First, I must confess to being an international school head, which readers of the International Schools Review will know identifies me as being evil, dim-witted, or both.
I must confess that I think the ISR, and your column, serve a useful purpose in providing a forum for international school teachers to share their experiences of international school; I only wish that there could be some process of moderating or validating the comments (perhaps some form of peer review), as too often they come across as rants from disaffected individuals, and in at least one case I am convinced that I recognize a Director’s own phrasing in the eulogy submitted about him!
However, I am responding in particular to your latest comment regarding ‘black-balling’. I can honestly say that in 30 years in international education, much of it as an administrator, I have never encountered this phenomenon. I have encountered bad references, and I have heard directors give negative commentary on teachers, but to me the term ‘blackballing’ refers to something far more systematic.
I am concerned that your comments suggest that teachers have an entitlement to employment. They certainly have an entitlement to a fair and impartial assessment, and Heads struggle as much as teachers with the difficulty of obtaining this – believe it or not we want to hire good teachers – but the suggestion that passing on information about a poor performance in a previous school is in someway illegitimate does not recognize the reality of a competitive market.
In your column you suggest: ‘If you cannot get a position anywhere, ask the question: [“are you being balled?”]’; would it not be sensible also to ask a more complete question : “Are you being blackballed, or are you simply not a good enough teacher to get a job?”
You also state that ‘English is a worldwide commodity’; this is certainly accurate, but if you are suggesting that the ability to speak English is sufficient qualification for a position in an international school, then you are doing serious damage to the efforts of responsible international school heads and committed international school teachers to establish international education as a highly professional enterprise offering teaching of the highest quality. No doubt there are dubious schools where profit is the only goal; no doubt there are also teachers for whom international education is no more than a way of being paid while traveling the world. However, the overwhelming majority of international schools and international teachers now represent the very best of the educational world, and unfortunately they are seriously underrepresented on your web site.
Thank you so much for your response. I specifically asked that Directors respond to this question so that we might have a wide range of experiences represented in the responses teachers will be able to read on this topic.
You are indeed fortunate never to have experienced this form of discrimination in your 30 year career. However, as I indicated, the phenomenon of black-balling or marginalization or discrimination is well documented in educational literature under a variety of different monikers. Please do take the time to read the web site by Tim Field that I directed our readers to.
I would agree with you that receiving a poor evaluation, one passed along to ISS, is not necessarily the result of ‘black-balling”. If a teacher does not meet the standards required during a.) their probationary evaluation or b.) their ongoing yearly contractual evaluation, both completed by the principal, then, no doubt, the teacher will receive a written report stating exactly where the teaching weaknesses are, and he or she will not receive a continuing contract. This is reasonable and is certainly an expectation teachers have within their profession.
Black-balling does not refer to a poor evaluation and the result this might have upon a teacher’s employability. It refers to under-the-table and behind-closed-doors practices used to eliminate an individual from a school/system. Sometimes this is done to ‘punish’ an individual for, example, stating opinions that run contrary to administrative directives in teaching practice. Some might say that a teacher has no ‘right’ to state alternative opinions regarding such things as the ‘school’s position’ on curriculum, teaching strategies or administrative management of student behaviour. ‘If the teacher is employed, their job is to work within the system and the philosophy of that system.’ The interesting thing about this belief is that systems are really only people working together and, theoretically, the system philosophy should encompass a collective of the beliefs of all of those people working together. Unfortunately, the literature tells us that realistically it is either a single person or a small group of people within the system usually controlling the direction of the system. As Sergiovanni (1992) tells us that “Where the management mystique rules, schools are forced to do rather than decide, to implement rather than lead. Too often the results are ‘trained incapacity’ and ‘goal displacement’.” Teacher leaders often can see when a ‘management mystique’ system exists within a school; those who speak out are often either marginalized or eliminated altogether from the System. Sometimes, believe it or not, those in control within those ‘systems’ do not believe it is wise to allow these teachers ‘who do not comply’ to simply float around out there without there being some form of discriminatory controlling mechanism in place to ensure that what these teachers say about the ‘system’ they left is discounted.
Clearly I do not believe that being a native English speaker is the only criteria that will get a teacher a job. However, it certainly is an important criteria, particularly in economically driven parts of the world. English is the International language of commerce. A teacher who has a degree, who has references and who is a native English speaker is, simply put, a commodity on the International Schools market.
I believe the purpose of ISR is to offer teachers a forum from which to talk about their issues of concern. The site offers novice and experienced teachers the opportunity to read what other teachers have to say about the International Schools where they work. Anyone who is a member can write in just as you have done. Teachers tend to value what other teacher have to say about a school because they can resonate with the responses published in terms of teacher talk.
As you will have noticed, I have requested that ISR publish letters showing all sides of an issue. As Witherell and Noddings (1991) indicate “True dialogue is open; that is, conclusions are not held to be absolute by any party from the outset. The search for enlightenment, responsible choice, [perspective, or means to solve a problem is mutual and marked by appropriate signs of reciprocity.” My purpose in writing this column is to model dialogue that we, as teaching professionals, might wish to occur in schools where we work. Unfortunately, this does not always happen, so teachers come here to hold dialogue that will not result in punishment – black-balling or other.
Thanks so much for introducing the topic of black balling. I personally had some problems with a person in a counselor position at a school where I was teaching. This person was quite underhanded with a few specific events, even resorting to consulting the administration to try to achieve personal means, unfortunately at my expense. The individual is now in an administrative position at the school. I have not yet met with any specific problems, but now that I’m looking for another teaching position and going through Search Associates – and I know that this school will be at the same fair I’m attending in February – I’m wondering if there have been or will be any further attempts to exclude me.
Thanks in advance,
If this person has achieved his goal of Administration, he/she may let you off the hook. The research shows, however, that this is not always so. Clearly you had some qualities this person felt were threatening to his/her goal of administration. Tim Field suggests that it is likely you are:
a.) a socially conscious individual
b.) outgoing and generally liked by other staff members
c.) perhaps regarded by some as a teacher leader
d.) a potential administrative threat yourself.
Will this person try to blackball you at the Fair you are attending in February? Who knows. Bullies tend not to let their victims off the hook even when they have achieved their goals. They enjoy the power they have over another person. People with no social conscience simply jettison fair and just behavior to attain their personal goals. Often these people move into administration because they have no rules of fair play. Once there,they have the potential to violate teacher safety in the school because they wind up in a position of authority from which to perpetrate this type of violence against a wider number of teachers.
I think I would walk up to him/her with my hand held out for a handshake (even if this makes you feel nauseous). Greet him/her like a long lost colleague. Do not hide from this person. Smile, be positive, be yourself. Take the wind out of any bullying sails he/she may set in place for you if he/she sees you. If you want to feel safer, go with a fellow teacher to the Fair.
Believe me, this one person has no possibility of turning the entire crowd against you there. The world is just too big and he/she has another job to do as well. Remember, you also have the potential to ‘black ball’ this person to potential teachers interested in his organization! I wonder how long he/she would stay in administration if he/she could not recruit any teachers to the organization. Teachers tend to believe the accounts of Workplace Bullying, discrimination and exclusionary practices as storied by other teachers. Your story rings very true to me. That is not to say that I believe you should head to the conference intending revenge. Simply understand that you too have control in this regard so maintain your own power.
Again, check out Tim Field’s web site for some further suggestions. Let me know how the February Fair goes….and your meeting with this person. Perhaps he/she will have forgotten how much he/she hurt you.
Dear Dr. Spilchuk,
Regarding your January column, I am including some information for Matthew which he may find interesting.
Matthew’s question…”1. What exactly does black balling mean?” Blackballing includes any exclusionary or marginalizing strategies used to eliminate an individual from employment within an organization.
The masculine bourgeois took spirits whilst participating in the manly act of gambling his family’s fortunes away. Such was the life of the Gentleman’s Cercle, also known as the Casino……..to become a member of a cercle, a man had to be sponsored by a current member. Voting took place by the placement of colored balls in a dish. White balls were a vote to include the candidate in the cercle, and black balls were a vote to exclude the candidate. This is the origin of the term “black-balling.” (The practice is still used in some organizations like the freemasons:
< http://www.bessel.org/ballotar.htm >
Keep up the good work. I find your column very interesting and informative. (I do not wish to contribute a school review, but would be willing to answer any queries about Ruamrudee International school, Bangkok, Khartoum American School, Khartoum or Unity High School, Khartoum).
Thank you so much for your very informative response! Isn’t it strange how language develops over time? It’s also interesting to note how many modern practices seem to come back to organizations such as the Free Masons and Templar Knights.
I’m going to ask the editors to publish your letter with your email address included beside your first name so that teachers interested in the schools you have listed can contact you directly for personal and informal information about a particular school you have noted in your response.
I especially appreciate your words of support, Alan. Take care and best wishes for a wonderful new year!