Dear Dr. Spilchuk…

June, 2011

Reneging on My Contract

Dear Dr. Spilchuk,

I have read many of your articles on the International Schools Review web site, and have a problem of my own I would like some advice on.

I accepted a teaching position at a school in China, this is after they decided to add an extra class. I did have some misgivings — the position is not my area of specialty, the school is very small, is not well-known, and does not offer the usual benefits other international schools in Asia do — I accepted as it was getting quite late in the recruiting season.

I signed, scanned and emailed them the contract last week. However, I have since been contacted by a former colleague who has offered a literal once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to teach my specific area of specialty in a school and city I have always considered as an unattainable dream.

I understand I will be putting the Chinese school in a very tough position, considering we are in the final month of the current school year. However, every fibre of my being is pushing me towards the new position as it is a rare opportunity I will not get again.

The Chinese school is not a ‘major player’ on the international schools circuit, and I found the job in a Chinese newspaper. But they joined Search Associates last year, and I am a SA candidate. Can they contact SA and tell them about my breaking contract, even though this particular position was not advertised with SA?

Thanks for your advice,
In a Quandary

Hello In a Quandary,

Since this school is a Search Associates school and you are a SA candidate, the school does have the ability to complain to SA about you for reneging on your contract. The fact that you did not sign the contract through SEARCH makes their complaint less toxic, to be sure. Likely SEARCH would not blackball you for walking out on this contract. However, I do suspect that some mark will go in your SA record that may give other schools the heads up that you are a person who is prepared to break contract. To be safe, I would call your SA rep and ask that person the question directly. Were I you, I would stick out the year and hope that the other position or a similar one could be found next year.


Responses to This Column

Dr. Spilchuk: I would give the China school a miss. Go where you will be happy. Happiness is paramount.

I would break the contract and take the “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity without a second thought, if it truly is such a position. The school in China probably has, or can find, someone who wants the job more than you. I believe that there are many qualified people still out there. It is a risk that accepting the new offer could cause problems further down the road, but if you don’t take the risk you may always be wondering “what if?”.

Dear Dr. Spilchuk,
While I agree with your assessment of the situation, I do not agree with your final advice. I’ve now been in China 5 years. Three years with a 2nd-tier foreign-run Int’l school and then two years working within the newly forming Chinese state-sponsored int’l school system that are now turning up on Western recruiting sites. They are not the same animals at all. The benefits, work expectations and conditions, etc. are vastly different. If ‘In a Quandary’ is unsure now, she/he will probably be very unhappy with the reality. Given that the position was not listed with SA and that ‘Quandary’ found the position without the help of SA is technically important. While the school might use SA to penalize the teacher, I’m not sure they would have paid SA a finder’s fee since SA was not in the hiring loop. It’s all about the money here.

I have attended a number of SA fairs and I’ve decided that it is not in a teacher’s best interest to let a single recruiter dictate terms. SA is supposed to work for teachers as well as the schools. I’ve been disappointed in the care SA takes of its teachers and there are plenty of recruiting firms out there offering different business models.

Personally, I would go with the better offer. With luck, ‘Quandary’ could easily spend many happy years at a school she/he loves. When they next go recruiting, find another service.

I would take your dream job now. Recruitment agencies are just one way of securing work, as you know by researching through the Chinese papers yourselves. Don’t submit yourself to the strangle hold of the recruiters. You can easily find work independently with e mails, skype and so on. Recruiting fairs are one sided. They do not help to uphold contracts so often broken by schools, yet are willing, at the drop of a hat, to blackball teachers. Fairs are a for profit business. Leave their snare and find work through your own efforts. Good luck.

I disagree with the advice. Yes, it would certainly be in the school’s best interest if you honored the contract you only signed last week, but it is not in your best interest. And I have discovered in 15+ years of international teaching that the only one looking after your best interest is *you*. The recruiting agencies these days do not vet the schools as well as they could. It is buyer beware and many of these “international” schools are local schools in all but the name–you probably got that vibe from the school you signed with. In fact, you didn’t get the job through SA so it is not their concern anyway. I would take your dream job. And frankly, if SA gave you problems about it in the future you could go with ISS or CIS. Many schools are now skyping and hiring outside of fairs anyway. The Chinese school still has the summer job fairs to hire in. Look after *you*! No one else will.

I wouldn’t bail. My personal moral position puts keeping my promises very high on the list. Your mileage may vary. And, while you have two visions of the future here — the job in hand, and the dream job — visions have a way not working out how you thought they would. Try to avoid giving in to fantasy.– China Teacher

Nope, I’d take the dream job and not look back. I have learned through bitter experience that loyalty to schools is not always ready to be repaid.

Of course Search will put this teacher on a black list. The contract you sign with Search infers this. This teacher has signed and should honor his/her contract. Or at very least contact the school administration of the school in China and ask to be released from the contract.

I disagree with Dr. Spilchuk’s reply. I honestly think that if your dream job came open, you should NOT stick out the year in China and hope for the best. It’s not the best situation all around, but it does happen at times that better offers come along. This is the real world and the 21st century. Schools have to understand that you must put your loyalty with yourself first. The schools put their loyalty with themselves first, students and parents second and teachers third. I am sure you will get plenty of responses from schools refuting what I have written, but again you must do what’s best for you first.
Joe C

Don’t be a fool, take the dream job and stay for years. At the point, it won’t matter that you never went to China.

Take the other job. International schools get people breaking contracts and just plain old ‘not showing up’ all the time. The school in China will deal with it just fine, probably without any compliant at all to Search or anyone else. Send them a nice letter ASAp and you’ll be fine.

You answered your own question Barb. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, and you have only one life apportioned to you. It’s not exactly honourable, but I wouldn’t give up a year of my life for a job I haven’t started yet.

Dear Dr. Spilchuk, I must tell you that maybe my word should be my bond, but the Chinese as a nation are not exactly a democracy and that is why I AVOID CHINA LIKE THE PLAGUE. I wouldn’t go to China except Taiwan , if you paid me a million dollars you don’t help a government that kills it’s own people to improve it’s prospects. It would be the same as being a teacher and going to Nazi Germany in the late 1930’s sorry, but I have a conscience, young people today don’t know or care about history the issue isn’t a contract the issue is freedom especially of speech. If I want to say while I’m in a Social Studies class that today’s government of China has similar policies to Nazi Germany or Russia under Stalin I would probably be arrested, so academic freedom and freedom of speech means nothing that is why China should basically be boycotted. I know the ordinary people would suffer, but I can’t work with monsters. Lets just say when you have had grandparents with tattooed numbers you don’t work and help evil remember the student facing down the tank in Tianimen Square. EVIL! is not to be helped in my book at all. My advice to IN A QUANDRY tell the Chinese school see you later and SA who I am not a client of or a fan to get over it.


STAND UP FOR DECENCY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This political response about China is the opinion of this teacher and not my opinion. I very much appreciate the Chinese people and their culture…and I have enjoyed working in China, having done so frequently. Dr. Spilchuk

Take the dream job. After many years of teaching overseas it is disheartening to see the graft, corruption, dishonesty, poor treatment of staff and so on… at all levels in many schools. Take the job; it won’t be perfect either, but you won’t be beating yourself up.

Unfortunately, Dr. Spilchuk, ‘dream’ jobs are not a ‘dime a dozen’. To only ‘hope’ that a similar position might be found next year is unfounded advise, in these difficult financial times. As someone who has been on the ‘circuit’ for years, schools will find someone to fill the position, especially the type of school the writer refers to (these jobs in China are a ‘dime a dozen’.) I wish the writer the best of luck with their dream job and wouldn’t think twice, either about the Chinese school or, for that matter, SEARCH.

Take the dream job! You have to be happy at work and this chance does not come along every year. I know countless people who break contracts because they are unhappy. You can’t do it two years in a row. Write them a a nice letter and take the other position.

Here are a couple of things to consider:
1) The Chinese school had a 2nd and maybe third choice candidate in the wings,
2) They might be very understanding if you called them and explained that you had second thoughts and have decided to annul the contract for personal reasons.
3) SA blackballs teachers at will, without doing sod all to hear both sides of the story so don’t get them involved at all…they’d drop you like a hot potatoes IF it helped their bottom line. I am speaking from experience.
4) Does your colleague at the ¨dream school¨ know you signed another contract? If not, telling them could ruin your chances and is information they don’t need. I hope they don’t deal with SA!

Take the Dream Job.
I am in Admin “at a school in China, that is very small, is not well-known, and does not offer the usual benefits other international schools in Asia do” — I can already predict that if the Chinese school is altering your teaching duties while you are working through the contract, then it is not a stable/developed enough school in which to invest your life. Simple proof? That this late in the hiring season the school still has a slightly undefined teaching position available. Enjoy the adventure of your dream job.
KB in Beijing

Good advice Barb.
In a Quandry, honour the contract and take the job in China. You accepted the position so do the right thing.
What if you fall out with your friend and your ‘Dream Job’ becomes a nightmare.

May I ask, once in a lifetime? If so certainly the decision is CLEAR!!! It is simple to say,the school in China will survive.SEARCH though are reliant on the professionalism of their candidates. Question for Barb,have you worked in China?

For the teacher who has asked if I’ve worked in China…yes,many times – Dr. Spilchuk.

I would accept the “dream” job. Things do often come about once in a lifetime. If the open door is not walked through, it may haunt you the rest of your career….more than a broken contract. After all, if you perform well in the “dream” job, that reference will be the stronger light to shine.

I am in similar situation. I signd a contact a few months ago then received an offer I could not refuse. I though it was a tough step to make , I decided to accept the second job offer. I just contacted the first school to inform them and apologize. As expected, the response was very angry and I was accused of being unprofessional. There was an veiled threat about the International market being small and how that might affect me. I know I could have handled the whole situation better but I didn’t. Should I worry I might be blacklisted or even have my new contract voided if my new school hears about my actions?

Dear Similar situation…please contact me directly at – Dr. Spilchuk

Dr. Spilchuk,
I am in a similar position. I have hired a young new teacher “Newbee” (a friend of a current teacher). We signed the contract last week. But I have now had an All-Star teacher apply for the same position. I would really like to hire the All-Star and break the contract with Newbee. I know that the students will do so much better with the All Star! What do you think?

— Obviously the above scenario is made up. But I hope it makes a point. I appreciate the advise that you gave “In a Quandary”. Can the teacher break the contract? Certainly. Should the teacher expect to be able to break the contract with no consequences? No. The extent of consequences will vary and are besides the point as are the points being made about China, SA, or following your heart.

If this is the ” once in a lifetime ” opportunity is something that you have always wanted, then of course, go for it. You just have to make sure that you shine in this opportunity so that references are solid. In a few years, the first school (whose contract you have broken or will break) will forget unless you have caused major problems with them. Schools receive so many applications just in one year! Even if they kept your file electronically and placed ” black listed ” all over it, would it matter after two years when you have the experience from a ” once in a lifetime ” opportunity job? Not really, because I highly doubt that you would be applying to the same school. Even if this Chinese school warned all other schools about you and sent faxes or e-mails with your entire resume and picture, do you really think that those schools would keep tabs on such, especially after a few years? Administrators at those other schools will be too busy handling their own work and hiring dilemmas. Furthermore, administrators come and go and the new one might not have even heard of you. I have to honestly say that the best way of looking for jobs is to do it the ” old-fashioned ” way. Direct contact with the school, straight e-mail to the HR department or the Head himself. He will read your resume and if he likes it he will call you. If he doesn’t, then it just goes to the trash. I highly doubt that the Head of the school or the HR department will investigate the CV BASED ON WHETHER YOU HAVE BEEN BLACKBALLED BY ANOTHER SCHOOL. They might not even have the system in place to do that! As someone who has worked in project management and has a family who is involved in designing systems for major corporations, such types of databases or in-house platforms that list down people’s names to do searches on APPLICANTS are not the main concerns of international schools. And if they did have such systems, they will only have the candidates that they are interested in. (Imagine being the HR or Head of a school and inputting electronically, every single candidate that comes through his inbox to build a database of clients! ). To close off the comment, blackballing may stick to your record depending on how long you have worked at the school and what heinous act you have done to anger them. But, blackballing BEFORE you even begin the contract in the hiring game will eventually be forgotten. All you are is a resume with a picture attached.

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