Have the Golden Years of International Teaching Come to an End?

April 25, 2019

After years of listening to my friends reminisce about their amazing experiences teaching in China, Pakistan, Romania, and even Burma, I decided to take the plunge. I quit my solid union teaching job on the West Coast and went international. I was looking forward to both an adventure and a career.

An adventure it was — a career it was NOT! The school I ended up at was nothing like what my friends had talked about. To the contrary, it was strictly a for-profit entity masquerading as a school. I can’t speak for all schools and I hope the school I landed at is the exception to the rule. But, unfortunately, I think not.

In the States I had expected and held my students to high levels of performance and accountability. Overseas, in the international teaching “business,” those same expectations were now punishable offenses. For example: When a kid felt they were not being spoon-fed, or if they were called out for academic dishonesty, they ran to their parents. Their parents in turn went directly to the school owner and lodged a complaint. As a result of this “chain of command” which functioned outside internal channels, we, the teachers, amounted to little more than grade farms.

The secondary principal literally sent out an email to teachers that read, and I quote:

“As you commit to meet the needs of all learners, and work at developing positive rapport with your students, be assured that your employment remains secure.”

Imagine if this memo were sent out in a U.S. school district: Your job is secure if you keep students and parents happy. Not if they pass the AP exam. Not if they are actually learning! It all boiled down to keeping the dollars flowing IN and the 4.0 grades flowing OUT.

After subjecting myself to abuse, manipulation, lies, and backstabbing I finally left, and I did so just like the teacher who composed the ISR Article, Slipping Out Early w/ My Possessions & My Sanity. I literally packed as much as I could carry and boarded a flight the next morning. I left with my dignity and my professional integrity intact. 

The entire experience has left me with several lingering questions: Is the title “International School” so loosely used these days that any private, overseas school can add “international” to their name and charge parents preposterous amounts of money? Are Western teachers nothing more than the props needed to sell an image? At my school I was nothing more than imported labor… 

I truly wonder if the golden years of international teaching that my friends reminisce about are over. Has the dream of living and teaching in exotic places around the world been destroyed by greedy, for-profit school owners who see white-faced international educators as nothing more than commodities in a money-making venture? Has the lure of foreign adventure that motivated so many educators to leave a promising career at home come to an end? I wonder…

Sincerely, 

(name withheld)

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Will I Ever Work in an International School Again?

April 18, 2019

Dear ISR, Thank you for your enlightening article, Slipping Out Early w/ My Possessions & My Sanity. I’m about to run from a school in the ME & your article couldn’t have come at a more perfect time.

A special thanks to your members who contributed a ton of practical information. I feel ever more justified in bailing on this place & so much more confident I can pull it off. My exit plan is securely in place & I no longer feel all alone.

But I do have Questions: What do you think my chances are of getting another international teaching position after I walk out on this sad excuse for a school? Can I be black-balled permanently by this vindictive money grubbing director while he’s socializing in the back rooms of directors’ socials? Can I move past my current situation & still hope to have a honest, viable future in international teaching?

Our director is a known career destroyer. I suspect Search Associates for sure won’t be interested in me after they hear from him. What about ISS & other recruiting agencies that I’m not (yet) registered with? Can this director call them & add my name to a “do not hire” list? Does such a list exist?

The most important thing right now is that I’m just about out of here & my sanity can stay intact. I truly wish I’d known about ISR before accepting this “job.” Based on what teachers have written about the place I would have turned the offer down cold…if only I’d known! My mistake was in thinking recruiters actually vet these schools.

It’s still troubling to me that recruiters allow a school like this to hire at their Fairs. Surely they must read ISR. If so, maybe they’ll understand why I’m running. But I suppose it would be naive of me to think recruiters would stray too far from the policies of the “good ole’ boys’ club.”

Thank you ISR & thank you, members, for filling me in on what future I have in international teaching. I DO appreciate your insight!

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Slipping Out Early w/ My Possessions & My Sanity

April 11, 2019

Pulling off a late-night runner with a whole lotta personal possessions is not for the faint of heart. In fact, at one point I had concluded it would be impossible to sneak myself and my possessions out of the country without attracting the suspicion of admin, nosey parents and/or sycophant teachers. But then, I just knew I had to go home, no matter what, and I wasn’t willing to leave anything I cared about behind.

The last teacher who ran had second thoughts — that was her mistake. In an effort to act responsibly she decided to inform admin she would not be returning after summer. She ended up in a world of hurt, poor girl! Within days she was fired, had her visa revoked and found that the lock had been changed on her apartment door (they did, surprisingly, return her passport). Another teacher making an unannounced early departure was detained at passport control. Someone at the school had gotten wind of his plan early on and a powerful parent had the connections to block his exit. Witnessing those 2 fiascos convinced me to keep my early escape plan completely secret.

You may think I’m a sneak, a coward, a loser and a whole host of expletives. But, I have my reasons to leave, not the least of which is the touchy, feely director. Get my drift? Feel free to judge me. Go ahead. Until you’ve been in my shoes you have no idea what it’s like to have your boss creeping you out in a country where you have no rights nor recourse. Me, myself, and my stuff ALL had to leave! My sanity required it!

That’s when I decided to kick it into high gear and have a yard sale. I like to think of my sale as “hiding in plain sight.” I sold off furniture, books, kitchen crap, and everything of no real sentimental value. Yup, a few people may have been suspicious, but everyone bought into the idea I was simply getting ready to replace my Western-style furnishings with fun, ethnic stuff I would buy during my summer travels.

With a successful yard sale (and some cash) under my belt, I began to send friends/family back home small boxes of my treasured, personal items. I was careful to use a shipping company far from school. You never know who knows who in these expat communities and the last thing I needed was for the gossip chain to foil my escape.

Early, on a Monday morning, with a few over-stuffed suitcases in hand, I flew out. I had made my reservation online and avoided using a local travel agent who could, in some way, know someone at the school. Looking down from high above the clouds, on my way home to loved ones and new adventures, my sighs of relief could be heard throughout the entire plane, I’m sure.

If you’re feeling trapped at one of these so-called “international schools,” you already know recruiters aren’t willing to do anything for you, or are not equipped to do so. If you can’t take it any longer at an abusive school, for whatever reason, don’t be a prisoner to your possessions or to the idea you have a responsibility to stick it out. You don’t. You have no responsibility to a school and/or administrator that abuses teachers and fails to honor the letter of its contract. It’s your life.

Sincerely,

A teacher who should have done this earlier

 

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What Would You Do?

March 28, 2019

Dear ISR, I’ve put myself in an unsettling position, so I’m writing in hopes ISR subscribers can give me some advice. Here goes:

On lunch duty last week, I saw a lone high school girl out on the soccer field who appeared to be vaping. Smoking of any type is clearly against school rules. Initially, I planned to issue her an office summons for smoking on campus. However, as I began to approach, the smell of marijuana was subtly wafting on the wind. She looked startled when she saw me observing her. I shook my head in disbelief and decided then and there to ignore the incident and simply walked past. I was glad she’s not one of my students.

Now what? Reporting her to school officials would entangle her in a drug-related offense and would serve no beneficial purpose, in my opinion. A report would also place both of us in a ugly, awkward situation involving potential parent/admin meetings and possibly even involvement of local law officials. Things could easily spiral out of control for this girl, her family, the school and myself.  

Jeopardising a student’s future over what has become a legal, recreational substance in many parts of the world seems beyond the pale. For all involved I feel I did the right thing. But, now I’m wondering what the consequences could be if this student relates the incident to her friends and word gets around. Should I simply deny knowing anything? Or…?

Advice or thoughts on my situation would be very welcome at this point. Thank you.

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How Does Your School Treat its Maintenance People?

February 14, 2019

Coming from the West, International Educators believe in treating people with respect and fairness. From the floor sweeper and the ditch digger to the doctor and the CEO, Western cultures are built on the right to fair and equal treatment. If those rights are violated, we have access to legal recourse. No one is powerless.

International school owners, on the other hand, have been widely known to exploit “powerless” workers. I’m talking about grounds keepers, maids and cleaners, cafeteria workers, maintenance men, construction personnel, guards, drivers and the like. The very schools that shortchange teachers on housing, health insurance and shipping, for example, are generally the same schools mistreating local-hire workers, in many countries with little to no recourse in the case of unfair treatment.

If you’ve experienced a wealthy parent with an over-inflated sense of entitlement, you’re no stranger to the dichotomy of money/power vs. ‘lowly teacher’ status. Now, imagine yourself a grounds keeper up against a wealthy school owner with this same self-serving attitude. If you dared to speak up you’d soon find yourself out of a job, and no doubt unable to use your current employer for a reference. With a family to feed and bills to pay you’d never rock the boat if you were this grounds keeper.

Wages for school work-staff are set by the school owner or school board, depending on the ownership structure. But that’s just the half of it. The day-to-day mistreatment of workers is almost always at the hands of the Head of Maintenance, who himself will be a local-hire. Having a bit of power bestowed upon him (and it is always a “him) by the school owner, the Head of Maintenance can summarily deny time off for doctor appointments, ignore safety concerns, demand long hours, expect unrealistic deadlines and essentially treat his staff like serfs. A little power in a society in which he, too, is powerless, has gone to his head.

School owners who underpay workers, and Heads of Maintenance who mistreat workers are a sad commentary on mankind and something we as educators have a responsibility to change. As teachers, when we see inequities we can go straight to the top and expose these injustices. If we don’t get satisfaction there, we can look outside the school. A visit to the local labor office or newspaper office may be in store. But, looking the other way is surely not the answer.

ISR asks:  How does your school treat its Maintenance people? If you, as a teacher, see injustices, what recourse do you or your colleagues have? Do you have advice for those teachers who would like to see improvements in how their school treats the local hire workers? Please SHARE!


Holding Teachers’ Careers Hostage

February 7, 2019

When school directors write to ISR asking us to remove a specific Review from the web site, they often try to severely discredit the individual they believe wrote the Review in question. They obviously feel their poor opinion of a suspect teacher should be cause enough to eradicate a Review from ISR, an attitude that speaks volumes.

In response to these emails, ISR explains: “From your position as school Director things may look quite different than from the perspective of a member of your teaching staff.'” We then stress that, “Not everyone has the same experience at your school. Everyone is entitled to share the truth as they know it.”

Soon realizing that discrediting a suspect teacher will not yield their desired results, some (most?) directors quickly resort to threatening ISR with legal action. These individuals treat ISR in the same bullying manner portrayed in the Reviews to which they object.

A Disturbing Trend

In an underhanded attempt to get Reviews removed from ISR, some directors are now refusing to write teachers Letters of Reference until specific Reviews are, in their words, “taken down.” Essentially, an administrator tells a teacher (or teachers), “We know one of you wrote the review.” Get it removed and we’ll then write your Letters of Reference.” Some directors have even gone so far as to refuse to verify employment!! ISR condemns this and believes it amounts to holding teachers’ careers hostage. 

Apparently, just how low some directors will go to squelch dissenting voices is yet to be seen. You can rest assured, however, if you are the author of a school Review that’s upsetting your school director, no one, not even ISR, knows you wrote it, unless you say so. Don’t be fooled by school personnel and/or their attorneys who will say and do anything to get a ‘confession.’

Fortunately, not all directors who disagree with a Review of themselves or their school will resort to holding teachers’ careers hostage. Most are in favor of ISR, support free speech and use information gleaned from Reviews to improve their schools. These school directors normally write to ask us what steps they can take to publicly contest a Review. ISR salutes these schools!!! THESE are the schools we’d all like to work for!

 


Bait & Switch: When the Job Isn’t As Promised

January 17, 2019

I’m currently in what I call a classic bait & switch situation. I was hired to teach high-school chemistry/physics & was “reassigned” to middle-school math with a bunch of kids who should be studying basic arithmetic.

To rub salt into my wound, the school does not even have a chemistry lab! The promise of a chem/physics position was nothing more than an under-handed ploy to lure me (or simply any warm-bodied human being) to stand in front of a classroom. Now? I live for the weekends. I detest these spoiled rotten, poorly behaved middle-school kids (and their parents) who academically & emotionally belong in elementary school. More than anything, the admin disgusts me. Worse, I’m not the only one they did this to.

Okay….my contract gives admin the right to reassign me as needed, but this? This is not a reassignment — this is premeditated deception. Naturally my complaints fall on the deaf ears of my recruiter who tells me, “It’s only for two years.” LOL! He won’t be laughing, though, when he sees I’m also naming him in my school review.

I thought about leaving on a weekend & never coming back. It’s a nice fantasy, yes. But, how can I bail when I’m thousands of miles from home & dependent on my paycheck to pay off student loans, among other financial obligations?

That’s my story. Anyone else have the same experience? I could almost accept it if the school had a chem lab & not enough kids to fill the course. But this? No!!

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