Dr. Spilchuk – Director Expresses Concerns About ISR Web Site.2017-06-02T14:25:38+00:00
Dear Dr. Spilchuk…

Sept, 2007

Director of Al-Bayan Bilingual, Dr. Brian McCauly,
Expresses Concerns About ISR Web Site.

The recent Katherine Phillips incident, in which a teacher was prevented from leaving Kuwait by a wealthy parent, took place at Al-Bayan Bilingual School under the directorship of Dr. McCauly.

Dear ISR,

I am disturbed and saddened by your publication’s consistent willingness to withhold the names of your contributors. I believe that those who have legitimate criticisms about a school or country should identify themselves so that individuals with different views, or who can speak from legitimate personal experience, can set the record straight with your contributors in open dialogue.

I recently read a piece in ISR called Wasted by Wasta in which the author reported, what appeared to be as much as he could remember about a series of second hand, unverified, distressing rumors. I think that before you publish smears of schools or countries you should make a genuine effort to check and verify your facts – in this case especially because your so-called “reporters” can hide, what may well be falsehoods, self-serving comments and/or unfair evaluations, behind their anonymity.

I am in my eighth year as a school administrator in Kuwait. I have served as an overseas school CEO since the seventies and worked in every region of the world. I have headed two schools in Kuwait at different times. I have worked hard in both schools, and so have my teachers. In fact, I am happy to say that our schools were excellent schools, and when I was offered the opportunity to return to Kuwait as a school head for a second time I eagerly accepted the opportunity because I remembered how much I had enjoyed my first position there. Yes, we have had some serious problems from time to time in Kuwait (and elsewhere where I worked) – but I would urge your readers to remember that the problems we have in Kuwait now, and had before the Gulf War when I was first there, are very similar to the difficulties suffered in other international schools throughout the world.

No country, or group of schools, is perfect; that is for sure. Employees in ALL geographic locations have run afoul of local nationals or suffer problems that were not of their making. But when one compares the thousands of teachers who have worked in international schools worldwide with the small number of those who have truly had professional or personal difficulties, your readers should remember that the vast majority of overseas professionals in Kuwait, and elsewhere, live, work, and prosper in schools that are usually far better than those they left behind in their respective homelands.

I suggest that your journalistic objective, if you want to be a useful and helpful publication for international educators, and not remain a biased and prejudiced smear sheet, should be to report facts, which you have made a legitimate effort to verify. There are enough Enquirers in this world. No one needs another Enquirer that focuses on the educational profession.

Name NOT withheld,

Brian McCauley, Ph.D.

Dear Dr. McCauley,

Thank you so much for your letter. Of course it will be published as are all other letters that do not promote a direct physical threat to any international teacher.

I do understand your position. Your story is one of success in your school in Kuwait and you believe that this is the same story that would be presented by the teachers in your school to ISR. The reality of every situation is that from differing perspectives a story can be told in many different ways. I suggest that you have a look at Margaret Wheatley’s work or try Ted Aoki. Both are of the opinion that stories matter, and that we can only begin to understand a particular situation in a particular domain by exploring the many stories told by the many people involved in work with that organization. Clandinin and Connelly tell us that stories form “the starting point and key term for all social science inquiry.” I wonder what you believe about that statement. Do you tell stories to your colleagues, friends, spouse? Do you always name names or do you tell your stories so that you can make sense of the chaotic situations you have found yourself in and names are not really important?

ISR publishes real life recounts of experiences as told by real life teachers and administrators who have been caught in real life situations. Some of those situations have placed teachers/administrators in danger as in the case of Katherine Phillips. I wonder if you believe that we should not have shared stories sent by the many teachers who responded to Katherine’s story, some of whom were/are teaching in Kuwait and felt it best to remain anonymous in order to preserve their own safety. These teachers felt compelled to share their own stories of working with Katherine or in situations like Katherine’s. University graduate ethics would insist upon providing anonymity for these teachers in a Masters or Doctoral thesis/dissertation. This begs the question as to whether or not you believe all Graduate research to be of Tattler quality.

I have come to the point in my life where I have begun to understand that it is important for me to listen to those stories of teacher practice and experience that have previously been kept hidden from the rest of the teaching world. I believe we must build special places where teachers can tell all of their stories of practice. We can no longer live in ivory towers in the educational world and lock our windows believing that there is a right and wrong way to go about doing something. People are messy, life is messy, and schools are messy. And the stories of the lives of people who live in schools can be messy.

You have just shown yourself to be a part of that messy existence by sending ISR a letter.

Sincerely,

Dr. Barbara Spilchuk
Online Advisor ISR

Responses to This Column

Dear Dr. Spilchuk and ISR,

I would like to make a comment about the director of the Al Bayan School who is criticizing this site:

– Where was he when Kathryn was being victimized in Kuwait for doing her job for the school where he was the director?

– Why didn’t he stick up for her and stick by her when she wasn’t allowed to leave the country, to show his solidarity and maybe offer some protection (I bet he had a nice vacation instead)?

– What kind of an administrator has so little loyalty to his staff that he won’t stick by them in a time of need and possible danger in a foreign country?

It is hardly surprising that someone with so little integrity would criticize others exercising free speech (or free writing!) and expect them to put themselves at serious risk when he certainly didn’t have the guts for either! I guess the money he’s being paid (and it better be a lot!) and his ‘exalted’ position went to his head (unfortunately, like many other heads of schools), caused him to sell his soul and seems to exonerate him from acting like a decent human being in general. Any such person should be keeping his head low in shame instead of sending stupid, unconstructive criticisms to your wonderful site.

Keep up the good work and thanks for all you’re doing for us international teachers, especially in warning us off Kuwait and similar schools elsewhere. Thanks for opening our eyes and giving us a voice, even if it has to be an anonymous one.


Dear Dr. Spilchuk,

Please don’t give way to Dr. Bryan McCauly guilt induction. This is a teachers web site: by the international teachers, for the international teachers, in the international teachers’ best interest. The internet is the ‘equalizer’. When schools treat international teachers poorly, it gets reported for all to see. This man is embarrassed, caught and now tries to ‘hook through guilt’ to cover up the mistakes that have happened in international teaching for many, many years if not decades. Wake up schools!! It’s time the tables got reversed!!


Dear Dr. Spilchuk

From this director’s response it is quite obvious as to why he wants people’s privacy breached. He quotes “so that individuals with different views, or who can speak from legitimate personal experience, can set the record straight with your contributors in open dialogue.”

You don’t need to know peoples names to do this. That’s why its a review website and forum. People simply wish to express their views or facts without fear of retaliation. So many Directors are like this. All teachers need to know about where they ay be going next especially if there are any issues, embellished or not. We are professional enough to make our own decisions andfilter out the over the top stuf when we see it. On the other hand his board may be instructing him to say those things, to find the people or he gets fired himself. Also the administration of the ISR would be quite capable of sorting
through the rubbish from the good posts that get sent in.


Dear Dr. Spilchuk

I would like to respond to Brian McCauley’s letter as well. I have worked at al-Bayan for a few years now, I can confidently say that this letter was written out of fear and guilt. Why does Brian need to know the names of those people expressing their views? Are they any less valid because someone feels they need anonymity?

Amongst the teachers at this school, it is well-known that Brian stayed for only a handful of days once Katherine Phillips was detained. He then headed to Thailand. He is in no responsible for getting Katherine out of Kuwait. Everyone knew that it would have to be Kuwaitis to get her out. It did make some sense for him to leave, after all, Brian is not Kuwaiti and has no wasta. Any attempt he would have made would have fallen on deaf ears. However, even if he knew this, the act of staying would have likely comforted Katherine and other teachers by demonstrating his support.

His letter reeks of someone who is worried about freedom of speech damaging the school’s reputation and likely making his own job harder when he finds he can’t hire teachers anymore. But when something like Katherine’s situation happens, is it not justified that the school’s reputation be damaged? This was the consequence of allowing powerful, rich parents to dictate to the school.

Administrators at Bayan frequently side with parents over teachers, and we are bullied by parents if we try to give low marks or failures. And if a failure is actually given, it tends to be overturned by the wasta-riddled Board of Governors. There are students in the high school who cannot perform basic addition, who read at a Grade 5 level, and cannot tell time. These students will receive a diploma. This is the reality of teaching at al-Bayan, and even if a name was put on a letter saying this, it would not change these facts.

Brian McCauley is out of touch with what really goes on in classrooms at the school he “directs.” He’s very good at sitting in his office, making appearances at functions and making meaningless speeches. But is he in any position to comment accurately on Katherine or the reality at al-Bayan? No. He’s not living in it.

I will not be publishing my name on this letter for obvious reasons. I have a career to protect and I cannot trust Brian to remain as objective as he wants everyone else to be.


Dear Al-Bayan Teacher,

I wish you God-speed in the coming years as an International professional and teacher. If you ever need me/ISR, you need only communicate with me again. I will remember you., have no doubt! Fear in schools crosses borders for teachers. What a shame that is. We are here to tell your stories and to ensure that teachers are not silenced by fear. ISR is all about giving teachers voices. I will speak openly for you. I am no longer afraid.

Feel the love
Barbara


Dear Barbara,

After reading Dr. McCauly’s letter to you, I had several thoughts.

1. It seems that he has not successfully disputed any of the facts involved in the tragic case of the teacher who was not allowed to leave Kuwait.

(Dr. Spilchuk’s reply) There is no doubt that Brian McCauly did not dispute what, from all accounts outside of his letters to me, are the general facts of the case regarding Katherine Phillips. In fact, he did not even touch upon her case and that, in and of itself, raises cause for concern with me.

2. A responsible head administrator would have resigned before allowing a teacher to be illegally “detained” in country — it’s important to show support those who work hard for you — and to also show the in country politicians that the school has integrity and that teachers will be supported as long as they are following school policy and the laws of the country.

(Dr Spilchuk) I would have done under similar circumstances. I resigned and left my post in Kuwait immediately when a staff member appeared to me to be discriminated against. This was, by comparison, a far less serious situation, albeit one I could not and would not condone.

3. A tip-off as to Dr. McCauly’s relationship with teachers, in general, is his use of “my teachers.” They are not his teachers. They are the teachers with whom he works.

(Dr. Spilchuk) Too right, Teachers are their own persons. No one in administration has ownership of teachers; nor can another person speak for them. I should like to visit your/their school some day. I suspect I would find a distinctly different tone in the culture you, the rest of your administration, the teachers, the students, the parents and the community are building.

I did suggest in a subsequent email to Brian that it was time for him to consider returning to the classroom to revisit that special place so that he could, once again, remember what teaching was all about. My suggestion was somewhat below the belt, but as a continued teaching professional, in or out of schools, and a specialist in leadership, I felt it was worth the suggestion.

4. It seems as though Dr. McCauly would have preferred that you totally ignore the situation of the teacher who was illegally detained. I have the impression that he was not upset by her detention and I believe that if you did not bring public awareness of her detention, she might still be stuck in Kuwait.

(Dr. Spilchuk) You are, no doubt, correct in your assumptions. “He who protesteth too strongly” and all of that…

Thank you for continuing to provide a voice for people who work with children and teachers worldwide. If Dr. McCauly is right in his opinion that these kinds of problems occur in other parts of the world too — then all the more reason to have a forum such as the one that you have created.

Sincerely yours,
(teacher, principal, and teacher educator – 37 years)

(Dr. Spilchuk)You are most welcome, although a thank you is not warranted. I have lived in situations where upper administration feels they can “violate’ the sanctity of the ‘in-classroom place”. The principalship is where it is truly at in administration, not at the Director level. Principals, to my way of thinking, should be the Aoki master-teachers who can cross borders into classroom with teachers and children. When they or other school administrators forget to do this, that is the most serious violation of what it is to be a teaching professional.

I would have liked to be in one of the school where you led!

Fair winds,

Barbara


Dear Dr. Spilchuk:

I like the knowledge that my name need not be published when I make a comment about a school in the ISR forum, should I choose to do so. Objective, evaluative assessment of a school’s pros and cons—while resisting the urge to make inflammatory ad hominem comments—is a valuable tool for teachers looking to teach abroad, and one should be able to contribute without fear of reprisal.
I do, however, view a column, letter, or editorial in a different light. Generally, in reputable publications, these articles are published to shed some new or expert light on a given topic and are rarely published anonymously. Publications which seek to be reliable sources of information should be no different, and should only publish substantiated, informed opinion about our profession. In other words, they should not rely upon or seek out “did you hear…” or “well, you didn’t hear it from me” or “don’t tell that it was me who told you…” commentary.

In our classrooms we treat such talk as gossip, and discourage it wholesale. However, I am at times amazed and discouraged by the freedom with which adults in our profession preach one principle in their classrooms and yet feel free to abandon those same ideals in their personal lives. I realize that people are primarily accountable for themselves, and that gossips and bickerers exist in every profession. But I must confess that I do expect more from those who profess to be representatives of a given profession, and I am disappointed at how one-sided this whole Kuwait debate has become on the ISR web site.

Let’s just move on, shall we? I expect ISR to keep on top of potentially dangerous situations, to be sure, but surely we must have something better to report three months after “the situation.” Kuwait is just one small country on the international-teaching circuit, and the longer we spend allowing anonymous “experts” to vent, the more ISR looks as though it is actively profiting from uninformed gossip, rather than accurately representing the many excellent teachers and schools who use the web site for what it is intended.

Sincerely,

Brent van Staalduinen (Kuwait)


Dear Brent

I would surely like to move on…in fact we are in the process of setting up a whole new area of exploration in India with the private schooling system there. There is another issue that has come up about a school in Turkey. As well, I have had long term communication with a top international teacher recruiting agency officer. This recruiter has written a letter for publication that is quite important. I would like to get those stories out to our reading public.

The problem is that the ISR membership has focused upon Kuwait, perhaps because there are so many stories being disclosed as a result of the Katherine Phillips situation. For whatever reason, my job is to respond to the letters that come to me. I cannot, nor can the editor ISR, say to teachers, “Well, we’ve had about enough from your part of the world! Sorry.” The Kuwait problem is beginning to run from one school to the next. That is of serious concern to us at ISR. We have been working with the editor of the Arab Times to try to resolve the situation from that angle. Perhaps as a person on the scene, you can give us some assistance from your perspective.

All the best
Barbara


Dear Dr. Spilchuk,

Dr. McCauley’s response comes quite late. If he was so disgusted with ISR’s tactics, it seemed he would have spoken up during Katherine’s’ ordeal or long before the Katherine incident for that matter. The mere fact that he wants teachers to denote their identities in order to get blackballed from schools across the world, tells me one thing: in light that he may have started as a teacher, he has quite frankly forgotten where he came from. Anyone with complete scruples knows teachers band together to get things done. This is a part of unionization. Why would one alienate themselves by disclosing personal info that would keep them from employment? Journalists from all walks of life have anonymous sources. ISR is no different.

(Dr. Spilchuk) You are quite right, Elizabeth Anonymous. I am most concerned that Dr. McCauley chose not to refer to Katherine’s ordeal in his letter. His positioning was quite self-serving from my limited knowledge of the situation. I have no intention of stopping teachers’ voices from being heard!

As Elliott (in Belenky et al., 1986, p. 3) says:

If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life,
it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat,
and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.
I want to hear the squirrel’s heart beat

I wonder what else I can do but live my life out by using a caring and compassionate voice and listening ear when I hear ‘the squirrel’s heart beat’ within international teachers’ stories of terror, anger and fright.

You are the first ISR reader to know that I will be bringing Katherine’s story to the public forefront of International Education at the conference noted below. It is my sincere hope that Katherine will join me there.

Paris International Conference On Education, Economy & Society
Novotel Paris Tour Eiffel, 17-19 July 2008


I am quite upset at Dr. McCauley’s response. I have met him personally and all this did was solidify my opinion of him even more. The mere fact that he would send such nonsense baffles my mind. Furthermore, there were teachers that he hired personally to come to Kuwait that were employed at the sister school, which has loads of problems. Dr. McCauley was of no assistance to them, especially, when the guidance counselor was fired illegally and shuffled through the night out of Kuwait. Other teachers contacted him about the administration and policies that were being implemented that violated their contract that he had given them. He didn’t speak up then, so why would he speak up to defend teachers now. The blatant disrespect that FAWSEC and his administration showed to Katherine is asinine.

(Dr. Spilchuk) Absolutely agreed…and I understand the disrespect is continuing!

Every teacher in the world has positive & negative experiences within their schools. Giving your identity does not give weight to a person’s opinion or not. In unionized states, when votes are taken, the Union does not say a person’s name voted this way therefore we are proceeding with a strike or whatever the case may be. They have its’ members vote and present the information. If they didn’t teachers would be placed on lists that would make them un-hirable.

(Dr. Spilchuk) This will be the second of my teacher stories to be highlighted in Paris! You are a very astute person!

Being a teacher in Kuwait, I have come to a realization. It has become evident that since all of these schools are for profit, teachers’/students’ best interests are not at the forefront. We all know the phrase, “A school can not be run like a business.” Private companies should not be in the business of running schools. Research has proved this theory/technique to be flawed to say the least!!!!!!!!

Elizabeth Anonymous

(Dr. Spilchuk) Ahhhh – but you and all teachers have a powerful voice spoken together, and ISR and I will continue to ensure that it is heard worldwide!

“Whatever God’s dream about man may be, it seems certain it cannot come true unless man cooperates.” -Stella Terrill Mann”

All the best and do take care

Barbara


Dear Dr. Spilchuk,

My intention in writing to ISR is to address the validity of the content on the web site and offer my opinion about living and teaching in Kuwait.

(Dr. Spilchuk) There is no ‘validity’; there are only stories, beliefs and feelings of teachers at stake. You are searching for quantitative measures; we are a qualitative organization.

(Please note that at no time do I name names or write about individuals in a derogatory or in an offensive manner. In addition, I have not harmed any animals in creating this post.)

(Dr. Spilchuk)This is good.

The statement on the International schools review homepage reads, “Teachers keeping each other informed. A more accurate assertion about the web site’s function might read, “Teachers informing teachers of their personal beliefs or judgments that are not founded on proof or certainty”.

(Dr. Spilchuk) Schools are about people. People are about personal beliefs. We all make judgments. You are making a judgment in your letter. It is not right or wrong; it simply is….

Let’s face it, the ISR is simply a glorified proprietary blog marketed toward international educators.

(Dr. Spilchuk) If ISR were being ‘marketed’, we would not all be volunteers. Since we are all volunteers, the ‘market’ value of ISR is negligible. This is a red herring.

The material on the web site contains dated entries written by a number of contributors (which are largely anonyms) who want to express their opinions and experiences. (Dr. Spilchuk) Absolutely!

It would be a mistake to assume that all of the content written on this on-line forum to be completely accurate.

(Dr. Spilchuk) Who is to say which side of a story is ‘accurate’?

As Wheatley (1999) said at the 8th International Conference on Thinking, ” When we ask people to tell us their story, we start with the assumption that no two stories will be the same. We agree with the understanding that no two people see the world the same”…

Unlike a reputable form of media the ISR is largely unchecked and is not accountable to any form of external accreditation or peer review. Cases similar to Katherine Phillips aside, how can anyone take the opinions expressed on this web site too seriously?

(Dr. Spilchuk) How many Katherines do you need?

People have opinions. Their opinions are based upon their stories. Their stories are important and valid research information. Life is not quantified in education. It is qualitative, and, as such, each individual teacher’s story is important within the contextualized framework of international education. There are no absolutes. There are only people with emotions connected to their thoughts about education. This is what ISR supports, presents and scaffolds within our editorials.

Maybe it is time for the ISR to publish a disclaimer on their site. It could read, “Yes even teachers exaggerate, embellish and lie…”

(Dr. Spilchuk) From each teacher’s perspective, their story is what it is. Who are you or who am I to say that it is exaggerated, embellished or a lie? I have not lived the experience of every teacher who writes to ISR. Have you?

That is not to say that some of the information on the web site is not valuable but one must view this data through a critical lens and discern for themselves what opinions are useful.

(Dr. Spilchuk) Methodologically, stories are not data. They are simply stories. The stories are temporal and personal and cannot be classified, quantified or categorized.

At the best of times the web site allows teachers to access information about living and working at international schools around the world. Conversely, slanderous and inaccurate content on the web site has fueled sweeping generalizations and damaged ISR’s credibility. Without going into specifics, I do not see how personally attacking our colleagues in a public forum serves any positive purpose. I can appreciate the value of critically assessing organizations but to fail recognize the merit in mocking and belittling other educators.

Regards,

Geoff

(Dr. Spilchuk) Not the intent in publishing individual teachers’ retellings. You are looking, again, for quantitative measure and we are qualitative in nature.

Thank you for sharing. Perspectives are simply that – this is your perspective and your story. Other teachers have other perspectives and other stories. We recognize and value all input.

All the Best,

Dr. Barbara Spilchuk
ISR online teacher advisor

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