Article – What’s in Your Handbook Results2018-03-22T11:08:47+00:00

Results of Survey: What’s in Your School Handbook?

What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

This survey invited some revealing and interesting replies. Below, you’ll find responses to the article and some handbook red flags to keep in mind this recruiting season.

There was a vague references to a handbook (by administration) but then no handbook to be found. “Oh, we are putting it on the web site, so we don’t have it right now”, “Didn’t somebody give you one?” “I’ll see if I can find one.”


Yes, schools should have the handbook on hand for contract signing time. Now, suppose the handbook changes in a teacher’s favor. Is that teacher going to whine and complain that he shouldn’t get that last-minute-board-approved salary increase and argue for the older, lower salary?
You know, as long as teachers keep showing up for jobs at these junky, crappy, fly-by-night for-profit schools filled with students whose academic English abilities are severely lacking, there are going to be money-grubbing, amoral and unethical businessmen who continually screw people over no matter how many handbook and contract surveys are conducted or nasty school reviews written.


It should be in English.


As of Sept 10, 2007 at the Web International school in Shenzhen, china, we have three variants of the school handbook. All basically imported from other franchises/Shanghai HQ. All three require us to give two days notice, with a doctor’s certificate, before going sick. When I pointed this out the response was to ask how to say it in better English. I recommended deletion. The latest variant also has a section that if someone gives a month’s notice and the head of the school disagrees with the notice the school is not liable for the last month’s pay. However, we don’t sign that version; we only sign a separate page indicating we have read the “School Handbook Guidebook”, not the Handbook. We are not permitted to retain a copy of the handbook. The sole copy, of each version, isn’t at hand for reference.


In Kuwait, sadly some administrators are not aware of the labour law and other national laws and handbooks often need to be amended to reflect the law. The question you ask is weighted as if the school’s change ad hoc … not as part of reviewing according to legal changes or to explain the regulations in more detail.

The example given of censorship of books in Kuwait comes under the COUNTRY’s LAW (Islamic dept.) If you don’t agree to follow the religious and cultural guidelines regarding Islamic censorship, Arabic history etc. – then don’t come to Kuwait. You will be teaching mainly Kuwaitis and it is not your job to Westernize them and force Western values, politics and ideologies upon them! (Who wrote western history texts? Are they accurate and unbiased? Do they depict accurately what happened/still happens to the Arabs as a consequence of Western politics/history/action?) International education doesn’t mean they want to become mini-Americans/Brits.

Calendar length for teachers in schools is set between a minimum and maximum number of days by the MINISTRY OF EDUCATION (if memory serves me correctly a maximum of 186 working days per year?). Some holidays are according to Islamic calendar and the exact date cannot be definitely predetermined

The quote above “Attacking superiors and/or the owner of the school either by word or deed. Harming the school’s reputation by either word or deed. Consequences: Immediate dismissal without notification or compensation, including all benefits or indemnity.” is part of your contract according to the Ministry of Social and Labour affairs – same for every teacher in Kuwait – Not something the school made up. All employees have to abide by this.

I work in Kuwait – not Fawzia – but from the extracts above it seems that the school just clarified things further in their handbook and explained the law. It is not actually a change – but maybe making reference to laws that teachers (and maybe previous admin) were not aware of.

Residency/Visas in Kuwait – regulations differ according to nationalities and are being reviewed by government. You are supposed to come on a Work visa (not a visitor visa) and many problems arise when the staff do not bring all their documentation or fail the Ministry of Education Interview/Approval. (This cannot be seen as the school’s fault!) Lack of appropriate qualifications/forged or untestified documents, an inability to pass an interview, bad work history in the country, poor standard of English etc. all count towards non-aproval.

Buy a copy of the Kuwait Labour Law/All essential laws of Kuwait for expats. It’s not the admin doing these things – it is the national laws.


The Yangon International School (not to be confused with ISY) is an ISS managed school. They not only changed the handbook during the summer break, they routinely change their contracts, always eroding teacher benefits. During the 2006 recruiting fairs, an ISS representative touted visa runs would be counted as workdays as one of the perks. That summer all the newly-hired teachers were sent new contracts saying visas had to be taken care of during one’s vacation.

On the 2nd to last day of school teachers were given new contracts yet again. This one changing the currency of pay from the US dollar to the Myanmar Kyat and changing the the wording from “this contract is enforceable under the laws of the state of New Jersey” to “the laws of the Union of Myanmar.” That is not too comforting. Teachers are often paid days even weeks after the agreed upon last day of the month.

The handbook was changed over the summer. The erosion of benefits was small: exchange rates used are antiquated in favor of the school, one must now pay for his or her sub when recruiting and you cannot bank the times you are called on to sub for colleagues. The caveat: “at the director’s discretion” appears throughout. Most telling is the section (half a page) about only talking positively about the school and keeping negative opinions to oneself. Good schools don’t need to write that. With the completion of a second teacher apartment building across the street from the school, one can expect housing allowances, which were not raised last year to keep pace with Yangon’s rising rents, to remain frozen or be removed all together in order to get teachers to stay in the company owned apartment buildings.


If there is a change in the handbook, as can happen as they are updated, all person hired under the old handbook should be grand fathered in on any changes which diminish their benefits. Then they can choose to leave after the two year contract is up if they can’t live with the changes. But, they should not work for less than promised.
Our handbook was updated almost entirely for the better, but those sections which seemed to take something away were gone over with the staff and explained in detail. Staff were able to ask questions and there was a committee of both staff and admin who wrote the new handbook. And in the end everyone got at least a 10% raise and other benefits were added. There was no complaining that I know of.

However, it could go the other way and all changes could be bad for staff as well.


Having taught in Kuwait in the past, I can assure you that the censorship issues mentioned in this article are not a handbook issue. The international schools are subject to the Ministry’s regulations which include the censorship of teaching materials and a number of other policies based on the nation’s laws. Teachers don’t have to agree with them, but they do need to follow them just as they would in any other country, including the U.S. Just because the laws are different doesn’t make them wrong. My advice to international teachers is to ask how the host country’s laws will affect your classroom. If you aren’t comfortable with the answer, don’t take the job.


Our school handbook is well written and clearly defines school and teacher obligations. However, it is used more as a guideline, not an official document. It does not define what is and isn’t legally appropriate behaviour or responsibilities in great depth.


Of course it is unfair, unethical, and unreasonable to link a contract with a handbook about which I have scare information. It is totally my responsibility to insist upon reviewing that handbook before signing a contract. I, however, should not be bound to a contract if that handbook is changed without my foreknowledge and consent.

On a different note… At the risk of inciting the ire of my peers, I would like to further state that when traveling as teachers, we need to fully educate ourselves about the culture, history, mores, norms, and expectations of the environment. To expect employers to adhere to their side of the contract is reasonable. To be indignant because the handbook is a reflection of the culture is not. If I take issue with the culture, I should not go there. I am not hired to change the culture.

This comes up a lot in the Middle East and other Muslim countries. We feel we are “right” and in being “right”, we condescend.

Who recognizes Israel? Only Western countries and Egypt and Jordan.

What were the circumstances under which the Arabian Gulf became the “Persian” Gulf?

Is it fair that history focuses almost exclusively on the Holocaust while giving only lip service, if that, to the many many other similar atrocities?

Muslim culture goes hand in hand with no physical contact between unmarried people. Does it not?

Mohammed did flee Mecca. This is a fact. The date of that departure represents the start of the Muslim calendar. The issue is, in all likelihood, with the characterizations of Mohammed, his message, and motives. Needless to say, Mohammed is a highly regarded entity in Muslim countries and highly vilified in the West. His teachings inform economics, relationships, inheritances, marriages…everything. If we are teaching in Muslim countries, it would do well to at least attempt to have a balanced view of him.

And those Crusades…They’re a pretty highly charged issue. Best we know more than what we were fed in secondary school.

We should know and ponder the issues pertinent to host countries beforehand. At the very least it will help us to respect and understand better.

We must always seek to understand who revised the history? And why. As history is usually written by the victors, is it possible that maybe, just once or twice, we were fed mangled history? Failure of any of us to look from others’ perspectives casts a pall over all of us. And it reinforces a stereotype that many of us struggle daily to overcome.


I’ve been very fortunate in my international school because I’ve not encountered or experienced these problems and I’m starting my 6th year at the same school. It seems to me that certain countries and areas of the world are more volatile than others, and, as an experienced teacher, I will avoid teaching in any of these places for the very reasons people are experiencing hassles now. I also wish them all the very best in whatever situation they find themselves.