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Uh oh: Message from the Principal

August 21, 2022


That was the title of the email I received three weeks before the start of my new job in 2022. Here are the next five lines from it:

 Unfortunately, the school has been unable to recruit the number of students expected for the next academic year and the decision has been made to reduce the number of staff for the next academic year.

Unfortunately, I am having to write to you to confirm that your position has been one of those selected. I am therefore writing to withdraw our offer of employment for September 2022.

I read that as I was actually with my suitcases on the way there. Yes, actually in transit, on my journey! I replied within ten minutes explaining that this meant I was left without a fixed address. I hurriedly stated in my reply that there were so many other issues that it raised, but I was in no state to write much at that point.

I allowed about a week to pass and stayed in a hotel, believing that the principal would reply and offer some sort of assistance. It’s now been about ten days and he has not replied to my second email which stressed the point that a contract had been signed. This has all simply been ignored.  I am still staying in a hotel scanning the internet for alternative jobs. However, this is mid-August, and so many schools have already started the academic year.

How did it come to this? I had a good leadership position in a school which was authorised to teach both IB PYP and MYP and it was a school with CIS accredition too. The only issue I had was that chances of promotion were slim. I knew there was a bit of a gamble I had to take. The choice was either stay within the safety of an established school with good international accreditations or choose to accept a higher position in a school which was only five years old and didn’t yet have any great accreditations.

Prior to the interview when I looked closely at the website of the new school I saw that it was only a member of British Schools in the Middle East and a candidate member of Council of British Schools International. It was not in a strong position in terms of being well established and recognised by accrediting agencies. This was a matter I discussed at the interview and I accepted that in its fifth year of existence there were still some improvements to be made. I knew that at the time, but the salary was very good and tax free too.

That awful email was received on August 5th, and so chances of finding a similar appointment are now incredibly small. The email did wish me well in finding another position, but wishes aren’t enough. He could have chosen to actually do something for me. On the flip side, I don’t have much interest in dealing with a school that would do something as cold as this. 

What do I advise others now? Stick with top-tier schools. Look at the accreditations a school has, and understand what it means to have those seals of approval. Join online groups where it is possible to ask what others know about the school. Finally, at the interview stage, find a polite way to ask what the plans are when student numbers are very low.

This article was submitted anonymously by an ISC member.

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Summer Shopping: What products do you stock up on in your home country?

July 11, 2022


“How many suitcases should I bring home???” thinks an international school teacher who is traveling home for summer vacation.  Inside though this teacher knows what they will end up doing during their trip back home. Even though it might cost them in the end when they pay for the extra weight of one or more of their suitcases or when they pay the extra fee for an additional suitcase on the airline they are flying on.  It’s a pity that many airlines are now only allowing one free suitcase for an economy ticket, even on international flights!

The allure of home products is too strong though.  When living abroad as an expat, it is almost vitally important to have some things around you that are familiar in your home abroad.  Sometimes I open up one of my kitchen cabinets and because of the many home products that I see, it could be me opening a cupboard in my old home in my home country.  Surely the first and second year abroad you might do this, stocking your cupboards full of home products, but doing this in your third or fourth (or tenth or more) year…. is it time to “let go?”

I heard one international teacher say that after eight years of living abroad she now refuses to buy products at home when she can find the exact same thing or something comparable in her host country.  That would most likely save her in the long run on baggage fees, even if the product is a little bit more expensive than in her home country.  However, sometimes we just want to have our favorite brand that we were using all the time when we lived in our home country, even if we can find something exactly the same (minus the brand name that we have “grown to trust”) in our current country.  This is the dilemma then, to buy or not to buy??!

This year I personally decided to only take one suitcase back home for the summer.  Well if I am being completely honest, I still did bring a carry-on travel backpack…in the hopes that I could squeeze in a few more of my favorite things to take with me on my flight back home. It was very difficult to limit myself.  The mantra that I kept repeating in my head “Can I get this where I live now?” If the answer was yes, I reluctantly didn’t buy it.

It is fun to shop in other countries.  Exploring grocery stores in other countries is one of my most favorite things to do actually (though I find it equally enjoyable to shop in my old grocery stores at home, too)!  You never know what you will find.  Well actually you do end up seeing some products from your home country in foreign grocery stores, but countries obviously have many of their own products as well.  As you try new products, you are bound to find new favorites.

Sometimes if you see products that look familiar, they have a different language on the packages.  Some even try and display messages in English that seem a bit funny to you.  I’m not for sure the Lays company would put the same phrase “best with cold drinks” on their United States packages…maybe though.  Also, foreign countries have people with different tastes, so you might find potato chip flavors like Chili Chinese with Schezwan Sauce and Seaweed Pringles….probably wouldn’t be popular flavors in United States.  One thing that is hard to find living abroad is proper potato or tortilla chips; that aisle in a United States grocery store is a long one with many different brands and options!

Another factor to consider when buying foreign products is when you are trying to read the ingredients; this is where many international school teachers draw the line.  Many, many people nowadays need to know exactly each ingredient that is in a product. And when you have to do this in a second language (in which you likely only know a few words in total), you might find yourself being drawn to bring back more of your home country’s products.  Knowing the ingredients is very important.  Sometimes even on imported products in your host country, the country itself covers up the English ingredients list by putting a sticker over it listing the ingredients in the host language. It is can be frustrating for sure!

Interesting story….I just witnessed an international school teacher lug up three boxes of home country goods to her apartment.  When I asked her where did she get these boxes, she said that she got them from somebody who works at the embassy of her home country.  After living abroad for a while and meeting embassy workers, we maybe don’t all know one of the perks they get.  They can order home country products in bulk and the embassy will ship them over to you.  I guess this embassy worker had extra and enough to share with an international teacher friend!  I didn’t see all the different kinds of products that were in the boxes, but I do know that I saw some boxes of Duncan Hines cake boxes from the USA!  You might be able to find easy-to-bake cake mixes in your host country, but this just might be one of those products that are only available at grocery stores in the United States.

Go ahead…continue to go home and stock up on all your favorite things.  However, don’t forget to keep your eye out in the local grocery stores where you are living.  Try a few new things every 1-2 weeks.  There are most likely some amazing products that you didn’t know about.  Some things though you just might want to pass on, like whatever kind of meat this is in the display case and what ever kind of product that is on a certain shelf.  Sometime the risk is too great on your wallet to try out new (and strange) products and foods!

If you are an international school teacher, please share what you stock up on when you return to your home country!  How many suitcases do you bring home?

If you’d like to share your story and earn free premium membership to ISC, please send us a message here.

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Discussion Topics

LEARNING THE HOST COUNTRY LANGUAGE and LOCALS’ LEVEL OF ENGLISH

April 25, 2022


In this article, ISC would like to highlight some of your recent thoughts and experiences on the topic of learning the host-country language and the level of English of the locals living there.

Many seasoned international school teachers want to learn the host-country language and put their best effort into taking classes, etc.

However, that is easier said than done. It can be difficult, expensive and often time-consuming to achieve this goal.

Some international schools offer free host country language classes to their newly hired teachers, but this can be optional and sometimes of a low quality.

And because homelife and the workday for international school teachers are often only in English, teachers really need to make learning the host country’s language a priority.

We asked five seasoned international school teachers their thoughts on some or all of the following questions:

• How often do you speak (or need to speak) the local language while going around your city/country?
• Has the level of English of the locals increased over the past 10, 20 years in your city/country?
• Have you taken language classes, for how long and how did they go for you? Did your school provide free host country language classes?
• Have you ever had to pass a host country language test in order to get permanent residence/citizenship, for example? and how was that experience?
• What is the level of your school’s expat staff with regards to speaking/knowing the local language?

Thoughts from an international school teacher who lived in Lebanon.

When I lived in Beirut, Lebanon, I was very keen to study Arabic there, specifically the local dialect (the spoken Arabic of Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Jordan). I had studied the language some prior to arriving and wanted to become more conversational. I worked in a school that had a lot of Lebanese teachers, so I would hear the language every day in school as well as out around the city which helped me to learn. Our school provided some lessons with an Arabic teacher from our school, but this wasn’t ideal because they put all of us together in one class, whether we were beginners or advanced. I ended up taking some classes at a local language school, which was really great. The challenging part was that I had to travel across the city in traffic to get to the language school and then the class was three hours long, 2x per week. Also, all of the people that I was studying with were full-time students of Arabic, so with a full-time job, it was hard for me to keep up with them! In Beirut, most people are trilingual to some extent (English, French, Arabic), so it is possible to get by without studying the language, but of course, it makes the experience of living there much richer if you do. I had a colleague that studied French while she was in Beirut and that also helped her to connect with locals.

Thoughts from an international school teacher on their entire career abroad so far.

I’ve committed to three languages in the past 20 years while living abroad. Spanish, Japanese, and Chinese. [I will be] adding Arabic to the mix when I move to the UAE in August and use my High School/Uni French in my kindergarten teaching (along with English).

Thoughts from an international school teacher currently working in Portugal.

In the school, there is minimal need to speak the language (Portuguese). Since we are an English medium school, almost all staff are fluent or at least functional in English. At times, it is easier to communicate with some of the staff in Portuguese, but that is rare. Since Portugal´ s economy is very heavily based on tourism, English is a required course in public schools. Although many people complain that it is not well done or the standards are not high, my experience has been that a large percentage of younger people in major cities speak English well. I have not seen a huge shift in this over the past 10 years that I have been here.

I took private lessons once per week from a former colleague. Having spoken Spanish for more than ½ my life, there were times when that was helpful. For others, it created much more confusion than help. Some false cognates could be rather embarrassing. Did my school provide free host country language classes? No. there was ongoing discussion of it, but it never panned out.

For citizenship, I was required to prove that I was at an A2 (high beginner-low intermediate) level. Although the design of the test was different from any I´ ve experienced before, it was relatively easy. For the oral portion, it was very much dependent on the level of the other student you were randomly paired with. I was paired with a person who used Portuguese in business every day, and we had a lively and interesting discussion, so it went very well. My partner was paired with someone who lived entirely in a predominantly English-speaking area of the country and had very little experience or skill. As a result, my partner’s score was negatively affected.

Approximately 50% of our staff speak several different languages, and many have picked up a conversational level of Portuguese fairly quickly. Those who don´ t have admittedly not made an effort to do so. One final point I would make is that as immigrants to a country, we have a responsibility to show respect for that country, by at least attempting the language. In Portugal, people are appreciative of the efforts of foreigners to try to learn the language and are very patient with mistakes. An attempt to learn the host country’s language is a sign of respect toward that country, and its people.

Thoughts from an international school teacher on living in a number of countries.

This is an area of high concern for me, and I am rather disappointed in the level of support I have found in the schools I’ve been with. I was on active duty from the mid-70s for 15 years, and in that time, one of the first things I tried to do was learn the language where I was stationed. I was rather successful, as I still speak three of those languages well enough to get by. However, in each international school, I have taught, I have asked if there were host-nation language classes provided for the teachers. Only one, in Manila, had anything. While my current school is in a country where English is one of the national languages, in other countries that wasn’t the case. In one country where the local language was Arabic, the number of people downtown who spoke English was quite limited, making it difficult to do simple things like buying a phone load, groceries, paying for electricity, and even buying gas. While I tried learning the language by myself there, and in Korea, the differences in writing and the lack of cognates to link to my Romance languages left me floundering. This is one area where the schools can easily provide lessons at minimal expense, yet make the expat teachers’ lives much more simple AND help them understand and appreciate the host-nation culture.

Thoughts from an international school teacher currently working in Budapest.

When I was offered a job in Budapest, Hungary, I was excited at the prospect of learning a new language “from the beginning” and even took a few introductory lessons before moving. Once I got to Budapest, many people discouraged me from learning the language saying it was “too hard” and “not useful outside of Hungary – don’t waste your time.” After a bit of time in the country, I decided that I didn’t really love the language, and I thought my time might be better spent pursuing other languages that I had already invested in studying (that I was actually interested in). I didn’t realize at the time that I would stay in Hungary so long and looking back, I now know that it would have been useful to study the local language. English is spoken more and more around Budapest, but it is mostly the younger generation that is learning it in school now (as opposed to in the past when Russian or German was more widely studied). There can be some challenges in not speaking the local language when going to shops or non-touristy places in the city – and definitely outside of Budapest. Luckily the school helps us with everything related to housing, cars, contracts, etc., so that part is not a problem at all!

These statements were submitted anonymously by ISC members. Thanks! If you are also interested in sharing your thoughts and perspective, please contact us here.

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Discussion Topics

The State of the Job Market for International Schools in 2022

April 10, 2022


In this article, ISC would like to highlight some of your recent thoughts and experiences getting jobs at international schools in 2022. It is April, so we are getting closer to the end of the hiring season. If you don’t have a position secured, you might be feeling a bit nervous about your prospects.

The landscape for getting an international school teaching position has certainly changed in the last 10 years. And if one thinks about 20 years ago, some people might have the perspective that the power of the international school job market was definitely in the hands of a teacher. The most experienced international teachers would remember these days of glory.

Surely, there are multiple factors that come into play for both the international school and the teacher that affect their decision-making processes. It can be a very rocky past to bring the teacher and the school together in harmony.

A lot of frustration and maybe even confusion can occur for both stakeholders from when a vacant position becomes available to when it is filled. The lack of clarity about what is happening during that process is the most frustrating part, especially for the teacher candidates.

We asked five seasoned international school teachers their thoughts on some or all of the following questions:

• Who has more of the power right now: schools or teachers? and why do you think this?
• How easy was it for you to find your last international school teaching placement? Please explain.
• What advice would you give to a recruiting teacher still looking for a job at an international school in April?
• Does having connections at an international school help and/or having lots of relevant teaching experience help in your job search? Please explain.

Thoughts from an international school teacher currently working in SE Asia.

I don’t like the word power.

So much depends on the candidate’s experience and capabilities, and also on the type of school. Most people are chasing the dream of a beautiful location, great school community, and high salary. Those schools can pick and choose. Other good schools with less budget in more challenging locations find it harder to recruit.

People who have too high expectations, mediocre references, and poorly constructed applications find it harder to recruit. People should be more intelligent about how they use social media and represent themselves. Not many schools are looking for people with self-serving agendas!

Thoughts from an international school teacher currently working in Central Europe.

I was recruiting this year and I signed a contract before the winter break in December. I had a shortlist of schools around the world that I was interested in working at and nearly all of them posted a position between September and December that fit my qualifications. (After I accepted the job, even more positions were posted.)

I was really happy that I had a lot of great places to even apply to, this time around. I had read online in some forums and groups that some people felt there “weren’t a lot of jobs this year” comparatively speaking, but it’s always a game of how many positions are open that are a match for your skills and qualifications. Each year is different.

I would say that a history of working at great schools, and connections/excellent references always help add something to an already great resume.

Thoughts from an international school teacher currently working in Vietnam.

As a maths teacher with PGCE and QTS but no maths degree I normally find I have to wait a while for the market to swing in my favour, normally April or May. This year has been different. I updated my details on teach horizons and 3 schools interviewed me in the first week. 2 made me an offer and the third said I would get a second interview. I took one of the first two and I’m off to Thailand in the summer. All done and dusted before the end of Feb. Very early for me so I guess the power is with the teacher

Thoughts from an international school teacher currently working in Taiwan.

I think for who has the power, it really depends on the individual schools and teachers. I applied to many schools via different platforms this season and had many interviews. It wasn’t easy but I ended up with 2 solid offers from good schools. I accepted in November and that is very early compared to what I have been used to. If one has a solid network of people someone at a school you’re interested in, then that can certainly give you a leg up. For me this time around, I believe it was my subject (economics) and my experience that helped me get interviews and offers. I think if teachers are still looking now, they should be persistent as people drop out of contracts and some very good schools are still looking now.

Thoughts from an international school teacher currently working in Oceania.

How easy? It wasn’t. While I did secure an appointment in May of 2020 for an August start, on the first day of school, the corporation announced our school was closing permanently by 31 December. I had a six-month unemployed period trying to find another posting.

Connections? Vital, especially given my age and experience level (both high). It appears that most heads/hiring officials don’t bother to read introductory letters where I explicitly explain I come with my own health cover and the school doesn’t have to pay for it. I know some schools that are forcing highly experienced teachers out to cut their HR costs.

Issues: Aside from the obvious of a slow return to anything resembling normal, I have had school heads tell me to my face that a certain country has a mandatory retirement age… and while partially true, as a legal resident of that country, I know that mandatory age is only applicable to government workers, not to non-government entities.

These statements were submitted anonymously by ISC members.

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Discussion Topics

Some Very Concerning Issues at 12 International Schools

February 20, 2022


International School Community is full of thousands of useful, informative comments,43153 comments (20 Feb. 2022) to be exact.

Members are recommended to keep their comments objective on our website, and sometimes they need to share how it really is working at their international school.

Back in 2015, we put out the top 12 most controversial comments in this article. However, we scoured our database of comments now in 2022, and we found 12 new comments that stood out to us as being some of the most concerning.

12. Housing Issues

“Document everything in your assigned apartment. Housing seems to be a major issue and both the director and the principals seem to think it’s adequate (which of course, as their housing is way higher quality than teacher housing). When things break or don’t work, it usually takes a long time to have them repaired. Patience is key here…” – International Community School of Abidjan82 Total Comments

11. Concerns About Getting Your Full Benefits

“Faculty are wondering if the ‘flights home’ portion of our contracts will be honoured, and that only USD 1,000 will be given as of this date. Financial issues have continued…”American International School Vietnam (AISVN)264 Total Comments

10. Child Protection Firings

“There have been 3 child protection firings in the last 5 years, yet no new trainings or reporting procedures for teachers (just new documents created). There was a massive firing done over COVID when teachers couldn’t get back to school. Most of us believe the compassionate thing to do would have been to keep people on as long as they were supporting students or curriculum. The majority of administrators are leaving this year. Not a controversy, but it’s unusual. The candidates recruited for the Head of School position included 2 white men and one BIPOC man who currently only had experience as a principal. It was a huge controversy that 1 of the white men had overseen a child-protection scandal at his last school and that he was being presented as a top 3 option to us by the board. Luckily, they selected the white male who had head of school experience and no child protection scandal, but it has been a lingering issue for the staff…” – Shanghai American School (Pudong)197 Total Comments

9. People Resigning Because of Covid Restrictions

“Covid related issues – teachers resigning as they wanted to be able to see families outside of China. Not too much the school could have done…” – Utahloy International School Guangzhou70 Total Comments

8. Not Getting Accredited

“The school hopes to become CIS accredited this academic year. The previous attempt at CIS accreditation was unsuccessful due to issues with the management structure of the school and the frequent changes in Head Master…” – The English School (Bogota)67 Total Comments

7. Problems with Changing the Contract After Signing

“The teaching contract is a bit of a touchy subject-be sure to KNOW and see which contract is passed from HR to Foreign expert bureau when you are taken to complete your visa-mention any anomalies that you may notice. Some people had issues with the terms that had changed on the contract itself AFTER signing-but really, it was nothing of consequence unless you are a ship jumper…” – Guangzhou Huamei International School65 Total Comments

6. No Raises on Teacher Salaries

“No raise last year and I believe no raise this year as well…. Makes you wonder if the school is having some issues…” – Seoul Foreign School220 Total Comments

5. School Climate Survey

“A recent school climate survey was administered to the staff. It was supposed to be useful and anonymous. One issue that arose immediately, was that in order to complete the survey, staff had to log into Microsoft Forms, which automatically attached name and email address to every response. Second, the majority of the questions, written by a staff member, were too broad to provide any useable data from which to develop a plan of action to address them. Even with the lack of confidentiality, a number of staff added specific and direct comments about the state of affairs, and one shocking statistic was that approximately 40% of the staff had considered leaving at some point in the year. In the final weeks of school, Board members met with staff who were leaving this year, in part, to determine their reasons for leaving. It would seem that this would be a pointless effort at that point because nothing had been done during the year to address staff morale issues…” – Oeiras International School214 Total Comments

4. Tech Issues

“Sadly, technology is a bit of a joke. From one day to the next, and depending on where your classroom is located, you might have great wi-fi … or none at all. If you had been part of the last day of school this year, you’d know the issues we face. It was a joke; videos wouldn’t play or they were super laggy, people couldn’t hear on Zoom, etc. It felt like all of the crying, heartfelt “Goodbye!” moments were nothing but faces and voices on your Zoom screen, trying to get anything to work…” – Concordia International School Hanoi32 Total Comments

3. New Teacher Orientation Concerns

“The induction program for new teachers remains a challenge area for the school. The administration is aware of the issue, however, it seems to be cultural ingrained…” – Santiago College74 Total Comments

2. Unqualified Teachers & LGBT Teachers Getting Fired

“The majority of teachers at this school are Georgian and do not have a background in education (no formal schooling in education and no teacher qualifications). This school is absolutely not LGBT-friendly for staff or students. Teachers are explicitly told not to discuss LGBT issues in the classroom and staff are reminded regularly that the school will not support such discussions and that staff have been fired for being members of the LGBT community.” – European School Tbilisi54 Total Comments

1. Toxic Positivity

“My first impression of the school was that it was warm, welcoming, and compassionate. I thought I would truly matter as an employee – I was eager to find a school with a family-like atmosphere that I could make home. The family-like atmosphere is a total illusion. Employees are expendable. HR put out a health survey to prepare for Covid-19. Anyone (local staff and teaching assistants) seen as expendable that marked that they were at a higher risk of Covid on that survey was fired at the end of the school year. The motto for the year was “We Are One.” The irony was not lost on the foreign staff with this. Generally, the moment you have a differing opinion, an issue, or a criticism, you are treated like garbage. This school is the epitome of the term “toxic positivity…” – School of the Nations (Brasilia)41 Total Comments

If you have a concerning story at your international school that you would like to share, log in to International School Community and submit your comments. For every 10 submitted comments, you will get one month of free premium membership added to your account!

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