We’ve all made bad decisions before, but finding yourself teaching abroad in an international school in a foreign country and totally frustrated is a far cry from purchasing a pair of pants that fit a little too tight for comfort. When confronted with the overwhelming reality that we have mistakenly navigated our life into an intolerable situation it’s possible to act irrationally and make decisions we will live to regret. On the other hand, we may find ourselves well-satisfied with those decisions. Deciding to stay at an international school or leave is a tough choice when you’re unhappy with your current intentional teaching experience.
Without sounding like an advertising campaign, your first option should have been to steer clear of frustrating international schools by consulting the InternationalSchoolsReview.com web site. Here you can read reviews of international schools written by teachers already working at a school you may be considering for your next international experience. Of course, hind site is 20/20 and if you find your self stuck in a bad situation there are some paths you can take besides just leaving in the middle of the night and flying home.
When life becomes completely intolerable at an international school the first thing we recommend you do is sit down with someone you trust and ask for their input. This trusted person might be impossible to find in your current situation because you really don’t know the people you are working with beyond the short span of experience you have had with them. Confiding in the wrong person could lead to repercussions. As an alternative, you could call or email a good friend and ask their advice. You might just discover you feel the way you do only because you had certain unreasonable expectations that are not being met. You may find that if you let go of these expectations you will see there is plenty to like about your new surroundings. The truth may be that you just haven’t allowed yourself to see the possibilities. Sometimes talking about our feelings lets us see the other side of the story.
If, however, you are being bombarded from all sides by an abusive international school director that micromanages you to the bone, and a culture that rubs you the wrong way 24/7, no amount of soul searching is going to make it okay and you’ll either need to tuck-in and put up with it until the close of your contract or take action.
Your first step should be to meet with the director and talk about your feelings along with a plan to remedy the situation. I suggest you openly and sincerely express how you feel. Talk about the changes you would like to see along with a plan to effect these changes. It may be that the director isn’t even aware of how you and others feel. In an ideal world this would be true and your discussion can open the door to positive changes.
At my pervious international school I, unfortunately, found just the opposite to be true. A group of us tried to speak with the director about the current state of discontent among the faculty but he replied, “To avoid complaints in the future it is now against school policy for teachers to meet in groups larger than two to discuss how they feel about the school and director”. The board of directors supported him. This leads us to the next step.
Once you’ve exhausted your attempts to talk with the powers-that-be, contact the agency through which you were hired for the position. Understand that recruiting agencies tend to support schools and not teachers. I refer here to ‘schools’ and not directors because long after a particular director, and you, are gone from the international teaching circuit the school will still be there. And that school will continue to send directors to recruiting fairs and pay good money to hire teachers. Just be aware that you are on shaky ground and not likely to find a sympathetic ear. But this is a step you should take.
Begin by sending an email to the head of staffing or your direct representative. Explain briefly what is happening. Avoid personal and character attacks and stick to the point. Be brief. Ask what they suggest you do? If you just don’t like the director’s management style that won’t be grounds for you to break your contract with the blessing of the recruiting agency. In fact there may be a lot of things you don’t like about the school and the host country and these will not be just cause for breaking your contract. Even if the director lied to you about a myriad of things you still may not have grounds for breaking your contract. We at International Schools Review.com have heard of teachers being let out of their contract and it seems to be handled on a case-by-case basis with each case being decided independently from all others. You won’t know until you try. Be sure to see the International Schools Review Forum for discussions on this topic.
Okay! – You’ve contacted the recruiting agency and they’re not sympathetic. Now what? It can be a rocky path from here on out. At my last international school I decided to consult the director and tell him I planned to finish the first year of my contract and not return after summer vacation. This would allow him to recruit a replacement at the recruiting fair he already planned to attend. As a reward for my honesty and concern for the school this vindictive man proceeded to have me blackballed. No amount of protesting could persuade the recruiting agency to continue my membership. The recruiting agency blindly sided with a man that was harassing women teachers (including my wife) smoking, drinking, hanging out downtown with questionable women characters and calling various nationalities of students by derogatory names. He had many more shortcomings including a complete lack of knowledge of educational standards and procedures.
I don’t believe the recruiter would have subjected themselves or any family members to this director yet they blindly supported him. Just a couple of years ago this same agency sought me out and offered me a position at one of the international schools they managed, telling me I had all the qualifications they looked for in an international teacher. But now I suddenly had no credibility whatsoever. A man that actually openly bragged about how he had ended a number of international teaching careers had squashed my career. It was after this experience thatInternationalSchoolsReview.com came into existence. I suggest you use the site to avoid just such situations.
Before you announce you’re leaving tomorrow or at the end of the year you should try to work it out with the director. At my current school a couple that was perpetually unhappy consulted with the director and an agreement was reached by which they left the school on favorable terms and with decent recommendations. Everything is possible and it just depends on what type of person you’re dealing with. You won’t know until you try and just walking out is not the right thing to do.
Where do you go from here? In some instances we have heard of teachers bringing law suits against a particular director. As a United States citizen you can bring a law suit against another American even if the crime against your rights was committed in another country. Of course this is a long process and will not alleviate your present situation. Obviously, if nothing else has helped the situation, you need to think carefully about what you plan to do next. Here are some things to consider:
Reasons to Stay
You are earning good money and hopefully saving some each month. If you go home you may be unemployed and suffer financial difficulty.
You have a great insurance policy at the school. If you leave you’ll be without health insurance or will have to purchase a policy at home. Last time I looked an inadequate policy for two in the States was in the neighborhood of $450 a month.
You like your students and parents and the school community.
You may be blackballed if you leave and your international teaching may come to an abrupt halt.
Things really aren’t as bad as they seem and you may look back on your decision to leave and realize you could/should have stayed.
You like living in the host country.
Reasons to leave
This is a very personal situation. No one is qualified to make that choice except you. We do recommend you think carefully and not act hastily as your decision will have far reaching consequences on you. And then again, it may be the best decision of your life. Only you know for sure.