Friday, September 11, 2009

All Over But The Shouting: Or, Why I Left My Last Job

I posted the e-mails that I sent regarding leaving my former position in Vodkaberg; I described it as a "blow up" with the assistant director, but didn't really give any details.

Allow me to elaborate.

Basically, as far as my former employers, Language Fucks, I'd lost my religion long ago.

When I'd started, the school was a small one, with two teachers, two classrooms and a toilet with no sink or toilet paper; relations with administration were pretty good, just because it was easy with two teachers to fill up a 4.30pm to 9.30pm schedule with big classes, and they were new too, so they thought they had to treat us with respect and decency. There were no sudden changes to schedules, no split shifts, and the salary was pretty decent in comparison to the prices and exchange rate.

But then the school doubled in size, then quadrupled, and by 2006 we had more than a dozen teachers. Our schedules were grueling split shifts, finishing at 9.30pm and starting at 9.00am or even earlier -- 7.00am was not unheard of. They started piling weekend classes on the new teachers, and we started doing company classes with travel time of up to an hour or more each way, for which of course we weren't really paid. New classes were given with only a few hours of notice, and changes in the schedule were made constantly, especially in summer, for seemingly no reason whatsoever.

In short, it became like every other shitty language school in the world. Teachers came and went, sometimes in a matter of weeks. Sometimes because they hated the school, sometimes because the school hated them.

Becoming Director of Studies in 2007 left me trying to assure academic quality in this environment.

I made some steps to try to straighten up some problems that I thought were easily soluble, especially regarding schedules; they were getting so many applications in Moscow at that point, however, that nobody felt there was any reason to change anything. (Applications from completely inexperienced teachers, of course -- they prefer these, because they don't have to pay them -- in Moscow they began some "intern" programs in which people with no experience are hired and paid starvation wages, and given a few hours of training. Pretty heinous.)

It didn't matter what I did or thought, however -- there was one test, and one test only, of whether a teacher was retained, and that was if the students liked them. Others were unceremoniously dismissed, often with hardly enough money to get plane tickets together to leave the country.

Despite all the drunks and trouble-makers, most of the ones who got fired had done exactly one thing wrong -- they'd come to Russia as inexperienced teachers, expecting to be treated with respect.

At the beginning of this year, some poor little 22-year-old guy got the boot because he slurred his speech because of an overbite. Another guy got fired mainly because he was old, as if that fact had somehow not been revealed during the job interview. Of course they were inexperienced teachers, but how were they supposed to get any experience if the school fired them the first time students complained?

The contract, which was like two-pages when I had started, became an enormous document trying to cover all the things teachers couldn't or shouldn't do. (It was completely illegal anyway, I would later find, lacking a Russian translation on the other half of the page.)

Things started going way south between me and my employers at the beginning of 2008; when I arrived in Russia after my Christmas holiday, I was told that I had to take another teacher's classes and would be working 9-hour days on both Saturday and Sunday from now on. I actually quit over that; they backed off after a couple of weeks, however.

It didn't get any better. Prices had gone up tremendously, but our salaries hadn't. With the economic collapse in the fall of 2008,the exchange rate began to take our salary in dollars down, down, down. Our new contracts took away our airfare bonuses and continued paying us in a ruble salary. I refused to sign more than a three-month contract under these terms, and actually began psyching myself to leave for good last Christmas.

Alas, the promise of an old girlfriend returning in January made me decide to stay. But, of couse in January 2009, I arrived in the country with a new passport and an old visa, and ended up having to pay about $2000 in airfare and hotel bills going to Germany to get a new visa.

Now of course I should have double-checked the visa thing myself, but only because I should have known that the Russian woman who got a salary to double check such things wasn't going to bother to do that.

Naturally they refused to pay any of this, even when virtually the same thing happened to another teacher a couple months later.

I will perhaps someday post some of the e-mail I got from the nominal leader of this chain, in Moscow -- it basically said that I had only myself to blame for staying in Russia for so long and that they had, with the economic crisis, "hundreds of applications," (I wonder how many of those they hired stayed more than three months.)

Apart from the guy who owns it, I think I'm the only teacher who has stayed at the school for nine consecutive years.

It didn't take me long to decide that he was right; staying in that position was suicide.

In June, when my contract was finished, I agreed to work part time; it was only when I received my first pay packet in July that I realized they were paying me a part-time rate at about a little more than half of what my normal salary was, with no housing allowance included.

I tried to quit then; they yelled, but then tried the sweet talk approach a few days later. I mistakenly thought they had the ability to cancel my visa if I didn't do at least some work for them -- they didn't because I had no contract at that point, of any sort, and so wasn't legally employed anyway -- and I agreed I would do a few classes, but no split shifts and as few hours as possible.

By August I felt I'd served my time and wanted to take my final few weeks off completely, but they had a problem -- one teacher had left suddenly on a family emergency -- and I agreed reluctantly to do a few final classes.

Anyway, the 'blow-up' came two days before I was scheduled to stop working. After all this -- all of this -- with TWO days remaining, the assistant manager came in and yelled at me that my students had complained that my lessons was boring. Not just told me -- YELLED at me.

I was too dumbfounded to yell back at first; by the time I managed to do so, she had retreated into the lounge. I followed, beginning to order my list of things to yell back about.

"I won't talk to you here. This is the student lounge," she said.

"Then get back in the teacher's room!"

"I'm busy, I can't talk right now." she said, fiddling with the DVD player attached to the big screen TV in the lounge.

I paced back and forth furiously for a bit, then announced that I was leaving.

She demanded my passport and visa and told me I had 24 hours to leave the country.

I told her we could first go to the Department of Employment and discuss how I had been working without a contract.

She said fine. I walked out into the rainy summer evening and walked all the way home, a walk of about foury-five minutes.

By doing this I forfeited to my employers a couple weeks salary -- not many hours, and at that low rate, probably about $150 worth. They had agreed to pay for the new visa, but I suspect they might have wormed out of that some other way.

(As it happened I had no dire need for money, even with that $2000 hit in January -- I've squirreled away quite a bit, by English teacher standards, anyway.)

So this is how a fifteen-year English-teaching veteran, Director of Studies of two years, DELTA trained, gets treated after nine years of employment by a major international language school chain.

Now of course most people think their jobs suck; and a lot of people get fucked over by their employers. But I submit to you:

English teaching is a crock of shit, and any newbies out there reading this: PLEASE don't do this unless you have enough money to get out of any problems you get in.

So that's Reason #1 I'm going for the big score in Saudi. Reason #2 coming soon.


vigeoro, The Guru Regurgitator said...

Read your entry X. I have to say that my current employer looks so angelic when compared. I may not have the best job, but in comparison there is...just none.

Thank you for your candid views, really. I am moving on from Saudi because...just because. I need a new change, much like I suspected you do.

I wonder, though, if a change in employer would have been good for you. Not that I believe there are many good employers out there in this so called profession.

Good luck man. Give me a call.

Ken said...

'Their jobs suck' or 'Their job sucks'? Who cares? Good luck to you Mr. X. The thing about future tenses was a wee joke.

Timothy said...

Wow, you handled that with much more restraint than I would have. You certainly deserve your new ridiculously high salary. :) Can you think of any way to get even with the bastards?

Chris said...

Thats shitty. But here's a question: If you ever desired to return to Russia, how impossible would it be to open your own language school? From the sound of it, the growth of your last school screams that its probably not too difficult to be successful. If you need a Russian to be on the paperwork, just marry the dumbest, hottest thing you can find and chain her up in the basement after she's served her purpose...What do you think?? I mean, honestly, you need somewhere to go after Saudi. Cant stay there forever. And you definitely don't want to go back to a similar situation.

The TEFL Tradesman said...

The 'shouting at the teacher' trick was something I noticed there too. I honestly think it was designed to make you leave, as they know that most Westerners will not put up with that sort of shit.

Locals will endure it stoically, of course, and I have seen local teachers reduced to tears by the harsh and violent language of their boss. But the next day they come in to work and attempt to brush it off as just one of those things.

But us guys - well, we don't take that shit from nobody, as we have an enhanced opinion of ourselves. So I guess it was a ploy to wedge you out of the place, after all those years.

Eve Lopez said...

Can't believe you stayed for 9 years - I mean, it's obvious why you stayed for so long, but good god, man!

Anyways - I thought I'd write 'cause I DID think I had enough money in case things went bad for me as a TEFL'er in "Vodkaburg" - I had perhaps five grand.

Wasn't enough. Evil Russian school illegally fired me and threw me out of the country. With just a few days notice, the one-way flight back to the states was two grand. Had to borrow it.

Nightmare, nightmare, nightmare.

Sounds like your new country is going well. Good luck.