Local Methodologies vs Western Pedagogy


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


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

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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

..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

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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Human Rights Vs. The Rights of International Teachers


An Open Letter to ISR

Dear ISR, I’m writing in regards to the International Educators’ Bill of Rights mentioned in your article, Don’t Bring Me Down. I fail to see how the Bill of Rights can be applied to all schools, worldwide, especially when some schools are located in countries with very different ideas about “rights” than we in the West.

Human rights, including employment rights, are determined by the laws of the country in which you reside and teach, and they are not all the same. For example, there is an Arab charter on human rights, which has its own interpretations on racism, and an Asian version on human rights, where, for example, ‘individuals must put the state’s rights before their own’. How would it be possible for an International Educators’ Bill of Rights to supersede such documents?

For me as a westerner living in the middle east, I find Arabic values incomprehensible and totally incompatible with my education and upbringing; there is a gulf between myself and management which cannot be bridged. As a fourteen-year-old studying history I learned how ‘nepotism’ was a terrible evil. I still think that way. Yet, in my present adopted country, this is the only way to get promoted; experience appears to count for very little.

I feel what might be more useful than the International Educators’ Bill of Rights is if recruiting agencies would require schools to provide realistic information on the culture surrounding each school. This could include such info as the country’s basic laws and regulations, and the area’s overall approach to human rights. How is their treatment of children, of foreigners, the disabled, females, the extremely poor and the uber rich? The info should also include the make-up of each schools’ ownership and management, thereby getting a much clearer picture of the mindset of who you’ll be working for on a day-to-day basis.

For example:  A school organized and managed by the American Embassy school would be noted as such and considered to be run by an American administration. A school owned by a host-national and administered by a host-national director/principal would be designated as such. In this way teachers could understand in advance what sort of experience they were signing on for, not to stereotype schools or countries, but as a good start to knowing if a school is the right choice for you.

I find the International Educators’ Bill of Rights a wonderful document. I am, however, not convinced it’s applicable to all schools in all locations around the world.

ISR Response. We agree that individual countries have their own specific code for Human Rights, including employment rights. We do feel, however, that no educator goes overseas with the intent to be taken advantage of under provisions set forth by law, or through loopholes in a country’s laws.

ISR considers an International School that hires staff from Western countries to be an island unto itself,
and as such, will treat their educators as would a school in the West. ISR feels strongly that a school which cannot, or will not, stick to the basic principles of the International Educators’ Bill of Rights is a school to be avoided.

ISR asks: What is YOUR opinion on this topic?

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ISR Note:
This blog was high jacked by a person with a personal agenda. We have removed all comments from this blog.  We apologize to those contributors whose comments were in earnest and on topic.  Posting is open and we invite you to contribute to the topic.

The International Political Climate vs. You

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..Major developments in international political climates are highlighted on news stations daily, along with scenes of millions marching in protest against seemingly rash changes and unrealistic restrictions toward others. The citizens of Earth seem united in the demand to have their leaders represent each and every one of us fairly, whether it’s for the rights of immigrants, equality for women, non-discrimination towards LGBT folks, equitable international trade agreements, access to reproductive choices, protection of environmental/ocean concerns, or compassionate treatment of disabled and/or impoverished citizens. The world is speaking up and taking names! Yet, despite the revolts, some national leaders seem intent upon a future path of xenophobic laws and harsh edicts.

..America and Europe have long been seen by the world as a refuge for democracy. As such, Westerners have enjoyed a certain sense of security/status that ordinarily makes us welcomed guests while traveling in foreign lands. But, that may be changing. If you’re a Westerner living in a foreign land, you could become the target of people who now see you as a representative of an ideology they dislike, or even hate — an ideology that has derailed the course of their lives.

..No wonder International Educators are questioning the potential effects of the current international political unrest on our safety and the future of our careers. ISR asks: As an International Educator, has the sudden change in the political climate of America and Europe given you reason to change your future recruiting/travel plans? Are you aware of any change in attitude towards Westerners in your current location? 

ISR invites to Share your views

Take Your Meds

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If you’ve accepted an overseas teaching position & are living with a medical condition, you absolutely must do your due diligence to verify beyond a shadow of a doubt that any required treatments or meds are available in your new location. Simply asking the person interviewing you at a Recruiting Fair is not sufficient research.

   It should go without saying that many prescriptions &/or medications readily available in the West are difficult, if not impossible, to find in other areas of the world. When you move overseas, no matter where in the world you are going, you owe it to yourself to bring at least a few months’ supply of your prescription so you can stay healthy until someone sends you what you need, if it should become necessary. But do be prepared for ridiculous customs duties & maybe even a bribe or two before you actually receive your package.

   ISR hosts a handful of School Reviews that relate absolute horror stories from teachers who failed to bring meds or were unable to find required periodic treatments for themselves or dependents. For some teachers, the only option was to break contract & return home. Don’t become a victim of insufficient research!

Important Medication Facts to Keep in Mind

• It is illegal to send some medications to certain countries by mail. Check with the postal service & customs office.  This regulation will usually apply to controlled substances, but not always. In Japan some common medications are included on the no-mail list. Contact the embassy of the country you will be entering to ensure your medicine is legal there.

• Learn about the process for purchasing your medication in your new host country. Some medications can be in short supply, a different dosage may be the only dosage available, &/or you could be required to get a prescription from a local doctor.

• Before you leave home, get written prescriptions from your doctor in case you need to order meds by mail, assuming they are legal for delivery by mail.

• Research the destination country’s customs regulations regarding medications. Some countries only allow a 90-day supply to be brought in.

• It’s recommended that you bring letter from your doctor which includes the name of the meds you take & in what dosage.  The letter should state that the medicine is for your personal use.

•  You might find the medication you get with a prescription at home is available over-the-counter in your new host country. Unfortunately, the situation can also be reversed & drugs you’ve been buying over-the-counter at home may require a prescription overseas.

What has Your experience been living overseas in regards to medical treatments & medications?  Do you have any Advice to share?

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Too Frazzled to Go Back

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..Hello ISR, I’ve noticed you post teachers’ letters from time to time and open them up for discussion. The situation I’m in is literally making me physically ill from stressing over what to do. I’m just frazzled at this point and could use some advice and support from other teachers. Maybe someone out there has been in the same situation? Here goes, I hope you post this:

..This past school year, I (a single woman in my early 30s) was teaching in the Middle East and can honestly say the place I’m in is disgusting beyond words. I do take care to cover up very well, yet I literally can’t walk 10 steps on the street without some jackass ogling me or making disgusting sounds. Men have even lewdly touched me in crowded situations. From the city to the the school, just the thought of the place sickens me.

..The final straw was when I turned to walk away from a little kiosk and glimpsed the driver of a parked taxi eyeing me with his hand down his pants — you can fill in the rest. The entire scene is repulsive and oppressive and I feel like I’m trapped inside a nightmare. The school is no gem either. I won’t go into it but it’s definitely a candidate for a seething ISR School Review.

..The point is, I hate my life at this school so much that I am seriously considering not returning after the summer. Actually, I don’t know if I can face another moment of it. When I left for the summer I took everything of any value with me. Any ideas, anyone? I really need some advice. Sincerely, Stressed to the Max

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Will Taking That Photo Land You in Prison?

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..As Westerners residing & teaching overseas it’s easy to slip into believing we are somehow exempt from many of the realities to which host nationals are subject. In some instances this is most definitely true. But when it comes to the laws of the land, we are deceiving ourselves if we think we’re exempt.

Teachers will say they are law-abiding citizens. Overseas, however, one may not be aware of what’s considered an offense & quite innocently find yourself imprisoned. Something as benign as snapping a photo of a public building or making an angry hand gesture may be all it takes. In some countries, for example, just one drink is considered “under the influence” & punishable by law (as the bartender/police work in tandem to report your actions). Ignorance of local law is never an excuse…at least not one that carries any weight in a courtroom!

We’re all aware chewing gum in public in Singapore is a criminal offense, but did you know in Thailand it’s an offense to step on money (which no doubt has something to do with the fact the King’s picture appears on the currency)? So, the question becomes: What other little-known offenses might lead to a jail term throughout the world?

Be aware — If you are a U.S. citizen, for example, there’s little your government can do to help should you get into trouble overseas. Here’s what you can expect in the way of help from the U.S. government:

– An insistence on prompt access to you
– Provide you with information on the foreign country’s legal system
– Provide a list of attorneys
– Contact your family/friends
– Protest mistreatment, monitor jail conditions, provide dietary supplements
– Keep the Department of State informed as to your situation

If this doesn’t sound like much help, it isn’t!

Citizens of countries other than the U.S. can expect to receive more-or-less the same level of help from their governments. In any case, the legal systems of foreign countries can/do function in ways that may seem archaic by our standards. Yet, as guests in foreign lands we are not exempt from prosecution & our governments do not have the power to have charges against us dropped. ISR hosts Reviews & Articles from teachers detained overseas. The experiences are understandably frightening.

ISR recommends you learn the unique laws of your host country by consulting the Country Information web site of the U.S. Government or a web site from your home nation.

If you have personal anecdotal experiences to Share we invite you to inform your colleagues, below.

A Whole Lotta Drinkin’ Going On

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When you’re immersed in a foreign culture & don’t speak the language, it can be difficult to make friends outside your circle of faculty acquaintances. If, additionally, you’re living on a school-housing compound with nothing much to do & miles away from a lot more of the same, you’re sure to feel isolated.  If this sounds like a good reason to mix up a few after-school drinks with new found faculty friends, you’re not alone.

Teachers report they do drink more overseas compared to back home. The question is, how much more? One teacher tells us her high school students make bets on which teacher will come in the most “wasted” on Monday morning. We’d like to think, however, that this is the exception.

Pakistan, Qatar, Kuwait & other desert countries with little to do (that is, if you’re not passionate about sand dunes &/or shopping) impose bans on alcoholic beverages. You’d think drinking in these locations would be at a minimum. Fortunately, or unfortunately, Western expats can obtain a “license” to buy alcoholic beverages sold at government-run stores. Although the government hooch usually tastes like paint thinner, top-brand alcoholic beverages confiscated from incoming travelers also finds its way into these stores & is sold under the table by agents “supplementing” their incomes. Teachers in the Middle East tell us their schools are party central for fully stocked drinking parties.

It may well be that the level of drinking among colleagues overseas is more or less the same as that back home, with the difference being that overseas you’re more aware of what colleagues are doing outside school. We’ve heard some overseas schools referred to as “alcohol drenched,” “big drinking culture” & “shooter central.” If my school back in the States fit this description it was certainly well hidden from me, but we wonder what the situation seems like for International educators.

We invite you take our short Survey & rate the level of alcohol consumption at your international school on a scale of 0 – 5. Think of 0 as being “no drinking going on” & 5 as “let it flow, flow flow.”

Please scroll down to Share what’s going on at YOUR school.
Feel free to name your school if the “spirit” so moves you – pun intended!

 

Country-Native Directors & Principals

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A recent ISR Forum post about “Country-Native Directors and Principals” caught our attention, sparking a conversation among ISR staff. We ask, What effect, if any, do country-native leaders have on a school? With the word “international” in a school’s name, does it not stand to reason a host national could justifiably fill the position? Or does “international school” really just mean Western School?

The ISR Forum post to which I refer states:

“I’m starting to think about future possibilities and one thing which niggles me is this: I’ve noticed that, while many schools have a head teacher (Director and/or Principal) who comes from or has trained in the country from which their curriculum originates (eg UK for a British school, USA for an American school), there are some schools where the head teacher comes from the country in which the school is based.

Now, maybe I’m being unreasonable here, and I know that there will be some of these heads who are great leaders and managers, just as there are incompetent UK and US heads, but I have this feeling when I see these schools that alarm bells should be ringing about the school and, in particular, its culture. Does that seem fair?”

….In regards to this post, consider that School Heads/Directors play a far different role than do School Principals. Directors are largely responsible for the business-oriented part of an International School and, as such, represent the owners. A country-native Head would surely understand how to get bureaucracy-intensive procedures accomplished and would speak the local language.

School Principals, in contrast to Heads/Directors, assume responsibility for academics, student discipline, teacher concerns and parent relations. One would think it goes without saying that a background, or at least a clear understanding of the offered curriculum would be essential for the position, unless the Principal is simply a line-manager for the school owner.

The topic of Country-Native Heads & Principals is far-reaching with many implications. If you’ve had first-hand experience working with a country-native Director or Principal, we invite you to join the discussion.

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Powerful Bully-Parents Can Be Dangerous

bullied-on-computer-76082840If you’ve been in the classroom for any length of time you’re no doubt all too familiar with parents who bully teachers and schools. A parent, one you would never suspect could act in such an aggressive manner, can suddenly behave like a mama bear protecting her cub.

We’ve all experienced or heard horror stories about powerful parents who toss their weight around, insisting exceptions be made for their child in the form of grade inflation or dismissal of consequences for poor behavior. The parent-bully married to a board member, like the wealthy and/or powerful parent, is equally threatening because they, too, see themselves on the inside track to receiving special consideration for their child’s behavior problems or deficient academic performance. Today, with the popularity of social media, we’re faced with a new plague: the parent-bully with no clout or status but who uses social media to smear teachers/schools they believe have wronged their child, who in their eyes can do no wrong.

In 2015 the NASUWT, which represents teachers in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, reported that 60% of the 1500 teachers they interviewed said abusive comments had been posted about them on social media by parents and/or students. This was a sharp increase from the 20% figure reported in 2014. The rise in bullying incidents has been  attributed to an increase in parents bashing teachers and schools on line. Teachers report posts calling them “bitch,” “slime ball” and even expressing hope they develop cancer and die.

In the United States the same 60% abuse statistic has been calculated, the prime offenders being “helicopter parents” named as such because they constantly hover over their children, blaming their child’s shortcomings on schools and teachers. A number of teachers report physical threats from such parents.

If you’re currently teaching in an International School you know firsthand that these schools are not exempt from parents who bully. A disproportionate number of ISR School Reviews contain accounts that tell us “the kids make the rules.” Or, as one Review aptly put it, “the inmates are running the asylum.” When admin refuses to stand up to bully-parents, the kids take the upper hand.

A particularly distressing bullying episode outlined in an ISR School Review relates how a teacher was disciplined after giving an “honor” student an “F” grade. This student rarely attended class and the teacher had reported to admin on various occasions that this student was seen in the school parking lot smoking cigarettes with her boyfriend during class time. Her influential parents at this South American school had intimidated the school director into “massaging” the girls grades to honor roll level. The “F” grade did not stick and the girl remained on the honor roll. The teacher was placed on probationary status at the request of the girl’s parents.

Another upsetting instance demonstrating what a powerful parent-bully is capable of is illustrated in a startling ISR School Review. This particular Review tells how the author of the Review sent a high school boy to in-school detention. Then, months later, found herself detained at immigration due to a previously unknown, yet pending, court case levied by the child’s parent. The parent in this Middle Eastern country claimed in-school suspension was excessive punishment for fighting on campus. Powerful bully-parents can be dangerous in unforeseen, far-reaching ways.

It’s clear bullying parents who pressure teachers and administrators into backing down and compromising their principles are doing their children severe harm. The sad reality is they are setting their kids up for an extremely hard fall. This is especially true when a bully-parent takes their child’s “A” grades won through intimidation, and parlays them into acceptance at a prestigious university. Unable to do the work, the kid returns home after one or two semesters, a complete failure. Unearned academic status comes with a price and unfortunately it’s the child who ultimately pays the toll.

There are methods for dealing with bully-parents, but to date no approach (that ISR has seen) has been successful in helping such parents realize this:  The use of force to make a child appear, on paper, to be something they clearly are not, is simply setting the child up for failure in all aspects of life.

ISR encourages you to Share how you and/or your school cope with parent-bullies. Have you found any techniques or conversations that help a parent-bully accept that their child hasn’t been singled-out for punishment? Has being a good listener and allowing a parent to vent, with no resistance, served as the cathartic experience they needed to come to terms with the reality of the situation?  We all have different ways of dealing with tough parents. Here’s your opportunity to Share what works!

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School Getting Too Religious?

religion115528220-2“Inclusion” and “diversity” are terms that grace the mission statement of many International Schools. As such, you would think that if religious practices were suddenly introduced into a school touting these ideals, the various religions of the students and faculty would be represented equally. Not always so! Reviews scattered throughout the ISR web site outline schools that have adopted a religious overtone with a focus on one religion only — the Admin’s. Here are excerpts from the ISR Forum and School Reviews that express concern over this emerging practice in some International Schools:

I work in an international school in Europe. Over the years there’s been a clear shift…. Fellow teachers are including religious viewpoints in their lessons, many of the charities the school supports have religious backgrounds, and every Sunday the school is even used by a Christian church for service, Sunday school, etc. Several of the workshops offered to teachers are also organized by religious-related organizations. I don’t support any of this and it clashes with my view of what an International School should be (i.e. void of religion).

The Director and Principals are preoccupied with their faith and this consumes much of their energy. Staff are obliged to attend Christian “boot camp” in order to be broken down, then rebuilt into better, “more godly” people. There is a monthly “joint fellowship” which all staff are required to attend. Each morning there are staff devotions where teachers relate personal faith-related experiences.

Prayers before staff meetings are mandatory and there are worship services before the start of the year. The staff retreat is similar to a church camp for adults. Most of this isn’t negative; however, it has led to a bumpy transition and there are concerns that a strong Christian would be hired over a strong teacher. All in all I would recommend the school if you are a conservative Christian. The trend has been towards a more conservative atmosphere and there have been quite a few staff members who have left because of a difference of opinion.religion115528220-1

In light of these comments, it can be said that if you accept a position at the Christian Academy of Nepal (a fictitious name for purposes of this Article), it would be foolish to think prayer and observance would not be part of the school day. But even in such a scenario there can be more than meets the eye. One ISR School Review tells how the reviewer never anticipated accepting a position at a faith-based school would allow admin to violate his personal space, confiscate his iPod and check that it contained only Christian music, with consequences for anything but.

Although we at ISR consider such actions extreme and far from the spirit of International Education, the aforementioned Review does describe a school that contains the word Christian in its title. Still, a number of School Reviews, as in our earlier examples, relate how a non faith-based school brought in a new director who cast a religious overtone onto the school’s atmosphere, then recruited only faith-oriented staff who incorporated religion into their daily lessons and directives.

ISR supports the practice of all religions. When, however, a single religion is introduced into an International School unannounced by an administrator with an agenda, our position is that this goes against the most basic foundation of an inclusive and diversified education.

Tell us about YOUR experience and position on this topic!

Compromise: The Key to Success Overseas

alter-avoid-accept-116651054In this brief article composed expressly for ISR, I hope to offer some timely advice that should be of help to teachers deterred from teaching overseas due to the many negative reviews found on ISR. Likewise, my words may be of assistance to teachers already overseas and dissatisfied with their current situation.

To begin, let me say that I am fairly certain most of us began our teaching careers in the public schools of the Western world. Funded 100% by tax payer money, these schools are free to focus their energies completely on education with no need to compromise their ideals to raise money needed to pay salaries. Private overseas schools by contrast, to survive, be they For-Profit or Non-Profit, raise funds through tuition and are therefore forced to walk the line between being both a profitable business and a School.  If you are going overseas or teaching in a private institution in your home country, you would do well to accept the fact that when you cross a business with a school there are going to be practices that fly in the face of what a true educationalist would consider best practices.

Accepting a student half-way through the school year who speaks little English can be par for the course in a tuition-funded school. You may even be expected to “move” this student on with a better than passing grade. An administration that refuses to discipline unruly students may also be the norm in a private school where a gossipy parent who feels their child has been unduly singled out has the power to organize parents to leave the school. Mixing business with education has its undeniable draw backs. In any business it’s important to cater to the customers. The question is, at what point does such catering conflict with your own sense of ethics as a Western trained educator?

I’m not suggesting I agree with much of what I have seen go on in International Schools. As a school director I have had to compromise some of my ideals for the continued existence of a school and the continued opportunity to serve students, teachers and parents to the best of my abilities under the circumstances. Where I draw the line is when I see a school owner reaping bountiful financial rewards and neglecting to fund the necessities of the school. I don’t expect any school owner to sacrifice their well-being or that of their family for a school – philanthropists are few and far between. When I found myself a pawn in a host national’s plan to get rich at the expense of children’s educations, I made every effort to get everything I felt the students needed. I was later “released from duty” and immediately posted the truth about this school as I knew it to be – or better stated, how the situation exceeded what I was willing to compromise.

We each have a threshold for what we can and cannot accept. One thing is for certain though, when you immerse yourself in an overseas culture and tuitions are needed to fund a school, some form of compromise will have to be made on your part. The same will hold true in a private school in your own country. I highly recommend teachers read between the lines of ISR reviews with an eye to deciphering what sort of compromise on the part of the author could have made the situation a better experience. If the compromises needed to succeed at the institution are within your realm of acceptance, this could be a school for you. If not, and you consider yourself a pure educationalist, you may never be happy in an overseas school.

Comments Anyone?

Random Acts of Kindness

thankyou150px-22272245Dear ISR,
Some days I feel that the nature of this site results in a focus on the negative aspects of living overseas to the detriment of sharing the wonderful, and life altering, beautiful moments found only by truly immersing oneself in another culture. So to counteract all the tales of administrative abuse, neglect and frustration, let’s share some stories of random acts of kindness. Here are just two of the many I have experienced…

  Once, while wandering a market in Northern Italy, I was stopped by a woman gesturing frantically at the sling that I carried my sleeping newborn daughter in. My first thought was that she was going to give me a hard time for having a baby so young out in public. The cultural norm there is to over bundle children and shelter them from crowds until they are about two years old. I prepared for the ration I figured I was about to get, but instead the woman, through gestures and pointing, alerted me to the fact that my child had leaked through her diaper and the sling. She took me gently by the hand to the area behind her stall, laid down a blanket and cooed and sung to my baby while I cleaned up everyone involved. Then she handed me a warm bread roll, patted me on the shoulder with a one-mother-to-another warmth and sent me on my way. It was a small gesture but one that made me feel like a welcomed member of a community.

  Another random act of kindness occurred in Pakistan within days of my arrival. I was new to the experience of driving on the “wrong” side of the street and misjudged my proximity to a gapping chasm of a pothole. Next thing I knew the van I was driving rolled right into this hole up to the frame. There was no way I was going to drive out of the hole with the front wheels suspended in mid-air, and I was at a complete loss staring dejectedly at the lopsided vehicle with no idea who to call or what to do next. Within a few minutes, while I still pondered my next move, auto rickshaw drivers began to stop, get out of their vehicles and gather nearby. In my slightly paranoid, American mind, they gathered to mock and view the spectacle, but suddenly they all seemed to come to a consensus and moved towards the van and me. Without a word they took up positions around the van and together lifted, rocked and pushed the van out of the hole. Each was beaming ear-to-ear as they ushered me back into the vehicle and guided me safely around the mother of all potholes. They waved as I drove away. Not a word was understood between any of us and not a cent asked for. They saw a person in need and lent a helping hand.

  It is easy, when surrounded by a world that is strange, to get wrapped up in the feeling of being alone or an outsider. Some of these schools are miserable to be at, some countries hate the western world, and some places are just not our cup of tea, but you never know when you might experience a random act of kindness that makes it all seem quite okay.  I would love to hear other teachers’ stories of random act of kindness?

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De-Stressing @ Your New School

Lazy time. Man in hat in a hammock on a summer day

For most of us, coming in as a new teacher at an international school means we have a lot of adapting to do. Culture, language, food, climate, students, the parents of students, a new house/apartment, city and currency of monetary exchange are just a handful of what makes up the “foreign” environment that awaits us.

With so much energy focused on the actual move, how can you truly comprehend what you’re committing to? Here’s a short list of some changes to expect and suggestions from teachers who have been there/done that, and have some unique strategies for adapting to their new environment. (1st published 8/’11)

What’s New When We Change Schools?
Culture, language, food, climate, students, parents of students, your house/ apartment, the city, currency of exchange, your classroom, internet availability, administration, colleagues and committee work, school procedures, transportation, shopping, entertainment, medical care, bill paying, banking, and well… just about everything. Even your name may seem to change and sound new in terms of the local accent.

So, what de-stressing strategies work when all your familiar reference points are gone? Over the years I’ve stuck with 3 strategies that help me get a good start at a new school.

My Top 3 de-Stressing Strategies:
1. I get to know the school secretaries, the head of tech and the head of maintenance. I want them as allies. I even make some effort to get to “know them” before coming and try to bring some small gifts to sweeten the deal upon our first meeting. At one school, the tech guy desperately wanted US backpacks for his children. By bringing them along as a gift, I insured his gracious help with my many requests in the first weeks of school. I was nearly always put at the top of the list. Beyond just a colleague, he became a friend.

2. Make your apartment/house your home and refuge. I bring familiar things that make me feel at home. My music, a few pictures, books, a board game, special soap, and any other easily portable knickknack that makes me warm and fuzzy. I also bring a good supply of my favorite comfort foods. There’s nothing like a few favorite things from a known environment to help make the transition into the unknown a lot smoother. At the end of the school day you’ll want a welcoming home refuge from the crush of newness.

3. I’m careful not to be overzealous in volunteering for more committees and duties than I am comfortable with. At a new school, with my attentions being bounced around like a ping pong ball between school and personal needs, the last thing I want is more to focus my attention on. The temptation is to jump right in and make huge contributions to staff and school, but in the end if I take care of “number one” first I’m a lot more effective when it comes to contributing to the team.

Now it’s your turn. Many of us are starting off the new academic year at international schools that are new to us. What techniques work for you? Sharing our personal strategies is a great way to support each other and help make the upcoming academic year a success, in and out of school!

Teachers Flashing Tattoos

x
Dear Dr. Spilchuk 
/ Online Consultant, ISR

tiger-tatto84314753Dear Barbara,
 As a teacher of many years’ experience overseas, I have recently noticed a tendency for NQTs to arrive at a new posting flashing tattoos, nose rings and several ear piercings. They seem astonished when told that school rules require them to cover up and remove such studs. This year one young woman was very unpleasant about it and took every opportunity to ignore admin rules and display her tattoos as boldly as possible. In many countries, students and parents react to tattoos with horror as a sign of low social status or membership in some sort of triad. A number of my colleagues feel that tattoos and nose rings have no place in an international school – especially as rules forbid students from having them. Parents have complained that tattooed teachers are bad role models. I agree.

QSI schools prohibit hiring smokers — Will there be a need for school to ask if applicants have visible tattoos and nose rings in the future? What do other teachers and administrators feel, and how do they deal with this issue?

Hello ISR Fan,
I believe that we can all make personal choices for our makeup, jewelry and body art on our own time and in appropriate places. However, within schools, particularly International Schools, teachers need to set a higher standard than what may be acceptable for students. Teacher body jewelry and body art that has the potential to distract students from focusing on learning is just not in good taste and in many cultures, it is deemed highly inappropriate. My suggestion to teachers is for them to share this type of jewelry/art in more private locations.

Best,
Dr. Barbara Spilchuk / Online Consultant, ISR

 COMMENTS? Please scroll down

Hiroshima-Nagasaki: Students Pedal for Peace

pedaltopeaceDear International Schools Review, I am a teacher at Hiroshima International School. Our students are taking part in the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The group aims to promote peace by cycling nearly 500km from Hiroshima Peace Park to Nagasaki Peace Memorial Hall where they will present 1000 paper cranes to Nagasaki Peace Memorial Hall as a symbolic gesture of peace.

The significance of 1000 paper cranes originates from the story of Sadako Sasaki, who was 2 years old at the time of the atomic bombings and survived the blast in Hiroshima. She later suffered from leukemia and died in 1955, age 12. Whilst in hospital, Sadako heard of a Japanese legend that promised a wish to anyone who folded 1000 paper cranes.

peace61034336The ride, known as the ‘Peace Ride’, has involved the wider community with fund-raising efforts and donations We are now trying to get 1000 likes on our Facebook page to represent 1000 paper cranes. It would be great if you could Like and Share our page.

What’s in a School Name?

school-name89075618Here’s an interesting question from an ISR Member: 

When I think of a school such as the ‘American School of ABC,’ or ‘The International School of XYZ,’ I imagine an oasis of Western educational practices in the midst of a developing nation.

My question is this: Do International Schools eventually all become a reflection of their host nation, or is it possible for them to remain immune from the less than progressive, sometimes backwards, influences that surround and pressure them to conform? (i.e. a dictatorial government, host national parental pressures and/or local educational practices).

Is there a point where the word ‘American/Canadian/British’ or ‘International’ in a school’s name becomes nothing more than rhetoric?

Tell us your thoughts on this topic.