Dr. Spilchuk – Interview2017-06-02T14:25:39+00:00
Dear Dr. Spilchuk…

January, 2011

Interview With Dr. Spilchuk

Our On Line Teacher Advisor Offers Suggestions for Job Seekers

What Would You Say is the Main Thing to Consider When Going Recruiting?

Many teachers overlook the fact that some International Schools are ‘for profit’ schools. Teachers need to be aware of this specific distinction when they go searching for an international school. This is because what they are really doing is recruiting for an international employer, some of whom are business people with no true interest in education. In a ‘for profit’ school, the paying ‘customer’ often has huge power, and thus an issue of great concern, educationally, for international teachers, is forced marks-manipulation. This may be required of them by the owners in order to satisfy parents who are the customers of the business.

Another major issue, one that I believe stems directly from the ‘for profit’ attitude in schools without reputable owners, is the false contractual-promise problem. Within this area, teachers can encounter major problems with their basic living requirements such as housing, insurance, transport to and from the country for self and goods, transport to and from school, vacation pay, vacation and even safety. Shifting and even broken contractual promises can also occur without a great deal of recourse for the teacher to recoup lost income depending upon how the school is set up. This is not to say that such situations don’t occur in the ‘not-for-profit’ schools, but my experience shows that the ‘for profit’ schools tend to show a greater violation of teachers’ rights and educational ethics.

What Steps Can Teachers Take to Protect Themselves from Unscrupulous International Schools?

One way to circumvent major issues from occurring is to use a private recruiting agency to help you find a reputable school to work for. In most cases teachers are protected by these agencies from the more disreputable schools, as the recruitment agency will seek out employment opportunities that will succeed both for the school and for the teacher. I’m not talking about the huge recruiting fairs, but rather an agency that takes on a particular teacher and then finds them a position, much like headhunters do with corporate executives. There have been, however, cases I know of where teachers have had to break contract, even given agency recruitment support. Broken promises, in terms of job description in particular, have caused havoc for many teachers and are difficult for teachers to defend against with the recruitment agency. When a teacher breaks contract, the agency does not always support the decision to do so; the result is that the agency will penalize the teacher financially and may even black-ball the teacher both within their own organization and with other recruitment agencies as well, making employment next to impossible to find after a bad situation.

Whether a teacher uses a recruitment agency or not, it is best to research prospective schools. International Schools Review offers teachers the opportunity to view up-to-date School Reviews, read teacher comments about schools in the Forum, follow major problematic cases in columns such as my own, and request information directly about a school from other site users.

A teacher can further guard against disingenuous schools by requiring the school to give them a contact list of current teachers so that questions can be asked in advance. An excellent fact-finding procedure is contacting international corporate businesses located in the area for their take on the most reputable schools. Large corporations, such as oilfield companies, have to provide information about schooling options for children to their employees, so someone in the organization will know where most employees have chosen to place their kids. An embassy may also be of assistance if they have red-flagged an organization, but this is the least productive method of research.

What are Some Questions a Teacher Should Ask Before Signing a Contract?

Questions about benefits, job protection, safety issues and the legal status of contracts within the country, and government agencies in the country which monitor fairness for expats are all key areas to ask about. Teachers should have a list of questions prepared such as: Where is my housing located? Is it subsidized? How much will I have to pay? Does the school pay up-front the cost of my ticket to your country to work? How about after completion of contract? How will my salary be paid to me? How about a work visa – who pays for this? Does the school assist in ensuring a work visa is in order? Medical requirements and local medical support? Do I have to provide transport to work or will the school do that? Is the area where my housing is located safe? What government agency monitors contract fairness in your country? How many children in my classroom? Are the children international students or local students? What type of resources can I expect to have in my classroom? Marks for students…what are your policies? How about behavioral policies in the school? Any cultural awareness issues I should know about in your location? These questions are just the tip of the iceberg. Remember, as an international teacher your are going a long way from home into uncharted territory. Information is important.

What Are Some Big Red Flags that Would Knock a School Off the “Short List?”

A school posting a huge range of positions may be a real red flag to a potential teacher employee. Why so many job postings? Why such a huge turnover in the school? Happy international teachers do not just pick up and go somewhere else to explore the world. Even international teachers like stability. Teachers leave because the job situation has become difficult. Onsite, a real red flag will be salaries coming late or being withheld or contractual clauses having to do with money being broken.

How Do You Recommend Teachers Use the ISR Web Site?

ISR (and I believe the International Schools Review is a one-of-a-kind web site) offers teachers the opportunity to view up-to-date Head of School Reviews, read teacher comments about schools in the Forum, follow major problematic cases in columns such as my own, and request information directly about a school from the site. Teachers do need to be aware that postings come from international teachers, some of whom may be unhappy for reasons other than contractual issues. Filtering information is the responsibility of every reader. However, if a school has multiple poor reports from teachers working there, or who have worked there in the past, and very few good reports are posted….a prospective teachers can come to some reasonable conclusion about that school.

What Can a Teacher Do if They Are Being Mistreated?

Options may be limited depending upon the location of the school and its affiliation. It also depends upon if it is the teacher who has developed an employment problem at the school or if it is the school that is in crisis. Teaches who use a recruitment agency can turn to their agency for assistance. They may also have recourse to a section of the Ministry of Manpower within the country that deals with expat contracts. Legal recourse is also an option but can be very expensive. Seeking assistance for contractual issues from your embassy will not work. Embassies do not broker contracts. Seeking assistance from the embassy if the situation becomes dangerous to you is an option.

My best advise is that teachers try very hard to work out the situation with their employer. I also suggest that they hold money in reserve in the event that they do need to break contract and leave a country if a situation becomes unbearable. In the latter case, continued documentation is useful. Contacting ISR for assistance and advise is absolutely critical. We have been able to mediate work-related situations for teachers that have allowed them to complete their contract. We’ve also mediated legal situations by contacting local press and embassies. Above all else, however, we offer teachers in-the-moment advice that may help them circumnavigate difficult waters.

What Would You Say is the Best Approach to International Teaching?

While international teaching comes with its own set of employment difficulties the rewards are astounding! My best advice for all prospective international teachers is to do the research, then look forward with anticipation to an amazing experience! Immerse yourself in the culture of the country. Make friends with the locals. Eat the food. See the sights. Smell the smells. Delight in the differences; don’t look for sameness. (Nasi Lemak is not macaroni – learn to love it! You can always have macaroni back home!) Find a routine in and out of work; look for happy, safe places to go at the end of the day. Look for all of the blessings you are given in your new location. Marvel at your international teaching life. If a problem arises, deal with it…don’t live it! Unless it is a life or death situation, decide whether this particular issue is worth walking away from the wonder around you in this new place where you are living, perhaps closing a professional door forever to other similar experiences.

It took me a long time to figure out that I was not in international teaching to right the wrongs in a particular situation/location; I was there to give to the children and to take in and learn from every marvelous experience I had…good and bad. Don’t make the job the only reason for going abroad…Work to live – don’t live to work.

Back to Dr. Spilchuk Main Page