Directors Who Suppress Criticism – Teacher Responses
Great article! I wish I could have read the survey results from the directors that responded (to the survey you quote). While not perfect, I think ISR is a valuable part of the “research process” when considering schools for future employment. I wish directors would think back to when they were teachers and try to empathize with the teachers that post reviews on the site. If they were made to feel the way they make others feel now, I think they would have followed a similar path if the opportunity were available back then.
Great article – thank you ! I only hope that school directors and administrators take note. My current director has made it only too clear that if we (the staff) are not happy, then we can move on. It was pointed out that when the entire staff left the previous year (isn’t that always a sign ?) it was replaced in entirety without too much of a problem. So, the message to us all is that we are totally replaceable, leave if you want. It does wonders for morale and keeps us motivated, knowing that we are so very valued by our employers and are recognized for our hard work.
It is far more common for teachers who are treated badly by a director/school to say nothing and just move on to a new school than it is for a disgruntled teacher to post a negative review about a school. Unfortunately some directors abandon the values they say their school is teaching students when it comes to dealing with teaching staff. They also forget that teachers have to live with reviews of their performance by directors so it is appropriate that directors also accept that their performance is subject to review and comment, too.
The main reason that the majority of complaints are about administration is that there are very few schools that have true checks and balances for an administrator’s behavior. It’s too bad that the international school scene doesn’t have some sort of code of conduct that would prevent heads and other administrators from abusing their teachers. If there was there would be a lot more “10’s” and a lot less “1’s” on the reviews from teachers.
Kudos to ISR’s standing by teachers’ rights to provide valuable information in a public forum! I agree that a genuinely capable administrator can withstand even the most scurrilous reviews, as it’s part and parcel of the top administrative position. As a simple example, our own administrator’s salary is roughly 60% that of the president of the United States. Speaking in commensurate terms, therefore, I would expect him to be able to withstand a similar level of criticism (be it constructive or otherwise).
Many director is happiest while emailing in their offices and/or discussing issues that are easy to resolve. I was told that I should be delighted that my director’s door is always shut because I probably wouldn’t want to see him sleeping. One has to develop a sense of humor in the midst of isolation. I don’t believe that directors view themselves as leaders of, or allies to, teachers. Most that I have come into contact with recently behave as if teachers are amusing annoyances (e.g., they like to go out drinking with their staff) or tedious burdens (if a teacher actually expects their director to address/acknowledge an issue). I have been blatantly lied to and had another director tell me that my contract didn’t mean what it clearly stated. They are allowed to do this because there is no accountability. If a director lies, who can a teacher tell? I had three great directors early in my international career and I thought they were the standard – how wrong I was!
I think it might also be pertinent to look at some of the educational, hierarchical and leadership cultures prevalent in some other cultures. We have to tread carefully here because some of this can so easily shade into racism. But in some (patriarchal) cultures “leader = bully” and no other possible stance is taken seriously. Sometimes this is because of a culture of corruption (to which you’ve already alluded in your article) which undermines the authority of the leader. In others, it’s a fossilized result of patriarchy and/or a disregard for equality, fairness, transparency, self-criticism or (in some cases) the rule of law. I have to say there are parts of the world in which I would work without hesitation, and others where I would pause and do a good deal of research before thinking of accepting an offer. A sad fact, but one that as international teachers, we work with on a daily basis. And this isn’t including the attitudes to women evinced in many parts of the globe.
Great review of the issue. Let us not forget that these same directors who want everything out in the open get to fill out confidential references for teachers who go to job fairs.
I am not in favour of naming specific people within the text. If the school is named, well, people can do some research. As to directors that bully and harass – well, there are a lot of them in the international system unfortunately. It is very hard to maintain good references over a number of years in international education – especially as a pro-active, energetic teacher. I find it so annoying with directors saying that the “child is at the heart of the school” but then when you get there you find the class size has grown by two or three – resources are poor, etc. When you discuss this and try to improve things, these narrow-minded directors see it as criticism &, well, there goes your reference. Keep it up ISR!
Well-written! As an experienced educator who has had international school experience, I would say this article is reflective of my time overseas. I suspect that many directors of international schools would not/could not be hired in Stateside schools or, if they were hired, would soon be faced with termination due to incompetence and inappropriate leadership. The educational workplace should model what we want for our students: respectful avenues clearly open for resolving conflicts. Educators traveling overseas for employment would do well to heed your advice to obtain as much information about a school—including the practices of its director/principal–prior to leaping. Travel and living abroad are thrilling prospects and provide wonderful memories. To have them tainted by a difficult or untenable work experience would be awful.
When I was emotionally and psychologically upset by how I was treated, continued threats, harassment, and intimidation of this sort, I was told I was ANGRY. To some, PTSD looks like anger, when anger is only a small component to helplessness, frustration and base treatment.
I just showed the fine movie “Stand and Deliver” to my teacher wife who had not seen it. As you know, it is about the now legendary math teacher Jaime Escalante, who took barrio kids from a low level to pass the advance placement test in the United States. I found out by reading about him on the web that he could not have achieved this incredible accomplishment without the support of his administration, who were flexible enough to allow him to set up his program. He eventually decided to leave his high school after the system proved to be inflexible in accommodating the many students who flooded his classes – eager to repeat the success of their fellow students who had passed the tough exam. So when I read about administrators who complain about being criticized by their teachers, who want to suppress dissent, who want gag clauses in contracts, who obviously try to operate in a legal gray zone to deny teachers legal rights in home countries, I wonder, who is kidding who? Are these people really trying to convince us they are operating in the best interests of their schools? OH REALLY! In other words, maybe inflexibility is a sign of a bad administrator when even the best teachers can’t flourish in a restrictive environment! Don’t you think a positive attitude can be declared a universal trait of a good administrator, as opposed to being “situational” as these people will probably argue? You know, they are forced to being repressive by the “impossible” circumstances they face, so they think they are being “realistic”. As most teachers know about low achieving students, the first failure is that of not imagining a different way, a lack of imagination of different possibilities to solve problems in a creative way. But these clown administrators try to convince us “black is white” and to have us believe in their limiting philosophies, because they believe them so thoroughly themselves! How very sad…
Any administrator or school leader who is afraid of criticism, and who want only followers around him who only know to say ‘yes’, is not a leader. Leaders breed leaders in their schools and promote critical thinking among their staff as they do for their students. These so called school leaders are not really leaders, they are simply caretakers who happen to have a degree and people were fooled by their great speech! Board of directors and/or owners of most international schools search for a public figure, a good speaker with a PH.D. from a wonderful university… they do not search for leaders who inspire and who breed leaders around them…and who encourage critical thinking among their faculty to benefit the progress of their schools. This is why we notice on ISR all these teachers are afraid of the consequences of speaking their opinion… every school criticized here is a school where no true leaders exist… there are other international schools never mentioned on this web site because they have true leaders…
Here staff is so intimidated that I dare not reveal the name of the institution, but let’s say contracts are meaningless and we all live under of threat of expulsion from the country with only hour’s notice. There is no process for improving teaching and learning, no forum for open discussion. Appointments are made on criteria other than qualifications and expertise. In fact, to succeed it is essential that you are demonstrably inferior to the director, thus we have an ineffective bunch of “yes” people in key positions in the school and this group have now eradicated or marginalised anyone with superior experience–it’s the worst of 1950’s style management and the definitive case study on how to de-motivate your people. The tragedy is that the strategy is self-fulfilling for the bullyboys and girls at the top who lurch from strength to strength, but the education of the children suffers, there is no process for special needs; and for pupils, teaching is a “slow death by worksheet”.
If you can’t stand the heat, get out of administration. If administrators have no problem sharing information about teachers, why shouldn’t teachers be able to do the same? When I read the posts about schools I have taught at or about administrators I have worked for, there is usually a grain of truth in every posting, whether it is written by someone with an axe to grind, or by an administrator (or one of his supporters) painting a flattering picture of the school. In fact, I took a position at a school that had two or three negative posts about it. I asked the administrator about some of the issues raised in those posts. Rather than dismissing the posters as malcontents, he spoke reflectively about what had transpired. I was not deterred by the posts, but impressed by how the director responded. I am happy I went to this school and while it is not perfect, I renewed my initial two-year contract. I also know of good teachers who have had their careers derailed, fortunately not destroyed, simply because they made too many suggestions about how to improve a school. Rather than embrace their ideas or explain why their ideas were impractical, their insecure administrator felt threatened by them. After receiving years of positive evaluations, these teachers were not offered a new contract. They were given a choice of leaving quietly with a good recommendation or be faced with vindictive and fabricated references meant to destroy their careers if they spoke disparagingly about the school. There are administrators who will resort to slander. Ironically, this is their frequent criticism of ISR. Fortunately for these teachers, they found someone who was either willing to take a chance on them or realized it was a good teacher working for an inept administrator. Yes, hack administrators, your colleagues know who you are.
I look at negative comments as a failure of Directors in “handling” employees. Pure and simple. As a health care person, I think the same thing when I hear physicians whine about the majority of patients who refuse to eat right, exercise, etc. Maybe they should increase their ability to guide patients in the most appropriate direction. So, basically, as one hospital CEO told me, “If an earthquake knocks this hospital down, it’s my fault.”
As teachers do not seem to have a constructive venue to voice concerns to those who are the subject of such concerns without fear of reprisal, I believe they are backed into a corner and sometimes feel that their only source of empowerment comes through a site like this.
I would like to see those more ethical administrators take a prolific role in “policing their own” by advocating for their own set of ethical standards for which they are responsible for and accountable to, with consequences that are fair, judicious and respectful of host country laws. An administrator has the power to notify recruiting agencies when a teacher’s actions are questionable. Does it not stand to reason that a teacher should have the same recourse when warranted?
I would also like to see the accrediting bodies that certify these schools take a more active role since leadership, governance and professionalism are requirements for accreditation.
Like so many things with the internet, the reality lies with the fact that each individual must screen, as best as possible, what is a reasonable complaint against what is an unreasonable complaint, and try and “read” into the personality of the reviewer. For example, if someone says an administrator is “too political” there could be truth to that, but the fact could also be that the person writing was upset because he or she felt slighted. One might say an administrator pushes teachers to work too hard, but the person writing the review could be lazy (and who doesn’t have at least one lazy teacher in his or her school?).
I’m in the minority, I’m sure, but I do feel sorry for administrators who sometimes are criticized on this site. I’ve worked at four schools, and every one of them has had at least one wing nut who flies off the handle at every slight: There isn’t paper in the copy machine? The principal doesn’t have enough educational materials on hand! An administrator doesn’t give a glowing review to someone who “thinks” he or she has worked hard? That principal is abusive!
In the end, this web site is the same as every bar I’ve sat in in a recruiting fair: you get good information, and you get bad information. The key is to sift through and separate the teachers from the lunatics.
The problem is that these are international schools which do not provide the same services as local western school boards. In Canada, if a teacher is suffering from psychological problems, then long-term disability support can be accessed. When this is not available to expats, as is the case in Kuwait, a stressed teacher looking for support has few alternatives but to write ISR with their interpretation of events. It is ISR which must assume responsibility re-publication of these reports which often offer jaundiced and sad viewpoints. I hope that ISR has the integrity to publish this as it seems its purpose is to “stir the pot” rather than resolve issues.
As an international teacher, I find the comments and reviews posted on ISR to be invaluable. Directors who try to censor and regulate what is said are forgetting that even though we may work in many corners of the world, the tenant of free speech still applies. I think it applies even more so in our case, because we do not have unions, are scattered across the globe in institutions that vary greatly in quality and that there is virtually no recourse for us when we are wronged or end up in a less than desirable job.
I think that one important point not to be forgotten is that we do still have reasonable heads on our shoulders. I have often scanned through reviews on ISR when heading to a job fair, or when choosing schools that I may be interested in applying to. Of course there are disgruntled employees who post biased reviews on here–but that was THEIR experience, and therefore their reality. Just because it is negative does not mean that it should be discredited or suppressed. There are also clearly reviews posted on here occasionally which are clearly directors or marketing people who are trying to do damage control or spin the facts. It is notable that no one ever tries to rid the ISR forums of overly positive, exaggerated reviews–only the negative ones. I think it’s crucial that directors remember that the majority of teachers are rational, reasonable people. When I read a very negative review, I can tell that the person is biased. I take their comments with a grain of salt, I don’t take it as gospel. I use all reviews, all comments, whether positive or negative as ONE part of my decision-making process. One negative review would not be the make-or-break for me. But yes, if I see that 7 teachers have taken the time to subscribe and do reviews, then maybe there is more weight to what is being said.
The worst thing directors can do is to try to limit or end these reviews. If anything, it only makes me, as a teacher, suspect that they truly DO have something to hide, and that they feel full suppression is the only way to maintain their reputation. If a school is genuinely well-intentioned and a positive working environment, then that’s all it should take–the fact that they exist, in light of glowing or not-so glowing reviews, speaks volumes. Those directors who wish to suppress that make me more suspicious of what they are hiding, more suspicious than any negative review would make me!
This is an interesting article and raises a number of very valid points, however when you continue to accept posts on your site that are quite clearly inaccurate at best, or downright libelous at worse, I am surprised that you expect Directors and Head teachers to accept them without feeling that their school and/or their professional reputation is being harmed and responding accordingly.
Recently, I wrote a private email to you asking why you had posted a negative comment on a school in Europe, which was over a year old and referred to a DIRECTOR WHO HAD LONG GONE and so was therefore not relevant or asked you to explain its relevance. Initially you denied that there was a posting for that school and since I have sent you the link I have not heard back from you. ISR NOTE: We needed more information to find the review in question and wrote to ask you for that information. To answer your question, please see our article entitled: Should Old Reviews Be Deleted when a New Director Takes Charge?
Surely this is very much a case of having your cake and eating it at the same time, considering the fact that you seem to champion teachers’ causes without question? Are you not aware of the fact that there are often at least two sides to every argument?
I agree with your final paragraph where you suggest that the teacher should do their homework to ensure that they do not end up in a school with a “bad” reputation or with a less than able Director, and I concede that you mention this on a number of occasions, but by making it clear that you are championing the views of teachers you are not giving the whole picture.