China School Inquisition

September 12, 2013

blame7816329finalDear ISR, After just a few weeks into the school year someone has posted  a nasty review of my school on ISR. Actually it’s not really all that bad. I  would say it’s pretty spot on.

To come to the point, the board chair showed up at school on Monday with two attorneys and launched an all-out inquisition to find out who wrote the review. They were calling us into the director’s office one-at-a-time and interrogating us, claiming they know who wrote the review.  It’s obvious they don’t have a clue but they’re aggressive and convincing, leaving some staff in tears.

The director, who is the board chair’s lap dog, says he has a good friend at ISR who will tell  him who wrote the review. Could this be true? I would like to hear from ISR: Is this possible?

ISR Reply: Even if your Director planted his brother on our staff he could not find out who wrote the Review. Our anonymous submission forms are set up to protect an author’s identity. They are 100% anonymous. The only person who knows who wrote a particular Review is the author him/herself.

So far they haven’t formally accused anyone of posting the review. Who knows what they will  try next! I see from reading reviews that other teachers have been through this ugly scenario. One reviewer said their admin was on a witch hunt to flush out whoever dared to write a negative review. It would be reassuring and morale boosting for us at the school to learn about other teachers’ experiences in this arena and how they dealt with it as a faculty. Any support or help through this situation would be very much appreciated.

Sincerely, (name withheld)


Does Teaching Overseas Help or Hurt Your Career?

September 5, 2013

career42987091With the current academic year underway, many international schools will soon be asking teachers to declare if they intend to stay for the upcoming 2014-15 school year, or plan to move on.

Moving on can mean staying in the international circuit and advancing to a new school, or returning home to teach. From my perspective of having experienced both, I would say continuing to move within the international circuit is far less taxing than formulating plans to return home. The biggest hurdle I experienced moving home was securing employment in a public school after a decade overseas.

A colleague from the UK once told me that working overseas was a distinct plus for them when they returned home. They said employers there liked to see the overseas experience on an applicant’s CV. I did not found this to be the case in the U.S. As a matter of fact, I think to American employers, overseas experience makes you look a bit “flaky” or could this just be American provincialism? When I hear the words, “I’d love to hear about your experiences in Africa, Saudi Arabia, Romania, etc.”, I know I can say good bye to that job.

If you’ve experienced moving home after years of teaching overseas, ISR invites you to Share how the overseas teaching experience impacted your domestic career: Was it positive or negative, or of no consequence in the eyes of a potential employer back home?

If you’re contemplating leaving the international circuit and returning home for the first time, we encourage you to visit this Blog and pose your own questions as they may apply to your individual situation. Learning from colleagues who have already made the move will be most beneficial.

Teachers Keeping Teachers Informed is what ISR is All About

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School Daze in China

August 29, 2013

Dear ISR, I just moved to China and have to tell you that this is my very first experience out of Australia and I’m in over my head. I came here expecting one thing and got another. Nothing is as the director said it would be at the conference. I feel super deceived and don’t know what to do.

My apartment is small and in a not-so-good part of town. No one around me speaks a word of English and they stare at me as if I were from another planet. Actually, I’m starting to feel like I am from another planet. The food is strange, the air stinks, my eyes hurt and I already know this isn’t going to be good for my allergies.

The director painted a picture of a garden spot–this is a hell hole. Now what? I’m sure my experience is not unique. I wish I had discovered your web site before I took this job. Has anyone at ISR been in this position? I could use some advice!


The Fatal Faux Pas

August 22, 2013

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  by Michelle / ISR Columnist

Universal consensus has it that our world is rapidly becoming smaller and smaller with communication and news now available to everyone, everywhere at every single moment of our lives. But for international teachers, new locales and near continuous worldwide travel sets us up for some truly susceptible and embarrassing moments where it might take days for the blushing to stop. Here’s one such story:

The school year was about to begin at this, my second international school. A few days earlier the board arranged a PR event (with newspaper photographers and reporters) to introduce new students and their families to the community, while also spotlighting the new faculty. All of us new teachers joined the families on stage to present our brightest and most eager smiles for the photographers before the social activities to follow.

As everyone was getting situated on stage I noticed a child who looked to be about a second grade student hidden behind the adults. Gently but firmly I ushered this child toward the front of the group, thinking that surely the parents and this shy child would want to be included in the photo. I looked up, smiled and said to the parents standing nearby, “Your little girl is so lovely. I’m sure you’d want her to be in front, yes?” My comment was met with deadpan stares and silence as the photographer continued his clicking racket without pause. The child moved forward and looked up at me with gorgeous eyes and a slow, easy smile.

Once the photographers were finished we left the stage, back to the front rows of the gathering to listen to the congratulatory speeches as another teacher leaned forward to hiss in my ear, “That is a boy. His family is Sikh. The covering over his hair is part of their religion.” Oh. My. God. At that point I wanted to melt into my seat, hoping desperately for a nearby hole to crawl into.

His long hair, gathered into a topknot and enclosed with a small elasticized bonnet, along with those long, wickedly beautiful eyelashes had completely fooled me. For days I remained embarrassed, thinking my colleagues must be positive I’d just fallen off the cultural turnip-truck. It was a rocky start to a new country, a new school, and new set of colleagues.

Whether it’s awkward social situations, miscommunications in the local language, or a world of other hurts large and small, we’ve all experienced the occasional embarrassing situation. Stay in touch with your colleagues around the world to compare notes on how to keep yourself out of fatal faux pas disasters, here on ISR!

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My Experience at International School Lusaka

July 18, 2013

 ISR received the following comments from the teacher involved in this incident

(9-25-2014) “I’m happy to report that the matter between myself and ISL “The International School of Lusaka, Zambia” has been settled privately.”

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My Experience at International School Lusaka

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“…..To my utter disbelief, I saw that the government had first rejected my work permit application on June 12, 2012. I was NEVER notified of this, and, in fact, Mr. Bowen lied to me all fall term saying I needed to be patient until it was approved. Then there were notes that my work permit was rejected again in July, and a third time in August. Again, ISL never notified me of this. Instead, they brought my family and myself to Zambia in August with FULL knowledge that I would be unable to work…. beyond belief.”

Dear Dr. Spilchuk,
I am writing to inform you of the atrocious treatment my children and I received from the International School of Lusaka, Zambia (hereafter “ISL”), and most specifically by Mr. Phil Bowen, Acting Head of School during the 2012-13 school year. ISL violated my contract and to this day has refused to pay severance as per contract. I would ask that you warn others.  Read More

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Schools that Throw Teachers Under the School Bus

July 11, 2013

schoolbus1685625You 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 visit the ISR Schools That Throw Teachers Under the School Bus BLOG and 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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Qatar Academy Teacher Jailed Over Alleged Insults to Islam

May 9, 2013

Doha News  reports on May 9, 2013:

“Dorje Gurung, a chemistry teacher at Qatar Academy, was seen this morning leaving the court in handcuffs. If convicted, Article 256 of the Penal Code dictates that he could face up to seven years in jail.

“On Monday, April 22, Gurung said he had a sit-down chat with three 12-year-old boys who were making fun of him. Among other things, the seventh graders poked fun at his appearance, calling him ‘Jackie Chan.’ On Tuesday, April 23, the mocking again began in earnest while Gurung was in line for lunch. At first, he said the teasing was light-hearted, but then one student put his hand on Gurung’s shoulder and a finger up his nose. At this point, Gurung grew agitated and said remarks to the effect of ‘How would you like to be stereotyped i.e. called a terrorist?'”

The Qatar Academy confirms that after formal complaints were made ‘appropriate’ action was taken. Doha News reports: “On Wednesday, April 24, Gurung had a meeting with school management. On Thursday, April 25, he submitted his account of what happened and was told to go home. On Sunday, April 28, he was fired.”

A Qatar Academy colleague, who asked to remain anonymous, told Doha News that the ordeal has had a ‘chilling effect’ on faculty members:

“A lot of teachers are very nervous about their own jobs. If they reprimand or discipline students, what’s going to happen to them?

“It’s all very unfortunate. These 12-year-olds have really spun it out. Almost every year, a teacher has been let go for obscure reasons. Everyone is really upset and anxious.”

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