Month: April 2018

Reviews

Your New Apartment

You’ve accepted a position with the American School of Kuwait. Let’s talk about your new apartment. You can find out about the neighborhood and the precise location of your apartment by viewing our previous posts:

Here are some photos of the inside of a family apartment at the Dina Dana Tower.

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Who needs a shower curtain? Or shelf space?

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The apartment comes with the furniture suitably spread out for a ballroom dance.

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Clothes not included (inshallah).

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Recent improvements have been made to the countertops – they’re two-tone now. Patchwork was done with different colored stone. It’s a feature.

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Cleaning those top windows is fun if you’re not acrophobic.

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Not the original bedding. The original bedding is (like) sandpaper. This is not hyperbole.

 

Some notes on the differences between a family apartment (like this one) and a singles apartment:

  • Family apartments are essentially two singles apartments put together.
  • There are two family apartments per floor, they do not share walls.
  • There are four singles apartments per floor which do share one wall.
  • In family apartments the kitchen is at one end. In singles apartments the kitchen is open and in the middle of the apartment – the room where the kitchen would be for a family apartment is converted into the second bedroom instead.

The first thing many people notice is how big the apartments are. With lots of tile, there is a bit of an echo in such a large space. The second thing you will notice is that there is no shower curtain, nor is there even a shower curtain rod. This is peculiar. In our time at ASK, we believe that every teacher has installed a shower curtain rod in each bathroom, with few exceptions. Yet – somehow – each year new teachers come in and find that there are no shower curtain rods.

Where do they go?

Are teachers leaving and deliberately unscrewing the shower curtain rods from their walls to spite the new teachers that will take their apartment?

It seems that these are being removed by maintenance staff over the summer. No one knows why. But plan for your first few showers to be sans curtain and for water to go everywhere. You will need to go to a store and buy an L-shaped curtain rod and find a drill in order to screw it in. If you can find a drill to borrow and are a bit handy, then you’re good. If not – then the friendly maintenance staff at the towers will be happy to install the shower curtain rod for you – for a fee. Perhaps removing the shower curtain rods ensures a steady stream of income when teachers arrive each August…

Other things of interest

The linens on your bed will not be pleasant. Pack some nice sheets in your carry on so you can go to sleep on nice bedding the first night. Trust us – it makes a difference.

The air conditioning works quite well usually. This was not always the case. If we were writing this post 2-3 years ago, we would probably have quite a lot to say about very hot apartments with repeatedly malfunctioning air conditioning units. Fortunately, the school did replace every air conditioning unit and they tend to function quite well.

Your windows are gigantic, and your curtains are gold. You can replace the curtains if you don’t like the color. The huge windows let in more than light – they let in heat. You may wish to purchase more opaque curtains in order to help keep the apartment cooler.

In addition to heat and light, your windows let in dusty air. Get down on the floor by the bottom edge of you windows. Chances are good you can see outside through the gap between the window and the wall – many of them were not sealed properly. Ask to have this sealed – sealing your apartment properly makes a huge difference in both air quality (which we know is not good) and temperature control.

There is a swimming pool. Remember – no glass around the swimming pool. The parents will complain when their kid steps on a piece of broken glass in the pool. Enjoy that pool, its nice to have. There will be a few times each year where the pump breaks and the water gets dirty – it usually takes a while to repair – so enjoy it every day that it is available.

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Green for St. Patrick’s Day???

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Go swimming before it goes back to green.

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Maybe no diving today.

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You may think that this work was obviously done in winter when nobody would want to swim. That would be false.

There is a gym. The equipment is outdate, and much of it is broken. Teachers have asked ownership for new equipment, but have been declined. Teachers have attempted to pool funds to pay for repairs, but there has not been much success here. We at ASKR know that administrators like to advertise the pool and gym facilities at ASK when recruiting – it would be nice if they maintained the facilities that they promise. Many new hires come, excited to have such amenities, only to buy expensive memberships at gyms or at The Hilton because they find the amenities they expected were not up-to-snuff.

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You will get an annual e-mail announcing the weight room clean-up policies.

There is a lounge. It has table tennis, air hockey, foosball, and dartboards. It’s nice. A lot of teachers spent a lot of money to put those things there for you – they were not school provided. Take care of them.

Fire safety: Check your apartment’s stairwell for fire extinguishers. Inspect the tag to make sure they have been either inspected or replaced recently. Or even to make sure that the extinguisher is still sealed – you may find a used and empty extinguisher. Put in a maintenance request to have it filled and replaced. You’ll want these, because the buildings sprinkler system doesn’t actually work. The fire alarm goes off for false alarms (in the middle of the night) and does not go off for actual fires.

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You’ll be safe – inshallah.

In conclusion, there are some nice things about the apartments. The lounge is great for socializing, and you will have a gigantic amount of living space. You may even have a nice view, depending on which floor you live on. But you should expect to have problems – appliances break, and their repairs or replacements do not always last. You may find that you are submitting maintenance requests quite frequently, or that the amenities you expected to have after your recruitment are not exactly the way that they were described. We hope that all ASK teachers and future teachers will continue to push administration for excellence in this area. We believe the school has an obligation, as your landlord, to follow through on the promises that you were given during your recruitment and that all teachers and their families deserve to live in a well-maintained home that is safe.

 

Ethics

Summer School at ASK (Updated 26-Apr)

This post has been much anticipated. At least 10 people, including current and former employees, have contacted ASKR asking us to write a blog about summer school at ASK. Information we have been provided has been difficult to corroborate, so this post may not be what every person has been seeking. We will try to state all the facts, including our concerns about the validity of provided information, comparing what we have heard regarding summer school this year versus previous years. We will end with a call for more information and evidence so that we can amend and conclude this post at a future date.

The Facts We Have:

  • Summer school at ASK in the past has been run like a subject-based study hall. If students had sat for a previous course but failed (not earned credit), then they could take the class at summer school. Some people have described it more like running detention for a few weeks rather than teaching – if students show up and complete the work, then they will get the credit for the class.
  • In the past, ASK students who failed a class and then sat for summer school have earned credit, though their mark for the course was not increase. We consider this a good thing – it shows that they failed the course initially while also showing that they later passed the class. (See #2 below)
  • In the past, teachers were told they could not tutor ASK students that took their summer school class at ASK. In general, at ASK, you cannot tutor your own students (and administrators are not supposed to tutor any students – although we know it is a fact that this rule is broken regularly).
  • ASK teachers have been allowed to tutor non-ASK students that participated in ASK’s summer school. Not only was tutoring permitted, but it could take place on campus (an even bigger no-no during the school year), and it was even encouraged. The fact is that asking teachers to live in Kuwait from the end of August until the beginning of June is difficult, and asking them to stay for several additional weeks is an even tougher sell. Administration has used the prospect of earning an additional paycheck from the school and simultaneously earning cash from tutoring as a recruitment tool for summer school teachers.

Act with Integrity – Strive for Excellence – Think Critically

We think it is honest and good that the school will not change a failing grade to a higher grade. It is an accurate way to show the progress a student made over time. However, all reports from past teachers of summer school indicate that the level of work students complete over summer school does not come close to approaching the level that they complete during the year. We at ASKR believe that this is a common problem at many schools, public, private, and International, and not indicative of any unique problem at ASK. But it is still a problem – there must be curriculum oversight during summer school because credit hours are being awarded. We believe that the rigor of coursework and examinations at summer school should be no different than that of the regular school year.

Private tutoring is illegal in Kuwait. Teachers have been arrested in the past for private tutoring. Year after year, the government of Kuwait is taking this law more and more seriously. Teachers in Kuwait who tutor privately should be extremely cautious. When teachers are allowed to tutor their own students, they have a conflict of interest.

While we believe that the school is in the wrong for encouraging teachers and their students to engage in private for-pay tutoring, we also believe that teachers who tutor their own students are also wrong.

In fact, in many states it violates codes of ethics to take remuneration from students which one supervises. The Idaho Professional Standards Commission (the body which issues educator certification in Idaho) states this in its Code of Ethics for Idaho Professional Educators:

Principle VI – Compensation: A professional educator maintains integrity with students, colleagues, parents, patrons, or business personnel when accepting gifts, gratuities, favors, and additional compensation. Unethical conduct includes, but is not limited to (c) tutoring students assigned to the educator for remuneration unless approved by the local board of education.”

Remember, even as an international educator, you are subject to the policies in the state where you were certified – do not take the risk of compromising your certification.We encourage the school to adhere to Kuwait laws and we encourage teachers to adhere to professional behavior – you should not accept money from people over which you have power.

Unsubstantiated Information

  • We have been told by some that non-ASK students who take summer school are being told by the school that they can arrange to pay teachers directly.  We here at ASKR feels like this is incomplete information, and it doesn’t seem to make sense on its face. We’re hoping to obtain documentation about the registration process in the near future.

Update

Further information has been provided, including copies of this years brochures and on-campus posters (pictures below). We are happy to report that students are not being instructed, in an official capacity, to directly pay teachers. All documentation appropriately instruct payment to go to the business office. (After-hours tutoring still seems to be permissable and encouraged, however). See the photos and comments below:

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For parents of prospective summer school students – a good question to ask will be how many formative and summative assessments will be given.

 

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16 days of instruction at 2 hours of time per day (per subject) is only 32 hours of contact time.

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Conclusions

We here at ASKR are not here to simply criticize a school – we seek the improvement of The American School of Kuwait, because the students at ASK deserve it. We hope that this post (as we hope of all of our other posts) are an impetus for reflection among the administrative faculty at ASK. Many (dozens) of teachers and administrators, current and past, have reached out to us to express that they feel there is finally a voice and a place for expression and conversation. We strive to post factual information as well as incite professional dialogue and reflection so that The American School of Kuwait can improve for all of its stakeholders.

Please continue to contact us with information so that we can continue being factual and relevant and empowering. The children that attend ASK deserve the best. We promise to keep being the impetus for improvement. Faculty and administrators who remember the guiding principals will make decisions and judgments that benefit our children, and not just our bottom line:

Practice Compassion – Make A Difference – Learn For Life

Be respectful – Be Safe – Be Your Best

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AQI and Pollution in Kuwait

Today is April 23. This was the AQI early this morning:

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That is very unhealthy. There are dust storms 2-3 times per year where the AQI gets this bad. However, there are many days in Kuwait where the AQI is over 150, which is considered unhealthy by the World Health Organization. ASK is particularly poorly equipped to handle days with poor AQI, and in fact, has no policy in place.

The middle school and high school buildings at ASK do not have indoor hallways. As you exit your classroom, you are outside. In addition, many of the classroom doors are not well sealed, so on days with poor AQI, the pollution easily creeps inside. There are some teachers currently and previously at the school who were quite handy with tools – if you are lucky enough to have one of their former classrooms, you may find that they added extra seals to the edges of the door just to help with this.

For most though, if the air is bad outside, it is also bad inside. Students do not have an indoor cafeteria – they eat outside. On the few rainy days of the year, this proves to be an inconvenience and students find teacher’s classrooms or covered areas to eat while shielded from the rain. But on the numerous days where the air is unhealthy, students and faculty alike have no escape.

It would be an easy fix, really, to have doors fitted properly and seals added. And to initiate a policy that on days where the AQI is above a certain value, students must go straight from one class to another and teachers must make their classrooms available during break and lunch times so students have a respite. We hope that administration at ASK reads this article and takes the time to implement such policies.

For more information, you may wish to view the following article, Kuwait, the Second Most Toxic Country in the World.

Morale

Low Morale Lowers Further

A few weeks ago, administration notified teachers that we would be switching our airline from Lufthansa to Qatar. On its face, this may seem like a neutral switch. If it were a change for the following school year, it would be. But the timing of the switch and the way in which it communicated has only helped to sink morale to new lows at ASK. This post will examine some of the effects of the airline change.

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There go the frequent flier miles you saved with Lufthansa.

Side Trips

For many years now, ASK teachers have been able to take advantage of the fact that Lufthansa flights had layovers in Frankfurt, Germany. Frankfurt is a giant hub and it is quite inexpensive to fly to other locations in Europe from Frankfurt. In addition, Lufthansa allows for “side trips” or extended layovers. This means that your trip from Kuwait to home can have a layover in Frankfurt that lasts for many days. During this layover, teachers would book a roundtrip flight from Frankfurt to the European destination of their choice. Upon returning to Frankfurt, they would collect and recheck their baggage and resume their original itinerary home.

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Because stopping over in Qatar will be just as enjoyable as Europe. Same same, habibi.

Many teachers have already booked their side trips, including flights and hotels, for their summer trips home this year. This is because the original form that was sent by school indicated that side trips were still allowed. Now that the airline has been changed, the school has been faced with whether or not to allow some people to use Lufthansa so they can have a side trip they already booked against allowing teachers who had not yet booked to do so as well. Teachers have had to individually meet with Becky in order to plead their case to still use Lufthansa, and have had to show paperwork that they had already booked travel arrangements.

Pets

Many teachers have cats or dogs that they take home each summer. Lufthansa had rules similar to most western airlines and allowed travel, both in-cabin and in cargo, for prices that were competitive with other European and North American Airlines. Qatar, on the other hand, does not allow cats or many breeds of dogs in the cabin.

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Why do so many of the pages in the information brochure they sent to teachers talk about amenities for first and business class passengers? Is ASK going to suddenly start buying us tickets for these classes?

From May to October, they are prohibited from flying in cargo, as well, unless they are placed in a special kennel which runs for about 500 KD (1,666 US Dollars as of today). This is exorbitant and many teachers can’t afford it. Many of these teachers came to ASK with pets and clearly asked about their ability to travel with pets home each summer before accepting contracts with ASK only to have the rugs pulled out from underneath them.

Canadians

If you’re Canadian, you should expect to have much longer travel times home when compared with Lufthansa, as well as a greater number of layovers. We can only imagine being a Canadian family with children and having to take an already stressful trip and make it longer and more stressful.

The Conclusion

The way that this change was handled is very much standard operating procedure for changes at ASK. A similar change was made many years ago when ASK changed medical insurance mid year. The new insurance coverage was worse (because it was less expensive). The overall coverage amounts were lower, including coverage for maternity and chronic conditions. Many claims were being denied for treatments that had been approved under the previous insurer. Maternity coverage went from 100% to 50% and several teachers who were pregnant found themselves immediately changing from having their care paid for to having to pay for half of each test or appointment. The school immediately said that they would, for the remainder of that year, cover in cash the difference between the previous insurance and the new insurance. Unfortunately, they only did this in some cases, and we are aware of multiple people that did not receive the money they were promised. Some people were hired with medical conditions and told that they were covered, only to arrive to Kuwait and find that they were not. There are reports that the superintendent suggested to these people that they volunteer to sponsor more extracurricular activities so that they could pay for their medical care with the extracurricular stipend that they would receive.

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Another amenity that we won’t be getting.

A mathematical analysis of Lufthansa vs Qatar:

It is cheaper to fly Qatar than Lufthansa. But the layovers are longer. If you are flying to Canada, then you’re really in trouble, because Qatar will fly you into JFK and then make you bus to LaGuardia for your outbound flight. Returning to Kuwait, you’ll do the same airport switch in reverse. Fun. Here are some numbers:

Kuwait – Toronto Round Trip (June 8 to August 27)

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While Lufthansa and Qatar both have 2 outbound layovers, Qatar makes you switch airports, so there is no tie here. Lufthansa is going to save you 4 hours and 30 minutes and a bus ride through New York City.

Kuwait – Chicago Round Trip (June 8 to August 27)

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While both airlines tie on the number of layovers, Lufthansa is the clear winner in the duration. The layovers are incredibly shorter with Lufthansa, and you’ll be traveling for 10 hours and 25 minutes less time, as well. If you have children or if you have to make a third flight after Chicago, then the time differences will really be important to you.

ASK gives you the option to take cash for your flights. They usually will not tell you how much cash you get until after the deadline to choose whether you’re taking cash or letting the school book your flights. However, in practice, if you wait till the last minute and apply some pressure, you can usually get the cash price. This year, teachers have been told that they can have cash equivalent to 175 KD if they don’t want to take the Qatar flights. Looking at the prices above, it is clear that 175 KD is not going to come anywhere close to paying for a flight, so you’d lose enormous amounts of money taking the cash option to book yourself.

The final conclusion here is that if you are considering a contract at ASK, you should know that many of the benefits they offer you are subject to change, at any time, with no prior notice. There is also very little transparency in how decisions are made. While ASK will offer a cash amount to “reimburse” you, don’t expect it to actually cover the needed amount. Remember that the school is run as a for profit business and that the priority is the bottom line, not staff morale. When recruiting, whether you are now considering an offer from ASK or you are a current ASK teacher considering going elsewhere, an important aspect to look for is transparency. The best schools provide extensive details about their policies on their website – salary scale, insurance details, flight reimbursement amounts and policies. Look for schools that are transparent in these ways and more, and hopefully you can avoid a few more headaches in your future.

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Salary

ASK Pays Less Than Other Schools

It is well known that ASK does not pay as much as other schools in Kuwait. 10 years ago, when ASK had a better reputation, teachers would regularly take pay cuts of 100-200 KD monthly (300-600 USD) to come to ASK because it was a better school. Lately, however, the trend is that of teachers leaving ASK to go to other schools – getting a pay raise and a job that they enjoy more.

So, how much more can you make at other schools in Kuwait? Today we will look at the pay at the newest American school in Kuwait – the American United School of Kuwait (AUS). We should note that there are rumors that Wael, the CEO of ASK, has a conflicting ownership stake in AUS. These rumors have some bite, but we are unable to substantiate them at this time. If you can provide proof of these rumors, please contact us.

Below is the salary scale for teachers at AUS:

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Note – To protect the privacy of the teachers that shared this document, we have retyped it and changed the format a bit.

AUS increases by 4.5% each year, for all 30 years. ASK increases by an astonishingly low 0.6% in Year 0, and every year after has a smaller percentage increase.

We created some graphs to show how large the pay gap gets:

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Unlike teachers with a Bachelors degree, these teachers begin making more money at AUSK on day 1. By the end of 30 years, the teachers are earning almost double. Below is a graph showing your lifetime earnings difference. Note that this graph is in US Dollars, where the previous graphs have been in Kuwaiti Dinars.

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A teacher who works at AUSK (with a Masters degree) for 30 years will earn at least $214,000 more than a teacher who does the same at ASK.  AUS – A better choice indeed.

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Salary

ASK’s Illegal Contract

As part of the ASK contract, teachers sign and agree to the following:

ASK Contract

The first sentence has been emphasized by administration at the school to mean that you cannot tutor or accept any other positions of employment while living in Kuwait. It is difficult to say how widely this is enforced, as many teachers tutor, some boosting their salary quite significantly. Even the secondary principal tutors (and plays golf with students). This is a significant conflict of interest, even though it is widely known amongst the faculty to be occurring. This part of the contract is legal – in fact – it is Kuwaiti labor law.

The second part of the statement says that you may not work for another school in Kuwait for 2 years after leaving ASK.

To be clear – this is illegal, and clearly violates Kuwaiti labor law. If you are a teacher who has accepted a contract at ASK or are considering doing so, I strongly suggest that you inquire about this part of the contract and request that it be removed.  While some teachers have successfully negotiated with ASK to be permitted to transfer to a different school at the conclusion of their contract, many have not.

Mahboula

Mahboula – The Mad Area

Mahboula is the neighborhood where all ASK teachers live. Below is a collection of articles from the Kuwait Times about Mahboula. It is not uncommon for crimes such as prostitution, rape, or stalking to occur in Mahboula. In fact, teachers in the past have been victims of crimes, including an attempted abduction of a teacher and their child. A British teacher from a different school that lived a few doors down was raped after a delivery man forced their way into her apartment. It is also common for police to set up traffic stops at all of the entrances to the neighborhood, looking for people without proper visas. These are usually expatriate workers from the Indian subcontinent; however there are several teachers at ASK hired each year without a proper visa and they must be extra cautious to avoid being stopped.

Mahboula Raid Nets 1023 Violators

More than 200 Arrested in Mahboula Crackdown

Two Romanian Prostitutes Arrested in Mahboula

Mahboula – The Mad Area

1,527 Arrested in Mahboula Raid (Updated: Link fixed)

Human Trafficking Network Busted