The Elephant in the Room

March 8, 2018

An ISR reader recently sent us this entertaining photo. He asked:  Would we invite teachers to compose their own conclusion to this scenario? Sounds like a fun break from the seriousness of recruiting, doesn’t it? So, here goes!

..We’ve been living in Malaysia for more than a year. Wednesdays are my short days at school and I usually try to head home a bit early to enjoy the house to myself, at least before Jane and the kids arrive home. On this day, though, someone had left the sliding glass doors wide open… 

 Bang!! A chair rebounding off the wooden floor drew my attention just as I was about to set foot inside. What the *@#!?  I struggled to make sense of  it all as, breathless, I snapped this photo and retreated. To my amazement, though, what happened next was the strangest thing of all… 

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Jewish Educators in the Middle East

February 1, 2018

Long before the turmoil we’re witnessing today in the Middle East, I was offered a teaching position at the International School of Aleppo, Syria. As a history buff, I was totally on-board by the prospect of exploring the vibrant cultures and history of the region. But….What would life be like for a Jewish teacher living in Syria?

The recruiter was upfront with answers to my questions: I would be exposed to anti-Semitic remarks from students who use the term “Jew,” accompanied by derogatory expletives. I should keep my Jewish heritage secret. If I decided to travel to Israel, my stamped passports could bar me from re-entering Syria. Common sense and prudence said loud and clear: Don’t go!

Today, in my position (as Moderator of the ISR Forum), I was intrigued by this recent thread:

Anyone have experience with being Jewish in the ME?

Postby ap410 » Thu Jan 25, 2018 5:07 pm
I’m considering applying for positions at a few schools in the ME (Bahrain, UAE, and possibly Oman), but I’m concerned that since my children and I are Jewish, we could run into trouble, hostilities, etc. We’re not super religious, but my kids have a habit of singing the Dreidel song in December, and I don’t want them to feel like they have to hide their religion. Does anyone have experience with this in the ME? Thanks!

.My first reaction was, ‘Are you kidding!?’ My opportunity was pre-9/11. What could it be like today for a Jew teaching in the Middle East? International Schools do tend to promote diversity, tolerance, inclusion, equality and a host of Mission Statement ideals. But … as we all know, life can be quite different outside that supposed safe haven.

Here’s some positive and negative Forum Comments that illustrate the dilemma…

by reisgio » Mon Jan 29, 2018 9:12 pm  For goodness sake, don’t take your innocent Jewish children to the Middle East!… I wouldn’t be comfortable having my children basically hide their identities just so I could work somewhere exotic. What’s wrong with you?

by justlooking » Fri Jan 26, 2018 10:35 am This has not been my experience working in four international schools in the ME in Egypt, Oman, Morocco, and Dubai. All the schools were top tier with a very international student body. I found most people respect Judaism and Jews; it’s Israel that’s the problem. As long as you’re not espousing pro-Israeli sentiment, you’ll be left alone.

by Nomad68 » Mon Jan 29, 2018 10:54 pm I really would not recommend going to places like Saudi, Kuwait or Qatar even if you hid your Jewish identity. The anti-Jewish sentiments would shock you.

 by shadowjack » Fri Jan 26, 2018 7:45 pm 7 years in Saudi. Our Saudi friends had Jewish neighbours and didn’t care.” “Israel is not a good country.” They knew the difference between the two, that’s for sure….

 My purpose in calling attention to this topic is to hopefully encourage ISR Members to initiate a place where my Jewish brothers and sisters can turn to for first-hand information on what it’s really like for a Jewish International Educator to live and teach in the Middle East, a decision clearly not to be taken lightly.

Have an experience or information to share?

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Local Methodologies vs Western Pedagogy

December 14, 2017

Open Letter from an ISR Reader

..Dear ISR, There’s a situation that’s been on my mind for some time and I’d like to hear how colleagues in various parts of the world are dealing with this sensitive topic. Here goes:

..I am sure everyone is aware that teaching styles around the world vary greatly. While international schools claim to be employing western-style educational practices, we can all agree that this may not always be the case, particularly when it comes to local-hire teaching staff.

..At my last school (in the Middle East) my assistant was a host national with a locally issued teaching credential.  She was a hard worker and an immense help, but when it came to classroom management she was hampered by the social hierarchy of her homeland. Sadly, the wealthy, over-indulged, entitled students treated her as a member of the janitorial staff instead of an education professional. 

..It got to the point I was hesitant to run out to the restroom or the copier because I could trust that I would return to utter classroom chaos. My assistant was not alone in these difficulties as I witnessed nearly all other local staff experiencing the same disrespect and mistreatment. 

One solution that worked was to have her deliver the lecture, during which I would leave the room for 10 minutes. Shortly after my return I would administer a prepared test on the material she had covered. Of course, this backfired on me to a degree because the parade of earned “D” and “F” grades brought the parents to my door to complain. I stood my ground and although I explained the situation, most parents were not sympathetic to local teachers.

..I’m currently at a wonderful school in Southeast Asia and although I love it here, I find myself faced with a new teaching dilemma. At this school we have local co-teachers and we are supposed to work as a team. But, our teaching styles are so different I am not sure it’s possible. The local teachers’ focus on rote memorization and fact regurgitation is utterly against my standards, as modern pedagogy is ignored for the most part.  To date I’ve found the local teacher only seems ‘in her element’ while conducting drills of before-test review. I have been preparing some lesson plans for her but I feel she resents me trying to influence her ideas on effective teaching. 

..I would bet that the situations I have described are just the tip of the iceberg. So, I ask you: How do you reconcile local teacher methodologies with western pedagogy, and do so without sacrificing education quality, upsetting the local-hire teacher or alienating your students or their families? 

Questionable Professional Behavior

November 9, 2017

Dear ISR, A topic I have yet to see addressed on ISR is that of questionable professional behavior. In my experience, some lower-tier international schools allow teachers to behave with impunity. One such school in Myanmar is notorious for the negative behavior of its teachers. They get drunk in public, cuss and diss each other and the locals, and in general show a complete lack of cultural sensitivity.

The staff (from the school in question) talk about the deranged behavior of one of their teachers who screams and yells at colleagues in front of students. Recently, a respected math teacher at this school was physically assaulted by another male teacher who was jealous and clearly has psychiatric issues.

The rest of us (living in this close community of schools) cannot believe how teachers from our neighboring school conduct themselves in public, nor that the 2 individuals with extreme behaviors are still teaching with, apparently, no repercussions!

Offences such as drunkenness, belligerence, blatant cultural insensitivity and/or aggressive behavior toward staff and teachers should result in instant firing. How far do/should directors allow teachers to go in breaking codes of professional behavior? And, what can colleagues do, apart from quitting, such toxic places?

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Host City Hidden Treasures

November 2, 2017

As world-traveling international educators, moving on to a new location introduces us to the special features that make our host city unique, that make it a definite must-see, must-experience kind of place. Whether it’s the boisterous beer (!) festivals of Germany, the delightful art & handicrafts of Indonesia, the world-class shopping experience of the Middle East, or the gastronomical delights of India, there is a special something about where YOU live that makes you say to others “You just have to come here for the ____.”

Sometimes what makes a country appealing can be surprising:  Thailand and Mexico are known for their affordable dental care. Costa Rica is gaining a reputation for reasonably priced orthopedic surgery. Africa and Central America are a draw for people who enjoy ‘voluntourism.’ India and Nepal appeal to Yoga & meditation enthusiasts.

We can all read travel magazines and blogs to hear the party-line about what makes a city great, but the insight of our fellow international educators can really give us the inside scoop on why a location, YOUR location, stands out as a “hidden treasure.”

..ISR would like to know:  What are the five-star features that make YOUR host city worth a visit?

Excused Absences Galore

October 26, 2017

..School’s well under way here in South America (I’ll leave out the name of my school) and in the few months I’ve been here we’ve had four activity days that kept kids out of class. Worse yet, kids regularly come and go with admin passes to participate in this event, that rehearsal, an important soccer practice, and even a hamster race (yes, you read correctly…science, I’m told). The list of reasons for kids to miss class just keeps on going. It’s clear I’m working at an entertainment center for the children of a privileged class, where education takes a back seat to fun.

..The latest incident which brings me to write to ISR is in regards to canceling my unit math exam due to an unplanned soccer match. Here’s what happened: A rival team challenged our school to a Friday afternoon soccer match at the last minute. The word went out Thursday afternoon over the intranet. I had been preparing my class for a big exam which I then had to postpone until Monday. When Monday rolled around it seemed unfair to have them walk into class “cold” and take the exam. So, we spent that class session reviewing and took the exam on Tuesday. This put us two days behind the scheduled curriculum.

..The teacher in the room next to mine told me last year they her called into the Counselor’s office to meet with the parent of a student who was failing her class. She knew the boy was failing because he had missed too many days of class, even though they were excused absences. It really jolted this teacher when she was accused of being a bad teacher and told that she had better get busy and see that this boy did well in her class. When she pointed out that he had missed an excessive amount of classes, she was told his failure was because she’s a boring teacher. How do you deal with this? She confided in me that she ultimately gave the kid a “B” grade to protect her job, but later the parent complained that her son would have earned an “A” if she had been a better teacher.

..My plan is to teach to the best of my ability, give these kids what they really earn and be done with it. I will either establish myself as a teaching professional and be accepted as such or will gladly leave when asked to. Has anyone experienced a school like this one?



Teaching Candidate in Hijab Claims Discrimination by Kuwaiti School

October 19, 2017
Fouzia Khatun on Instagram

..When Fouzia Khatun applied to teach at the English Playgroup, Kuwait, she thought wearing a hijab and sharing common religious beliefs would help her to be a good fit for the job. To her complete dismay, she later received an email from Caroline Brooks of the HR department, saying her employment depended on a willingness to remove her hijab while teaching: “…parents do not want their children taught by covered teachers, this is an English school.” 

..On her Instagram page Fouzia displays the email from Caroline Brooks. The school denies the allegations, saying Caroline Brooks was not in their employ. Later, however, they changed their statement reporting, Caroline Brooks has been “disciplined.” The school asserts that Fouzia’s application for employment was not accepted due to her use of social media and that action has been taken against her for “slanderous comments.”

..…The English Playgroup issued the following statement:
“The English Playgroup and Primary Schools employ qualified teachers from all nationalities, religions and backgrounds who serve students as excellent and caring teachers. Allegations of discrimination against hijab-wearing staff are untrue. Our schools proudly employ many hijab wearing teachers and administrators across our schools. The allegations against the school have been disseminated by an unsuccessful overseas job applicant who was refused employment because of inappropriate behavior as illustrated on her social media platform. The opinions expressed by a new employee in the HR department are against company policy and necessary disciplinary action has been taken.”

..Fouzia is quoted as saying that her Instagram page was private before this incident, so a claim of “inappropriate behavior” on social media is unfounded. The English Playgroup later released photos on Instagram of teachers wearing a hijab while on the job. Fouzia is suing the English playgroup.

..ISR Asks: Is this an isolated incident? Was it simply a mistake on the part of an HR employee? To your knowledge, do Muslim women experience this type of discrimination in Kuwait and other Islamic countries when applying for jobs in Western-oriented schools and companies?

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