Received 03/02/08. Posted at request of Forrest Broman of TIE
TO: The Editor, International Schools Review
From: Ivan Rosen
Re.: Are Teachers That Post to the ISR Web Site Just “ Disgruntled” Complainers?
While I appreciate the positive comments about my recent article in TIE, as I wrote, “I do not wish to promote ISR” and wish to make clear that I am in substantial agreement with the editorial that appeared in the same issue of TIE.
To quote from my article: “The stress here is on “unfair” (no one wants to see incompetent or unprofessional conduct perpetuated). The problem is sorting out unfairly treated schools or directors from the few who may be deserving of criticism. There are several specific situations where heads attacked in ISR have had their job prospects seriously compromised after naive school board members have taken the most scurrilous statements at face value.”
Are there international schools or directors that should be avoided? Certainly.
Are some teachers just disgruntled complainers? Certainly.
Do these two comments apply to all schools and teachers? Of course not. No one wants to endorse schools that do not honor contracts, nor see incompetent administrators or teachers perpetuated in the system. Taken as a whole ISR, however, through postings by individuals (with notable exceptions) and in specific articles, clearly leaves the impression that it is an advocate for teachers in opposition to administrators who are assumed to be incompetent, hostile or wrong.
As a colleague used to say, “Even the thinnest pancake has two sides” and readers need to always keep that in mind. Using the Infantes from your article as an example, ISR hosts a number of links supporting their side of the story. For ethical and legal reasons, it is understandable why the American School Foundation of Mexico City has not responded, so one is not able to judge whether their firing was justified or not. Based on what is known, that this family broke one contract and was fired from the next, there may be legitimate issues at play not known to the general public.
In traveling to recruiting fairs such as Mr. Infante did, to distribute fliers to candidates warning them away from ASF, does this constitute an admirable attempt to assist prospective teachers or a one-sided vendetta against the school? I have no basis for judgment, but there is clearly an abundance of emotion here and more heat than light.
In another example, from last summer, the advocacy of ISR regarding the Katherine Phillips situation thrust the website into entirely new territory when they advised teachers to break contract and boycott schools in Kuwait.
This stems from the highly regrettable and reprehensible situation in which a school administrator (Ms. Phillips) was prevented from leaving Kuwait allegedly due to the action of an influential Kuwaiti who was upset over her handling of a discipline issue involving his son. Several days later, she was allowed to leave but has reportedly been banned from traveling anyplace in the GCC.
Stories of foreigners running afoul of powerful host-country citizens have been legend in the Middle East for years . . . and in many other parts of the world, if truth were told. But considering there are thousands (literally) of teachers employed annually without incident in Kuwait, these are isolated events and it becomes clear that the representatives of the International Schools Review website overreacted when they posted on their website:
“In response to this action we continue to encourage all teachers/administrators to contact their Kuwaiti Schools, calling for an immediate resolution of Katherine Phillips’ situation, one that would lift her travel ban.
We further encourage all teachers/administrators in Kuwaiti Schools to consider not returning to Kuwait or honoring their contracts in Kuwait until this situation has been resolved. To our knowledge, two principals have resigned as did one teacher.”
Subsequent to this situation, the Kuwaiti Ministry of Education announced plans to ban expatriates from working as administrators in private schools, in favor of local national staff. While this edict may have been under consideration for sometime and a direct cause and effect not drawn, the thinking and timing of the announcement is obvious: if Kuwaitis had been in charge, then these situations would never occur and Kuwait would not suffer from bad publicity.
Many other countries have similar rules and in practice what will happen is either the new edict will be quietly ignored and soon forgotten or the current expatriate school Directors and Principals will find their titles changed, while still doing their usual administrative work. But, more bureaucracy and cost will have been added to the burden of administering schools.
International schools operate in the free market place when competing for teachers and, with a static pool of candidates and the expanding number and size of schools over the past few years, that market has gotten more and more competitive. By it’s actions, the Kuwaiti government has not helped schools operating within its borders.
Bringing incidents such as this, even when isolated, into public view is a valuable service: teachers entering into contracts need to do so with their eyes wide open. This includes understanding country or cultural factors outside the ability of a school to control. Every teacher has their own comfort level with risk and should not venture beyond it.
Thus, it is one thing for ISR to editorialize advising teachers not to consider working in Kuwait: it is entirely another when they advise breaking an existing contract. While international school administrators view contracts as two sided and sacrosanct, the ISR website seems to start with assuming the negative: that administrators are the “enemy”, that teachers are victims, that recruiting agencies are only “in it for the money”, etc.
EXAMPLE: In June 2007, a featured adviser of unknown experience on the website, Dr. Spilchuk, replied to a teacher (“Sasha”) who asked if accepting a contract by email was legally binding? She began her answer by asking if the person was “a SEARCH or ISS candidate? This is critical information because . . . both of these organizations will blackball teachers who renege on their contracts.” Leading with such a paragraph and using an emotionally loaded word such as “blackball” sets a very negative tone and ignores the fact that reneging on an agreement is unethical and deserves penalties.
Dr. Spilchuk went on to state that “Acceptance by email is legally binding” and she gave advise which would have been good had it been given BEFORE the teacher accepted the contract. In fact, after reading Dr. Spilchuk’s advise, Sasha unilaterally withdrew her contract acceptance, placing the school in a very poor position.
Most teachers working abroad are sophisticated enough to accept the mainly anonymous information on ISR for what it is worth, but until better advise and a more balanced picture of Heads and schools emerges from the Forum and the pernicious School Reviews section, the damage will be done to teachers who are applying overseas for the first time and who have no background to interpret what they read.
As an example, “kathryn3” posted the following in the Forum: “I review the web site frequently, and find it fascinating. I have wanted to teach overseas, but because of the unjust treatment of teachers in many of the countries, I have yet to do so. Here in the US we have a union we can go to.”
Someone replied: “kathryn3, your instincts serve you well. You should remain stateside.” While true for kathryn3, the overall message from ISR is discouraging to teachers thinking of working abroad.