Last-Minute Overseas Teaching Positions

July 23, 2020


If you’ve been contemplating a move overseas but haven’t yet taken the leap, now may be a good time to make yourself available. Sure, recruiting season is well over, but Covid-19 is causing some newbies, as well as seasoned International Educators, to reconsider travelling to certain areas of the globe during what appears to be a worsening pandemic. The result:  unexpected job openings.

We all have different thresholds for what we consider dangerous and ISR is not advocating that you ignore travel warnings. If, however, you’re comfortable moving and teaching overseas at this time, there may be some last-minute opportunities on the horizon.

Here’s 12 popular ISR Articles sure to help you make an informed decision:


Do International Schools Promote Colonial Racism?

June 11, 2020

Dear ISR,

Years ago, I worked as an international educator, happily exploring the world through the better part of my 20’s. With the increasing racial tension, violence and divisiveness here in the United States, my husband and I are considering taking our kids and reentering the circuit.

My concern is that while I will be introducing my children to different cultures and the wider world, I worry we will be jumping out of the ‘frying pan’ of racial tension in the U.S. and into the fire, so to speak. I’ll explain:

Part of why I previously left international teaching was my dislike of the culture of colonial-era social racism that pervades the whole concept of international education. Not in every international school, of course, but generally speaking the hierarchy tends to be:  A few (usually) white men in leadership roles, a bunch of white teachers, and a large group of grossly underpaid, host-national staff and teachers in subservient positions. This microcosm of the ‘colonial model’ of society is pervasive. I’ve witnessed it extend to off-campus life as well.

The idea that a white face bringing Western values and a curriculum such as CCSS or Cambridge is somehow perceived as superior to anything and everything local is colonial racism, at best. The narrative begins with school websites and brochures featuring almost exclusively white teachers and white students, and extends to the very fabric of the school itself.

Wealthy people around the world have apparently bought into the belief that a white, Western education is the expected path for their children. At least that’s how it was before I left the profession. For example, at one school that I know of, parents refused to allow their kids to be taught by a credentialed, African American who had been recently recruited. Rather than stand up for their teacher the school cancelled the contract and replaced her.

As a parent I worry that early exposure to the antiquated hierarchy of international schools is not the world view I want to instill in my girls. Short of only looking for schools in Europe, I am not quite sure how to avoid this dynamic. I am seeking feedback. Is the culture of international schools as white-washed and outdated as it was, or has social progress changed it for the better?

Sincerely,

Mrs. B

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High-Tech Cheating

January 23, 2020


If you’ve ever suspected cheating may be responsible for some uncommonly high test scores, Cheat-Tech may be the culprit. Not surprisingly, an entire tech industry has grown up around helping students cheat on exams in ways impossible to detect, and just as difficult to prove.

Is Cheat-Tech prevalent in International Schools? We’re not in a position to say. Except one thing is for certain, privileged students have the financial resources to purchase any or all Cheat-Tech devices.

If you believe your exams are falling victim to technology, here’s some helpful insight into how students use Cheat-Tech in, and outside the classroom, and what you can do to deter offenders.

IN the Classroom

Smartwatches – So-called smartwatches are the perfect device for streaming test answers sent by an accomplice in a remote location. Special screens can make a smartwatch appear to be turned off to all but the user who is wearing special lenses. Solution:  In late 2019 the Independent Commission on Examination Malpractice in the UK recommended all watches be banned from exam halls, even what appears to be normal watches which may be a smartwatch in disguise.

Smartphones – Would-be cheaters have gone beyond the obvious, using tiny earbuds to listen to prerecorded information transmitted from their smartphones hidden away in their purse or pocket. Solution:  Signal Jammer

Spy Cam Glasses – This may seem extreme, yet students have been caught cheating with spy cameras hidden in eyeglass frames. These micro cameras read and transmit exam questions to an off-site helper who sends back the answers to a smartwatch.  Solution:  No watches allowed in exam hall

Invisible Ink Pens – Perfect for creating cheat sheets, invisible ink pens have a special light at the tip of the pen that makes otherwise invisible ink, visible to the user. Solution:  Pass out easily identifiable pencils/pens and erasers. Prohibit the use of any other writing device.

Electronic Erasers – Like spy glasses, this device can transmit questions and receive answers. Solution:  Permit cross-outs. No erasing.

Calculators – We’re talking calculators that look just like ordinary scientific calculators but can stream answers from an offsite accomplice, store and retrieve information and connect to the internet for a quick Google search. A push of the right key instantly puts the device into calculator-only mode – a handy feature if the user thinks the teacher is watching. A code is needed to return the device to Cheat-Tech mode, making it impossible to prove the device was used for cheating. Solution:  Insist on the use of school-supplied calculators during exams.

Fake Fingerprints – Although we’ll never encounter this form of cheating in our classrooms, it’s interesting to note that students in China have been caught using fake fingerprints to appear to be another student for whom they had planned take a college entrance exam. Chinese education authorities now have taken to using facial recognition systems, fingerprint verification, metal detectors, drones, and signal jammers in a bid to thwart unscrupulous pupils.

 

OUTSIDE the Classroom

Auto-summarize – The latest trend in student cheating involves students using auto-summarize features in programs like Microsoft Word that extracts the most important information from a large piece of writing and generates a much shorter version that anti-plagiarism software has difficulty detecting. Summarizing software is easily found online. Solution:  On the first day of class, get a writing sample from every student. A few paragraphs, handwritten, on an impromptu topic should be enough.

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Beyond the School Gates

December 12, 2019

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” – Anthony Bourdain

•••••

  If you frequent our Discussion Boards, you’re well aware our recent Survey revealed that nearly 50% of 650 surveyed teachers would break Contract if they could do so, consequence-free.

If you are ready to take the next flight out, it may help to know that seasoned International Educators will sometimes accept positions at poorly reviewed schools solely for the opportunity to experience a culture and country of great interest to them. It’s a bold move, but it is done all the time. If you’re unhappy with your current school situation, take pause. ISR encourages you to look outside the school gates to all your host country has to offer.

No one says it’s easy to rise above a school when everything about it flies in your face. Your objective, however, for going overseas was far more than to just be part of a school — you could have done that without leaving home. It’s YOUR choice:  You can wallow in the dissatisfaction of being at a lousy school and let negative feelings destroy the incredible overseas adventure you’ve worked so hard to earn, or…you can just let it be and do like seasoned International Educators and focus on, and savor, all that’s happening outside those school gates.

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Consequence-Free Early Departure?

November 21, 2019


.From time to time teachers write to ISR and ask:  Why would anyone teach overseas? They reason that based on negative School Reviews, no one is happy.

No situation is perfect. Annoying and even unacceptable situations worth writing a School Review about do not necessarily translate to:  “I’m miserable here and I’d leave today if I could.” A negative School Review may simply be intended as a heads-up to other teachers. Helping each other Make Informed Decisions is what International Schools Review is All About!

ISR Asks:  Are you sufficiently satisfied with your current International School situation that you’re looking forward to honoring the remainder of your Contract? Or, would you leave on the next flight out if you could do so without suffering any financial and/or career consequences? 

Take our survey with real-time results:


GOOD Things Are Happening!

October 3, 2019

These days, you can hardly turn on the TV or open a news source without being bombarded with bad news.  It can feel like the world is imploding…

The good news is, International Educators around the globe are creating student-powered Community Service projects destined to make a positive and lasting difference. 

In the words of the Dalai Lama: 
If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.

Here’s a sample of some projects IEs around the globe are spearheading in an effort to make the world a better place for one and all:

• Beach/river/lake/park clean-ups
• Planting trees
• Bake sales/carnivals to raise money for designated charity
• Adopting a local school – Help repair/paint and donate supplies
• Big buddy for kids at an orphanage/hospital
• Habitat for Humanity – teacher/students volunteer in building homes
• Packets for the homeless – socks, snacks, toiletries

ISR invites YOU to share what you, your school and colleagues are doing to make the planet a better place, one small step at a time. When we share our ideas, projects and insights with each other we become a source for positive change! Thank you!

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ISR’s Top Discussion Topics, 2019

September 19, 2019

ISR Weekly Discussion topics often prompt 50 to 100 (or more) insightful comments from our readers. If you missed any one of these timely and popular Discussions, now’s the time to catch up and join in:

.
International
 Educators Keeping Each Other Informed
is what International Schools Review is All About!.

Slipping Out Early w/ My Possessions & My Sanity
(90 teacher comments)

Hooks-Ups & Breaks-Ups:  Taking Relationships Overseas
(82 teacher comments)

Back-Stabbing Director As My Confidential Reference
(62 teacher comments)

Why Don’t Schools Post Age Restrictions?
(88 teacher comments)

Back Home w/ the Job Search Blues
(68 teacher comments)

Are the Golden Years of International Education Over?
(53 teacher comments)


I’m Choosing to Have a Good Overseas Experience

September 12, 2019

An ISR Member Offers Timely Advice:

I”m in my second year at XYZ International  School. Is the school as spectacular as represented by the director at the recruiting fair? Not quite. In fact, it’s not even close.

It’s not a bad school. But certainly not what I was led to believe by our illustrious leader. Last week I decided to write what I consider to be a factual ISR Review of this school. I feel it’s my responsibility to keep other international educators informed.

As it turns out, our director follows ISR like a watchdog. As such, he called an emergency faculty meeting right after my review was included in the ISR weekly newsletter. Following his senseless rant we were all “given the opportunity” to sign what amounted to a gag order, the alternative being….“pack your bags and go.” Essentially, we were agreeing to never post information or opinions about XYZ International School to ISR (or any other website). Yes, we all signed.

Violating the new gag order carries some heavy consequences, culminating in immediate termination and prosecution….”to the full extent of the law.” By signing, we also gave the school the right to financial compensation for any perceived loss of revenue which may result from a specific school review. That is, if they can figure out who wrote it. Good luck with that!

It’s no secret what happens when you tell a child to keep their hands out of the cookie jar. Well, overnight two new reviews mysteriously appeared on ISR. If you know anything about ISR (and apparently our director does not) you already know your identity is completely protected when you submit a review. Whoever it was that posted the newest reviews did so knowing there would be no consequences, unless they included specific personal information that led straight to them. That they did not!

By mid-afternoon, via the school’s intranet (working for a change), the entire staff received an aggressively worded memo from the office. It looks like a witch hunt is on!

I know I acted truthfully and responsibly in sharing my experiences about this school. I also feel that for me, right now at this point in my life, I have a responsibility to myself to ignore the school’s shortcomings and make the most of this overseas experience. I’ve wanted to live in this part of the world for a very long time, and since nothing at this school flies in the face of my principles and/or integrity as an educator, there’s no reason to ruin this opportunity by obsessing on all that’s wrong here.

You can’t fix stupid and certainly not guys like the one running this school. If you’re in a similar situation, the choice is yours. You can focus on the negative and frustrate yourself until your blood pressure is off the charts, or you can choose to accept and work with the situation.

Is the glass half full or half empty? That’s open to debate and, to me, it kinda depends on what, exactly, is in that glass. My best advice:  Stay Positive!

Sincerely,

B.

ISR Invites your comments


Do The Pluses Still Outweigh the Negatives?

August 8, 2019

I grew up in International Schools. Today, with a teaching credential and 3 years classroom experience under my belt, I’m preparing for my first ever International Teacher recruiting fair. I’m ready to get back overseas where life feels so much more authentic to me!

I recently discovered ISR and have been reading Reviews of schools I attended as a student (grades 4-12 in 4 different international schools). In my teen years I was well aware some stressful stuff was going on for the teachers, but not to the degree or magnitude of what I’m now seeing on ISR.

My question:  Do ISR readers who’re currently overseas think the positive aspects of living internationally as an educator outweigh the negatives, especially the really harsh stuff I’m reading on ISR?  Memories of life overseas are among my most treasured possessions and I’m willing to take the bad with the good….to a reasonable extent, that is!

Sincerely,
Grace

Survey:

 

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Thinking About Teaching in Dubai? Read This First

July 18, 2019

     It wouldn’t be fair to say all schools in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are represented by the comments that follow. However, one thing is certain, all Dubai schools are subject to the requirements of Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), the consequences of which can seem archaic in relation to Western educational standards. If Dubai is on your list of places to live and teach, the following commentary from an ISR Member is something to consider.

_____________________________________


…..The first and obvious thing you should realize before coming to Dubai is that it is an authoritarian state. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that schools in the UAE are also authoritarian in outlook.

If you decide to come here, do not expect open, confident, consultative organizations that value your input or expertise on decisions or matters that impact your teaching/approaches to learning. Your role is to shut up and accept whatever latest BS initiative comes from the Ministry of Truth (head office). At least that’s how it is at my school…

A huge concern about teaching in Dubai is the need to satisfy the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) inspectors. They come around EVERY YEAR to rate schools. A good inspection grade attracts parents and means fees can be raised. As you can imagine, the impact of this annual inspection is brutal on the teaching staff. Teachers at my school teaching core subjects are prepared to work a 60-70-hour week with most of that time spent preparing detailed lesson plans and gathering data to support/validate their teaching and assessment. This emphasis on data is suffocating, not least because the majority of it is spurious.

Indeed, almost every department at my school is, to my knowledge, manipulating data to show progress amongst its students. This is encouraged by management through a policy that requires staff to provide re-takes of summative assessments until a student reaches their target level. As the head of Secondary at my school told staff recently: “No student has the right fail.” What his obfuscating edu-speak doesn’t appreciate is that if a student submits something of poor quality, the teacher MUST have the right to fail the student. It is very hard to convince someone of something when it is in their interests to not understand.

Besides overwhelming staff in terms of the volume of work, this no-fail system creates, even worse it encourages students to be lazier than normal because they will always have another chance to do well and the teacher will be forced to mark it until the requisite grade is reached. If a student fails to meet their target at my school, the teacher will, regardless of the student’s effort or work ethic, be held accountable. The result is that teachers are now simply front-loading by inflating grades to mitigate the possibility of any comeback against them.

As a result of such relentless pressure to justify and make visible every aspect of your practice to satisfy external organizations and parents, the outcome is a toxic culture and work environment. This is the only way to describe the bullying that is rife within certain departments as heads are put under pressure to provide evidence of student progress. If you value your autonomy and you have a modicum of self-respect and/or dignity, then this school is not the school for you.

Dubai itself is a place where people go to live life without actually living. Paradoxically, all life is here, but every experience is mediated through the artificial spectacle of consumerism and status. If that’s your thing, you will love it; if not you’ll hate every moment in this manufactured oasis. Good luck!

(The preceding is a redacted excerpt from a School Review added to ISR on 7/16/2019. ISR Members wishing to read the entire School Review can sign in and locate this UAE school on the Most Recent Reviews page. Then scroll to Review #11.) 

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Can a School Ever Really Be All 10s or All 1s?

April 4, 2019

…  Does any school really deserve all 10s or all 1s on the ISR School Review Rubric? I love my school. But hey! It just does not rate all 10s. In fact, it’s not even all 9s. Personally, I’m suspicious of any Review that displays an over abundance of 9s and 10s. Ditto that for Reviews with scores of all 1s.

Every rose has its thorns (I love that song) and International Schools are no exception. Just because I rate a couple of things a 6 or 7, it doesn’t mean it’s not a simply fantastic school. It just means the reality is this:  There are a few things you’re going to have to live with to be truly blissful here.

Like I said, I’m suspicious of Reviews with copious extremely high or low ratings. Take a school in France for example. I know for a fact the “Cost of living in relation to salary” category will never will be a 10 in overpriced Europe. My research (and every educator I know who has worked in Europe) tells me teachers have to take on an outside job just to make ends meet. The only person I can think of who would assign a 9 or 10 to the “Cost of living in relation to salary” category in a Western European school is an admin trying to attract candidates. Such misrepresentation makes the rest of the ratings look suspicious to me. I discount such Reviews.

Here’s another example of what makes me suspicious:  A school in Mexico City with a “Security rating” of 10 would make me wonder who’s behind the Review. Likewise, a score of 1 for “Community things to do” would be ludicrous for Mexico City with its endless museums, art galleries and cultural events. A low score in this category would render the entire Review useless in my opinion.

Can a school ever really deserve scores of all 10s or all 1s? I believe the answer is NO. Common sense and a bit of logic will help you to read between the lines and look for hidden agendas. When the ratings in certain categories coincide with what you know to be true about an area of the world, this is a signal that it most likely is safe to rely on the Review as a whole. However, if things seem out of sync with your intuition and common sense, most definitely, proceed with caution.

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Would You Teach Again at a Previous School?

March 14, 2019

At any school, 2 years, 3 years max, & it’s time for me to move on to a new school, a new adventure. I became an international teacher to see the world, not permanently transplant myself.

Would I teach again at any of my previous International schools? I’ll answer that with a resounding, NO! I’m glad for the experiences garnered at each, but once was enough for me.

One school Director’s idea of an intranet was his scribbles on the faculty room dry-erase board. We were all expected to pop in for updates between classes. At another school it literally took days & an act of God to get a photocopy or a few pencils for the kids. My last school made getting your paycheck a 90-minute after-school ordeal. Ridiculous practices like these were just a peek behind the curtain. I’m thankful for the experiences but I’d have to be a masochist to subject myself to such lunacy again.

I would, however, gladly return to most of the countries where I worked. Thailand, Romania & Pakistan are tops on my list. Recall of poor experiences at schools has faded, but vivid memories of the places I lived & traveled have made indelible imprints on my life. I’d say this:  I most definitely met my “see the world” goal!

ISR Asks:  Would YOU return to teach at any of your previous schools?

 

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What’s Your Take on International School Accreditation?

December 6, 2018

..ISR wants to hear YOUR thoughts on the topic of International School accreditation.  If you’ve been through the accreditation process or worked at an accredited International School, chances are good you have something to Share.

According to a major accreditation agency (who shall remain unnamed), the following characteristics are essential for an International School seeking accreditation:

 “The award of accreditation shows that the school:

  •  is devoted to its mission & vision for students
  •  has thought deeply about the services it offers to students, family and community
  •  invests time and resources for validation from a globally-recognized accreditation authority
  •  focuses on the quality of teaching, student learning, & student safeguarding and well-being
  •  is committed to the development of the students’ global citizenship
  •  has a suitable philosophy of education suitable for its students
  •  promises only what it can deliver
  •  is open to regular evaluation by its own school community and peer evaluators
  •  constantly seeks improvement in all areas of the school plans strategically for the future”

ISR Asks:  Reflecting on the accreditation process in which you participated (or witnessed from the sidelines), how were the foregoing ideals fulfilled by your school? For example,

  • Who determined, and how did your school define, a “global citizen?
  • Did/does your school encourage regular evaluation? (think: International Schools Review)
  • Who selected those teachers personally interviewed by the accreditation team?
  • Do you think the accreditation team may have been swayed by elegant dinners, fancy hotels and off-topic excursions?
  • Why are the needs and well-being of teachers noticeably absent?
  • Is the accreditation process transparent?
  • How were the majority of ideals, as above, quantified during the accreditation process?

Your perspective on accreditation will naturally be different from the standpoint of a teacher as compared to that of an administrator, as well as between that of a department chair and a department member. Should you choose to Comment on this Article, we courage you to preface your Comments with a brief, one-sentence introduction telling us from what perspective you are writing. For example: I am writing as a teacher on the sidelines, principal/director, counselor, teacher who was interviewed, etc.

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Do Corporate Schools Have a Heart?

September 13, 2018

Years ago I returned from a few pleasant years teaching overseas. Recently, however, I decided to throw my hat into the ring this upcoming recruiting season and head back to a life of teaching abroad.

Overseas, I taught in small, independently-owned International schools. Looking around at job opportunities now, though, I’m noticing the trend in International Education appears to have shifted to multi-national educational empires, with names like GEMS, QSI Schools, United World Schools and Nord Anglia.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but there does seem to be advantages to being part of a big, global network of schools:  established curriculums, sister schools that share resources, clear management structures, professional development conferences and potential lateral moves between schools, to name just a handful. The downside for me is this:  I’m not much of a corporate gal (hence the teaching degree) and worry about being a part of a huge, impersonal bureaucracy. Considering the size of some of these education goliaths, I’m concerned the needs and day-to-day affairs of the little guys (i.e. the teachers) might be overlooked. There is also the ever-present threat of the bottom line…Will the need to turn a profit overshadow the needs of the children?

Anyone willing to share their experience with large education companies as compared to smaller, more intimate schools? Are the corporate schools simply money-making machines focused on maximum profit, or are there schools with heart and community that happen to fall under a corporate umbrella? Should I stick with what’s familiar to me and recruit for a small independent school? Or take my chances in finding a corporate school with a heart?

Thanks for your input!

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Crucial 1st Days @ Your New School

August 16, 2018

How colleagues and admin perceive you during your first days at a new school can and will make the difference between a great year ahead and one that’s not at all what you hoped for.

In a way, you’re the ‘new kid on the block’ and you’ll be establishing a place in the neighborhood. Beyond smiling and introducing yourself to new colleagues, how do you go about becoming an accepted, contributing member of the faculty neighborhood?

The first (all-school) faculty meeting is a good place to start. The question is: Do you leap right in, expounding on all your great ideas, thus possibly contradicting teachers with already well-formed alliances? Or do you sit quietly, keeping your thoughts to yourself, leaving others to wonder? Neither extreme is advised.

You still don’t know who’s who, so jumping on the band wagon with a teacher or group, before you fully understand their position, could brand you as a nauseating admin cheerleader or a member of the ‘resistance.’ The best approach is take it slow, don’t step on any toes and avoid forming alliances, at least not yet. It’s hard to shake poor first impressions and switching horses mid-stream is not easy.

Considering the ideas of others and asking, in an encouraging manner, for clarification is a good first step. Letting other teachers know you are interested in what they have to say will encourage them to listen to your ideas, later, even if your ideas run contrary to theirs.

As days turn into weeks, you’ll have developed a good picture of the playing field and formed a few budding friendships. Now is the time to begin diplomatically introducing your opinions and ideas at faculty meetings and informal gatherings outside of classroom hours. Having an understanding of the opinions and motives of various groups and individuals will help you present your ideas in a way that is more palatable. At this point, if you contradict the ideas of others, they should be receptive because you have taken the time to listen and consider theirs.

Face it! You can’t please all the people all the time, and there’s a very real possibility you will sooner-or-later alienate someone or some group. Not everyone is receptive to ideas other than their own, and fragile egos are difficult to deal with. Passive-aggressive reactions and the poor-me attitude are the enemy of new ideas. They create a backwards, restraining motion rather than an atmosphere of moving forward with a synthesis of ideas. Such personalities are best politely acknowledged and then soundly ignored.

Above all, be friendly, get to know people on a personal basis, be a good listener, take it slow, and put your toe in well before you dive. Everyone likes and will listen to someone who they feel hears what they have to say. And who knows? You may even make some long-lasting friendships along your way to fitting in at a new school!

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Tutoring Adventures Overseas

July 26, 2018

Are you after a “one-on-one” teaching experience, a more family oriented relationship with students than is possible teaching in an International School classroom? If so, full-time tutoring could be your ticket to a rewarding overseas adventure.

An ISR member asks:

Does anyone have experience working as a full-time tutor? I don’t mean the sort of tutoring where an International Educator moonlights in an IS for a bit more cash, or works with individual students after school hours. I’m talking about the sort of vacancy where you’re hired by a wealthy family to be their son’s or daughter’s full-time tutor.

These jobs seem more common in the Middle East, Russia, and a few of the richer Asian countries. Clearly salaries almost always seem substantially higher than what you could earn in an IS, even one that’s a first-tier school. Around 1250 a week seems to be the going rate, which could only be bettered by a very small percentage of schools out there.

Does anyone have any experience doing this? What sort of experience/education level do you need to have a chance at a position? Is it worth the money, or does being at the beck-and-call of a rich family make it too much of a grind?

I’m aware of websites like ‘Tutors International’ and ‘VIPKid’ that would allow me to stay home and tutor online. What I’m asking to hear about is experiences of actually going overseas to live with a family (or in my own apartment), and be the exclusive tutor for one or two kids. Anyone?”

Thanks in advance,

B.

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Teacher Trap in Paradise

April 12, 2018

 

Hello ISR, Your latest Newsletter Article, ISS VP Looks Back to the Future of International  Education, brought back some not-so-fond memories of my brief “Directorship” in Guatemala. When Mr. Ambrogi stresses the need to support and encourage small, locally owned schools my guess is he isn’t referring to quite the situation, and/or school, I found myself in.

.Here’s my story:

I’d been traveling through Mexico and Central America for several months when I arrived at a delightful destination, a magical, lake-side Guatemalan pueblo filled with spiritual energy and an indigenous population living side-by-side with a community of foreigners. I recognized it as one of those special places in the world and I was eager to stay put for a while.

A week or so after my arrival, I was sipping my morning coffee in a funky, outdoor venue overlooking the lake, when a hippie-type, middle-aged woman seated near me struck up a conversation. I soon learned Maggie (not her real name) was the “Board chairperson” of the local “International School.” Coincidentally, I’m a retired, credentialed teacher, “perfect for the job,” she said. As our conversation (i.e. informal interview) progressed, she insisted I drop by and consider the recently vacated Director’s position. Wow! Here was a chance to remain in paradise indefinitely…I took the bait!

The school, lodged in a big, old house, consisted of 42 kids. The front and backyards, replete with barnyard animals, slides, swings and a fun obstacle course, rounded out the facility. Three young teachers taught the various grade levels, all mixed into “homogeneous” groups. Expats from the lake community needed a place for their children to go to school and they had created this little “hidden gem of a school.” I decided to give it a go and settled into the job.

My salary was $900 US monthly and I soon found I could just scrape by, without dipping into my travel funds, if I kept it simple. I also found out, unfortunately, that I’d be worked like a dog (apologies to all dogs) from early morning to late afternoon. I was teacher, principal, head maintenance man, curriculum guru, teacher-support system, sympathetic ear for lonely parents, government red-tape expert, barnyard animal caretaker, coach and student support system…an overwhelmed indentured servant, in other words. Sweet, soft-spoken Maggie turned out to be a real task master!

What soon began to bother me was that I’d see the kids’ parents driving late-model cars while I walked or took the bus in the stifling heat of summer. The parents were eating and drinking in restaurants while I survived on rice and beans. They enjoyed their boats and hobbies while I tended to their kids on a salary I could barely survive on, and without a lick of air conditioning. I was supposed to be traveling, enjoying life’s adventures in my retirement and here I was stuck in paradise without a pleasurable moment, or dollar, to spare!

When I eventually broached the issue of a pay raise it was met with, “There just isn’t any money.” The 3 teachers were each paid $600 monthly, equaling $2700 in total staff expenses. Then $400 for the school-house rent, a couple hundred for electricity and incidentals and we’re talking about approximately $3,500 in monthly expenses for the entire school. Seems cheap to run a school, right?

I questioned why there was no money for higher wages with 42 kids in the school? It turned out tuition was only $100US a month! Apparently, the parents had banded together and created what simply amounted to a cheap child-care service, kept staffed with unsuspecting travelers, like me, who came and went on a regular basis. And that, my friends, was the very end of my “unsuspecting” dedication to the “education” of these 42 children.

My bet is Maggie was back in the coffee shop the morning I left, “interviewing” for the Director’s position, while I was relaxing in the sun, out on far side of the lake, fishing and considering my next retirement adventure.

My advice to travelers offered positions in little, local schools? Look carefully before you leap! Your time is your life, after all.

Has anyone had a similar experience?

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ISS VP Looks Back to the Future of International Education

April 5, 2018

   On the cusp of retirement, vice president of ISS, Rob Ambrogi, recently published a thought-provoking article entitled, “Looking Back to the Future.” In Rob’s own words, “As I approach full-time retirement this July, I can’t help but examine and reflect upon my 47 years as an educator with both retrospective and prospective lenses…”  

In regards to Rob’s prospective lenses, one of International Schools Review original members forwarded us an excerpt from Rob’s article, along with a personal critique and a pressing question, Is the future Rob outlines, now?

Excerpt from Rob’s Article:

   It is clear to me that the future of this arm of our organization will depend on the development of school start-up and business models that acknowledge lower tuition price points, larger class sizes, lower salary and benefit packages, a greater number of locally sourced teachers with necessary professional development, and a higher rate of expat teacher turnover. I am convinced that careful management of these realities will produce very credible and valuable learning opportunities that will be sustainable and will serve students well. There is nothing in our mission that says we only serve young people in highly subsidized, expensive international schools. We need to change the negative narrative about these newly emerging schools and continue to find ways to directly and indirectly extend enthusiastic support to them. (complete Article)

ISR Member’s comments: 

   Rob describes the ‘international’ school where I work very accurately. I’m currently working with more local students, often requiring SEN and/or EAL support, more local staff hires, some qualified, some not, more turnover from ‘overseas’ hires (1-2 years) with a salary base that has not changed in over 10 years. If this is the ‘new reality,’ as described by Ambrogi, are some of us living/working, or at least aspiring to work, in schools, where the future is now?

As Ambrogi is retiring from his influential ISS position, he is, at least, acknowledging that the bottom-feeder schools are growing in number, and that more established international schools are feeling the pinch with the increase in competition. Some schools have opted to lower their standards (alongside other considerations) in order to remain competitive. How ISS, and other organizations, intend to support these start-up and business/schools, as he states, ‘directly and indirectly,’ remains to be seen, but it is a situation which needs to be addressed.

Agencies such as ISS are in the position to help, and I think they should, given that teachers are also starting to abandon some of their services (job fair, anyone?) as these agencies become less relevant in the hiring process.

It is a win/win when standards are raised, rather than the bar continuously lowered. And, at some future point, if these schools improve, with better support and more supervision, we might begin to see many more positive Reviews on ISR!
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The Relevancy of School Boards

March 22, 2018

I’ve experienced two distinctly different types of School Boards during my career overseas:

1) In-Name-Only Boards:  This species of School Board is common in schools owned by wealthy, host nationals who have the clout to destroy the reputation of Board members, all of whom are host nationals themselves. Powerless to do much beyond planning bake sales and the “International Fair,” this Board exists in name only. In parts of the world where prestige is more important than substance, adding a footnote to your business card that says “School Board Member” is what matters most.

2)  Rulers of the Galaxy:  At the other end of the School Board spectrum are Boards with real power. These Boards interview/hire/fire admin and teachers, make and enforce policy and may even determine curriculum. They are at the helm. They run the school. Teachers and admin follow their orders. There’s a certain amount of prestige associated with being on such a Board, usually composed of a representative from an embassy, a former graduate, and the wives of prominent expat business men with children attending the school.

Which Board is best?

Rulers of the Galaxy Boards can be efficient and exemplary, depending, of course, on Board members’ individual agendas and experience with education. If you get the right combination of people working together, an International School can become a model for International Education. It could be, however, quite the opposite. A Rulers Board may be nothing but meddlesome, misinformed, detrimental to progress and made up of one or more members with personal agendas to exercise. If you get one of these Board member’s kids in your class and the child does poorly…watch out!!

In-Name-Only Boards can mean less overall stress because no one is keeping close tabs on you, but they can also mean a less than stellar addition to your resume if everyone simply cruised through the year under an owner focused on profit at the expense of education. For a true patriot of world-class education, this dismissal of quality standards of education could provide its own type of stress.

ISR Asks:  What has been your experience with School Boards overseas? Are School Boards relevant in International Schools when Board members may have no background in the field of education? Are you more willing to deal with the stress of rules, regulations and potential dismissal and/or discipline by a School Board? Or would the stress of working for a school with all power at the top be more stress in the long run?

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Ushering in 2018 w/ ISR’s 18 TOP TOPICS

January 4, 2018

 

..Millions of International Educators frequent the ISR Forum & Blog venues to glean insights from colleagues & to contribute their own personal knowledge & experiences. Providing 46,457 posts from educators around the world, the ISR Forum is the place to find the information & support you’re seeking to make informed decisions. Additionally, the ISR Blog attracts well over a million educators, many of whom participate in over 300 timely topics introduced by ISR staff & site members alike.

Here’s the top 18 Form & Blog Topics from 2017:

Discussions from the ISR Forum

1. Best & Worst School Benefits Packages
2. Overseas & Over 50
3. Schools w/ High Savings Potentials
4. One Lying Director
5. Landmines That Can Blow an Interview
6. References Can End Your Career
7. Admin w/ Fake Credentials
8. Canceling a Contract After Signing
9. Is This Really a Career Anymore?

Discussions from the ISR Blog

10. Prospective New Teacher: Expectations & Advice
11. DODDS Hiring Question
12. American or Brit Certification/Credential for Non-Citizens
13. What’s your greatest motivator & biggest regret?
14. IB certificate or workshop?
15. Teaching in Singapore
16. Advice: Leaving Japan (JET), aiming for Europe
17. Single Parents
18. Canada – Foreign Teacher