You assume that when you’re teaching in a foreign country, your school will take some responsibility for your well-being. We believe most schools will. But, history shows some schools will throw you under the school bus for the “good of the organization.” As despicable as it sounds, there are International Schools and Directors who will sacrifice your well-being to placate wealthy parents and protect the school image they’ve worked so hard to create.
Recently, at Qatar Academy, Qatar, Dorje Gurung (science teacher) was misquoted by a group of twelve-year olds. Based on Dorje’s account of the incident, it appears the school, headed by Eric Sands, threw him under the school bus when he was accused of insulting Islam and thereafter jailed for ten days.
From the Dorje Gurung Blog:
The (third) meeting with the Director (Eric Sands) was held on Sunday, April 21. Both the Director and the Principal (Mike Hitchman) were there. The Director started the meeting by asking me if I had anything to say. I realized then that whatever I said would make very little difference to the decision he appeared to have already made. So I said, “No.” The Director told me I was dismissed. Furthermore, he told me, I would lose out on five-month equivalent of salary-cum-benefits. I was a little disappointed, not for being dismissed, but for losing the money. I asked if he could do anything about the monies, adding how I had been counting on them. He couldn’t.
Dorje’s story is not unique. On June 13, 2007, the middle school principal at Al-Bayan Bilingual School, Kuwait (under the direction of Dr. Brian McCauly) was on her way home to spend the summer months with family. At airport immigration, however, Kuwaiti officials detained her, enforcing a travel ban placed on her by the wealthy parent of a student. By court order she had been banned from leaving the country. The powerful Kuwaiti man who had initiated the travel ban later threatened he would “destroy” her, all because she had sent his son to in-school suspension for fighting on campus. To this parent, an in-school suspension and Guantanamo Bay were one and the same. On her own in Kuwait with no one to turn to, she contacted ISR’s Dr. Spilchuk who, with the full support of ISR, came to her aid and helped her secure safe passage out of Kuwait.
You might be tempted to say, These incidents are just isolated cases. The truth is they are not! A teacher who worked in Guatemala shared the following story with ISR:
I was teaching in Guatemala when an unfortunate incident took place. I had turned my back to write on the white-board when a middle school boy took advantage of the moment to crawl under the table with scissors in hand, stabbing another student in the leg. I was later called into the office to meet with the director and the boy’s dad (a very prominent military man and big-wig). The first question out of the director’s mouth was, “What is it about you that incites children in your class to act this way?” Needless to say this conversation was the beginning of the end for me at this school.
A teacher who worked in Thailand relates a similar story of betrayal by his School Director:
I was told that I would “take the fall” if anything came of a particular incident…. I had pointed my finger at a 3rd grade boy, saying in a stern voice to stop what he was doing (tapping & poking another student). The child began to cry. When the classroom teacher came to pick up her class, she noticed the boy’s red eyes and asked me, “What has he been up to now!?”
This 3rd grade teacher reported that I had traumatized the child. I requested a Korean translator (The school had a large Korean student body) so the child could relate exactly what had happened. The director refused the request saying he wanted to keep this “hush, hush” from the Korean community. He also told the me that if anything came of it, I would be fired.
As it turned out, the boy related the entire event to his mother who came to school to set the record straight about this misunderstanding. The director later told me I was lucky to have kept my job.
It appears we have the makings of a problem when you put wealthy parents with clout together with a school Director bent on keeping them happy at any cost to their faculty. That’s not to say all schools and Directors will sacrifice teachers for the “good” of the organization. Many will stand up for you when you’re in the right, and ease the blow when you’re in the wrong. They run the place like an institution of learning and not a country club for spoiled children. As we see it, a PhD does not make a leader–Leading is about character, vision and integrity, respect and a sense of right and wrong. These things can’t be taught in a course. Some people have it. Others not so much.
When you go overseas to teach you’re immersing yourself in a culture with rules, customs, procedures, expectations and a legal system beyond the scope of your immediate understanding. It’s easy to lull yourself into thinking you’re safe and sound when you’re not. It’s important to know who you are working for and if you can count on them. ISR hosts many reviews from teachers that say their Director/Principal always sides with the parents and the kids. We encourage you to share your experiences with colleagues. If you are comfortable in naming the School and Director feel free to do so. The two teachers in our example of Guatemala and Thailand asked their names and the school names to be removed.
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