This summer I saw a LinkedIn post from an international educator about how employers usually focus on why you decided to leave a school. It often leads to an assumption that those of us who choose to leave schools before three years are not dependable. It questioned why employers don’t ask why didn’t you stay? This post and question resonated with me deeply because of my recent job search. This question puts the onus on school to create an environment where employees will want to stay past the two year contract. Securing an international job is much like dating and then being in a relationship. While we wouldn’t encourage our friends to stay in an unhealthy relationship, international educators are expected to stay for three or more years for the children and to be deemed employable by top schools. Much like married couples who stay together for the children, educators who move around are pushed aside during recruiting season for leaving a challenging situation often without a discussion about why. We are expected to keep our bad experiences private and there is often no consideration of the emotional damage this can do to an Educator.
When I chose to leave my job in Abidjan last year in September it was primarily because of the housing issues I had to deal with regularly and my school’s nonchalance about the effect it was having on my physical and mental health. I chose myself last September instead of settling and decided to try for my dream location. I don’t have a dream school but Latin America is my dream location because I want to be in a warm climate, that is closer to the US so that I can see my family and friends more often and possibly get some visitors. You know how they say that when you put your desires out into the universe and pray with all your heart then your prayers will be answered. Well this was not the case for me this year. Because I have moved around quite a bit in the last 9 years, schools saw me as a liability. So despite being over qualified with 23 plus years of experience and excellent at my job, I was passed over for jobs. Sometimes never even getting an interview. This was extremely difficult personally and professionally and the school year ended with no job and a fear that I would have to return to the US to live. So instead of resting, I spent the summer applying, interviewing and praying that I would secure an international position.
Before I accepted a job in Dubai at the beginning of August, I had three other great prospects. The first one I didn’t get after three interviews but truthfully it would not have been the best fit for me personally due to the work life balance that I desire. The second position was almost perfect professionally except it was located in the UK and it didn’t offer housing. I would have to secure an apartment and furnish it which would be really expensive in the UK. To be honest, I really wanted this job and was willing to deal with the winter and the gloomy weather in the UK. So I tried to negotiate an increase in the salary to offset the expensive cost of housing. The school wouldn’t budge and didn’t even respond when I turned the offer down. I won’t lie I was so very disappointed because any salary negotiation from this school would have resulted in me taking that job. The third job was in Mexico; the salary was less than 25K lower than my salary from the DR 10 years ago, it was taxed and they only paid for 2/3 of the rent. Again, I tried to negotiate a salary increase because the location was perfect although the job was not. But the HoS said no, so I turned it down because there was no way I would go back to struggling financially with my years of experience and expertise. This opportunity in Dubai came up at the end of July when I was starting to believe that I would be moving back to DC and working at a private school there. Let me just say this would not have been a bad option except for the expense $$$ of this choice – securing housing, a car, apartment furnishings and winter clothes, etc. Although living in Dubai was not at the top of my list of places I live I considered it because it offered some important things personally. A non taxed salary, furnished and modern housing, warm weather, an international airport that offered access to lots of traveling and a strong Black Expat community. All of these things will make my personal life easier. Fun Fact: UAE is the first international country I visited outside of the Caribbean back in 2013 when NYU Abu Dhabi flew me out to see the campus.
From the beginning there were things about the job that were red flags after I signed the contract. with The HR office struggled to respond to emails with details about housing. I arrived at the airport and had trouble finding the person assigned to meet me because of confusing information. The HR Director in orientation struggled to give detailed answers to questions about insurance and the allotment of sick days. I didn’t receive my insurance information until mid October while some of my colleagues didn’t receive theirs until November. In other words we were working without insurance for the first couple of months. The biggest indication that this job was a mistake was the fact that they cut our salaries by more than half in the first month without explanation. When we asked for a reason, HR did not respond to emails about it. Then I was told that this was explained in the contract although it was not. I experienced regular gaslighting and micro aggressions because I disagreed with policies. Another issue was that I had to insist I wanted to be called Cheryl-Ann although it is my name because Cheryl was apparently easier for people to remember. I lost count of the amount of times I had to remind people. The Director sent me an email about my attitude because I asked him to call me Cheryl-Ann and then he refused to meet with me to discuss his concerns. My spirit became tired, I had never worked in a school where my opinion and assessment as a School Counselor was minimized with this is how we do it here or you’re being negative because you disagree. The constant micromanagement and lack of autonomy was bad enough but the Director’s behavior was the last straw for me. I would not stay at a school where I didn’t feel valued as a professional, where when I disagreed or asked questions I was treated as a problem. So I chose to resign because my anxiety was so high that I was having trouble sleeping and relaxing on the weekends. I knew there was no way I could stay at this school for two years. I didn’t trust that the Director would give me a fair evaluation and reference at the end of the year so it didn’t make sense to sacrifice my mental health. In the 17 years that I have worked in schools this is the first time that I chose to leave a job before the end of the year. After I gave my notice the Director did not speak to me until the day I left the school even if I was standing next to him. Up until the day I left the school I was forbidden by the Director to tell the students I was not returning and the Principal appeared to have little power to change this. While it was clear that the Director enjoyed the students and treated them with kindness, he struggled with responding kindly to disagreement from the staff. So I chose to end what for me was an unhealthy situation.
I am aware that I may have difficulty finding another international job because of my short stays at each school but I am confident that I made the right decision to quit. Although it was a short lived experience in Dubai I had a lot of fun and I learned some valuable lessons: I learned that there are schools that will do a bait and switch around salary, insurance, treat your questions as a nuisance and try to devalue your expertise through micromanagement and gaslighting. I learned that my self love and faith will not allow me to stay in an environment where disrespect, gaslighting, micro inequities and micro aggressions live. I learned sometimes choosing to leave a job is the best thing I can do for myself because I deserve to be treated with kindness and respect. I learned that there are worst situations than being unemployed. So I plan to enjoy my sabbatical. I hope that this post encourages others to speak up and share their experiences, to not allow worries about the judgment of others to silence them.
As I start over again and journey into this year’s recruiting cycle I am open to new possibilities even though I have no idea where I will end up. I look forward to the blessings and new opportunities coming my way in 2022 because I know that choosing me is always the best decision because I deserve the best. #SchoolCounselorlife #startingoveragain #newbeginnings #choosingme #sometimesleavingisbest #trustingGod #notogaslightingandmicroaggressions #leaningonmyfaith
3 Comments Add yours
Oh Cheryl-Ann. That sounds horrible. I’m sorry you had to deal with all that. I wa shopping the living condition would be so much better an I had always heard that Middle Eastern countries paid a ton. Sounds like you got a “bait & switch”. Ugh! That is despicable!
I am going through my first recruitment season and it’s a ton of work with highs and lows. I just got my first “second” interview. I realize now that I didn’t have a lot of experience interviewing. What seems like common sense, needs to be explained. I had always heard that getting a job is a full time job, now I see why.
I wish you the best! I am on Search if you need me to look up anything for you. Who do you use?
Take care, Cheryl
On Mon, Dec 27, 2021 at 4:25 AM Journeys of a Bajan Expat School Counselor #InternationalSchoolCounselor #ExpatCounselor #BlackExp
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Thanks, It was stressful in so many ways but I chose to try to work it out initially until it became too much. Good luck with your 2nd interview. Recruiting can be difficult but you will get better at it. Let me know if you need any pointers.
Kudos to you 👏🏿 for doing what is best for you!
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