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 

 


Survey Results: Overseas for 20+Years Prevails

September 28, 2017
 …Our recent Survey (How Long Do International Educators Stay Overseas?) reveals that the majority of Educators who go International, stay International and do so for the greater part of their careers, if not for their entire careers.
.
 …Over 700 International Educators took our Survey. More than 400 report they’ve been living and teaching abroad for 7+ years. The 20+ years overseas group tops the Survey chart, making up 16% of the total responses. This is followed closely by educators falling into the 11-19 year groups.
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A logical sequel to these results is to look into what motivates so many educators to go overseas and stay there. Could it be that educators go abroad because jobs are scarce in their own countries; and when jobs do become available their years of overseas teaching are not recognized?  ISR hypothesizes: Teachers go abroad for adventure and stay when they discover they have more freedom in the classroom,  minimal discipline problems, and a far higher standard of living/savings than in their own countries. Do you agree?
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If you are in the 7-or-more years overseas categories, we invite you to Share what motivated you to go International and what later inspired you to stay overseas.
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How Long Do Intern’l Educators Stay Overseas?

September 21, 2017


The majority of international educators go overseas with the idea that they’ll check out international education, spend a year or so in some exotic location and then return home. Not surprisingly, 2 years turns into 3, then 4 and before you know it, it’s 8 years and counting!

Take our Survey to see how many years International Educators stay overseas. Clicking the “View Results” link at the bottom of the Survey will display up-to-the-minute results.

Take our Short Survey

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Duped & Ready to Walk

August 31, 2017

A couple of weeks  into every academic year I begin seeing a sprinkling of School Reviews that claim a slick school director duped the reviewer into accepting a job at their lousy school. My reaction to such comments has always been the same: stick it out, stop whining. YOU signed the contract. I couldn’t imagine that any school would be half as bad as what these teachers were describing…

Well, the tables have turned and I stand corrected. I now find that I am the victim of severe duping by a fast-talking director at a school not reviewed on ISR.

Everything here is contrary to what I saw (on the school’s website) and was told during my online interview. There’s no disciplinary support with known disruptive kids, and believe me, there’s plenty of real “prizes” at this school. There are no classroom supplies — not even pencils. The internet connection is so sketchy it might as well be shut down. There is no AC in the classrooms — it’s like a sauna in my room. Textbooks are all photo copied from one purchased edition. Software is boot-legged and glitches to a standstill constantly. To top it off, the director has proven himself to be an egocentric, buffoon who lacks any semblance to an educator.

I might be able to bite the bullet and put up with everything wrong with this place, but the crowning assault on my sanity is that the majority of students are local kids with poor, to non-existent, English skills. Try teaching high school Literature to a classroom of students who can barely muster enough English to ask to use the restroom, let alone read and discuss a story by Edgar Alan Poe. It’s like a bad joke.

The job was advertised online and not through a recruiting fair. So, if I walk out and don’t put this job on my resume, what might be the long term consequences, if any, of doing so? Also, what is the best way to bail? Should I give the school notice that I plan to leave ASAP or send them an email once I’m safely away and out of the country? I’m leaning towards the ‘wait until I’m safely away’ idea…

To those of you who have suffered the disastrous consequences of being mislead by a slick website and/or a fast-talking director, please accept my sincere apologies for having doubted you and thereafter posted such to the ISR Forum or Blog. Once I’m out of here, I’ll post a lengthy review of this place on ISR. Any advice would really comfort and reassure me at this time.

Sincerely,

Duped big time