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.