It’s election time in many countries across the world. In the US the election campaigns are kicking off more than a year ahead of time and in France Jean-Marie Le Pen pulled out of the campaign due to allegations of racism, much to the relief of his daughter. Over in the UK, the parties are releasing their manifestos for the general elections to be held on 7 May, full of promises of good things to come if they are elected, often lacking in detail of how it will actually work. I always take a pinch of salt with promises made by politicians, especially at election time.
The spectre of broken promises looms in the minds of many internationally bound teachers and forums are filled with stories about being hired with one contract or set of expectations, only to be confronted upon arrival with something altogether different. In my 10+ years of working with international schools I have seen this happen on more than one occasion –sometimes out of necessity, but sometimes to take advantage of unsuspecting teachers… in which case, don’t worry, I have always blacklisted these schools from our client list.
What are the possible legitimate reasons a well-meaning school might change something before you arrive, you ask? Here’s a few examples of actual cases I’ve encountered.
Case 1: Government programmes
Government programmes exist at the behest of foreign governments and the wheels often turn at a rate that is not in sync with the school year. So for example, budgets might get approved in April and the effect of the new budget will take time to ripple down. Alternately, the programme might be reviewed once a year and the numbers of staff and subjects needed may alter.
What can you do about it? Good luck changing a foreign government policy! But you can work with a reputable agency who knows the programme well and can alert you to longer term trends. In a worst case scenario, my company would always drop everything to find you a new job if something goes awry late in the day, but this rarely happens. Governments don’t like getting black eye any more than people do.
Case 2: The foreign government stipulates that contracts are not legal unless signed in that country. Yes there are countries like this, Spain for example.
What can you do about it? Ask for a sample contract and confirm that this will be the one you sign when you arrive.
Case 3: Enrolment varies and is unpredictable.
International schools in regions where there are a lot of expatriates (UAE and China for example) often cannot predict exactly what children enrol, what are their ages and what subjects they want to take. This means that teachers must be flexible and adaptable, and it might mean that your contract will change if it’s very specific to a position and that position shifts. I remember one really good school in Dubai that would hire a few teachers as ‘learning support’ in September so that they could be shifted into other roles as the year progressed.
Because of this, many schools offer contracts that just stipulate that you are a teacher and don’t define your exact grade level.
What can you do about it? If this really bothers you, then focus your search on very established schools that serve a more local population as they will have the stability and predictability you crave.
Case 4: Slow HR systems
In some big schools groups, sometimes despite the best of intentions the HR teams are slow to respond and can get even slower during holiday months. This might mean you have a ‘letter of offer’ but not a contract for a while.
What can you do about it? It’s unlikely that you will speed up the bureaucracy in a foreign school’s HR department so ask for a sample contract so you can look it over now.
Despite what some alarmist posters might lead you to believe, there are sometimes valid reasons that a contract might be slow in arriving or a job might change. But there are also some not-good reasons too! It’s best to work with a caring and reputable agency that has the determination to walk away from clients that take advantage of teachers.. and believe me that not all do.