International Schools Review was uploaded to the Internet for the first time in November of 2003. Within days, reports began trickling in about schools with unsavory practices — classroom sets of photo-copied textbooks and bootlegged software, extremely poor facilities and lacking classroom materials, censored or absent Internet connectivity, along with a plethora of other financial woes. If you have overseas living and working experience you may consider these occurrences merely “business as usual” in the developing world.
What did alarm us, in those early days, were reports of schools that operated much like small fiefdoms — owners and directors making and breaking contract provisions at will, firing staff with little or no cause, using intimidation and bullying tactics on teachers, withholding paychecks and vacation time, and in general, violating labor laws that would have put them quickly into jail in the US. Teachers who questioned or resisted were branded as troublemakers. Some educators were even expelled from countries under threat of harm or incarceration. Those who resorted to the “midnight runner” had their professional files put on blackball status, potentially never to work overseas again. All with the additional kick in the seat of an utter lack of support from recruiting agencies, who in those days almost always sided with the schools.
Some school directors questioned the validity of anonymous reviews posted by teachers. For the first time, international schools and directors were being held accountable by their staff — some directors complained it took just one “disgruntled” teacher to smear the reputation of a “great” school. International Schools Review had lent a voice to disenfranchised educators and disreputable international schools and directors were no longer irreproachable. Word spread of schools to avoid.
Fast forward to 2010: ISR received scattered reports throughout the year about “International Schools” that take advantage of their teaching staff for monetary gain. Reports of schools recruiting teachers into developing countries that offer little or no enforceable labor laws, simply to use them as commodities for bilking wealthy parents out of costly tuition money were not uncommon. Creating a pretend, moneymaking “international school” is easy—simply parade a bunch of white faces and educational degrees in front of parents and stress that their children will receive a top US-based education —- bank the tuition money and purchase few if any books and supplies. Once the academic year is under way, have the international staff sign new, far less generous contracts written in the local language, which (they can’t read and unbeknownst to them) is the only contract the host country will recognize. As a finishing touch, include a clause that says teachers will pay the equivalent of a $5000 penalty should they break contract. To insure the terms of the contract are met, hold teachers’ passports for “safekeeping in the school safe”. Leaving just became nearly impossible. When it comes to unscrupulous schools taking advantage of international educators, little has changed since 2003.
You could say you’ll avoid certain countries where the risk of such practices can be higher. That sounds like a good idea but will it work? ISR recently posted reports of a school in Germany in which the owner not only cheated US teachers out of loads of money, but was even indicted for instructing the cafeteria staff to scrape left-over food from children’s’ plates and recycle it into the next day’s meal. To escape, some teachers from this school went to homeless shelters and had to rely on their embassies to get them home.
A “gentleman” in Spain had an even simpler, more devious, idea. Rather than actually bringing teachers to Spain, he took a photo of a local private school and used it to advertise for an international staff. Once “hired”, a letter followed requesting a copy of the teacher’s passport, substantial money to cover a work visa and the first/last month’s rent on an apartment the school would “secure” prior to arrival—all a scam. ISR continues to be littered with reviews outlining equally dishonest practices.
As you investigate international schools, it’s one thing to expect power outages, high heat or humidity, lack of school supplies, slow Internet, lousy roads and air quality, limited shopping or dating potential, and other amenities many of us may or may not find unsettling. It’s quite another situation to discover you’ve been scammed and taken advantage of by a questionable school.
Skip forward to 2012: Do your homework and know what you’re committing to before you sign a teaching contract. Ask the school director for a contact list of the entire faculty and pick a few staff members to contact at random. Frequent the ISR web site often and visit the varied forums dedicated to international teaching. Revisit and read the International Educators’ Bill of Rights here on ISR.
ISR urges you to research, research, research and research some more before you accept a position with any International School. You’ve worked hard to earn your degrees. You deserve the Letters of Reference you’ve received as a result of your commitment to furthering the education of young people. There are fine International Schools in every country of the world and ISR is full of reviews expounding their praise—schools that hold to high educational standards, with an outstanding administration, benefits and facilities. Don’t let your enthusiasm overshadow common sense. Don’t allow yourself to be rushed. Ethical schools and directors will understand your concerns and work with you.
Don’t Leave Your Career to Chance! Do Your Homework Well!
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