Back-Stabbing Director As My Confidential Reference

June 20, 2019

After what seemed like an endless chain of rejections it finally struck me that one of my confidential references had been stabbing me in the back. Problem is, what can I do about it, if anything?

My resume reflects a heavy math/science background, so I’m used to a good bit of positive interest in my candidacy at recruiting fairs. But this year, unlike in years past, that enthusiasm had screeched to a halt. I was dumbfounded.

At first I thought the wane in interest was due to younger, better qualified candidates who were possibly better “fits.” But through a series of events, I came to realize my most recent confidential reference was spitefully destroying my overseas teaching career. 

All fingers pointed to the director of my latest school! Some years ago I read an ISR article in which a school director confessed he had purposely written poor confidential references for outstanding teachers, and even played down their talents over the phone to inquiring schools. Why? Because he wanted to keep certain key staff from leaving his school. Ouch!

In accord with the ISR article, my recent director had offered me a handsome resigning bonus if I would commit to a 4th year. I had, however, been planning to move on for some time and when I announced my intentions I sensed an immediate change in attitude on his part. I can’t exactly explain it, but suddenly I felt I was on the outside looking in. For the remainder of the school year I got the cold shoulder instead of the usual “bro” treatment. 

My question is this: Can I do anything about this situation? Am I doomed to the wrath of a school director taking out his frustrations on me, and certainly other departing teachers? My letters of reference, along with whatever my current director wrote about me, are all online with the big recruiters and I seriously doubt I can get them to remove the latest one. Any advice? Anyone?

Please keep my name confidential.

Best Regards to the staff at ISR,

A Hard-Learned Lesson

May 2, 2019

Nearing the end of 3 satisfying years at my current school I eagerly & naively signed on for a fourth. Not surprisingly, it came as a shock when a couple of months later our beloved Director announced he would not be returning.

My future had been cast into limbo. I would have to live with whoever showed up to take our Director’s place. The Board assured us they had made an excellent choice. I could only hope for the best.

As the new school year got underway the “excellent choice” quickly revealed himself to be everything I loathed in a leader. I classify him as an arrogant, insecure, under-qualified, know-it-all who views those ideas contrary to his own as personal assaults, especially if those ideas are coming from a woman. This character turned out to be 180 degrees opposite of our previous Director, for whom we all had the utmost respect.

From the git-go Mr. Excellent Choice went around singling out returning teachers. He gave us extra lunch & after-school duties & nixed most all our supply orders. He scrutinized & called us out on every insignificant thing. He even sent “coaches” in to observe our classes. These “coaches” came from his group of 10 hand-picked sycophants he had recruited on his own. It was clear he was working towards getting rid of those of us who had been here for years.

I like change, don’t get me wrong. But change for the better. Change instituted with no rhyme nor reason is nothing more than a frustrating exercise in stupidity. From day one Mr. Excellent Choice began altering each & every procedure without first observing what was already in place. School life became stressful. It was in a continuous state of flux for no apparent reason, except, of course, to stroke this little man’s ego.

One afternoon I chanced to enter the office of Mr. Excellent Choice. The new dismissal procedure for middle school was causing considerable confusion & I had an idea how we could remedy this. He told me “don’t bother.” His plan was not the problem but rather my inability to institute it. As such, he would be entering that specific “failure” into my employment file. No discussion, no clarification, no nothing. Just an ignorant, insecure bastard who held all the cards.

If the Board had had the decency to announce our former A+ Director was leaving, & if they had had the moral/ethical fiber to have done so prior to asking us to sign on for another year, I would not be here! Feels like they actually planned it this way. I feel completely screwed as do other staff who signed on for another year. And let’s not forget those teachers in the second year of their contract!

All in all, this experience has been a hard-learned lesson. The takeaway for me is that when things are good, even great, don’t take it for granted that they will continue as such. International Schools are in a constant state of personnel turnover. Here today, gone tomorrow. School Boards & owners often see teachers as mere pawns in the game, & are more than willing to sacrifice our well-being for the good of the kingdom, so to speak.

The lesson learned? Look out for Number One & always protect yourself in the International School game. We’re talking about your career here, your future. Take nothing for granted! Ask questions! Rock the boat if you have to. Just be sure you get all the information you need to make an informed decision.

(Name withheld)

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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…


(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.


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!