Dr. Spilchuk – Major Recruiter Advises Against Reneging on Contracts…2017-06-02T14:25:38+00:00
Dear Dr. Spilchuk…

December, 2007

Major Recruiter Advises Against Reneging on Contracts

Dear Dr. Spilchuk,

I am a former teacher (14 years) and school administrator and have been working for a major educational placement organization for over 10 years. I would like to provide some advice to teachers which I believe, based on my experience with thousands of candidates and hundreds of schools, is sorely needed. It concerns the topic of reneging on an agreement. First, at all costs avoid breaking your word, written or verbal. It may sound “old fashioned,” but your word and your reputation for integrity are important as you go through life. Here are some ideas to consider.

1. The best thing you can do is to avoid getting yourself into a situation where you are tempted to violate an agreement you have made.

2. If you receive an offer of employment, do your homework and do not be pushed into a hasty agreement. If you feel uneasy about a school, ask the recruiter to provide you with phone numbers of one or two teachers of your status — single females, married couples, or whatever– who work at that school now or have done so recently. Spend a few dollars and call them up. You will get an honest response to your questions. (You could also e-mail, but a phone call in addition to a brief e-mail is a far better approach.) The bottom line – it is best NOT to accept a contract unless you feel confident that it is a reasonable (not necessarily perfect) fit.

3. If you are a risk taker and you are very eager to teach abroad, and you have some misgivings about a school but are willing to take the risk with your eyes open, that is also a reasonable course of action. HOWEVER, if you do that, don’t whine and complain later on that you made a mistake. Suck it up and make the best of it, and when the contract is over then move on to something better.

4. There can be some legitimate reasons for extricating oneself from a contract. For example, the candidate (or a parent, spouse, or child) develops a serious health problem or, God forbid, there is a death in the family. Schools will always understand and sympathize in these cases — although more than one candidate has invented something like this as an excuse, with unfortunate consequences.

5. There are other reasons for which a teacher may be very unhappy with an agreement he or she has made, and there are many ways to approach that, most of them bad. I am going to list below the types of approaches which I have seen many times over in the past 30 years, starting with the worst ones first. All of these are based on actual events:

a. A teacher and all his belongings disappear over the Christmas vacation, leaving behind a trashed apartment, hundreds of dollars in damages and phone bills, and a note asking a friend to tell the school head that he won’t be back.

b. A teacher in the middle of a two year contract sends an e-mail to the school head in July, saying that he got a better job in China and won’t return — and would the school please pack up his belongings and ship them home.

c. A newly hired teacher sends an e-mail in May saying that he has thought about it more and has decided he made a mistake in accepting the offer and will not be coming after all.

d. The teacher in the first year of a two year contract sends a note to the school head in May saying she is not happy and will not return for the second year.

e. A newly hired teacher sends a note to the school head in April and says he is starting to have misgivings about his decision, and would like to set up a time for an extended phone conversation to discuss these and to get reassurances.

f. The teacher in the first year of a two year contract asks for an appointment with the school head in January. She sits face to face with the school head, says that she is really unhappy at the school because of _______________, and asks the school head to please help her. (A honest, open, and timely conversation like this often leads to the school making changes to accommodate the teacher, or the teacher being released without prejudice.)

g. The teacher either has misgivings about going to a school, or is unhappy after being there, and calls the placement agency to seek guidance. This has happened in our company a few times, and invariably we are able to bring about a reasonable resolution.

There are many other examples which I can give, but I am sure the reader has gotten the point. There are various ways to approach an unhappy situation, and some ways are a lot more honest, ethical, and responsible than others. In general, a good faith discussion with the school head and / or the recruitment agency well in advance is far more courteous and professional than a precipitous and unilateral action or decision.

There are two other topics I would like to address briefly:

There is a HUGE misconception “out there,” bordering on paranoia, about school heads “black listing” a teacher. I am reminded of the biblical phrase “the thief flees through the night, whilst no man persueth.” I give you some examples. In many years of working with thousands of candidates, and reading tens of thousands of references, there is scant evidence of “black listing.” (In our company we use the term “drum out of the regiment.”) In the past 5 years I can think of four instances in which a school head contacted us specifically to warn about a candidate. Two were proven pedophiles, one fell into category “a” (above) and the other fell into category “b” (above). Bottom line –- folks, it just is not happening out there as ISR postings would have you believe and, in the few instances it does, it is usually justified. Most placement agencies, certainly the one I work for, are VERY PROTECTIVE of our teaching candidates. If we have reports from any of our teachers that a school is mistreating them, we promptly investigate. If we find this to be true, we “drum the school out of the regiment.” In some cases, we require a school to provide air fare and a consulting fee to bring me or a colleague to the school to investigate. And if we do not like what we see, we will not allow the school to recruit through us any further.

Over the past 10 years, we have drummed at least 80 schools out of the regiment or refused to allow them to recruit with us because they did not meet our standards. I sit on several school boards, one international. If our board members ever got word that a teacher was being treated unjustly or with lack of due process, WE WOULD ACT PROMPTLY, and I believe most school board members would do the same. Oddly enough, most boards believe in due process for the teachers much more than they do for school heads, and if space permitted and if I were free to reveal confidential information, I could provide MANY examples to support that assertion.

Finally, I must say that I write all of the above advice with serious misgivings because I strongly disagree with the policies of ISR. and would prefer not to be associated with these policies. Specifically, I think it is appalling that ISR allows anonymous and hurtful comments to be posted about school employees—or about anyone! No reputable or professional organization would permit such a thing. It is an open invitation for people to hurl “cheap shots” and to carry on personal vendettas –and make no mistake, this is being done. I call upon ISR to renounce this unfair and repugnant practice. In doing so the organization will gain credibility and respectability which it presently lacks among many thoughtful and fair minded readers. When ISR requires everyone to add their names to their commentaries, I will be the first one to comply.

Sincerely,

Recruiter

Hello Recruiter,

With respect to the black-balling of teachers, please be assured I have been privy to many emails from teachers that have included their correspondences with recruiters when problems have arisen in their contracts. I have observed, first-hand, language from recruitment agencies that clearly indicates black-balling does occur. These communications from recruiting agencies often indicate financial penalties that have exceeded the acceptable and legal enforcement standards of any monetary fine noted and supported within a teacher’s contract. I have also noted, an extension to practices that are not transparent, written or agreed upon within the teacher’s contract during these communications between a recruiter and a teacher.

Some of these unwritten, nontransparent and, therefore, illegal and unethical practices include:

Level 1.Threats of a collection agency during a stage of open communication between the agency and a teacher candidate when there is an obvious desire stated by the teacher to resolve a contract dispute positively,

Level 2. Threats of internal red flagging of a candidate’s file even after a fine has been paid, red flagging that documents a teacher’s decision not to continue with a contract even given what appears to be reasonable circumstances, that is, a diversion between written contract promises and a school failing to fulfill these promises.

Level 3. Threats to label a teacher widely outside of a recruitment agency by informing all other recruitment organizations that a teacher is a ‘reneger’.

Level 4. Threats to directly contact the teacher’s referees, thereby attempting to undermine the teacher’s credibility with even the closest of advisors/mentors/referees.

The first level of the ‘threat’ processes can be justified by the recruitment agency as a lawful follow-up process to a contract clause that specifies a monetary fine if the teacher does not follow through on a contract. After all, if the teacher signed the document, the teacher should have understood liability to the fine. However, if this is a first time offender and there is no life or death situation that has occurred, no pedophilia, no sexual deviance that might harm a child, no other practice that would irrevocably harm the school, children and parents, it would seem reasonable that the recruitment agency goes to all lengths to attempt to mediate the situation prior to threatening and then following through with a collection agency.

Concerning Levels 2, 3 and 4: On the other hand, if the teacher is given to understand that Levels 2, 3 and 4 will also be applied as penalties alongside the threat of a collection agency, my position is that ‘all bets are off’! At that point, when the agency is prepared to enact multiple liabilities to the teacher, liabilities that are organizational practices not transparent within the contract, I believe the teacher has the right to respond by insisting upon the terms stated within the contract in order to resolve the resolution. Contracts are designed to protect all parties…and this certainly includes the teacher. If this means refusing to pay the fine until the recruitment agency prepares a written document guaranteeing that the practices noted in Levels 2, 3 and 4 will not occur, particularly after they have been threatened in writing, then so be it. Due Process extends all ways: Recruiter to school, school to teacher, recruiter to teacher and vice versa in all situations. Even one teacher having to deal with bullying of this nature is one teacher too many from my experience.

I would also like to respond briefly to another of your comments:“It may sound old fashioned, but your word and your reputation for integrity are important as you go through life”. I couldn’t agree with you more on this point. When you give your word, you should keep it. The problem, however, comes in when schools misrepresent themselves at recruiting conferences, and even go so far as to even expect teachers to sign altered contracts upon arrival at the school. Agreeing to a set of conditions and giving your word is one thing, to “suck it up and make the best of it” for two long years because a dishonest administrator misrepresented their school would be just plain foolish and unrealistic for a slough of reasons I think are quite obvious.

In our Contract Satisfaction survey, teachers tell us under what circumstances they feel it is appropriate to break an international teaching contract. Many sight that they were mislead at the conference. go to article.

For additional information on this topic I also recommend
1. Signed Sealed and legal – How secure is your contract?  
2. When is it Okay to break your contract?

Sincerely Barbara Spilchuk

Responses to This Column

Dear Dr. Spilchuk,

The letter of advice to teachers from the recruiter requires an immediate response. Please, Dr. Spilchuk, don’t allow teachers new to international teaching to think that telling a school director mid-year that you are unhappy is a good idea. Please warn people that a meeting in which you lay your cards on the table can have devastating consequences. Even a mild hint that you are dissatisfied with your placement can have a catastrophic effect on your family. Until you have a plan, you should remain quiet. You need to first figure out how to extricate yourself from your situation should that become necessary. Think through what to do if you are locked out of school tomorrow, next month, after vacation, or whenever. Have some cash on hand. In some countries, you need an exit visa to leave the country. In some countries, your school must attest that you are free of any debts before you can get past immigration and out of the country. Find out first. Figure out what stuff you can leave behind and what stuff you need to take with you on short notice.

Once you have a plan, then you can take steps to deal with whatever conflicts arise. Going to a meeting with a school administrator can lead to unexpected consequences. You can endanger your whole family by upsetting the administration, the wrong parents, the wrong group of teachers, or the school secretary. Your safety and security are in the hands of the people who you work with. Don’t ever forget that. Anyone who thinks this is over-dramatizing the possible consequences has never been trapped in a country with officials who are angry. Have you ever been in a third world country and been given three days to move your family out of your apartment? On a smaller scale, have you ever had a minor misunderstanding escalate in a matter of days? You may think that the director is a nice person. Maybe she is from your home town, or maybe he’s a minister. And then it turns out that three teachers in the past somehow disgraced her or robbed him or broke a contract. You could end up the object of retaliation for things that you had nothing to do with.

It’s true that leaving a school in less-than-perfect circumstances can lead future job prospects to wonder about your reliability. Of course you should always conduct yourself honorably and with respect. Breaking a contract does not have to be done in a shameful way. Do whatever you can to prevent harm to your reputation. Even if you have to do a lot of explaining later on, walking out on a contract can often be the most sensible thing you can do. Recruiting agencies have not been able to protect teachers from ruin at the hands of their schools. Many, many schools have failed to be honest and treat teachers fairly. School directors have not been successful in policing themselves. Don’t let their holier-than-thou talk about honor shake you. If you leave a school with an unfilled position, it will be an expensive problem for them. Still, that is the cost of doing business. They can hire someone locally or fill the position with a supply teacher if they must.

It’s the school head’s responsibility to be prepared for situations such as losing a teacher. If he or she has done everything possible to maintain the integrity of the school, having a last minute teacher opening should not be a catastrophe as you may be led to believe. School directors earn very, very high salaries. It does look bad when they lose an overseas hire, but they will recover. Responsible management of the school’s finances and reputation should make it possible to deal with sudden losses.

School directors hope that the funds they set aside to deal with unforeseen events can be used for other purposes at the end of the year, and they certainly resent situations that require it to be spent. When you and your wife need to be airlifted out of the country due to medical complications during pregnancy, for example, it can actually have an effect on the school director’s profit-share or bonus. Or, it could mean that the recruitment team will need to spend less at their next job fair – flying coach or sharing hotel rooms. The bottom line is that breaking a contract will have consequences for both sides. The way that directors lessen the chances of teachers breaking their contracts is to lay out the horrible consequences that will befall them if they walk out: “You will be drummed out of the regiment by the recruiting agency!” What have they got to lose by scaring teachers in this way? When teachers break their contracts, school heads get mad, and then they get even. It’s the way it works. You should keep this in mind when you decide whether or not to leave. Do what you can to break your contract in a responsible manner. You don’t have to leave a mess in your apartment and a stack of unpaid bills. Be willing to work out a fair settlement.


Dr. Spilchuk, does the recruiter who wrote to you really expect us to believe that a school head will give you the names of teachers you can contact who will give you an honest assessment of the school? Most currently employed teachers would not be reckless enough to tell a potential recruit that the school head is incompetent, that he’s been accused of stealing funds, or that teachers are afraid of him. Administrators will give you the names of teachers who they can count on for favorable reviews. One director convinced me to write up a nice article defending the school against negative reviews. I was also invited to speak out in defense of the school at public meetings. I had seen colleagues lose their jobs for voicing their complaints, and I thought that that it would be in my best interests to be a positive voice. Currently employed teachers are not the best source for an honest review.


Dr. Spilchuk, I am sure that you will hear from lots of teachers who were not able to get any help from the recruiting agency in dealing with their schools. The recruiter states that the agency invariably is able to bring about a reasonable solution. Reasonable to whom? What if the agency has just contracted with the school to do an administrative search for a new school head? If that is the case, then it is indeed reasonable for the agency to tell the teacher, “We are sorry, but you are going to have to suck it this time.” Who is the agency going to drum out of the regiment –the school that pays their fees or a teacher claiming to be unhappy with his placement? The recruiter writes that teachers who are treated unfairly are always supported by the agency. It is convenient to have a few clear cases of abusive schools and say that they were drummed out of the regiment. In most cases, however, those schools were probably not looking like lucrative clients anyway.

This does not address the more frequent cases where schools are just jerking the teacher around in a way that cannot be proved to a school board. Furthermore, most international schools do not have boards with any authority over teacher hiring, firing, or discipline. The fact that they look less favorably upon administrators than upon teachers does not mean that they can mediate a conflict effectively. In fact, the board’s agenda will more likely be to retaliate against the school head for some other issue having nothing to do with the teacher. The situation will go from bad to worse if the teacher tries to hitch a ride on the board’s agenda.

With regard to the “black listing” of candidates, the recruiter accuses teachers of paranoiaand introduces the euphemism “drum out of the regiment.” This is charming, but silly. It’s the same thing. Maybe the recruiters do not publicly announce that, “So and so has been put on the black list,” or, “So and so has been drummed out of the regiment,” but the effect is the same. Teachers: If a school head or a recruiting agency gets word that there was a conflict involving you, and that you did not suck it up, you can find yourself unable to get a phone call returned, much less a job. The sound of your phone not ringing is the same sound as the thief fleeing through the night whist no man pursueth.

My last word is about your web site, ISR. The recruiter lashes out at the anonymity afforded the teachers who post. This recruiter must be a senior citizen who has not accepted that the Internet has changed the world forever. We are all in this business together, and feelings are going to get hurt. Lies will be told, careers will be harmed and reputations will be sullied. Still, getting a heads-up that a school is especially bad helps us do our homework before deciding to sign a contract. Teachers may be swayed less by the bile they read on ISR than by the number of complaints or the lack of supportive assessments. We all know that people can be cruel and take cheap shots. Lord knows, teachers have all had their share of swipes from principals, parents, colleagues, school board members, politicians, angry students, and recruiters. Teachers know they have to take what they read with a grain of salt. Even teachers who are new to the international teaching world are capable of this.

Some teachers have gone through college with MySpace and Facebook and all manner of ways to trash each other online. It’s a wonder any of us has any friends left! As long as a school or an agency has acted responsibly, they should have nothing to fear from anonymous reviews. Remember that most references required by recruiting agencies must be given confidentially. Candidates are not able to see what is written of them much less reply publicly. If agencies really do not want to give anyone a chance to take cheap shots or carry out a vendetta, then they would change this requirement promptly.
Thank you for the chance to respond.

Signed,
Teacher


Dear Teacher,

Thank you for your candid response. You have written an excellent letter detailing many situations that prospective international teaching should consider. The more ISR hears from knowledgeable teachers like yourself, teachers who are/have been in the field and who have had wide experience, the better we are able to serve others by sharing your letters of warning and advice.

I agree with you that a teacher should not go mid-year to a Director to indicate unhappiness. Doing so is likely to set in motion a situation that cannot be reversed at a later date. I also agree that every international teacher should have an exit plan and enough cash to carry through with a quick exit. There are many reasons for doing so including sad news from home. And finally, I certainly agree with you that in the end, it is best to rely on your own good sense and planning. A recruiter will not extricate you from a bad situation. You must do that yourself while minimizing the damage to your own reputation.

Thanks so much for sharing,

Barbara


Dear Dr. Spilchuk

Absolutely!! Thank you for supporting teachers. Shame on these administrators that use teachers’ morals to guilt them into fulfilling bad contracts from bad schools. Slavery ended some time ago. No one has to stay in any job they don’t want to. PERIOD! Regardless of the reason. Most International Administrators do what they want without recourse. International Teachers have no union or anyone for that matter that can or will protect them from these scum bags who, if they tried this in the US would have been drummed out of the business long ago.

Thank you for your support,

A Supporter


Dear Supporter

You are most welcome. It is the very least that we can all do to insure that international teachers are protected in their contractual issues.

Take care and fair winds

Barbara

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