No, no – I’m not looking for a new job at the moment… I just wanted to tell you about what happened when I *was* looking for a new job a couple of years ago. When I think about everything that happened, I know I was taken advantage of and maniuplated.
I moved back to Lagos and started teaching at an international primary school in 2004. The school is privately owned (and sometimes feel more business-like) and had only been open for a year. It was small and the staff were friendly and happy. As soon as I walked in for my interview, I knew that this was the school I wanted to be in.
I was not classified as an ‘expat’. I was a ‘local expat’, since I had already lived here and was coming to live with my dad. My flight ticket was not paid for by the school and I didn’t get any excess luggage allowance. At the time this didn’t bother me. In addition, my salary wasn’t as high as it was in London (I had already been qualified and taught for four years) – but I didn’t have to pay taxes so it kind of all evened out in the end. I was also entitled to one return flight to London every school year, paid for by the school.
I was very happy there. The school grew and policies were implemented and followed. It went from strength to strenghth. And I grew with it. I received more responsibility and after three years became SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator). Some colleagues had become my closest friends.
Every year I signed my contract, just checking to see I still had my flight and transport to and from school included. I didn’t really think about what other people had in their contracts. The owner didn’t like her employees to discuss these things. This is, I feel, rather unrealistic and just a little ridiculous.
Anyway, so in January/February time (2009) the new contracts came out. I didn’t really think much about what was in mine until I heard about my friend’s contract… She had received a 33% pay rise. I had received a 6% rise. Without the amount I was getting for the SENCO position, she would have been earning more than me. I had been there five years. She had been there one year. I had been qualified for nine years. She had been qualified for four. She was also being offered an excess luggage allowance and two flights every year. And (I think) her own apartment. She had previously shared with two or three other girls.
I was confused and angry. Was I not worth that much? Wasn’t my contribution in the school community as important? Had I not done enough over the last five years? Also, I had started to feel a little bored and unchallenged. The repetitiveness of teaching the same year group for five years was getting to me. Maybe it was a sign that it was time to move on, and I started looking at other schools. There is a lot of competition between the schools over here because there are only a handful of good ones.
The school’s biggest competition (at that time) was an American school. It was a school I went to as a child and I loved it. I had recently been there for a conference and all these memories came flooding back. THAT is where I was going. In the past they only ever hired people with American qualifications, but they had changed that policy.
I got my CV, references (my line manager was the only one who knew I was going for another job) and other paperwork sorted. I went for an interview. They called me back for a second interview. Both went very well and I was feeling optimistic. Then they called me back for a third interview. It was on a school day, so I had to rush home to freshen-up, etc. I arrived early and went into the school office.
Who was the first person I saw there? Yep… My current boss! The owner of the school I was already at! I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me! She asked me what I was doing there (she was picking her son up from school), and I told her I was just checking out my options. She didn’t say anything.
I had my interview and was told that I would most likely get the job and that they would get back to me very soon. It was a Wednesday.
It was not until the following Wednesday that current boss called a meeting with me to see what was going on. I explained the situation to her. She basically said that she had to do what she had to do to keep my expat colleague there. She obviously didn’t think I would go anywhere… She knew that we had been trying to get pregnant and said it would be easier in a place I was familiar with, rather than starting a new job. And that if I needed a couple of days off here and there, we could come to an arrangement. Then she went on to say that she didn’t think I’d be suited to the other school. I didn’t have the right personality and that the parent body would have me kicked out because they wanted white American teachers. She then said that she would have to know very soon if I intended to stay or go so that she could start looking at staffing for the following year. She pushed for, and I agreed that I would or would not sign by the following Wednesday. And my salary was slightly amended.
Remember that it was February. And when I think about it now, I was really dumb. She didn’t have to know if I intended to renew my contract or not until the Easter holidays. She manipulated me. And I stupidly allowed myself to be manipulated. Probably because she terrified the hell out of me.
I anxiously waited to hear from the other school, but no phone call or email came. And when the following Wednesday arrived, I signed my contract and handed it to HR.
The following day, someone from the other school called to offer me the position. I wanted to weep. He apologised for not having called me sooner, but he had been in Florida on a school trip. Current boss KNEW THIS because her son had gone on the trip.
I asked my line manager for advice. Should I withdraw my contract? Would that be too unprofessional? Did I *really* want to start all over again in a new place with unfamiliar people (I’m very shy) and teach a curriculum I didn’t know much about? Maybe the parents wouldn’t like me?
I don’t know what it was that helped me make up my mind, but I emailed the other school and apologised to them. I wasn’t able to accept their offer as I didn’t feel it would be professional since I’d already signed the contract. I was disappointed, but it was the right thing to do. The school I was in had accommodated a lot of my needs over the years. They had allowed me time off to travel for my wedding and honeymoon (three weeks). Plus they’d allowed me two weeks the following year to go to Thailand for my cousin’s wedding. They’d also given me a day here and there when Hub had booked our flights on the wrong days, etc.
However, I was played. Big time. And if I decide to go back to teaching, I don’t think I’ll go back there… My line manager was always very positive and full of praise for all of her team. She constantly told us that we were doing a fabulous job. However, sometimes you need to hear it from ‘upstairs’.