Are Teachers Who Post to the ISR
Web Site “Disgruntled” Complainers?
It certainly came as a surprise when we discovered two articles about International Schools Review in The International Educator (TIE) newspaper. One article had been written by an anonymous author who dismissed posters to ISR as being “disgruntled” teachers making “outrageous accusations”. This author chose to enjoy the same anonymity he or she claimed to be so unfair on the ISR web site, and even went so far as to warn us of legal reprisals. The author of the second article, Ivan Rosen, took an educated, refreshingly open-minded position and offered some positive suggestions and a method for transforming the ISR web site into what he referred to as, “doing a service”. We would like to encourage further dialogue with Mr. Rosen and invite his input. (see his latest comments dated 03/02/ 2008)
I do want to respond to the accusations made by the anonymous author. It is my hope that this person, and other like-minded individuals, will come to the realization that finger pointing and making threats is not going to solve the very real problems ISR reviews have identified. Problems are solved by working together for a common goal. I believe we all have the same goal in mind and the first step in reaching that goal is admitting a problem exists.
Everyone should first understand that the ISR web site has become what it is because the international teaching community has made it just that. We post what teachers send us. We don’t write reviews and we don’t encourage a particular type of submission. In fact we specifically call for balanced reviews on our submission pages.
When ISR first came into existence we had no way to know the site would host so many negative overseas school reviews. To be honest, we find the statistics alarming! But, with over 2000 reviews on the site (as of January 2009) it is painfully obvious there is more than just a few “disgruntled” employees out there. The Infante Family, who now finds themselves jobless, without a home and health insurance due to unfair labor practices in Mexico City, is just one example of the “disgruntled” employees who have posted their stories to the ISR web site. Do they have a right to be disgruntled? Does a problem exist?
The anonymous TIE newspaper article also reported that some reviews on the ISR web site, “demonstrate a malicious intent and complete disregard for fairness or balance”. From our perspective that sounds more like the consequences suffered by the Infante family and other teachers with whom we are in direct communication. Could it be such comments are the actual recounting of suffered injustices and not simply the machinations of habitual complainers? Some people have been quick to jump to the conclusion that people with advanced degrees who have dedicated their lives to nurturing children simply like to complain. We find this reasoning absolutely without merit and shortsighted. In fact, adopting this point of view towards professionals is as demeaning toward educators as are the schools abroad that mistreat their faculties.
The author of the unsigned TIE article finally advances the idea that “ISR may be surprised to learn a valid lawsuit for libel could be a successful remedy for the destructive, reputation-destroying practices they are inviting and condoning”. From a more realistic perspective: school directors that purposely misrepresent schools, cost of living, health insurance benefits and pay scales, switch contract terms when teachers arrive, provide sub standard housing, retract verbal and written promises, withhold money due teachers and belittle educators in front of colleagues and students are the ones in line to be met with a law suit. After all, recent court decisions supported web sites when posters stepped forward to validate their comments. It was concluded that you couldn’t sue someone for telling the truth. Keep in mind we are not the persons making the comments. We strictly provide a venue.
As I mentioned at the start of this article, the ISR web site is what it is because the international teaching community has made it just that. It is a reflection of a segment of the international teaching community that wants to be heard and see some very real problems resolved. To blindly conclude educated professionals are posting disingenuous reviews is an ignoble way to pretend a problem does not exist. This outlook sounds to me like reclassifying homeless people as “outdoors men” – problem solved! Pretending all school directors are above fault and teachers merely like to complain is not a viable solution.
So, what is the solution to the mistreatment of teachers by schools that host review after review by “disgruntled employees”? One solution is to expose these schools to the international teaching community so they can be avoided until positive changes have been effected. The international teaching community has shaped the ISR web site into just such an instrument and many find it a useful tool to protect the future of their careers, emotional and financial well being. It is paramount to remember that the consequences of finding oneself in an intolerable situation in a foreign country, where limited, if any, rights or recourse exist, is far different than discovering you just can’t hack it working at the 7/11 down the street.
ISR stands ready to post any and all suggestions and to continue to act as a venue through which the profession of international teaching can flourish. We encourage all interested parties to send articles and suggestions. One suggestion we recently received from someone not involved in international teaching, but who has contributed heavily to the success and development of the site is to accompany each review with a rating scale. People familiar with a particular school could then rate a review in terms of their perception of how accurately a particular review depicts the school it represents. A space would also be provided for short comments. The system would function much in the way shoppers currently rate products for sale on various web sites. Of course, this system would only serve to substantiate a review’s authenticity and discredit the idea teachers are submitting disingenuous reviews; still leaving open the discussion of how to remedy the critical problems facing teachers at some schools.
We at ISR believe the overall tenor of the ISR web site will change when the site begins to resonate with the results of positive changes taking place at the schools where problems have been identified. As administrators begin to sit down with their faculty and work together for positive change teachers will begin to feel valued and empowered and the reviews on ISR will reflect these positive changes. Education is not about “us” and “them”. It’s about working together to educate children. It’s about employing higher level thinking skills. I’m “right” and you’re “wrong” is not the result of higher lever skills. Analyzing, synthesizing and creating something new and improved out of what came before is what problem solving is about. And who better to employ these skills in order to make a school all it can be than a group of educators and administrators working together?
The anonymous author in the TIE newspaper concluded by saying that at a minimum they (ISR) better start censoring the more vicious commentaries directed at specific individuals. This rings of I’m “right”, you’re”wrong” and brings to mind the old adage, “the beatings will stop when employee morale improves”. ISR highly recommends the individuals who feel targeted start today to work with their faculty to create an environment that fosters positive reviews.
A viable alternative to meeting face-to-face for teachers who fear reprisals would be for teachers to create a temporary email address to accompany their reviews. Directors could then communicate with posters by contacting us for the email address corresponding to a particular review. This procedure would provide a safe channel of communication between each participant as teachers would not need to reveal their real name to create a temporary mailing address.
As always, ISR is here to serve as the conduit through which the international teaching community can freely communicate. We welcome all comments and suggestions in an effort to move forward as a community of learners and educators.