While teaching in the south of the United States, Filipina Ingrid Cruz from the Philippines was part of the group that used national union support to fight back against an unethical international recruiter.

“Back home in the Philippines when I made the difficult decision to leave my family to go work in the United States, I did my homework. I researched the recruitment agencies that were registered with our Overseas Employment Agency and tried to make sure that I was working with a legitimate one. Even then,we paid high fees, but that was only the beginning of the problems for me and 350 of my fellow educators.

 

Immediately when we landed in the US, we were taken by a second recruitment agency to a place where we were forced to sign a second contract while they were holding our passports. I can still remember how it felt. This second contract stipulated another round of fees, and many other violations of our basic rights, but we had already invested so much and gone into such debt, it would have been impossible to turn around and fly back home at that point, so we signed again.

 

Once we got to our work site in Louisiana, the problems just kept getting worse. The recruiter had signed apartment leases on our behalf at above market value, and told us who we had to live with. She told us not to talk to people in Louisiana and not to join the union. She kept close tabs on us, and frequently called to harass and intimidate us if she didn't like our behavior. She threatened to have us sent home and used the visa renewal process to get more money from us.

 

I'll never forget when she sued me for allegedly starting a blog to raise concerns about our treatment. She had the court serve me papers in the classroom in front of my students.

 

It is only because of the American Federation of Teachers’ legal defense that I am still in the U.S. today, teaching robotics, with my family now by my side. This is why I believe that freedom of association is so critically important for migrants, because it was the union that helped us amplify our voices and seek justice."

 

 

Nicole Thompson, from Trinidad and Tobago, is teaching in Cayman Islands.

"Why have Caribbean teachers left? We left for better salaries, for better working conditions, for smaller student-teacher ratios, for more flexible opportunities, for advanced qualifications, for better behaved students, for better student attitude to learning, for intrinsically motivated students, for an opportunity to see more of the world, for personal change … and the list can go on.

As an expatriate teaching professional, I feel it is important to interject that leaving one’s homeland to live and work in another country does not indicate a lack of patriotism or appreciation for one’s country of birth, but rather is an act of self-determination and can often be an act of self-preservation. We, in fact, often act as ambassadors in our new countries of residence, exporting and sharing our culture when opportunities present themselves and therefore help to develop the cultural literacy of the students and other colleagues with whom we work.

Using my experience in the Cayman Islands as an example, on any given school day, a student can encounter a mathematics teacher from Trinidad, a science teacher from Ireland, a history teacher from Jamaica and a support teacher from Canada. They each bring their own beliefs, values, and goals into that learning environment of the classroom."

 

In 2010, Patricia Raclot, a French citizen and elementary school teacher, joined an effort to organize teachers and staff at the Portland French School (United States) to help give employees there a voice in their working conditions, similar to what she experienced in France. However, she never imagined the anti-union campaign the school would wage. During her six years at the school, she had worked hard to make a difference for her students, fellow co-workers and the community. She had helped to create a mentoring program for new teachers, and coordinated numerous school activities. However, when she and her co-workers found that they had little input in terms of working conditions, curriculum, and school activities, they contacted AFT-Oregon. They collected cards from a majority of faculty and staff and asked that their union, the American French School Employees, be voluntarily recognized by the employer. 

The day after the union requested recognition, Raclot was informed that her visa paperwork had been stopped and that her contract would not be renewed. Raclot wasn’t the only one targeted in the school’s anti-union campaign. Three other teachers saw their contracts terminated, and one quit. Many others endured harassment, threats and a smear campaign launched by the school and its board. Indeed, in 2011, an administrative law judge ruled that the school had violated the National Labor Relations Act in its opposition to union organizing by its teachers and staff. The judge found that the school committed numerous unfair labour practices ranging from work rules forbidding employees from discussing working conditions; to telling employees the union was a “stigma” and “stigmatized” the school; to threatening to close the school in opposition to unionizing; to threatening reprisals against employees if they supported a union; to suggesting it would remedy their concerns if they dropped union organizing.

As part of the decision, Raclot was to have her work visa and position at the school restored, along with back pay. Instead, the private school opted to close due to financial concerns caused at least in part by the legal fees it invested in its union busting campaign. What follows are some of Raclot’s reflections about her experience:

“I wanted to study and work in a school where you have teachers who come from all over the world to share experiences from different countries and cultures. I received a lot of support from parents and the community. Everything was fine— parents were proud of my teaching, and children had good results in my classes.

I had been in a union as a teacher in France. There, with a union, you have answers right away, or you can go on strike if something is wrong. You can work with those who can change the laws.

It’s so important to be represented when there are so many people concerned—the kids, parents, teachers and staff. But the day after we requested recognition, I was told by the head of the school that my visa paperwork for the following year had been stopped.  I was not expecting that at all. We were really willing to work with administration, but just wanted to have a way to raise our concerns. I thought the head of the school would just recognize the union without having an election. 

I was shocked by the anti-union campaign at PFS. It’s not like that in France. But it’s not my personality to step down. I’d rather stay and fight for all who were fired, laid off, or harassed. I want to show that an employer cannot do whatever it wants just because it has the power.” 

Story and photo courtesy of Jillian Smith, AFT-Oregon

 

 

Facing economic crisis, Alfredo Ramirez left his home of Ecuador to teach in Spain. 

 

He is among the founding members of APROFERE (Associación de Profesoras y Profesores Ecuatorianos Residentes en España) and serves as the organization’s Vice President.

“The devaluation of the Ecuadorian currency affected me personally, and the buying power of my monthly salary deteriorated terribly. All of the products and essential needs, the price of clothing, and of transportation, were quoted in dollars at prices imposed by globalization and changed by the international standard currency. Facing the economic chaos of the moment, the only option that remained for us was to migrate to countries that could give us better opportunities and that permitted us to enter without visa requirements.

The Ecuadorian teachers who are residing abroad feel that the Ecuadorian government should return us to our teaching posts so that we can return to our country. We left due to the economic slaughter that occurred in the country. With our remittances from abroad we help not only our families, but the State in general so much that the remittances were the second largest source of national revenue after oil and helped Ecuador to get out of the crisis. On the other side, Ecuadorian teachers cannot work in Spain. They do not recognize our degrees here even though we have prepared and worked within the Spanish system. Moreover, due to the crisis throughout Spain there is no work. [At the time of this interview, unemployment was over 27%.]

Professionally, the barriers that have been imposed on us in Spain create a sense of deception. After you have carefully prepared for many years, put in the effort to become part of the profession, and even though we use the same pedagogical system, you will not be accepted into teaching, because according to them, your degree is not valid.

It would have been of great importance to recognize our professional pedagogical degrees with a short course or workshop. Having prepared ourselves in the Spanish system, it would be useful to be able to maintain our professional development in a series with instructors or Spanish nationals trained here. They should give us the same treatment or better opportunities to participate in the civil service exams."

 

Canadian teacher, Damianne President, has worked in India, Sudan, Japan and Czech Republic in the last 10 years.

"I have been working overseas for 10 years. As a student, I never considered working overseas. However, I graduated with my Bachelor of Education when there was a shortage of jobs for teachers. I needed a full time job to meet my responsibilities and, in my job search, came across a job fair for international schools. I attended the fair, having been warned by the recruitment agency that it was unlikely that I would find a job there as a new teacher, and was offered three jobs. Out of Trinidad, Colombia and India, the last seemed most interesting. The school in India was a for profit school. We were given housing, a yearly ticket to our home of record, and a salary. All utilities were paid. However, it was sometimes challenging to get resources at the school, which was a constant reminder of the commercial nature of the school.

Since India, I've worked in not-for-profit schools in Sudan, Japan and the Czech Republic. They have all been international schools with international curricula. Benefits have included medical insurance and housing. Japan and Czech Republic were the most generous, with some dental and vision medical insurance as well as a retirement contribution from the school.

My first three schools were small K-12 schools and there was always a lot to do. There were frequent complaints from teachers of being overworked because we were all involved in curriculum development and other school improvement initiatives. This translated to lots of meetings and other work besides teaching. The positive aspect of this focus on school improvement is the ability to innovate in the classroom, with a focus on collaboration, creativity and authentic learning. I find the opportunity to be a teacher-leader and change agent very appealing in the international schools that I've chosen to work in.

To me, teaching in international schools allows me greater freedom to teach. I know that there are stateside schools that have similar programs but the bureaucracy of the US and Canada are daunting to me. Additionally, if I were to return to Canada to work in public schools now, I would be starting out as a new teacher and my international experience would be given no value. That alone is a huge deterrent to returning “home.” The other is the fact that I am third-culture and Canada no longer feels like home."