In Defense of ISR

An Educator Replies to a Recent TIE Article by Ivan Rosen

Please note: This article appeared in the TIE newspaper following an article by Ivan Rosen. We reprint it here with permission from the author.

Me thinks Ivan Rosen doth protest too much (IS heads grapple with anonymous Internet detractors, TIE February 2008, p 9). 

Whilst it is widely recognized by data gatherers that teachers with an axe to grind are more likely to put pen to paper than those who are content with things at their schools, a sensible reading of the reviews on the ISR web site still furnishes the would be employee (and others) with enough information to make more objective enquiries about a school in which he or she might have an interest.

Rosen seems concerned that a teacher is put off considering a school because of a plethora of unfavourable reviews. That, surely, is one of the points of any review – whether it be for a restaurant, a film or indeed a poor teacher. Good schools have little to fear from ISR and its like. After all, are we really interested in the candidacy of a teacher who bases his or her decision about overseas teaching entirely on the opinion of a stranger, especially if that opinion is demonstrably unbalanced or unsupported by others writing on the same school?

Rosen’s is actually one of the more measured critiques of ISR. Over the past five years I have heard administrators and school heads questioning the very right of the site to exist! Yet what ISR provides is a valued forum for teachers to post anonymous reviews of schools in which they have had experiences unique to them. Administrators who question its right to exist, even if they feel themselves to be unfairly criticized, are in effect asserting that their own view of their school is the only valid one. It is a view one might expect to read from a totalitarian government, but not from an enlightened educator. If this view is widespread among administrators, it also says much about how far we have to go in our understanding of user-generated content on the Web – the Web 2.0 that our students (and younger teachers) know simply as the cyber world they grew up using.

As I glance at today’s newspaper, I see links to ISR-style reviews pages for local councils, beaches, real ale pubs, government ombudsmen, farmers’ markets, the mayor of London and even a church parish (Sunday Times, March 30th 2008: Section 8, pp12-13). So why should international schools be exempt? Are we really so sure that all international schools are beyond criticism?

Perhaps what is needed is not the closure or compromising of ISR through lawsuits but more sites like it. Competition often forces organizations to raise their game and ISR’s moderators clearly recognize that they already fulfill a small but potentially significant role in the teacher recruitment process – a role that taken seriously could cause many of ISR’s detractors to change their minds. With over 100 million blogs worldwide and increasing numbers of teachers sending recruiters not paper CVs but interactive Facebook pages, the likely direction of teacher recruitment methods is actually one of the clearer aspects of the future of user-generated web content. ISR can certainly re-examine its moderation policy, but let us hope that hysterical calls to close it down meet with stern resistance.

Richard Harrold
Assistant Principal (3-5),
The American School Foundation of Monterrey