Dear Dr. Spilchuk…
Resigning Your Position
Dear Dr. Spilchuk,
I was reading the International Schools Review web site and came across your article “Moving On Is A Difficult Road To Walk”, about breaking teaching contracts abroad. I have a somewhat related topic that I would welcome your advice on.
Last September I took a position as a high school mathematics teacher in Egypt. It was a nightmare position from the beginning. I taught 5 sections of general level grade 10 geometry. These particular grade 10s had been a disciplinary disaster for the previous 4 years, driving 5 of their previous teachers to quit, starting with 2 of their grade 6 teachers. I was given no administrative backup whatsoever, leaving me powerless to control the 25% of the students who were hard core disciplinary problems. Any students sent out of the classroom would return a few minutes later, unapologetic, and without any consequences. It was a for-profit school, so the owner was reluctant to expel or suspend students as it would involve a large monetary loss. In the end, realizing that the harder I worked the fewer results I achieved and that nobody was in a position to help or do anything to remedy the situation, I resigned at the end of November, effective at Christmas. The first woman hired to replace me lasted one day and then fled in horror.
At any rate, I want to return to international high school teaching, and I am compiling my ISS application. The question I have for you is whether I should state my 4 months at the school in Egypt on my application, or whether I should remain silent. I have no other high school teaching experience; I was hired straight out of teacher’s college. AIS will not give me a reference, which the ISS people want for all my past employment for the past 7 years. What would you do in my shoes? Would you report my previous experience and face lots of awkward questions about what happened and why I have no letter of reference? Or would you start with a clean slate? Looking at the ISS school invite list, I see that several schools who interviewed me previously will be there; some of them might well remember me and wonder why I’m not telling them about the school in Egypt.
I would welcome any advice you could give. Thanks in advance!
I completely understand your position. I think I would start with a clean slate and go from there. The AIS experience is an Albatross around your neck at this point. Once you have other experiences under your belt, you can add that experience to your resume if you choose, just to flesh it out. You secured the first teaching position regardless of the fact you were a ‘newling’, so I suspect you will get another. Math is internationally a position in which teachers are in high demand. Why not register with Search Associates and see what they have to offer you in terms of positions at this time?
I applaud your ability to walk away from a difficult situation. It is not easy to do so, especially for a young teacher, but the result of staying longer would have been disastrous in the long run to your own self-esteem.
Take care and best wishes,
Responses to This Column
Dear Dr. Spilchuk,
I have just read your advice to “James” regarding his difficult experience as a math teacher in an Egyptian private school. His letter reveals a difficult situation, but I find your response to him appalling.
Everyone runs into difficult situations regardless of profession. ” Stuff” happens. But you have to deal with it in an open way or you lose your integrity, which is a lot worse than loosing your shot at
I would also suggest that James might find that, in revealing to a potential employer the problem he had and how he dealt with it, that he has a chance at not only getting another job but also with a boss who understands that people make mistakes, own up to them, and learn from them. That’s a lesson I’d like my teachers to be able to model in my classrooms — and that’s the kind of teacher I’d hire.
I hope you’ll publish this other view.
Thank you for your response to my advise to James. While I understand your position, I believe that none of us should allow a negative experience to become a ball and chain around our neck.
From my own experience, James’ story rang very true. While James accepted that the experience was unconscionable, it sounds to me as though the Principal/Director did not. I have to wonder who was walking sound educational talk in that school. No teacher abroad or in North America for that matter, should have to deal with the range of difficulties James experienced in a short two months, without the support of the Principal/Director. Clearly money talked in that school,so the teacher walked.
You have indicated that you are a Director who accepts that teachers are not always responsible for poor teaching situations they find themselves in. You further suggest that you may even support a ‘James’ in a new position at your school if he were to disclose this teaching situation to you. I have to wonder, however, at your comment: “People, who make mistakes, should own up to them, and learn from them.” This statement suggests to me that you believe James, not the Principal/Director, was capable of turning the situation around. If I am mistaken, then I apologize.
I believe there are very few teachers who purposefully set out to fail in a teaching assignment. I also believe that it is the support, or lack thereof in any given situation, that will make or break a teacher, particularly a young teacher. Strike and Soltis would agree that it is the Administrator’s ethical responsibility to step in to assist any teacher when things start rolling south. In James’ case, this certainly did not appear to have happened.
James is a young teacher. He did the time and paid the ultimate price for his experience in this situation – he left his job. James did not commit a crime by walking away from a bad situation. He used sound professional judgment developed through his own personal and practical experiences to make a decision and then chose to live with the results of his actions. Ethically speaking, James is under no obligation to disclose this poor teaching situation to future employers as it may color their perception of his abilities. Who he chooses to share this experience with is his own business. Allowing any educational organization the opportunity to blackball him because he disclosed a bad teaching situation (as often happens in International Education) would be folly. I am not a supporter of teachers setting themselves up to be victimized twice from a single situation.
Once again, thank you for your view. Please be assured that I will publish it as it offers an alternate to my advice. The more options teachers are left with, the better.
There should be a way to inform SEARCH and the other international agencies about these awful schools. and directors. I know Walid Abushakra, the owner of AIS from working at his school in Kuwait just before the August 1990 invasion. He’s a ……….!!!
Another very similar school in Cairo is Narmer American College. I was sure the author of the Math teacher’s letter was from our school! I resigned and retired in December from that school. I believe the other art teacher has become so ill that she also will not return in January. I do not know of any high school middle school teacher who is happy with their work there, and most are just trying to finish out their contracts and get out.
I understand Dr. Yoder, the Director of NAC does not give references but is quick to blackball teachers who displease him.
The only administrator doing a great job is the Elementary Principal who also teaches 4th grade. Unfortunately, the other administrators refuse to work with him and do not accept his fine work. He will probably leave at the first possible moment, too.
Schools like this should not be allowed to exist, but since they do, serious teachers should be warned to STAY AWAY!
You are a breath of fresh air! It would be nice if all teachers would step out and support their colleagues when the type of situation James experienced occurred, either at the time or through a follow-up letter such as the one you have sent to me. As I indicated in my article ” Moving on is a Difficult Thing to Do”, however, sometimes we become so self-absorbed and focused upon our own self-preservation when abroad,that we forget about the humanity in teaching collegial ism.
The International Schools Review is a wonderful way to get the message out to teachers through letters like yours! There are so many young teachers with rosy-colored glasses who are just itching to go abroad. I intend to do everything I can to assist those teachers by:
a.) proving them with pre-information about schools they should avoid,
b.) assist them should they get into situations that could damage them abroad.
Thank you for caring enough to assist me in my quest. If your letter keeps one teacher from an experience that could be self-esteem destroying, then the time it took you to write it was well worth the effort in my opinion!
I believe that teachers are a special breed. Teaching is not simply a job to teachers; often they live their work. Aoki tells us that Principals were once the ‘Principal Teachers’ in the school; therein comes the name ‘Principal’. It is lovely that you have recognized the Elementary Principal as being a ‘principal teacher’. Aoki would smile and nod at your description of this fine administrator. What is sad is that the research tells us that other Administrators shun these Principal Teachers because they do not fit the new mold of ‘Principal as Manager/Administrator’. Unfortunately, Administrators who do not stay tuned into the classroom by continuing to teach and do ‘Management by Walking Around’ do not always stay ‘teachers’ in their hearts. These people have the potential to violate schools because they have forgotten their reason for entering the profession to begin with.
Thank you for your bravery and compassion.Sincerely,
I, too, found your advice to James appalling, irresponsible and unprofessional. Moreover, I must admit that, having read your article and the repeated times you have found it necessary to “resign,” I question your willingness to adapt to new situations. I also work in Egypt; in fact, my first year here, I was at Thebes, the school next-door to AIS, which made AIS look like Harvard. I call the school the hell-hole. I arrived with a group of 5 teachers, four of whom left within the first two weeks. Staying there was a daily nightmare, and I thought about quitting many times. I stuck it out, however, for the year, because I believed it was professionally unethical to break a contract midyear and I had a responsibility for the good students.
The director lied to me about the school during the interview, the school broke my contract; the kids were a nightmare and completely out of control. We had to lock the doors to keep them in the building. But I’m glad I stayed, because it proved something to me about myself and that I can endure despite awful conditions. I did break my contract and leave at the end of the year, but left knowing I’d stayed on and done my best for those few students who did want to learn.
I know AIS well and several teachers who work there. While there are definitely unethical practices, there is nothing going on that a) is not generally going on in most Egyptian proprietary schools and b) makes it ethically acceptable to break a contract. Since you know nothing of the school or situation, except from the teachers’ point of view, I find your advice irresponsible and, frankly, self-serving in justifying your own “quite rate.”
We all know there are bad schools out there; Search, ISS, et al need to screen their schools as thoroughly as they screen their applicants–recommendations from staff, parents, etc. Telling people just to quit then they’re unhappy is not the answer.
Thanks for your alternate opinion. James had already quit his position when he contacted me. His question was whether or not to put his two months experience on his resume. I advised him not to. There was no benefit in him doing so.
We all deal with conflict in different ways. My way is to be up front and, when necessary, resort to legal means to resolve a problem. If that means leaving a bad situation, so be it. I’ve been in the teaching profession for twenty-seven years. The three situations I referred to in my article occurred over that period of time. One had to do with my support of a teacher I had recruited to work in China. I had already finished my work there and was waiting in Beijing to leave when she contacted me. Had I left without advocating for her simply to save future contract options, that would have been highly unethical. The other two situations had to do with management ethics. That is my area of research specialization. A professional should not profess one thing within their research then live out their life in a different way in order to be self-serving. That would be unethical. I was clear with both organizations before they hired me what my leaving point might be.
If teachers simply stand still when all around them a school is deteriorating, I believe they are doing themselves, their students and parents and their profession a disservice. It is only when teachers refuse to accept poor educational practice and management that these issues may be brought to public light where the possibility of positive change can be made. James left for his own peace of mind. You stayed for your own peace of mind. I took his word for why he made the decision he did just as I have taken your word for why you chose the route you chose. From my perspective I believe it is easier to stay and do nothing than it is to leave and make a statement in the leaving.
In International Schools, money talks. When parents see teachers leaving, they must ask themselves why, and they do. When they see no teachers leaving, there is no alarm sounded. “Money” schools change only when parents vote with their feet.
Best wishes for the future
Just a note of support for your article in International Schools Review. I have left two schools (broke contract) in my 7 year international school career and I do not regret either one of them. One was for ethical reasons , and the other for professional reasons. It is a brutal business to be in and it is important to keep your integrity as this is all your have in this gig. My wife and I have ignored all threats of blackballing etc. In both cases, we moved on to better schools and were welcomed with open arms. Good schools will hire “contract breakers” at least if you broke contract from a well known bad school.
Life is too short to be someone you are not.
Keep up the good work and if you want to talk more, I am more than willing to share. I am not leaving the international circuit any time soon. This is my life and I would not have it any other way.