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Top 10 reasons how you know you are NOT working at a top-tier international school

March 28, 2015


We all wish that our next international school will be in the “top-tier” of all the 6000+ international schools out there around the world.  For you will have the perfect salary, the perfect position, the perfect boss, the perfect housing allowance, etc.

Well even though the idea of working at a top-tier international school sounds wonderful, the reality is that no international school is perfect, that’s for sure.  On the other hand, we suppose it is true that working at a top-tier school will more likely be a better and more satisfying experience for you.

Each international school is on their own journey towards greatness. The most important thing to know then (when considering a job to work at an international school), in what part of their journey will you be starting?  Is that international school moving at a steady pace towards improvement or will it be at a very slow pace (or worse, stalled, and heading in a downward spiral)?

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What are the Top 10 reasons how you know you are NOT working at a top-tier international school? Maybe you can relate to some of these!

#1 – You don’t get paid on time. 

Fact. You can’t focus on doing your best teaching if you are not getting paid on time. Some international schools (for-profit ones most likely) do not pay its teachers until two weeks or more after the original pay-date. Slowly losing trust in your school to pay its staff on time will definitely affect its ability to be top-tier.

#2 – The interview process leaves you confused and full of questions.

There is nothing worse than being very interested in working at an international school and then left being underwhelmed after the interview with them.  The administration appear to not be very well organized.  Maybe they do not know the specific details about the position for which you are interviewing.  When interviewing, obviously you need to have all your questions answered because this decision you might make is a big one.  You want to leave the interview satisfied that they have answered all your questions and concerns.  Curiously, sometimes the interview goes super fast, and the school seems to be willing to hire anyone breathing (another red flag); which gets you wondering if you indeed really are a good fit for this school or are they misleading you just to fill a vacancy.

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#3 – The business office is a nightmare-of-a-place you dread going.

Losing trust in your international school is the definite deal-breaker. Arguably, the most important room in the school is the business office. For it is a fact that they are in control of all your money.  If you are not getting reimbursed for things in time, you lose some trust. You lose even more trust if the business office staff is very mean to you and does not seem at all interested in helping you resolve all things related to your money, in a timely and respectful manner for example. If you are a bit scared to go into your international school’s business office (because of multiple previous experiences of disappointment and stress), then you know your school is not in the top-tier.

#4 – The student enrollment is falling rapidly.

Losing students can be a very natural event at an international school caused by things completely out of the school’s control (i.e. global recession, big businesses moving out of the area, etc.).  But if your school has students leaving for nearby international schools, it might be falling out of the group of top-tier schools in your area.  Parents know very well which international schools, in a specific city, have the best reputation. If the parents are extremely upset with the experience they are having with your school, they will start finding alternative options for their children. The less students a school has, sometimes will affect the number of unique services they can offer. Which, in turn, leaves the school falling down a into a downward spiral of student enrollment because of a growing bad reputation.

#5 – You have a very non-existent new-teacher orientation experience.

When you arrive at your new post, everything needs to be just-so for you to get started off on the right foot. If the international school does not have a plan for welcoming and orientating new staff, these teachers will be full of stress. Getting settled in as quickly as possible is every new teacher’s goal. If the school does not offer a planned and structured new-teacher orientation programme, it will be left with teachers who cannot focus on doing their best in the first few months of starting at their new school. Top-tier schools know what new teachers need in the first couple months and have a plan on how to help them minimize stress of culture shock to the new school and the new country.

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#6 – There isn’t equal pay for teachers working in the same position.

International schools need a plan on how they will pay their teachers and staff. Unequal pay for people doing the same job is just not fair. Top-tier schools have a clear pay schedule that is understandable and transparent.  Teachers know when there is unequal pay amongst the staff, and this feeling of inequity causes them to have a negative impression on how these financial aspects are handled. International schools that want to be top-tier ones realize that paying local staff a different salary and offering them less benefits is not good for staff morale and the overall wellbeing of all stakeholders.

#7 – Your administration hires people that don’t match the school’s philosophy and mission.

How frustrating when your director does the hiring for the whole school, even when they do not have a clear idea of the positions they are trying to fill. In smaller international schools, typically the director is the only one going to the recruitment fairs. Top-tier international school directors know better how things work in their primary, middle and high school sections. They know how each of those diversion runs and the personalities of teachers that work in those divisions. Finding a good match for working with your current staff should be a top priority. Top-tier schools ask the right questions to try and figure out to their best ability if the candidate will be a good fit for the school’s current philosophy and mission. Non top-tier international school miss the mark completely and will hire anyone who vaguely fits the position’s requirements.

#8 – The school starts countless new initiatives all at the same time.

Top-tier internationals have a clear plan on how they will organize new initiatives.  They will not do so many at once as they know that causes the staff too much stress because of all the changes they will experience.  Top-tier international school also have administration that stay for four to six years (or longer), which allows for better deployment of the proposed initiatives. All new initiatives need see-through and consistent monitoring and evaluation. We all know the non top-tier schools out there that pile on the new initiatives, leaving all staff angry and frustrated.

#9 – You lose money that the school was suppose to pay you.

Promises, promises. You would think that after signing a contract with an international school, they would honor it.  But at some schools, that is not always the case.  Many schools offer a bonus payment for every year that you have worked there.  The catch is that they will not give you that money until after your final year of working there.  You are not working at a top-tier school if you are worried about getting the money that was promised to you.  There are international school teachers out there who have to wait over a year to receive their bonus money.  Even scarier, there are other teachers who never got their bonus money.

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#10 – Your international school completely closes down a year after you leave it.

It is unlikely a top-tier international school will close down. Many times they are huge businesses that are very well organized with many stakeholders with a vested interest in the success of the school.  Unfortunately, there are some of us that have worked at these less desirable international schools that plainly just do not have their act together. To add to your embarrassment of working there for a few years, you find that the school has closed a year after you left it due to a high amount mismanagement. It happens. Its true that not all schools can be as successful and long-running as top-tier schools. But do you really want to work at an international school that does not have their act together with a haphazard management style?  We think not.

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