A Return to Dignity
The discomfort and awkwardness of the above scene, albeit with varying details, has played itself out
thousands of times. Each year from January to March - the height of the international teacher
recruitment season - hundreds of candidates and recruiters descend on locales around the world for
recruitment fairs. They gather at these ad hoc “markets” in hopes of matching schools’ needs with
teachers’ skill and experience. Though we are positive they were started with the best intentions, the
recruitment fairs are losing gravity, as what is possible through today’s technology renders them, as they
currently exist, almost irrelevant. In order to understand the failings of these “markets,” let’s explore the
idea of a “market” and its characteristics.
A market, even in the context of today’s technological pervasiveness, can be described as both physical
and social, (Wikipedia). It is a place that people go to with the intent to exchange goods or services. We
would argue that markets, to the extent that they emerge from the needs of the people who engage in
them, are fundamentally a positive phenomenon. And that, because markets are social, they provide
opportunities not only for the exchange of products and services, but they also provide the context for
the interchange of ideas, beliefs, perspectives, and values.
Although the intent of a “market” is a positive, markets can, and have been, corrupted. The hyper-commoditization of labor which resulted in the slave trade stands among the worst moments in human
history. A different type of greed, the stock market is now frequently being pillaged by individuals with
more respect for wealth than the trust given them by investors. That people with bad intentions will do
bad things, is a given. However, where intentions are good, how can we ensure well-intentioned
“markets” remain well-intentioned and relevant - over time and in varying contexts?
There is no doubt that the prevailing model (the job fair) of international teacher recruitment emerged
from a genuine need. International and American schools around the world need teachers, and teachers
interested in an overseas experience need to find schools in which they can work. The idea, given the
times in which it emerged, was brilliant. Having not spoken with the organizers of these job fairs, we
imagine they wanted to expedite the recruitment process by bringing candidates (and their references
or former employers) to the same place as recruiters (or future employers.) Together in one “market,”
one had almost all the pieces needed to negotiate employment. We also imagine, that given the
technology available, these job fairs constituted one of the few opportunities for recruiters to connect
and maintain their friendships and professional relationships.
This model is a victim of its own success. When they began, they were likely small “markets” with a
hundred candidates and a couple dozen schools. Now, there are hundreds of candidates (sometimes as
many as five hundred) and over a hundred schools bartering in a single place. Some would say that is
great – more schools offering more vacancies to more teachers. But, there are many human endeavors
that don’t scale well, and this is one of them. At this volume, the fairs become inhumane enterprises
forcing participants to engaged in public “flash interviews” – in a hotel ballroom, at six-foot tables, on
their feet, with the next school and the next candidate less than 3 feet away – in order to secure a spot
on each other’s “dance card” or interview schedule. The average interview is thirty minutes and takes
place in hotel rooms on beds, window sills, or around fixed office furniture hardly designed for such a
noble purpose – selecting the next adults to teach the children entrusted to our schools. And, no one
will deny, the structure of the fairs plays to the advantage of a certain type of alpha person. Our schools
need more than just the alphas working with our students.