Working Under a School Owner’s Thumb

More than one international educator has found themselves working for a greedy business owner whose only focus is to extract maximum profits from his or her school. Some school owners know literally nothing about education, yet see it as a lucrative business scheme while at the same time elevating their supposed philanthropic and social profile in the community.

Directors, like teachers, have good reason to stay on the right side of their bosses. But, at what point is a school director simply the minion of a greedy owner or board of directors, or in the worst-case scenario, complicit in the money-oriented venture called a “school”?

I’ve worked at both for-profit and non-profit schools. Neither designation guaranteed the type of experience I would have. At one school, the director supported his teachers against powerful parents and a board focused on what could kindly be termed a ‘minimalist’ agenda. He had the fortitude to stand up for what he believed in and refused to be reduced to puppet status. In the end, this director’s allegiance to students, staff and high educational standards cost him his job.

Another school was a different story. This director was the proverbial mouthpiece and bearer of bad news concerning pay reductions, health insurance cuts, non-existent supplies, and non-reimbursed shipping allowances. He went so far as to insist teachers bend to powerful parents (aka: paying customers) who were demanding their lazy kids get the grades they were “paying” for. The staff lost respect for him, and many of us jumped ship. Here was a PhD in Education who had sold out for a buck and was reduced to being a referee merely wielding the ax of the owner’s expectations, demands and threats.

The international teaching arena is rife with business people selling a high-priced, third-class education cleverly disguised behind the aura of credentialed Anglo faces from the US and UK. It appears there are some school directors ready and willing to do their unconscious bidding. I’m sure others are not so willing, yet succumb to the need to make a living.

Have you worked for a greedy school owner? What did you learn from the experience? Any advice for your colleagues on how to deal with a director who is loyal only to a ruthless board or owner?

WARNING!! Signs that Tell You Not to Take the Job

“Looking back on my interview, there were definite warning signs I should have heeded, not the least of which was the director dozing off intermittently. Okay…he was tired from the flight. Beyond that, the fact that the contract was not ready should have been a clear-cut indication to decline the job. Why hadn’t he taken 10 minutes to jot down everything he just offered me verbally? Was he making it up as he went along? Was there any validity to what he was promising?

I recall that during the interview the director said, ‘Our kids are great, just a bit chatty.’  Translation? The kids turned out to be completely in control and they knew it. But, I really should have been suspicious when the interview became a sales pitch, focusing on the beauty of the country and the wonderfully supportive school community. In reality, the school was a hot bed of gossip with powerful parents, an inept principal and a director shaking in his boots.

I broke contract at the end of the first year and was soon thereafter blackballed everywhere by the vindictive director and principal. Hindsight is 20/20 — I should have heeded the warning signs flashing in my head, but I needed the job and took it against my better judgment.”

Have YOU had a similar experience? Or were you astute enough to turn down the job? ISR invites you to contribute to  our Interview Warning Signs Blog and share insights and experiences. Teachers Keeping Each Other Informed is what ISR is All About!

Is International Teaching a Career or an Adventure

The recent blog topic of whether or not teaching overseas is a good career decision prompted me to reflect more on my own desires and motivations to continue teaching overseas. A few people posted on this thread that teaching overseas was “just a job, not a career,” at least not a long-term one.  Among other worries, some expressed concern about the lack of job security, a pension, or a plan for retirement.
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Like many other people who posted, I share a love for travel, adventure, and learning about other cultures. While many of my stateside friends might not understand this love for adventure (note their eyes glazing over as you tell them about your recent safari or hiking in the Andes), I would not trade my experiences for anything. Well…maybe until now. I DO have fears about whether I will face age discrimination, whether professional opportunities and growth will be limited, and whether I am doing the right thing for our family and young child.
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My wife, also a teacher, and I are in our early 40s. We are at a stage in our careers where we don’t plan to ‘bounce’ around the world teaching at different international or American schools every 2-3 years. We have been at our current school for over six years, but plan to recruit next year. While international teaching has become more popular and while schools have grown and multiplied, I feel there are far too many schools that are “international” or “American” in name only.
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This all leads to my never-ending reflection and stress when I weigh adventure, lifestyle, and happiness with job security, pension, and retirement. What would life would be like if we returned to the U.S. to teach? How would our international experience be perceived by potential employers in the U.S. and would it be valued? Most importantly, would we be happy and would we miss our lifestyle?
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I am living my dream NOW – touring world-famous museums, hiking in the Himalayas, relaxing on beaches in Southeast Asia, learning new languages, and seeing things the average citizen of my own country could only dream of seeing – all things I am very grateful for!  How long can this go on though and is this idea of teaching overseas a career, an adventure, or a pipe dream?
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The author of this post received a complimentary one-year ISR membership. Do YOU  have  a Blog topic you’d like to share with colleagues around the world? – Click here

Why Did Tashkent Ulugbek International School Close?

The School Claims Uzbekistan’s Bureaucratic Obstacles were Too Great. Teachers Tell a Different Story. This Could Happen to ANYONE!

What the School Says:

We declare suspension of our educational services for safety and security reasons.

The Tashkent Ulugbek International School was founded in 1995 by the SilmEducational Corporation (%60) in cooperation with the Department of Diplomatic Services of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan (%40) and so far it has provided educational services that fully meet international standards. Our school is a regular member of ECIS (European Council of International Schools) as well as CIS (Council of International Schools) and it caters for students from twenty-four different nationalities from preschool through Year 12. Our school employs a fully international teaching staff selected from among qualified and experienced teachers from various countries such as Turkey, Uzbekistan, the UK, Canada, Australia, South Africa, the USA and India. Nonetheless, due to reasons which will be listed below, our corporation has had to discontinue all its educational services in Uzbekistan from 1 January 2011, without any purposeful bad intentions or meaning any harm to anyone.

1-    According to the current laws in Uzbekistan, shopping and making / receiving salary payments in a foreign currency are not permissible. Therefore, parents pay the school fees in Uzbek Sum and The National Bank of Uzbekistan is supposed to convert the amount that is needed for the salary payments of the school’s foreign staff and the money should officially be transferred in US Dollars to the related country. Ever since our school was founded in 1995, we have experienced serious delays and difficulties in converting and transferring our foreign teachers’ salaries; the final transaction we received was for the salaries of March 2009, which means our salaries have not been transferred for twenty-one months up until now, even though the money is available in our school’s Uzbek Sum bank account. When we contact the relevant bank, the answer we always get is “We are short of USD Dollars”. During this period we strived to maintain our educational services without delays and interruptions even though we were experiencing serious financial difficulties. It has financially become impossible to sustain the school as we strongly believe, with the help of our past experiences and observations, that these obscurities which are created by the current financial system will remain the same in the future as well; moreover the relevant authorities have always failed to provide any kind of assistance to us.

2-    As we have recently been hearing, foreign investors in the country are suffering from increasing negative attitude and ill-treatment such as numerous anti-terror teams’ assaults and inspections to ordinary business corporations (workers and staff of these corporations have been accused of possessing forbidden publications in their offices, which were in fact placed in secret by the above mentioned units prior to or during the inspections), difficulties that these people experienced in defending themselves, threatening the defense lawyers and forcing them to quit, unlawful imprisonment of some foreign staff and threatening of their families. Our corporation believes that our institutions are very much likely to be subject to similar pressures and we do have serious concerns about the safety and security of our services and staff alike.

3-    Bureaucratic obstacles in procedures such as permissions, customs clearance, transportation and payments that we had to deal with while importing educational materials; textbooks, laboratory equipment, computers etc.

Difficulties and bureaucratic procedures that we endured when we had to renew our work license due to the changes that took place in the educational system.

4-    It has become impossible to manage the risks that came along with the increasing problems and difficulties in the arrangements of our expatriate staff’s visa, registration, accommodation, flight tickets, health services and salary transfers. Although shopping and making payments in a foreign currency in the country are not permissible, we were directed to make payments in US Dollars for visas, registrations, rent of accommodations and some health services, which made these services impossible to receive.

5-    We have finally had to decide to suspend our educational services as we have serious concerns that unjust and unlawful ill-treatment, which a few other private educational institutions were subject to during their inspections (e.g. the language teaching centres faced accusation of extremism in December 2010), is very much likely to be directed against our schools as well.

We apologize for the inconvenience all this might have caused.

What the Teachers Say:
“The Turkish administration and staff fled ‘en masse’ at the end of December, without telling anyone beforehand (including the expat teachers). They notified the expatriate staff on Jan 6th, by sending them a poorly worded e-mail saying that our contracts had been abolished and if you were out of the country not to return and if you were in the country to leave. After promising to pay the teacher’s severance pay for January, they then reneged and refused to pay the teachers who were stranded here and who had no choice but to find a way to salvage their jobs…” Read reviews of this incident

BLOG this incident. Share your thoughts on the actions of the administration, teachers and ministry of education. Has anything similar that you know of taken place at other schools?

School Salaries Revealed

International schools often advertise that they offer a “competitive salary” or pay “on par with other international schools.” We’ve all seen the ads. Actual figures are rarely posted, and this is often because the salary scale (if there even is one) is so low it’s laughable and no experienced teacher would ever take it.

Recruiting fairs also tend to keep pay scales secret, often right up until the night before interviews begin. I remember anxiously awaiting my hot-off-the-press salary and benefits information for schools attending a fair slated to begin early the next morning. Why it took until 11pm the night before interviews made no sense…or maybe it did for schools paying so poorly that they’d prefer to keep it a secret!

To help resolve the problem of concealed pay scales, ISR has added a Salary Range field to our 16-point evaluation rubric that accompanies each school review. Beginning today, all new reviews will display this Salary Range entry:

Yearly salary range for teachers in US dollars

We value your opinions and ideas- ISR invites YOU
to Blog this topic

End of Contract Surprises

Transplanted from the ISR Forum

I was just told I don’t get return airfare of my home of record. Last year, some teachers got it, others didn’t. There is a very unclear, selective policy happening here! Honestly though, I’m not surprised. BLECH!!! Anybody else getting some last minute surprises???

I was promised there’d be a job for me by my principal who said he cleared it with the superintendent. On Monday I found out the other principal had promised it to someone else who is reportedly writing lesson plans already. I love those mornings when you wake up and find yourself in the center of a mine field…

My school hit me with these surprising details for foreign teachers who will be departing: The salaries for June-July-August months will be paid on regular salary days. So I’m leaving with the school still owing me two salary payments. If they chose to default, what then!? Nice, huh?