Agreements: Contractual & Otherwise

It’s probably safe to say most teachers believe the majority of International Schools have every intention of honoring their contractual agreements, as well as noncontractual/verbal promises. If this was not the case, no one would leave home.

But what of schools whose Contracts turn out to be worth little more than the paper they’re written on? Legal recourse is expensive, and shady schools know few teachers have the financial resources to follow through. Additionally, many developing countries have extremely weak labor laws, giving the school the upper hand in almost all instances. Yes, teachers have successfully sued their schools, but who wants to find themselves in this unenviable position?

Sometimes, even before leaving home for a new school, subtleties in emails between you and your new Director or HR department send up a red flag signaling a possible lack of commitment to promises both contractual and verbal. Is this a glimpse into what is to come? Do you listen to your gut feelings, break Contract and conclude you fortunately dodged a bullet? Or, do you go on to fulfill your Contract and take your chances? It’s a tough decision.

A recent, real life situation facing an ISR Member:

I accepted and signed a Contract a few months ago. At the time I queried certain aspects of that Contract and received assurance that the school is flexible and accommodating where possible and does its best for the staff.

Now some changes have become evident and it seems that, precisely in the key areas I asked about, there is not so much flexibility at all. At the moment there is intransigence and this is being blamed on having already put in place certain arrangements which I had raised concerns and doubts about at recruiting time. Had my concerns been taken into account, those arrangements would not have been made and the current situation would have an easy solution.

I feel like this is a ‘Big Red Flag.’ Maybe I will feel differently in a day or two but right now I feel as though travelling across the globe to work for a company which promises one thing and delivers another, which ignores concerns raised, would be a huge mistake, particularly in Covid times when moving on or moving out might not be so easy.

If I back out now, I will feel very bad about it. On the other hand, if I get there and find this is typical behavior, I will feel bad for not having heeded warning signs before travelling and may be, or will be, stuck there.

ISR hosts a great many School Reviews written by teachers at schools that have failed to honor their Contracts and their word. From contractual agreements like housing, health insurance, travel, and shipping, to noncontractual promises like specific classroom supplies to support your program, the COVID crisis has made a very convenient scapegoat for both written and verbal promises clearly not met. Now, more than ever, it’s important to consider carefully before accepting a position at a school with ISR Reviews pointing to a history of Contract discrepancies.

The bottom line: Contractual and noncontractual agreements are only worth the integrity of the school behind them. Stay safe! Research, research, and more research is the key to a successful career in International Education.

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Who ARE Some of These Directors?

In a perfect world, all International Schools would be created with the admirable intent to provide a top-quality education for children of expats and host-country nationals, alike. If, however, you’ve been on the circuit for any length of time, you know this is not always the case. Created with an eye on pure profit, some International Schools are not what they have been deviously crafted to look like.

Ask any veteran of a purely for-profit school to relate the experience of teaching under a school owner hellbent on extracting every last penny from the business, and you’ll understand why teachers post some extremely negative School Reviews on ISR. Education and a purely-for-profit motive do not mix.

The question is: Who directs these so-called schools? Who among us is a sell-out? To complete the façade needed to look like an International School, a greedy school owner may install in the leadership position an individual from the West with some impressive letters following his/her name, a helmsman, so to speak, who steers the ship to profitability strictly following the captain’s orders. Some teachers may prefer to refer to this person as the ‘henchman.’

Dedicated educational leaders have found themselves tricked into these positions. As such, all they can do is the best they can to protect teachers and students. On the other hand, and to their discredit, some School Directors seem to delight in rough-riding their teachers in exchange for a hefty salary. They are obviously not educators at heart. And they are certainly complicit in the charade.

ISR asks: Why are some school Directors, specifically those who’ve been identified multiple times on ISR as someone complicit in robbing teachers of integrity and students of education, exempt from the same rigorous scrutiny as teachers? How is it that some Directors, who with a litany of poor Reviews, are still able to move from school to school to school so easily? Should recruiting agencies require schools to demonstrate their Director meets certain academic standards along with a favorable work history before being allowed to recruit teachers?

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COVID Conflict: Breaking My New Contract

Last week I received confirmation my work Visa had been approved and processed. This news, from my new school in India, came with a reminder telling me the report date for new staff was set for late August, less than 2 short months away. But with daily world health news blaring negatively, I feel apprehensive to say the least. Yesterday, 46,000+ new COVID cases were reported in India, not including the thousands of cases health officials say go unreported each day.

In truth, my conscience doesn’t want to leave the school hanging, but if the new COVID case count stays the same or gets even worse, I’m planning to bail on the Contract. What else can I conceivably do? We all know that the school would not have any hesitation whatsoever letting me go at the the very, very last minute if it was faltering. Yet, still I’m feeling conflicted. Should I tell them what I’m thinking?

A sprinkling of ISR School Reviews report schools still rescinding Contracts due to the unforeseen rise of the COVID variant. If schools can break Contract at this late date due to COVID, so should teachers have the right to do the same. My feeling is, schools, along with recruiting agencies, don’t see it this way. My Contract contains a force majeure clause to cover unforeseen circumstances. However, on close examination, the wording implies only the school can exercise that right. No surprise there!

My question is: If I don’t get on the plane in August, will I be killing all subsequent chances to teach overseas? Will future potential employers and the big recruiters understand why I did not go, or will I be banned forever? Anyone else in this predicament? To quote a member of the ISR Forum: A Contract is not a suicide pact.

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How Do You Get Paid…or Not?

Getting your monthly paycheck from an International School can be as easy as 1, 2, 3, or a cliff hanger you’ve come to dread. Most schools pay like clockwork, others a bit late & still others always have one excuse followed by another for why the money is not appearing in your bank account.

Granted, unforeseen political situations, changing banking regulations & poor technological infrastructures can make transferring money into your personal bank account a difficult task for even the most well-intended schools. However, the good ones always find a way to get it done! Excuses are of little consolation for teachers with loans &/or mortgages to pay.

International Schools have a responsibility to pay on time so schools situated in politically unstable areas of the world may ensure they meet this responsibility by parking the bulk of their finances in a country with stable political/economic foundations. They then simply wire-transfer salaries from these accounts into teachers’ accounts. The only excuse for failure to pay on time is poor planning, a hidden agenda, or both. Which brings me to my next point…

As a result of Covid-19, droves of International Educators returned home for health/safety reasons & continued teaching their students remotely. With foreign-hire teaching staff now thousands of miles away from campus, there’s few repercussions for a school that sends out an email saying, “We’ll TRY to get your money to you next week,” as did a school just recently in Myanmar. If a school has a history of late paying or cheating its teachers out of money, ISR School Reviews & the ISR Member Forum are where to find out!

ISR Asks: How do YOU get paid….or Not? Wire transfer, cash, local bank account or combination of local & your back-home account? Do you get your salary on time each month? Does your school owe you money? Please scroll down, NAME YOUR SCHOOL & Share your experience with colleagues who may be considering your school for a career move.

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When Do You Know It’s Time to Move On?

No one ever said an International School teaching position is a forever job. Quite to the contrary, it’s understood International Educators move around the globe experiencing different cultures and bringing that experience to their next school. There are, however, motivating factors to Move On. Oftentimes, sooner rather than later. For example:

  • Some schools withdraw foreign-hire benefits from teachers who stay longer than a few years. “Overstayers” essentially go from foreign-hire to local-hire status overnight. Housing allowance, health insurance and flights home disappear from the Contract. Time to Move On?
  • Some countries levy hefty taxes on teachers who stay past a set deadline. The start date of this tax burden will, for most teachers, dictate a Moving On date. Of course, you could stay on if 40% lobbed off your check is acceptable. Time to Move On?
  • Aging out of the ability to obtain a work Visa often motivates older teachers to Move On and experience different locations while they still qualify for a Visa.
  • COVID, and how admin dealt with the situation, changed many educators’ outlook on their school. A “perfect fit” suddenly turned into a desire to Move On.

It’s been said, “International schools are great…until they are not.” Disenchantment can come in many forms and strike within weeks, months, or even years after arrival. There can be many reasons to Move On beyond those mentioned here. ISR asks: When do YOU know it’s time to Move On?

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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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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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Ghosted

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”?

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? 

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This article also appears in Educational Digest International. It is based on the following:
Gardner–McTaggart,
 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.

Bibliography

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.


Stressed Out School Leaders?

ISR has received the following commentary from a concerned Member in regards to an article appearing on The International Educator (TIE) website, New Survey Reveals Worrying Levels of Stress Among International School Leaders:

Normally I refrain from participation in online (or in-person) leadership discussions. I find them needlessly pedantic and self-serving even during the best of times. During this current crisis, I have attempted to seek guidance several times through online “leadership” portals, only to be either ignored or rebuffed for a wide variety of reasons.

After trying for this long and through this many avenues I reach the same conclusion that teachers reach when leaving their profession (which as we all know, they are doing in record numbers), which is that nobody knows what to do. The adults in the room have deserted us and are waiting for those who remain to simply fix the situation so they can return and tell us what we have done wrong. I am reminded of the quote by Roosevelt about “the man in the arena” (gendered speech not withstanding of course). 

This crisis has exposed the worst of our profession. Principals and Heads of School deserting their charges and their post when they were needed most. Those same “leaders” then demanding teachers return in-person to expose themselves to pestilence and disease while sitting safely removed from their schools or within the safe confines of their offices. To then read these same leaders tell us all about how much stress they are experiencing is beyond appalling. How difficult it must be to collect a large paycheck, written in the diseased blood of teachers, students, and families! How much more could they possibly take, these poor heads and principals?

I am continually shocked and appalled at the tone-deaf and out of touch missives written by those who are entrusted with our most sacred charges. The lives of children and workers who have no choice but to weather this pandemic and carry on are deemed less important than the vacation homes and retirement accounts of the over-paid and under-worked administrators who couldn’t be bothered to stay in the countries that employ them. Our industry, built upon the assumption that foreigners can somehow educate better than locals, has been exposed as the predatory and transient thing that it truly is. 

If I seem angry it is because I am. Working where I have worked, doing what I love with the people that I respect, has never been accorded the same level of consideration that other heads and principals have had. How many times have those of us working in “low tier” schools been told that we are lesser than, our students and teachers lesser than, simply because of their nationalities and the color of their passports? Blame then my naiveté for thinking that, during a time of worldwide crisis, we could somehow dismiss this damaging notion that those on top deserve life and luxury more than those on bottom.

The United States Marine Corps has a concept enshrined in every ceremony and circumstance: the lowest rank is the first to eat, followed in turn by the second lowest, all the way to the highest rank. It is this organization, distributing benefits in order from most-needy to least, that has become (and remains) the world’s most highly regarded fighting force. What would international schools look like if they embraced this ethos? 

In closing I want those who have remained with me this long to think about one thing and one thing only: When this pandemic hit, when our families and loved ones were dying unable to speak to us except though a tablet device, when our students and teachers cried out for leadership, where were you? Did you stand with these people that you claim to lead, or did you slink off cowardly into oblivion? I beg you all, ask this question of your leadership. If they cannot answer in the moral affirmative, they are not leaders at all.

Sincerely,
a Concerned Educator

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Survey: 2020 Holiday Travel

How will YOU celebrate the 2020 Winter Holidays? Do you have travel plans or will you Shelter in place? Hands down, the most sensible, and possibly least appealing choice is to just stay put and maybe even self-quarantine.

Consider the following: Flying home to the United States and parts of Europe for the holiday, where the virus continues to rage, may be like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. Traversing crowded airports in these countries could later prove fatal not only to the traveler, but also family and friends and later to colleagues and students upon a return to the host country.

As International Educators and emissaries from our home countries, we have the responsibility to not only teach responsible behaviors, but to embody what we teach. Still, there are educators among us with the… “It won’t happen here attitude,” who will ignore the warnings and put themselves and others in harm’s way. Our guess is they are few and far between.

What’s YOUR plan for the Winter Holiday?


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School Mission Statements: Fact, Fantasy or Promo?

A look behind the façade of well-crafted, lofty verbiage reveals most school Mission Statements are composed of unquantifiable promises, often nothing more than well worded promos intended to lure paying customers.

In 2011, ISR visited the topic of International Schools’ Mission Statements and asked teachers to comment on their school’s statement. Did the school live up to their Mission Statement? Here’s some excerpts from that Article:

…………………………………..

 “Eventually we came up with something that made us sound great. Only problem was…we were none of those things. It was a great piece of advertising and it helped the school sell itself to unsuspecting parents.

…………………………………..

I challenge anyone to find a school where the majority of staff can come to consensus on just what is a “global citizen.”

…………………………………….

“It should’ve just said: The school’s aim is make as much money as possible, to promise the world yet never deliver, to exploit staff, to provide students with crappy facilities and to forever function well below its potential”

…………………………………….

ln our experience, there’s a direct correlation between schools with reach for the moon Mission Statements and varying degrees of chaos. From parents and students calling all the shots and regular grade fixing, to an admin who could care less if goals are met, typical pie-in-the-sky Mission Statements offer no direction, organization nor measurable goals and lead to schools adrift like a ship without a rudder.

Fortunately, not all Mission Statements fit into the above category. Here’s a solid Mission Statement with quantifiable, measurable goals as shared by an ISR member.

ABC Academy challenges its students to academic excellence through the medium of a college preparatory curriculum and U.S. academic standards, with instruction in English language. ABC Academy values community service and responsible global citizenship and promotes the integral development of each student within a multicultural setting.

ISR asks: What’s changed since our first look at International School Mission Statements almost 10 years ago? With schools popping up across the globe, is competition encouraging a focus on measurable goals and a record of meeting those goals? Or have over-the-top, unmeasurable and unobtainable promises, solely designed to steer clients away from the competition, becoming the norm? What’s the situation at YOUR school?

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Taipei American School, Stranger than Fiction

Taipei American School has issues to address: bloated administrative salaries and a Board that unilaterally gave their Head of School the power to expel students and fire teachers at will are among the questions for which large groups of parents are calling for immediate transparency.

According to a 2018 tax filing, TAS held close to US$120,000,000 in net assets at that time. The highest earner on payroll, Head of School Sharon Hennessy, reportedly took home US$768,000. Director of PE, Health and Sports, Ryan Mueller (brought onboard by Hennessy to fill the newly created position, with reportedly no experience in education), earned a whopping US$1,000,000 in total compensation in four years, and then abruptly left. Questions, anyone?

Beyond financial concerns, a school counselor, accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a student, abruptly left TAS to later be accused of sexual misconduct by two students at his next school. In a different incident, the rape of a minor by a 17 year-old student was settled out of court (the age of consent in Taiwan is 16), leaving TAS with more unanswered questions.

TAS appears to have all the trappings of a “who-done-it” movie. For an extensive, startling, behind-the-scenes look at life at TAS, GO to Tricky Taipei, a read well worth the time.

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Teachers, Students, Selfies & Social Media

It’s the last day of school and a high school student just asked you to pose with them for a selfie. Years ago you would have gladly leaned in and smiled for the camera. Today, maybe not! With teachers fired or disciplined for tweets and photos on social media becoming commonplace, it’s understandable why you might want to stay out of the “picture.”

Beyond selfies, it should go without saying that teachers ‘friending’ students on social media could be, and has been seen as inappropriate. Allowing students into your personal life is anything but professional. Imagine a last-day-of-school selfie appearing on a ‘friended’ student’s Facebook page with a caption you may never have imagined.

Do students who have already graduated fall into a different category? Hypothetically, taken by a classmate, the photo example shown below is of Mr. Y critiquing Mary’s creative writing assignment. After graduation, excited to share her multiple successes as a published author, Mary (not her real name) sends Mr. Y a ‘friend’ request.

Teacher tutoring high school girl with writing assignment

Recalling her school days in Mr. Y’s class, Mary posts this photo to Mr. Y’s Facebook page with a short “thank you” caption. Could a malicious parent or a student with a grudge, through recaptioning and Photoshop, turn this photo into something it is not, particularly since Mr. Y and Mary are social media friends? Keeping personal and professional interactions exclusive may be the best policy in all cases.

Public schools, for the most part, have rules in place for teacher/student social media relationships and selfies. Not all International Schools have done the same. ISR asks: Does your International School have selfie and social media rules in place? What do they entail? What are your personal feelings on the subject? Is it ever appropriate to ‘friend’ your students?

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China, a Bad Bet?

International Schools in China are dominating upcoming virtual Recruiting Fairs, practically outnumbering schools from all other countries, combined. Is this simply because China has more International Schools? Maybe not…

In the words of an ISR member:   China is becoming more belligerent. Teachers over there are included in the Communist Party’s massive database to say whether or not you’re a ‘good’ citizen. Scary. Arbitrary arrests without trial or reason are common. Do you think the UK or US would be bothered about a teacher, especially if the Chinese added some ‘sexual safeguarding’ concerns to their charge sheet? With a 99% conviction rate, a malicious parent with an issue against you could get you locked up, convicted of a sexual offence.

“This couldn’t happen to me” is an unrealistic attitude. International Educators on the circuit for some years are all too familiar with the case of Neil Bantleman, an International Educator in Indonesia who spent 5 years in an Indonesian prison after being falsely accused of sexual misconduct by a local, influential parent. EU, US and citizens of other countries are NOT exempt from what life may bring in a foreign country. Fact is, they may be seen as a prize to be paraded in front of the cameras.

China’s new “security” policies enacted in June, 2020 give unprecedented powers to the government. The US and UK, as a result, updated travel advisories. The State Department of the US has warned that Beijing is enacting a propaganda campaign to “falsely” accuse US citizens of “fomenting unrest in Hong Kong.”

Is one or more of the many International School in China soliciting for teachers on your radar? If so, ISR strongly encourages you read the attached Article. There may be more than just the Coronavirus causing International Educators to give China a pass.

US & UK warn travelers of risk of arbitrary arrest in China & Hong Kong

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Norwegian Data Protection Authority Calls Out IB / Survey


The Norwegian Data Authority (NDA) has concluded the method used by the IB to calculate students’ final grades in 2020 was not accurate. As such, the NDA has sent notification they intend to order a re-do of the awarding of grades. (See entire NDA statement)

If you missed ISR’s previous Newsletter, the controversy over the IB grading system erupted after the IB cancelled final exams and, instead, calculated final grades based on the following 3 criteria:  Historical data, Teacher-predicted final test score, and Coursework.

“Unfair, inaccurate and obscure” is how the Norwegian Data Authority described the IB scoring system. A brief look at the 3 components of the assessment system reveals subjectivity and room for error:

Historical Data:  Relying on the final test scores of students previously at a particular school as a means to predicting the performance of current and future students fails to take into account the abilities of the individual, and rewards poorer students while penalizing harder-working students. With college acceptance at top universities contingent on final grades, many students have had their college dreams shattered due to a lowering of expected grades.

Teacher-Predicted Grade:  Teacher bias, prejudice, and a shaded view of students whose behavior may be less than stellar can easily influence a  prediction.

Coursework:  Using coursework as a means to estimate final scores is not a problem for those students earning 100% on all assignments. The system fails to work for students with lesser coursework results who may still still score high on the final exam.

As with any controversy, there are two opposing camps regarding the IB’s actions.


Get over it:

Yes, getting a lower score than expected may mean students not getting into the university of choice. It won’t affect their careers, though.

 Sounds like pushy parents who are used to getting their way and not respecting their children’s limitations. They’ve probably prided themselves on years of inflated grades in their children’s report cards. Not everybody can get a special sticker.


An injustice has been done:

So its fine for a student who has worked for 4+ years to get into a university of their choice and to have their higher education plans scuttled by a large, for-profit organisation who couldn’t really care? The parents might disagree with you but what the hell, they’re just pushy, entitled, helicopter parents, right? While I agree it might not impact their careers as much as they think, who are you to pontificate on their futures?

While there are always complainers, tell me in what logical world it’s reasonable to base an individual student’s score on the school’s historical data? The IB, as it so often does, is being disingenuous and needs to own up to its inadequacy here and rectify the problem.

 

What’s YOUR position on the IB controversy?

Take our short Survey:  Should the IB be required to re-score all 2020 final grades?

 

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A Recipe for Disaster

With the spread of the Coronavirus far more severe than when distance learning was substituted for the dangers of classroom instruction, ISR can’t help but question the wisdom of International Schools summoning kids and teachers back to the classroom.

Are YOU ready to go back? Beyond some parents’ resistance to their kids wearing masks and a noted lack of social distancing internationally, there is much to take into account when deciding whether it’s wise to reunite with your students:

Can Your School Admin Answer the Following Questions?

• What happens if a teacher tests positive? Will they need to self isolate for 14 days. Is that time off covered? Will every student the teachers have been in contact with need to do the same?

• What happens if someone living in or working in the same home as a teacher (spouse, child, housekeeper) tests positive? Does that teacher need to take 14 days off to quarantine?

• If the need arises, how will the school find a substitute teacher willing to work in a classroom full of exposed, possibly infected students?

• What if a substitute teacher is diagnosed with COVID-19? Does each student in each class they were in have to quarantine and get tested? Who is going to pay for that?

• What if a student tests positive? Does every other student and teacher they have been around quarantine? Does every parent get notified who is infected and when? Or will schools just send “may have been in contact” emails all year long?

• What is this stress going to do to teachers? How does it affect their health and well-being? How does it affect their ability to teach? How does it affect the quality of education they provide? What are the long-term effects on students and teachers of consistently being stressed out?

• How will students and faculty be affected when the first teacher in their school dies from Covid-19? The first parent of a student who brought it home? The first child?

Just like politicians, an administrator may employ broad, sweeping statements to garner confidence, yet fail to demonstrate an executable plan for achieving the stated objective. Imagine an administrator telling parents that the safety of their children is a top priority, yet no emergency evacuation plan is in place. Telling students to “run for safety when a siren blows” is not a plan for safety and certainly won’t be helpful in a pandemic. Likewise, there is no substitute for a solid plan in the face of Covid-19. Hoping for the BEST and failing to prepare for probable eventualities is a surefire recipe for disaster. Can your school admin answer these important questions?

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I was an International Schools Recruiter – The Industry is Racist


For some time, I was a placement consultant at an American recruitment agency for international schools, mainly in China. The anti-Black racism that I was complicit in and benefited from while working there is something I’m ashamed of; more shameful would be not speaking out so that others can understand how this industry wo
rks from the inside, the practices that are commonplace, so that we can begin to dismantle it. The individuals I worked alongside were largely well-meaning white people. However, I hope to explain here the practices that made my former employer complicit in racism and discrimination, and by shining a light on the industry, I hope to encourage recruitment agencies to do better and work for change.

At my former employer, the majority of placement consultants were young twenty-somethings, mostly white. We each started out making a small salary that wasn’t enough to live on in our city, but were given a commission for every person we placed in a school. Once you had made a certain amount of money for the company, you were moved up a level as a placement consultant, which led you to make a higher commission.

Recruitment agencies are complicit participants in the racism in the teach-abroad industry, and it’s time to do something about it.


The company was paid a percentage of the salary of the hired teacher, which would motivate placement consultants to spend more time working with teachers who would make more money. We were actively encouraged
not to ‘waste our time’ working with candidates for whom it would be difficult to find a job. A principal position at a large international school in a major city would bring in more money for the company than a placement at an English-language training center, which are the types of schools where you could typically place Black candidates. Even there, Black candidates would be offered jobs less often than their white counterparts, and would make less money.

Schools are significantly more likely to hire white or light-skinned candidates. Many schools will reject any Black candidates they receive.

A quick detour to lay some groundwork on how we worked with each candidate:  first, we would receive their resume, which was randomly assigned to a placement consultant. Each individual consultant would review it and decide to either reach out to them or not. If we wanted to work with them, we would interview them and then send them some positions we felt they’d be qualified for. If they were interested we’d apply on their behalf by passing their information to the colleague who managed the relationship with that school, who would further vet the candidate by reviewing their information and then either passing them on to the school or deciding not to. We had agreements with all of the schools we worked with and they were able to specify what they were looking for in a candidate. They were allowed to tell us they would not consider Black candidates. They were also allowed to change their minds — if they told us they were no longer considering Black candidates, we would stop sending them.

Internally, we were made to refer to candidates as either Level 1 or Level 2. Level 1 candidates were white or light-skinned. Level 2 candidates were Black or Asian. In the recruitment system we used to track candidates and schools, each candidate had to be labeled as Level 1 or 2, and each school was labeled as either accepting Level 2 candidates or not accepting Level 2 candidates.

Often, the internal employees who managed relationships with the schools would impose a limit on sending Black or Asian candidates for a position. I would receive responses along the lines of, “Sorry, I’ve already sent a few Level 2 candidates for this one and want to send some Level 1s now.” It was treated as if all Black candidates were the same. The thought was that the schools would be displeased if we sent them too many Black candidates, no matter their qualifications, even if they would technically consider them. And so, in order to preserve the relationship with the school over the success of our candidates and the Black teachers we worked with, we did not. Within the company, we were gatekeepers, barring qualified candidates of any opportunity to interview with a school.

It was especially difficult for Black South Africans. Despite their status as native English language speakers (often bi- or tri-lingual), schools were heavily prejudiced against hiring them. One of my supervisors told me that if the person had a ‘tribal-sounding name’ they would be harder to place and we should consider not working with them, as it would be a ‘waste of time.’

Multiple times, I would have two South African applicants together — friends who had met at school, usually, and wanted to teach abroad. One would be white and the other, Black. They’d have the same qualifications and same amount of experience. The white teacher would typically be given an interview and an offer within 2–3 weeks. Her Black counterpart would be passed up time and again, either by those within our company or by the school itself.

I could typically place a white candidate at any level within a few weeks. There were many times I worked with Black candidates for months, sending them to every school who would consider them and some who would not, and raked in rejections in the dozens. Most of the time, I was able to ultimately place them, but it was often not for the salary or at the level they deserved. It usually took months and tenacity on the part of the candidate not to stop applying for jobs and interviewing. It was incredibly disheartening. Myself and many of my fellow placement consultants worked tirelessly to get our Black candidates hired, but were actively discouraged by management from spending this much time on a single candidate, especially on a Black candidate. We were often told to just cut ties. At the end of the day, our time affected the bottom line because of the commission-based model of the company.

Recruitment companies benefit directly from the racist hiring practices of these schools. Just before I quit my job, we were advised internally to no longer work with Black South Africans at all, as schools were rarely hiring them at that point. There was no attempt to push back at these hiring practices. Management was beholden to earnings and success. There was a focus on how we could save our own skin, how we could use our own time to make more money. There was no discussion about cutting ties with schools that racially discriminated throughout the entire time I was there.

Recruitment companies benefit directly from the racist hiring practices of these schools. They have no incentive to change, and have monetary incentive to institute racist practices of their own.

What comes next, I don’t know. Change needs to happen at many levels. But it can start with the individual, with hiring managers, placement consultants, and recruitment companies refusing to go along with and benefit from discriminatory practices. If you aren’t actively working against discrimination, you’re complicit in it. Your money is dirty. Your success has come at the expense of qualified Black teachers and administrators around the world who were not given a chance, of students who, year after year, learn only from white teachers, many of whom are less qualified than Black applicants who were passed up for the job. It’s time to stop turning a blind eye to the racism you perpetuate. It’s time to fight against it.

Note: I originally planned on writing and posting this with my name as well as the name of the company attached. I don’t think we’re in a place now nationally in the U.S. or globally to be hiding people’s bad deeds for the sake of their privacy and comfort. This being said, I could not open myself up to any potential legal action that my former employer could have taken against me by attaching either my name or their name to this. Further, while these practices are common at my particular former company, I’m certain they’re in place at others as well. No one should be off the hook. The focus shouldn’t be on one company: let’s focus on them all.

Sincerely,

Anonymous Ex-Recruiter

(This Article was condensed and reproduced with permission from the author, Anonymous Ex-Recruiter)

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A Moment of Silence


ISR condemns racial inequality in all its hideous forms. In solidarity with the protesters in America & around the globe, ISR is observing a Moment of Silence in support of the fight against inequality.

Take a deep breath. Join us. Get involved.

“Moment of Silence”: A period of silent introspection & contemplation. Like flying a flag at half-mast, a moment of silence is a gesture of respect for those who have recently died or in response to a tragic event of historical proportions.

Support the Fight Against Inequality:  Resources & Ways to Act