My name is Santiago Balado, and I am the IB Coordinator at Victoria Academy. Let me start by saying I am assuming I know which teacher started this thread. Let me also add she is a very good teacher. She cares about each individual student, completes all work professionally, and is also a team player. She will be missed by middle management, truly. I also respect her anonymity, since Taiwan law is very clear about unwarranted defamation/libel.
However, I also need to add this teacher wanted to sign a new contract. In fact, she submitted her signed letter of intent to sign a new contract to me. Personally, I believe both the director and the teacher were stubborn in their contract negotiations, and this led the School to withdraw the contract offer. Specifically, the teacher wanted a special clause in the contract stating that, if the was asked to teach in the international programme, her salary would be changed to that of the international programme teachers. Yes, we do have a different salary, as the subject expertise requirements are higher than for the local curriculum programme. The teacher then went to interview at a school up north, and was promised a specific contract by that school’s principal. Later, when her contract came, the principal’s promises where not included in the contract. They explained it was the ‘higher ups’ that had the final say, and the offer was no longer attractive. She came back to our director explaining all of this and wanting to sign. At this point the director refused to offer her a new contract. I think the teacher should have understood our contracts cannot be catered to each individual needs, the board simply won’t allow it. The only parts that can be customized are left in blank. There was no intention of asking this teacher (who is an excellent elementary school teacher) to teach in the international programme. Also, we would have happily stated this clause in an email or made another type of written agreement. Further, the teacher could simply refuse to teach in the international programme unless her contract changed. Though I reiterate, there was no intention of asking her to teach in the international programme that is only offered at the secondary level. At the same time, I think our director should have offered her the contract after the deal with the other school went sour.
Below I reply to each point made by the upset teacher.
1. The school/company cares nothing about children and everything about profit. This is clearly seen in every school event, every effort the school's made to get licensed, every policy, every arrangements they make, every teacher they hired, every teacher they dismissed, everything.
The School is a non-profit organization as per Taiwan’s MOE policies. However, the School does care about its finances and handles them responsibly. I don’t understand about profiting from events, as these are free for the School Community. The efforts to become accredited by CIE and the IBO, and also to become a test center for the British Council, reflect the Board’s vision of improvement, and a commitment to quality assurance. We do want to be a better school, year after year. I am not sure which policies the upset teacher is referring to, but most of our policies deal with implementing school philosophy in the curriculum, and also in the approaches to teaching and learning. The policies delineate assessment, SEN, academic integrity, and other aspects of pedagogy. It may be the upset teacher is talking about our personnel policy. But, I have compared ours to other schools in Taiwan, and apart from having only three sick days (we are not the only school with a three sick day policy), all other aspects are comparable to the major private schools, both international and bilingual. As for arrangements, I am not sure what this means. All I can say is that while the school does look after its finances, we don’t operate any differently than other private schools in Taiwan.
2. The school has no guidelines when hiring. For example, teachers without a teaching license might be valued more than teachers with a teaching license. Teachers who are extremely non-capable are valued more than teachers who are well-experienced.
We absolutely have a salary scale, and the general policy is in every advert we publish. The only exception to this rule is when hiring for the international programme. It is very difficult to find teachers for all the subjects we offer, especially mathematics, chemistry, economics, and physics. We cannot compete with big schools like TAS in terms of salary, so we have hired teachers with no license, but still pay them the international programme salary. The upset teacher is particularly speaking about one of our current mathematics and sciences teacher. This teacher graduated from an Ivy League school, had experience teaching the IB Programme we offer in China, and had the IB training needed. We never hire inexperienced teachers for any subject in the international programme, unless they are newly qualified teachers (and these teachers have had their practical experience through their licensing). The teacher claims to be non-subjective (objective?), but her opinion about who is a good teacher and is not is most definitely subjective, especially not being part of the evaluation team and process. Let me add, again, that this particular teacher always had good evaluations.
3. The management is incapable. During my 1 year/2 semesters here, 3 foreign teachers whined and complained about their classes, threatened the management that if the school didn't let them quit teaching those classes, they were going to breach the contract and walk, and the school immediately took those classes away and gave them to teachers who are not complainers and who are more experienced with children.
I believe she means ‘incompetent’. This is simply not the way these events happened. This is again complaining about the same math and sciences teacher (who is very good at his job). The math teacher signed a contract to teach math and science at the high school level. Management asked the teacher to teach two elementary math classes, and he said he would try, but that he had no experience with elementary. He was tentatively put in charge of G5 and G6 English Maths. After two months, the G5 class was not going well. The teacher lacked classroom management skills as he is not an elementary school teacher. The school took away this G5 class. Most definitely there was a mistake made by management. They should not have given this teacher that difficult-to-manage class. The school fixed it. The other teacher who had a class taken away was because his wife volunteered to take his class. They negotiated this among themselves. So, yes, there was a mistake made, which was fixed. I must admit to this. At the same time, no teacher threatened to walk. If they had, they would have been promptly dismissed even if replacing them would have been a monumental task in the middle of the semester. I have no idea about the third person she is speaking about. Maybe this was a teacher who took maternity leave, but I cannot be sure.
4. The school takes full advantages of teachers who are capable and not complainers.
The school places teachers depending on their strengths and weaknesses. Certainly, teachers who are good team players are trusted more and given the most important jobs and roles. I like to believe this is how I got into middle management here. Schools in Taiwan and abroad look for teachers who have a ‘can do’ attitude. The OP Teacher is such a teacher, and one of the reasons I whish we could have kept her on board for many years to come. Please do note we simply do not renew contracts with teachers who are not team players, and also those who continuously raise unwarranted complaints.
5. The contract itself is not legally binding with the local law.
This is a complaint I hear from foreigners all the time in Taiwan. There are plenty of forums on this site about this issue. This is the first time that I hear this from a Taiwanese/foreign teacher (Taiwanese raised abroad). Let me also add that this teacher was paid the same amount as other foreign, certified teachers. Please do not sign a contract you do not intend to honor, or that you do not think is legally binding. As much as you hear about it, having a financial penalty for breach of contract stated in the contract is legal in Taiwan. I know this because I have one experience with this. In my eight years of working here we had one teacher challenge this. After doing my own research, I learned what often happens if these cases go to mediation (before court) is that the mediator asks the teacher to write an apology letter, and the school decides whether to proceed or not. In the case I am referring to, the teacher cited a heart condition for having breached the contract (something he did not mention when he simply did not show up to work one Monday). The mediator asked for medical records, the teacher provided them, and the school accepted the public apology -deciding not to go to court.
6. If there's any problem with any student, the school always blames the teacher. Not the parents, not the kids, certainly not the school's educational system, only the teachers.
This is somewhat true in the elementary section, but it’s more nuanced than this. Like many (if not most) schools in Taiwan when a parent complains the school listens to the parent, and asks the teacher to make a plan with the parent and student. The teacher is not reprimanded or penalized in any way, but they are asked to deal with parents the way you would deal with a client. This is not the only school this happens in. My good friend works for a big international school in Taipei, and, when he had a parent complain, they reviewed the evidence, told him he was correct, but then still asked him to apologize to the parents and ‘make a plan’ with them. They did not reprimand him nor penalize him. It’s much the same with at our school. Management does endeavor to keep the parents happy. I may not agree with this all the time, but it is something I am prepared to live with as long as us teachers don’t suffer in any way, apart from ‘being the bigger person’ when a parent complains.
7. The management is completely blind-sighted. They think their students are the most talented, most hard-working, all academically capable geniuses. Truth is, children have multiple intelligence; children excel in different aspects, not all of them are academically talented. Therefore, when the students are not motivated, sleeping all the time in class, never do a piece of homework and flunk their exams, it's the teacher's problem.
This one is simply not true. We do have parents who think their kids are the very best, even though they are most definitely not. We neither penalize nor do we reprimand teachers -in any way- when situations like these arise. In fact, we like to keep teachers who identify these issues early on and are able to work with troublesome students. This teacher in particular was very adept at motivating these types of students. She, like other great teachers we have, had students come to our office to help them with homework and do extra tutoring. These are excellent teachers who have a great impact on students’ lives. We are very thankful to them and support them. Some new teachers complain that we do not have disciplinary action that culminates in expulsion. When I started working here, this was an issue I had with the school. I was used to the policies I was under in my years of schooling in Mexico and the United States, where after three bad disciplinary reports you were suspended, and after three suspensions you were expelled. This is simply not the case in Taiwan. I know believe I understand the reason. Taiwanese students are rarely as bad, disciplinarily, as Mexican or American students. We have expelled two students since I have been working here. One was making physical threats to students and teachers, the other was mentally unstable and we do not have the facilities and the staff to deal with severe cases of depression, anxiety, and aggressive behavior. Other than that, we work with teachers, parents, support staff, and students to improve student attitudes towards learning. I am very proud of this. We have accepted ‘problem students’ before, and to see them a year later being motivated students, who have come a long way in their relationships with their parents and teachers, is very meaningful to me. The credit for this goes 90% to the teachers in my opinion. We had a teacher who made a point to eat with a student every day, and talk and listen to him. He taught the student to compromise with his parents, and inspired him to be a motivated learner. The OP Teacher is also very good at helping elementary school students ‘shape up’.
8. They are very short-handed. As mentioned, they take full advantages of non-complainers. Most teachers are burned out during the day and are impossible to 'have a life'. The job is just boring, non-motivating, labor-intensive and tiring.
Teachers work really hard! Do not become a teacher if you expect an easy job. This is part of the reason us teachers have longer vacations than other workers. I myself put in 50 (or so) hours per week, not counting midterms and finals weeks, where the work is a bit more. As I write this, I am looking at the OP Teacher, she’s watching ‘The Flash’ series at her desk because she got all her work done. She also studies Spanish for her own benefit during work hours. There is no problem with this if you get your job done, and she always does. We also have teachers who go to the track/field to run/exercise, or play ball with students or other teachers, during work hours when not busy. The same teachers then stay until late evening, or take work home, when they are busy because it’s final exam time or another busy time of year. I don’t find my job boring, but I do not understand how this is not subjective. We are also not short-staffed. Coordinators are ready to help with substitution, and our class sizes are quite good for teachers. No class has more than 28 students, and our secondary classes rarely have even 25 students in them. Our international programme classes do not have more than 15 students in them.
9. The middle management is always way to busy and not knowledgeable enough to troubleshoot. For example, upper management (who are not specialized in anything) criticize teachers (specialized in his/her subjects) for writing bad exams. In addition to that, when teachers notify them of really bad exams, they don't care.
I am not in middle management for the elementary school, so I really cannot comment on this one. What I do know from working with the elementary school’s coordinator is that she is super organized, always sends reminders and monthly calendars, and is very patient with both teachers, other staff, parents, and students. We are lucky to have her. Upper management, our directors, are specialized in their fields. My immediate boss holds a M.Ed. in education management, and the elementary school principal/director studied her M.Ed. in the US. Moreover, the school is committed to professional development as it is a requirement for maintaining Cambridge School and IB World School status.
I am not going to comment on the exam creation process. I know the elementary school has standards for test-creation. I think if you have a different opinion you will be heard, but it is ultimately the responsibility of management to prescribe standards.
10. The turnover rate is extremely high not only for foreign staff, but also for local staff. Most people who stay are 1)people who are rooted in this city or somewhere nearby, 2) people who are currently incapable of finding another job, 3) people who 'believe' they don't have another choice, 4) incapable people who really don't have a choice. The management is just mistreating everyone and filling their own pockets with tons of cash.
This is an outright lie. International and local bilingual schools normally have a higher turnover ratio than other types of schools. Our foreign languages department has a pretty good turnover rate for our location, salary scale, and stage in the careers of the teachers we hire. Since we are on the lower-end for salaries for international schools, I often pitch our school as a stepping stone for newly graduated teachers. Recent education graduates (or even teachers doing their education programme while they work here) benefit from CIE and IBO training, small classes, and a great work environment to build their resumes. The reason our salaries are not comparable to schools like TAS is simply our budget. As we grow and improve, we have raised salaries significantly, but we cannot compete with schools like TAS in Taipei or the Canadian Academy in Kobe, Japan (just to give two examples of well-established international school with very high salaries). My office has fourteen teachers. Six of us have stayed three years or more, and others are on their second year. We have five teachers leaving, and three of them wanted to stay, but decided otherwise due to the poor air quality we experienced during the fall and winter this academic year. Two of the teachers are married and are having twins, and the other has a six year old boy. I understand their concerns, and I have started telling potential hires to research the area and particularly the air quality before making a decision. FYI, air quality is back to ‘normal’ now (15 to 70), which I am very happy for. In terms of local teachers, we have an excellent turnover rate. Teachers currently in the local teachers’ office average five years at our school. Also, the categories she has for those of us who have chosen to stay are really hurtful, and are definitely subjective. I am not being asked to write this reply, and I am definitely happy here even though I have been offered jobs at other companies and schools. Of course, there are stressful times, and times where I really disagree with upper management, but I know my position, and I know which decisions are mine to make. For other decisions, it is my job to give all information to the decision-makers, and also make them aware of my opinion, but it is they who make final decisions (as with any company). And, again, the school is a non-profit educational institution.
Finally, I hope the best for the upset OP Teacher in her future professional endeavors. But, I do reiterate she intended to stay at Victoria Academy, and was denied a new contract. Again, I personally think both parties were stubborn in their contract negotiations, and I am sad for losing such a great teacher.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.