If you’re new to overseas teaching it will come as a startling discover when you realize you have little, if any, recourse should you find yourself working under a vindictive, inept, unjust or unfair overseas administrator and or board of directors. Teaching under a bad administration when you’re living in a foreign land can and will impact your life severely.
Of course, one way to deal with an oppressive administration is to simply walk-out and distance yourself from the problem. Nothing says you have to stay. But keep in mind that you’re walking out on a place to live, medial insurance, a pay check and maybe even your overseas teaching career. Walking may have even have devastating long term repercussions. After paying for a flight home and the shipping of your personal goods you can easily find yourself unemployed and very possibly facing the reality of being blackballed by the administration you walked out on. Yes, recruiting agencies tend to side with the schools, not you, as discussed in When to Leave by Dr. Barbara Spilchuk and Signed, Sealed and Legal.
So, unless you’re financially independent and in a position to through the future of your international teaching career to the wind, a better option is to figure out how to survive your current situation and turn a bad scene into a positive one. We asked international teachers to share with us their solutions to a bad administration.
We hope the following 8 scenarios sent in from international teachers working around the world will prove helpful should you find yourself teaching under a bad administration.
1- For others in the same hell, I recommend finding anything positive and focusing on that.
I survived my bad administrator through a combination of outstanding individuals, a young and enthusiastic teaching staff, and me not having any other teaching experience to compare this experience to. This was was my first teaching job!
For others in the same hell, I would recommend finding anything positive and focusing on that. As the song says, “you’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative”.
Find the individual teachers/administrators who are masters at their craft and make them your mentors. Watch the bad ones and learn from them at a distance. Seek out friends amongst your fellow teachers and have fun together. in Cairo, having parties, taking vacations together and learning to SCUBA dive as a group maintained our esprit de corps and kept us sane. Start shopping around for other schools. There may be better opportunities within the country, or you might hit the web. Even if you don’t jump ship before your contract is over, threatening to do so can bear remarkable fruit!
Good luck, and keep your return ticket warm in your pocket.
2- Some people can’t be changed by you, but you can refuse to be changed by a bad person.
I have had the unfortunate experience of working overseas with a “bad” administrator; a person who publicly stated that his administrative style was to have his teachers fear him because when they were afraid they were likely to be compliant. Then he went after any teachers who even seemed likely to contest him. That created a climate of fear and loathing for everyone.
How to survive? Enjoy what you can. Obviously there is much to enjoy when working in an overseas situation. After 3:00 and on weekends we were as far away from school as possible, enjoying the culture and people of our country. During school, as a staff, our focus shifted away from administrative issues. Everyone participated in committee work and lesson planning by following strictly the guidelines given. The students were not served by conflicts between teachers and administration. By not causing problems, we removed ourselves from being the administrator’s excuse for problems with students, families and learning success. Behind classroom doors most of us developed a strong support system for each other. We also learned to rely on each other rather than bringing up concerns at faculty meetings or during conversations that could be overheard by the administrator or its flunkies. This probably made each of us stronger professionally.
My suggestions are: (1) Find those professionals on staff who can support you. (2) Avoid cliques and complainers. (3) Remember that school is only part of your day so focus on enjoying the rest of each day. Some people can’t be changed by you, but you can refuse to be changed by a bad person.
3- The best thing is to keep yourself focused on the students.
When you get 3 new administrators (2 principals and a director) in one year things are bound to change. The best advice that I would give is to remember that the international teaching community is a small world and everyone is connected to somebody in some way so don’t burn any bridges if you are planning to stay overseas.
If you can’t support your new administrators in public and private and don’t agree with the direction they are taking the school, I would suggest you start looking for a new job. There are so many good jobs out there with outstanding leadership that you should never have to stay in a place with bad administrators that don’t support you and value you as a professional.
The best thing is to keep yourself focused on the students and learning and get through the year the best you can; avoiding all contact with the admin, if possible. Be happy you recognized bad leadership at the school and did something about it. Move on! Believe me, it is not easy… some of you will want to stand up and fight and try to talk to people because you love your profession. In the end, it will only cause you lots of unwanted stress and possibly hurt your career doing it.
4- Try to assume that everyone is doing their best — even if their best isn’t good enough.
All I can say — having worked in two schools with less than satisfactory administrators — is keep your head low and remember that everyone is trying to do their best, but some people are in positions they just aren’t cut out for. How it is possible for someone with poor leadership skills to end up in a leadership position is beyond me. The biggest problem, I think, is that this is very difficult to address. In my current school there was a significant exodus of exceptional educators this year as a direct result of an incompetent superintendent.
The environment of our school has gone from one of high professionalism and significant effort towards creating a “caring environment” to one of paranoia and unhappiness. People do not feel they can speak the truth because if certain administrators find out, you could lose professional opportunities. As a result, not ONE person was honest with our superintendent in their exit interview. Everyone felt it was important NOT to be honest — not to say what the real problems are or really why they were leaving. How will this person ever know if everyone says all is well? But how can we be honest when it may be used against us in the future? It’s a catch 22 and very frustrating. So keep your head low. Try to assume that everyone is doing their best — even if their best isn’t good enough. It’s a frustrating way to operate, but I don’t see a solution.
5- Request personal days or take sick days to visit other schools.
At my current school the main emphasis is religion, which leads to the hiring of religious people without consideration for their educational experience or background. Thus, the head administrator and lead teacher of high school and elementary lack experience and knowledge of curriculum. Students are not disciplined, events are scheduled without notice and teachers have to substitute regularly during their planning periods for absent teachers. We are not paid during the summer. Changes are made to the school calendar and schedules with short notice. Twenty-two work days were recently added to the schedule, including some Saturdays. Get the picture?
The secret to surviving in the midst of utter chaos and incompetence is to feed back what the administration wants to hear. Do not trust anyone you work with at this school. Use your time to meet and talk with administrators and teachers of other schools. Volunteer for all the workshops and conferences that you can stand. This will provide an opportunity to obtain another position with a better school. Request personal days or take sick days to visit other schools. I wish you good fortune to obtain the position you want at the school of your choice.
6- Fortunately for us, we were given an opportunity to get out of our contracts.
My advice is keep your head down and stay under the radar. We are a teaching couple. Things went bad between my husband and my principal in a big way. I had tried to accord the principal the dignity of being both an adult and a professional, but when it became obvious my husband was within an inch of being fired, I stepped in. After all, the principal couldn’t fire him without firing me! After that, when there was a problem, the principal came to me. While I didn’t like being the middle man, getting fired would have cost us $26,000.00! I can be a middle man for that kind of money. Fortunately for us, we were given an opportunity to get out of our contracts early, which you can believe we took!
So while we didn’t exactly turn a negative experience into a positive, we did find a way to survive. We stayed out of the office, out of the teacher’s lounge, checked our boxes when the principal wasn’t likely to be there, and had the one deal with the principal who could tolerate it the most.
7- Slowly…slowly… is the only way to survive. And then you leave!
I survive a poorly administered school by going for a smoke with one of the management team members. I am always dropping hints and making suggestions. I pass on complaints and compliments. I can see changes happening that I have suggested. Slowly…slowly… is the only way to survive. And then you leave!!
8- We all want to be happy in our jobs, but that may not always be possible.
Been there…….done that! Unfortunately, when teaching overseas a poor admin is more likely to happen than not; always bear that in mind! At best you usually get mediocre administrations/boards. If you have an “owner” at your school, you are pretty much GUARANTEED a crappy experience. You just have to be aware of it and be honest with yourself about your priorities. Do you want to travel and have a positive overseas experience? Is the money good? Are you having a good time? Are you growing as a professional, even if it means toughing-it-out and learning what NOT to do? Think of what is really, really important to you personally and keep reminding yourself of it whenever you need to. And then decide to just be happy.
I had to remind myself so often in this job (overseas, naturally) about my paycheck at the end of the month; that never fails to cheer me up. In other countries I had to remind myself of how good my social life was and how much I was enjoying it and how I probably wouldn’t get that same opportunity again (all too true as it turned out). Or when I had the chance for generous professional development or hands-on experience it meant a lot to me. I still compare it to what my life and work experience would have been at home and try to keep things in perspective and not let others, above me, get me down. However, I have to find something that is a BIG positive or it’s not worth it.
While I would never break a contract, I have consciously worked on “moving on”. I would spend time gathering material such as letters of recommendation and references from colleagues and friends overseas in administrative positions and tips and strategies on how to find a better overseas situation, etc. All that would cheer me up, knowing that I was moving on to bigger, better things and that any discomfort was only temporary and a stepping stone to a better job. We all want to be happy in our jobs, but that may not always be possible, which is true for overseas, as well as at home. Sometimes we just need to count our blessing, other times we need to learn to hang on and make the best of a bad deal and at other times we need to concentrate on moving on in a positive manner.
No matter what, we owe it to ourselves to enjoy what there is that is positive and to make sure that the next situation, whether overseas or at home, will be better and NOT WORSE. Remember, when you say that it couldn’t be worse you’re usually wrong………things could ALWAYS be worse. Hang in there, be positive and things can only get better, either by sticking it out or by moving on. Always leave on a positive note and don’t make enemies, if you can possibly help it. The world is small and you never now when you will run into those people again, or when they will be talking about you and to whom!!! Accept ALL experience as a learning experience and make plans on how to apply what you leaned to your work. You will always grow as a professional if you strive to keep growing, regardless of, or thanks to, others, and that is what ultimately counts the most. The more you grow the more valuable you become and if you also grow as a person, it’s always all for the best…….no matter what!! Good luck!