Open letter to international school recruitment organizations

Recruitment season is something many international educators both look forward to and dread. It’s a time to explore different opportunities that could literally change your life. However, it’s also a time of extreme stress and frustration. The field is immensely competitive with a single position at a popular school sometimes getting over 100 applicants. The pandemic has caused even more uncertainty as teachers come and go depending on lockdowns and city wide quarantine.

Recruitment agencies like Search Associates, TIE Online, ISS, and Schrole are designed to help teachers navigate the process of recruitment. They’re a one-stop shop for teachers to set up a profile, submit confidential references, and contact schools upon reviewing their profile. However, these organizations exist to prioritize the needs of the schools that utilize them. They uphold the status quo that allows schools to gaslight their teachers. They allow school leaders to act as gatekeepers to both prevent opportunities for teachers they dislike while also facilitating connections for those they find agreeable.

What if school leaders deploy problematic hiring practices? What if teachers are subjected to abuse by vindictive school leaders that costs them their jobs? Their reputation? There are no protocols in place on these platforms to protect teachers subjected to harm by their administrators. I experienced this first hand with one particular recruitment agency that many teachers take advantage of. This agency has done zero work on any sort of equitable hiring practices or DEIJ policies. This experience was so devastating that it caused me extreme distress and inevitably cost me a job.

I was in the final stages of the interviewing process at a major international school. Their policy required me to reach out to my last few principals for a reference. One previous principal I worked with for several years prior wrongfully claimed I “falsified” old references on the platform. I had never actually used this platform up until this point. This former principal deliberately went into my account and reported it without reaching out for any type of context, even though we have an open line of communication. This organization contacted me to clarify and the issue with these old references was a title mismatch – a minor clerical error that I owned up to and sought to amend especially since I had several up-to-date references from my current institution.

However, I received no response from the recruitment organization. I was essentially ghosted, dealing with a punishment that was an extreme overreaction for a mistake. After several fruitless email and even phone call attempts, it was clear they were avoiding me. I was just another teacher to them in a sea of teachers whose emotional well being and job security did not matter compared to their zero tolerance policy.

It wasn’t until I contacted a lawyer and threatened legal action against the recruitment agency that they finally contacted me via email. By this point, it had been over 10 days since this debacle started. In the end, the agency agreed to reinstate my account based on my more current references, but continued to reprimand me for being “dishonest”. While I was relieved to come to a resolution with this issue, the damage had already been done. I lost an exciting job opportunity and went through an emotional rollercoaster.

This issue inevitably cost me this job, and as per the recruitment agency’s policy they are allowed to notify any other bodies who may use the user’s data. I was terrified. I felt like my international school teaching career was over.

What the recruitment agency and this principal did was undermine my teaching experience. They dismissed the fact I have been a community leader for several years, ignoring my colleagues who vouched for me and taking the word of vindictive principal over my own. This particular principal has had a history of fraternizing with and verbally assaulting teachers. Yet, how could recruitment organizations ever know about this? Principals only require references from other principals, reinforcing problematic affinity biases. When I’ve reached out to recruitment organizations about this, the response has always been “go through your school’s proper channels”, but the channels exist to allow abusive leaders to thrive.

I was left on my own without any due process, so I cast out my net. I reached out to anyone and everyone within my professional network. Teachers on the ground all shared similar experiences they have had with other recruitment organizations; experiences of racism, homophobia, gaslighting, and abuse. We lamented in our shared experiences, and it made me even more frustrated to know these stories were a lot more common than I thought. Ultimately, my contacts led me to meet with other leaders at different recruitment organizations. The response from school and education leaders was the same, “ What did you do to this principal to deserve this?”. The ownership was placed back on me for having a poor relationship with my former principal. After I explained the racist and homophobic practices of this principal, I was given the response, “Well, back then we really didn’t know any better”. I knew right then I would not find my support here.

The overarching problem here isn’t with a single recruitment organization. Yes, these organizations have a tremendous amount of work to do to create truly equitable recruitment practices. The underlying issue is institutional power. These organizations exist not for teachers, but for schools, “old boys club” leadership circles, and full pockets. “Equity statements” and committees aside, when a real problem occurs with a school and a teacher, these organizations defend institutions and school leaders first. This was demonstrated not just in my own personal story, but the silent stories of many others. In fact, I believe that the way recruitment organizations are designed is to prevent truth-telling and accountability. My own experience ultimately led me to connect with the director of recruitment for another organization who wanted to hear my story. I was asked several times through the course of a single conversation what I did to make my previous administrator act in this way. After bringing up my experiences with racism, homophobia, and abuse, I was told by this director, “Back then, administrators didn’t know any better.” as if racism didn’t exist before the protests of 2020.

Consider this common scenario: A teacher has a poor experience with a recruitment organization, a school, or a school leader. The teacher experienced racism, homophobia, or microaggressions. Who do these teachers go to? They certainly do not speak with school leaders, who are often the aggressors. The head of school, likely a white male, is supportive of their white leadership team and doesn’t understand the experiences of marginalized communities. HR exists to support teachers with visas and finances, not interpersonal relationships. Even if systems do exist for teachers to report harassment and violence, complaining places our letters of recommendation at risk. Teachers are often gaslit into thinking the problem is with us; we’re told that we’re “too sensitive” or “we need to respect the journey our colleagues are on” rather than challenge racist individuals or institutions. The only solution for teachers is to keep quiet, put their head down, and make it through the year, hopefully with an adequate letter of recommendation in hand. Teachers will never know of course because electronic references are confidential, so teachers are left wondering what school leaders really said about them.

Some recruitment organizations are doing work to create more equitable practices, but I think there needs to be significantly more work done to actually hold schools accountable. Forming committees and interrogating internal policies is a piece of equity work, but justice and liberation will not happen unless more radical action is taken.


Require administrators to diversify their references

To my understanding, administrators are only required to submit references to recruitment organizations from other administrators. This creates an affinity bias and reinforces problematic power dynamics between school leaders. I would argue that very little can actually be understood by a school leader by requiring only other leaders in a similar position to provide a reference. I think recruitment organizations should require school leaders to call upon several staff members, parents, and students to submit confidential references describing their overall performance at the school. References should be random, and questions should also be available in more than one language depending on the school context. It would require some logistical gymnastics for recruitment organizations to make this work, but it’s possible especially given how there are much fewer school leaders than there are principals who go recruiting every year.

It’s also possible to enact this change without waiting for the bureaucratic recruitment organizations to do something about it. Many leaders find jobs organically through networking, so schools could make these types of references required in their hiring practice when seeking out new administrators. If we want a clear picture on how principals and other school leaders actually advocate for students, teachers and community members, they need to start reaching out to the source.


Require schools to submit public climate surveys to recruitment organizations

School websites might have a DEIJ statement or even a non discrimination policy. Now, on places like Search Associates, there is a spot in the school profile that states whether or not a school has an equity statement. Despite this, it’s extremely difficult to understand what it’s actually like to work at a new school unless you happen to know someone who either works there or has worked there. While schools tout their equity statement or spend thousands of dollars on PD, Queer and BIPOC educators often have a very different experience when they arrive. Take the school I worked at in Kuwait. It’s regarded as one of the most well established schools in the Gulf Arab region. However, in practice, they are racist, homophobic, and abusive. My experience is not unique; it has been echoed by several other international school teachers.

Teachers need full transparency. We’re shifting our lives and moving to a completely new country for a job opportunity that we don’t know much about aside from what’s on their website and in a virtual interview. Recruitment organizations should make it a requirement that schools submit climate surveys to their school profile that provide data from staff, teachers, students, and parents outlining their overall experience at the school. Surveys should be given in multiple languages and be updated every 2-3 years. These surveys should be public, so potential applicants can make a more informed decision on whether or not the school is right for them. This would also hold administrators more accountable, as their performance will essentially be reviewed by all stakeholders.


Make schools’ commitment to justice and equity a requirement

At the moment, the little section in school profiles about DEIJ statements and LGBT laws are entirely up to the school to fill out. In my experience, they’re sometimes inaccurate. I remember several occasions of bringing up a school’s DEIJ policy in an interview because I saw it on Search Associates, and the school had no idea what I was talking about. Are schools trained on what this means? Was it just a feature that was added without any notice?

A school’s dedication to anti-racism and liberation should not be optional. Finally, I think recruitment organizations should make having these aspects I noted, including a DEIJ statement, a requirement to access their services. Schools that do not comply would simply be turned away. Would that affect the company’s bottom line? Probably. However, those who are serious about this work understand that a sacrifice of privilege is sometimes necessary to do the right thing.

Queer and BIPOC voices should not have to fight this hard simply to exist. We need radical change, not committees or performative DEIJ statements or webinars. I implore recruitment organizations like Search Associates, ISS, and especially Schrole, to do more to hold harmful institutions accountable.


Introducing AIELOC

Have you ever noticed the small AIELOC banner on the school website?

AIELOC started from the story of a woman who was a person of colour. She shared an
anecdote saying she was discouraged from applying for a leadership position at an international
school as her race and country of origin did not match the “expectations”.

The Association of International Educators and Leaders Of Colour (AIELOC) is an
organization that deals with racism, identity, equity, discrimination, justice, diversity and much
more. It was founded by Kevin Simpson in 2017. Would you like to be a part of such an
organization? It is noteworthy that ISD is a school member of this association.

Impact ofAIELOC
I, as an intern of this organization, believe that the meetings, core values, and success
have been exceedingly insightful and inspirational; as it made me take a deeper interest in the
inequity in my school community. It is because of such issues that I, as a teenager, constantly feel
like I don’t belong and have a fear of being judged. This is clearly visible through students
avoiding students and staff of a certain race, ethnicity, background etc. Some may also notice it
by looking at how some students are more privileged than others and are perceived to receive
more opportunities.

As an intern who has been a part of the association for the last 6 months I can assure you
of the fact that, It has impacted my overall thought and learning process in a significantly
positive manner. Every ISD student deserves the opportunity to speak up and express themselves
freely. AIELOC is the perfect place to do so as we meet with various leaders from around the
world and come together to share our experiences.

Considering ISD is one of the first members of AIELOC and thus should exemplify and
implement its core values through its regular practice. The organization deals with some notable
issues such as racism, discirmnation, injustice, gender biases,stereotypes. All of the
aforementioned have been recognized by ISD over the years and students have been actively
spreading the word about these. However, their efforts have fallen short due to other affairs.
Addressing these issues aids the school to provide a significantly better learning environment
resulting in a better sense of belonging for the students. It is hopeful to see that ISD is officially a
member of AIELOC as a small banner of the organization is visible on our official website.
However, when the official ISD website is accessed a small banner of the organization is visible;
this is not of much use as it does not give any background of the organization. Hence, a way to
show affiliation with AIELOC is to dedicate a page on the school blog or jag journal, expanding
on what the association does, and what it can do to help to improve ISD in the long run.

What hasAIELOC accomplished so far?
In an interview , Mr. Simpson tells us that the creation of AIELOC was his biggest
success so far as it grew from a mere Facebook page to a structured organization with various
connections to other schools and communities.

From 2017 to 2022 AIELOC has come a long way and the journey will continue on.
AIELOC plans to continue its expansion for a sustainable future. In the upcoming 5 years, it
envisions to, have a bigger impact on students and educators of color, start numerous programs,
develop enhanced PD sessions, advance in research and advocacy, and feature in the chapter of
a book Mr. Simpson has been working on.

Furthermore, AIELOC is making a huge difference as it organizes well-attended
conferences each year. It has created and/or supports groups of the global majority within
international education (Africa, Asia-Pacific, Middle-East) ; It is a founding member of the
anti-discrimination task-force for international schools; it is supporting schools at achieving
more diverse recruitment and, last but not least, it is supporting the exchange of more diverse
teaching resources in international education.

Taking into account all the success that AIELOC has achieved in just 5 years starting
with only one story; we can most certainly imagine the extent to which it can go if hundreds of
stories were shared, all the while challenging us to create a change.

Joshieta Pal
Intern at AIELOC
IBDP-1 (Grade: 11)

Working at an international school while Black and a local hire

Working at an international school while Black and a local hire
When I arrived at that school, it seemed like a great place to be: It seemed like an open-minded
community, and a break from the racism we usually experience in Pretoria.
I noticed that as long as you, a Black person, aren't seen as a threat to white local hires, your
stay at the school will be a good one. While my stay was “good”, I started experiencing
aggressions that weren’t so micro. White locals would deliberately ignore me and pretend like I
didn’t exist. That came in the form of not being greeted back in the hallways, them walking into a
room I was in and proceeding to greet their fellow white person and pretend like I wasn’t in the
room, to speaking in their language to keep me off conversations, but quickly switching to
English as soon as an international hire joins the group.

As each year passed, the aggressions grew bolder. I was told that I’m at that school only
because of the color of my skin, that I was an affirmative action hire and would never lose my
job. Comments about black people not being able to manage anything, us needing white people
to save us.

More black locals joined the school, but would exit within a year. We were all exhausted from
the treatment we were receiving. It always felt like I had to leave myself at the gate of the school
when entering and assume someone that was palatable by the institution. While everyone
would talk about their personal lives and where they are from, I didn’t feel like I could, as I
always felt as insignificant as how the support staff was regarded. I’d always get curious looks
whenever I would be seen talking to the support staff, because those people were seen to be
there only to serve and not exist to do anything else.

I had isolated myself from the community so much that I knew there was no way I would ever
function well at that school. My life at that school was very lonely, most of the Black local staff
didn’t interact much with each other, as we all dreaded finding out what the others were
experiencing. We all knew what was happening, but we didn’t want the other to confirm the
treatment we knew they were receiving.

Things got worse after the killing of George Floyd, we all felt that the proverbial yoke on our
necks was getting heavier. The discrimination was more overt and administration continued to
turn a blind eye. The school only responded to allegations laid by former students and even
those efforts were more damaging than anything. Things got worse, some white South African
teachers continued to weaponize their tears instead of taking accountability for their actions.
We’d even compare the school to a local private school (teaching jobs there are mainly
reserved for white people. Black people are only there to serve as support staff or teach native

The best decision I have ever made for myself was to leave that institution. Even in my
departure, the administration made sure to conceal the reason for my resignation. They decided
that me leaving to take care of my family sounded better than me leaving because I had decided
that I had had enough of the discrimination I had endured for years.

If a white teacher fails to see me, a Black adult as human, how are they able to teach students
who look like me and some even sound like me? Continuing to teach at that institution made me
feel like I was betraying myself, as I had told myself that my own children would not be in a
school like that. So how could I continue to be in a place that does not see my value as human
being, and watch young Black children have no choice but to spend the majority of their days
with people who think their people don’t deserve to share the same space as them?
My dream as a Black teacher is for us to not be reduced to fighting for a place at a table that
was not built for us, but that international schools would dismantle their current table by
revisiting their hiring practices, and start building a table that is big enough and designed for
every race.

I worked for a very brief time because I always felt left out and isolated.
Much of the communication was done in Afrikaans despite me not understanding the language,
unless our supervisor was around because she didn’t understand it either and she was an
international hire.

I struggled to find help from my peers, who sometimes ignored me and laughed at me and then
spoke in Afrikaans.

Conversations or topics on colonization and apartheid were often spoken about and my views
were commented on as, “ it was bad, but we need to move on and get along “. Or how it doesn’t
help now that what “your” people are now doing to us.

I was often told that there are no jobs for white people in South Africa and now they are forced
to move out of South Africa because of the reverse apartheid. The insensitive views of my one
peer on how apartheid was better than this democracy was offensive and cruel.

Conversations on how they were close to their family’s house help and found them to be like
their own sisters and how some of their daughters are still their helpers, I found it appalling and
each time I addressed that such should be humiliating because it shows a generational wrong,
as they are progressing in their lives but their very own help is still stuck in the vicious circle of
poverty. They would then reply in Afrikaans and laugh amongst each other.

The challenge was the superiority of the Afrikaans academic staff, and the school accepting it
as a norm. As it perpetuates stereotypes and if not addressed and forced to change would
never change.

More white educators were employed as compared to people of colour, we were a total of 5
and the salary was very different even though doing the same job.

My white colleagues used to take leave because their cats were not well but a Black South
African colleague, whose child was unwell was reprimanded for always taking leave.
Sometimes there was terrible weather or the taxis were on strike, the Black colleague who used
public transport would be labeled as always having challenges. But administration and our
white peers failed to be empathetic about the challenges of the trips from the suburbs to the
outer lying townships, especially for a black professionals. The conversations on campus were
that we (Black and white South African) were equal, but the treatment and actions were the total
opposite of what was being preached.

I was excluded in some of the teacher curriculum planning meetings but my white peer who was
at the same level and doing the same job as me was included in the meetings.
Sometimes, my peers failed to acknowledge my presence in the room but acknowledge each

The local white peers strived to isolate, keep information from me but again the international
management lacked the interest, cultural/ historical sensitivity to be able to observe the situation
and engage us about it and lacked empathy for being black in a “white only bus”.
I was looking forward to learning and building relationships at the school. I lasted for a very
short time at the school, and was so happy to be out of that environment but had to be on
anxiety pills due to the level of psychosocial challenges that I encountered at the school.
Empathy is hearing what the other person is saying and allowing them to own their own story.
No one can ever walk in another's shoes because the minute they do, the shoes would take the
shape of their feet and would no longer be the other persons. These experiences were not
necessary to add to my already cruel South African experiences, but it proved to me that
irrespective of our South African song of reconciliation that school is many mountains away and
across the sea from arriving at the point of unity.

Reflecting on Natalie Obiko Pearson’s “Elite International Schools Have a Racism Problem.”

Do you track faculty diversity at your member schools?

Do you track pay discrepancy between white faculty and faculty of color, or expat hires vs. local hires?

Would you consider requiring your member schools to ban the use of photographs on faculty resumes and drop the native English speaker requirement?


Natalie Obiko Pearson, investigative reporter and Vancouver Bureau Chief at Bloomberg L.P., asked these pressing questions to multiple organizations in preparation for her article, “Elite International Schools Have a Racism Problem.” Published in March 2022, it circulated quickly within the International School ecosystem. Ms. Pearson graciously joined our April Community Visioning for about 90 minutes, answering questions directly from our AIELOC community.

Ms. Pearson based the article on her experience as an international school alumnus. Throughout her investigation, she conducted “Interviews with dozens of teachers, administrators, and recruiters.” She heard them “reveal hiring tactics unheard of in almost any other industry. International schools overtly prize White skin and calibrate salaries accordingly.” She shared her insights in receiving “the most baffling response” from well-known associations and education departments that “couldn’t even be bothered to respond.” Hearing her state the names of the organizations and institutions that continue to perpetuate systemic racism in the ecosystem was a relief to many in the audience.

Because of her personal connection to the story, Ms. Pearson took the time to listen and interview numerous members of our AIELOC community. The documentation of our experiences combined with her data analyses and inspection of the international school environment affirmed many of our lived experiences. She suggested, “I feel like another whole story could be done on the [insert international curriculum organization here] itself and how it’s managed to establish itself as the most elite curriculum in this sector and continues to evade these really difficult issues by saying, ‘we’re not prescriptive. We give a framework, and it’s up to the schools to decide.’”

AIELOC will continue to amplify the work of international educators and leaders of color. The Association of International Educators and Leaders of Color (AIELOC) is devoted to amplifying the work of international educators and leaders of color with a focus on advocacy, learning, and research.

New AIELOC Interns

Joshieta is a 15-year-old Indian student currently studying at the International School of Dakar. She is very passionate about technology, dance, art, and gadgets and has a  rich background in Taekwondo. She is a very kind-hearted person who loves to get to know people and help those in need. She is very interested in social justice issues as she values spreading positivity and kindness to others.

Originally from Benin, Terrence is a 15-year-old sophomore student at the International School of Dakar with a great work ethic, good academic achievements, and a passion for learning. He possesses thinking and risk-taking skills with great fluency in both English and French. Terrence is keen to pursue a career in the technology and business industries. As an individual, he is very interested in anything related to technology.