantage. It just so happens that this is, and remains, white Anglo-Europeanism. So, as this analysis shows, international schools, far from being nodal points of multiculturalism are in fact more likely to manifest as replicators of The International Gaze, not because they necessarily want to (and I am extending plenty of goodwill and ‘benefit of the doubt’ here), but because their market-orientation requires it of them. 

So, where now? What can we do as international educators? How can we change an entrenched system of injustice and bias that cloaks itself in a magic mantle of ‘making the world a better place’? How can this be possible when we model yesterday’s and today’s inequities in the very schools that seek to educate our future influencers and decision makers? What kind of systems will they put in place when it is their turn to lead? The ones we told them about, or the ones they saw us working in and profiting from? We are international educators after all, it is in our blood to seek positive change for sustainable futures. This is the question international schools need to ask themselves. What is internationalism? Is it a shared, collective representation of the diversity and difference of our world, brought together in peace and hope? Or is it defined by a privileged few, enacted by them, experienced by them, and even taught by them – by their rules and on their terms? 

Comments? Please Scroll to Participate

This article also appears in Educational Digest International. It is based on the following:
 A., 2020b. Washing the world in whiteness; International schools’ policy. Journal of Educational Administration and History, p. online first

About the author: Alexander Charles Gardner-McTaggart (Alex McTaggart) is lecturer in Educational Leadership at the School of Environment Education and Development (SEED), of the University of Manchester where he is program director of the MA Educational Leadership in Practice. He is co-convenor of the Comparative and International Education Special Interest Group of the British Educational Research Association (BERA). His work is located in the critical paradigm and seeks to uncover truth and power in international education and educational leadership. Alex lives between Manchester and his family home in the Austrian alps.


Bourdieu, P., 1984. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge(MA): Harvard University Press.
Gardner-McTaggart, A., 2016. International elite, or global citizens? Equity, distinction and power: the International Baccalaureate and the rise of the South. Globalisation, Societies and Education, 14(1), pp. 1-29.
GardnerMcTaggart, A., 2018d. Birds of a Feather: Senior International Baccalaureate International Schools Leadership in Service. Journal of Research in International Education.
GardnerMcTaggart, A., 2018g. The promise of advantage. Englishness in IB international schools. Perspectives: Policiy and Practice in Higher Education, 22(4), pp. 109-114.
GardnerMcTaggart, A., 2019. International Baccalaureate Senior Leadership and Christianity. Globalisation Societies and Education, 17(4), pp. 458-573.
GardnerMcTaggart, A., 2020b. Washing the world in whiteness; International schools’ policy. Journal of Educational Administration and History, p. online first.
Gardner-McTaggart, A., 2020. Educational leadership and global crises; reimagining planetary futures through social practice. International Journal of Leadership in Education.
Gunter, H., 2013. Knowledge production and theory development: The case of educational administration. Cardiff, s.n.
IBO, 2020. Mission. [Online] Available at: http://www.ibo.org/about-the-ib/mission/
ISC, 2020. ISC research. [Online] Available at: http://www.iscresearch.com [Accessed 28 December 2017].
Sahlberg, P., 2006. Education Reform for Raising Economic Competitiveness. Journal of Educational Change, 7(4), p. 59–287.

Important Updates: Name Your School & Comment on Their Response to Covid-19

Caught by surprise with little to no disaster preparedness procedures in place, scores of International Schools succumbed to the onset of the Covid crisis with little more than a knee-jerk reaction. Conversely, many schools proved well prepared for just such an emergency, with an already established and well rehearsed virtual teaching platform in place, along with well thought out emergency procedures and policies. Some of us were very lucky to find ourselves at such a school!

The question is: How are individual schools currently dealing with the pandemic (as compared to when the crisis first struck)? This is the information we all need in order to make informed recruiting decisions during this unprecedented season.

For example: A school initially reported by teachers to have started out on shaky ground in the face of the crisis may have later developed a viable plan beneficial to both students and teachers. Or, a school that initially attempted to keep all staff on board may have eventually buckled under financial pressures due to decreased enrollment, forcing the dismissal of staff and possibly a failure to honor Contracts. Additionally, a school in locations with Covid-related Visa restrictions may no longer be able to guarantee entry to their host country.

There is no end to current, Covid-related scenarios that could affect the lives and careers of International Educators. If YOU have up-to-date info to Share on the Covid-related status of your school, we encourage participation in our endeavor to provide ISR Members and site visitors with the information needed to make informed career decisions during this recruiting season unlike any other.

To participate: Please click below to visit our original Article. Scroll (or use control F on your keyboard) to find already posted information about your school. Then click the REPLY link following the comments and enter your updated information. Comments are date-stamped so readers will know which are the latest comments. Your post will be made anonymously, as always.

A Wireless Happy Holiday

Even though we can’t be home with family & friends this Holiday Season, you CAN spend quality time with loved ones through the magic of streaming. That’s our plan at ISR.
From ISR to You & Yours, we wish you a happy, healthy, wonderful Holiday & a heart-warming wireless trip Home!