Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What Your Boss Thinks About You

So I was going to post a bunch of correspondence I had with the owner of the chain of Language Schools I worked at in Russia.

Basically, however, it would be a lot of reading about visas and hours and insurance and this and that, which out of context is not very interesting; I can say that, inevitably, you had to email the owner at least three times to get him to reply at all, and I had forgotten what a fucking funny guy I am -- towards the end I started signing letters, "Anxiously awaiting your excuse."

The Owner is a mysterious figure even to people who know him; there are all kinds of presumably bullshit stories about how he used to work for the Moscow bureau of the FBI or the CIA or that he'd survived helicopter crashes in Vietnam and son on.

I can say one thing about him; he talks a lot. I once sat in a room with him and he spoke nearly nonstop for a sold hour. I was getting dizzy, I think because he was using up all the oxygen in the room.

But anyway, here's a snippet of correspondence that summarizes his philosophy about his employees:

You can state that there are a lot of unhappy teachers but then I would have to ask what they are unhappy about. Like you, I suppose that much (if not most of it) has to do with the economic situation in Russia. Yet I do not believe that you can point the finger of blame at (REDACTED)or Russia. Though I am not happy with what is happening, it is the same everywhere. To date, since November I have been receiving between 300 and 400 requests for employment per week. I can no longer even respond to them all. I can however tell you that if you are so down on (REDACTED), or Russia than perhaps you should consider leaving either or both. Perhaps there are greener pastures out there.

* * *

I suppose a lot of corporations have this attitude towards their employees -- didn't Wal-Mart get press attention recently when some memos along the same lines were leaked, stating that there was no productivity difference between new employees and old employees, so why should they offer more benefits or salary to keep employees at all?

At my DOS training in Moscow in 2007, I was frankly told, by the second in command there at the time, about many of the things which are discussed as rumor on ESL message boards:

1) Be careful about hiring older people, and divorced or middle-aged women; they're rarely happy with the job and students often don't like them

2) Be careful about hiring experienced teachers who have worked in universities or high schools, because they won't like the hours at a private language school and might walk out

3) The salary is paid twice a month because otherwise teachers would simply drink it and piss it against the wall

4) Don't worry too much about training new employees; people rarely stay long enough to make it worthwhile

I was one of the last (actually I think, the last) guy to get a DELTA paid for by the school in honor of working there more than 2 years; it took him about 3 years to pay for the whole thing, however, and it was recently confirmed to me by my colleague here (who once stayed in the Owner's apartment in Moscow for a few days) that they were trying to wait me out, figuring I'd leave before they had to pay the full amount.

And you know, to be fair, there also verified first-hand stories about this guy paying teachers "out of his own pocket" regarding some conflicts that they had with their branch, and obviously, some teachers cut a very destructive swath indeed, trashing apartments and so on.

But reading the messages again, he is right about one thing:

I would suggest that you take the bull by the horns and make a good decision for yourself. Only you can do that. The only person who can take responsibility for the past eight years is you. You can't give that away nor can you not accept full responsibility for your own decisions. You're not a prisoner and you're free to make good decisions for yourself. If you want to place the blame on someone else and simply let it go at that, then I don't get what the point of being an adult is.

I agree; basically, if you agree to do that shitty job, then you have to deal with whatever happens. Like Deniro said in HEAT -- "Do not have anything in your life that you wouldn't leave behind in 5 seconds flat if the heat comes down."

Anyway, if King Shit of Turd Mountain is reading this: indeed there are FAR FAR FAR GREENER pastures than the McDonald's of English teaching, and I can look back on my nine years with them as paying off in debauchery, if not financially.

Hell, that DELTA that they eventually begrudgingly paid for got me an extra $1000 a month here, I think.

Now I can look back and laugh. In fact, I cackle hysterically. Especially as I look at my bank account now, and see it approaching six figures.

Here's the scene I was talking about from HEAT. Change a few reference here and there -- "prison" to "crappy language school branch" for example -- and this could be a conversation between a DOS and an employee.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Split Shift Soup

For a happy six or seven yeras, I worked in Russia without split shifts.

Pretty much all my classes were from 4.30pm to 9.30pm. This allowed me both to sleep late and go out after work and get hammered.

By 2007, we had something like eleven teachers, I was Director of Studies -- and everybody was fucking miserable.

Russia had become an oil superpower. Drinking on the street was illegal, and Russian woman expressed little interest in the eccentric, poor, middle-aged English teachers. our students were no longer happy-go-lucky rich people; they were angry overworked young professionals.

Most of the teachers were working weekends from about 9.00am to 3.00pm, weekday mornings from 9.00am - 11.00am, evenings from 7.15pm - 9.30pm, and other classes in the middle of the day involving hours of travel time.

Administration had no pity. Everybody hated everybody.

I fought them tooth and nail about the scheduling. Here's one document I offered them:

* * *


Split shifts and excessive travel time are the number one reason for teacher dissatisfaction with their jobs here at (REDACTED). We need to do something about this AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.


A teacher working a split shift five times a week in our current schedule will, most likely, spend an average of 2 hours per day traveling – an extra 10 hours per week / 40 hours per month. Our teachers are contracted for 40 hour weeks – they almost surely exceed this amount if travel time is counted in addition to preparation time, arriving at least 15 minutes early, etc.

The teacher working 5 split shifts will spend about 200 rubles per week / 800 rubles per month on buses and trams – more if the teacher takes marshroots (and the teacher probably will!)

• I travel approximately 4 ½ hours per week to teach one student for approximately the same number of hours. I am therefore occupied twice as much in teaching one client. Economically this makes little sense.

To teach at a certain company class, a teacher living near the school needs to make a round trip of two hours to teach them for 90 minutes. Again this is not economically sensible, for the teacher or for the school.

A teacher returning home at 10:00pm and then working the following morning at 9:00am will almost certainly be unable to sleep eight hours. Ending split shifts will most likely diminish complaints that teachers seem tired or hungover, are unprepared, are arriving late / almost late for class, are not neatly groomed, etc.


Inform clients that teachers are only available 12:00pm to 9:30pm. Classes in the morning can be arranged with consent of the teacher, as overtime pay rate, or at considerable additional cost to the students.

Give teachers a bonus for working split shifts, payable every month or at the end of the contract. I recommend that this bonus be at least 2500 rubles per month. (Remember, 800 rubles is going to pay for the teacher’s bus fare!)

Reduce the number of contract hours required of teachers who work split shifts. I recommend it be reduced to 25 academic hours. Additional hours should be considered overtime. (I am currently working 24 academic hours per week, with split shifts and 3 different locations per day twice a week, and I feel like I am working MUCH more than when I was teaching 30 hours 4:45 – 9:30 five days a week.)

If a teacher is working split shifts, change the starting and finishing hours of evening classes to give them more time to get home in the evening. I recommend starting time for evening classes be 18:30 and ending time be 20:45. (This should give workers, who usually finish at 17:00, plenty of time to get to (REDACTED)) Even starting at 18:45 and ending at 21:00 would be preferable to the current system. It is important to remember that this does not mean ALL evening classes should start at these times – only those of teachers with split shifts. Classes for teachers with a “block” schedule could end as late as 10:00, for example.

Alternately, change the start time of morning classes to 10:00am and the finishing time to 12:15. The extra hour will mean a lot to teachers and probably very little to students.

At the very least, teachers working split shifts or at companies that require a lot of travel time could be given free bus / tram passes. If they travel by marshrut due to time constraints, they could be reimbursed for this.

(REDACTED) could hire a driver to take teachers to /from work and to / from company classes. This might actually work out rather more cheaply than the first option!!

Promise teachers that they will only work split shifts for HALF of their nine month contract. The other semester will be “blocked.”

(REDACTED) could offer additional BENEFITS to distract teachers from their schedules. SEE DOCUMENT 2: SOME POSSIBLE BENEFITS TO ATTRACT AND KEEP TEACHERS.


* * *

But it never happened, of course. Teachers were in and out of there like a revolving door; administration didn't particularly like each other, either, so girls from administration were in and out frequently also.

Something like four teachers walked out without saying goodbye at the end of 2007; the world economy collapsed at about the same time, so they told me that it was fine by them that so many teachers had left, because they had fewer students.

"In fact, we would have had to let some people go," said the Manager.

"Good use of the 3rd conditional," I muttered, and went out and got drunk.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Now It Can Be Told!

As loyal readers know, I was actually the Director of Studies at the school I worked at in Vodkaberg, Russia, between 2007 and the beginning of 2009.

I worked for a large chain; strangely I'm still hesitant to say the name of it, even though it's fairly easy to figure out which one it was, and it all ended badly enough that I shouldn't give a shit.

Becoming a DOS or ADOS in Moscow was no complicated feat; all you needed to do was stay there for a second year, usually. Very few people did that.

They took me up to Moscow for training; three days of general advice and practice observing teachers. The girl I was doing training with -- a heavy, whiny-voiced American -- was only in her second year of teaching, and she was being made ADOS at the suburban branch she worked at.

My school, down in the provinces, was growing fast at that time, and went for three or four teacher to about a dozen at that point. I was the first DOS -- I got a raise of about $100 a month and my hours were reduced a little.

This week I'm going to discuss some DOS secrets, and reveal some DOS documents.

Was just cleaning out some old USB memory cards and found this. My first tasks as DOS were to make a system of observation, make course schedules and plans, etc, and after I did those thing I offered them this little document:


(REDACTED) Moscow’s business model has always been based on the following assumptions:

• Russian students would accept low quality of teaching as long as it was from a foreigner.
• There would always be a stream of young enthusiastic Americans and Brits who wanted to teach English in Russia for the experience, rather than for the money or benefits.

These things are no longer true!
Russian students are demanding high quality tuition from foreign teachers, and are no longer impressed by the novelty of meeting a foreigner.

Young Americans and Brits are scared away from teaching by stories on the Internet about the bad conditions for teachers at Language Schools, as well as by strict new laws about repayment of student loans in their home countries.

The political climate between Russia, Europe and America is becoming worse; incidents of hostility against English speakers is on the rise in Russia, as several of our teachers can testify.

If an American or Brit wants to work in Russia, there are a lot more profitable positions than as teachers – average salary of an engineer for Alcoa or Petrofac is a good 10 times what a teacher makes!

To attract and keep qualified, enthusiastic teachers, I recommend that (REDACTED) consider instituting any or all of the following benefits:

higher salaries / more holidays / fewer hours. Cost of living in Russia is at least twice what it was 5 years ago; the salary (REDACTED) pays has not increased to keep up with the cost of living.

washing machines in all flats, or a laundry service at (REDACTED). (REDACTED) could install a washing machine in the building, or have one member of staff take teacher’s laundry to a service, and pick it up and return it to the school.

free house cleaners visiting flats once / twice a month. This would not be too expensive for (REDACTED)and would also have the advantage of smoothing relations with landlords as well as making sure teachers are not drinking too much, unable to take care of themselves, etc.

free cable TV / cable internet hookup in apartments. Teachers would have to pay monthly fees, but free hookup would provide a lot of distraction for homesick teachers.

free lunches / dinners for teachers – Many young teachers can’t cook and live off of Pelmeeni – hiring someone to prepare a quick, cheap (and good!) meal in the (REDACTED) kitchen might be a cheap way to improve teacher morale (and health!) If not free, then for a small fee.

discount cards for Pizza Sicily / Beer Loga etc. These could be obtained easily enough by arrangement with these restaurants, which our teachers eat / drink at often. Could we make an arrangement for cheap meals at lunch time for everybody?

Free group health club membership at Planeta Fitness or another sports club. A nice bonus, and it would give teachers a place to bathe when hot water cuts out in the summer.

Free Russian lessons. Survival Russian for new teachers or ALL teachers seems a very easy, affordable benefit with concrete results for everyone, the teacher and the school. A Russian teacher could be hired to give group Russian lessons.)

Profit sharing arrangement. Very motivating indeed! Teachers could be given a bonus for every student that signs up for a new course, that passes a test, etc.

Student - Guided tours of (REDACTED), the Volga, Krasna Glinka, etc. Unrealistic now, probably, but when there are an increasing number of teachers, you might find that there are students who would be happy to volunteer to take teachers on trips for an opportunity to practice their English.

TVs and DVD players for teachers – these are not too expensive now, and would go a long way for making up for the poor quality furniture in most of our flats. Alternately, the school could offer to pay half the price of the cost of these things, and keep them when the teacher leaves for use around the school / resale.

Library of books and DVDs for teachers’ use – We have plenty of books at (REDACTED) (and I have hundreds of DVDs at home) we just need a more convenient location for them.

Free membership on volgagirls.com or some other internet dating site for older male teachers who express interest in it! Again, a little effort on our part would probably provide a lot of happiness for them.

* * *

The first response to this was along the lines of: "You have some interesting ideas, we will discuss them sometime soon."

After Christmas the next year, when nothing had changed at all, I submitted it again.

And was told that determining salary and benefits were not a part of my job description, and not to be concerned with such things.

The only thing they changed was the washing machines; I believe in the end, every school flat had a washing machine. That was probably just because they were tired of teachers clothes smelling bad, though. We started a conveniently located library, but I discovered that very few people care to read, anymore. . .

I should say I was wrong about Americans and British people being scared off of English teaching; wishful thinking on my part. No matter how hard I try, there seems to be a never-ending stream of young morons willing to take worse and worse conditions and crappier and crappier salaries.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Epic Fail

So it's kind of up in the air, as to how easy it is to lose a job here, as a government employee in the Kingdom; people rarely get fired in the middle of the school year, but the administration often, and capriciously, fail to renew people's contracts.

My office mate suffered that fate; he'd told me a few times that he felt it was a job we could do until we dropped, because they needed teachers that badly. He routinely left a couple days early for his holidays, as well as letting his classes out early quite often; we could assume that's the reason his contract wasn't renewed, but it would be speculation, since they weren't obliged to offer him any reason why.

As usual, he found about this suddenly, a month before the summer holiday, and had to hurriedly sell his car and get things in order to leave. (Making a pretty decent salary, as we do, this wasn't nearly the disaster that it could have been, but still, inconvenient for him.)

A few months ago another teacher got pie-eyed drunk on sidiki -- which is basically rubbing alcohol -- and punched another teacher in the face, but despite some vague threats of "an inquiry" nothing much, it seems, will happen to him; this is largely, I feel, because the people in charge here simply don't want to admit to THEIR bosses that such things go on around here.

Now, to the meat of the story:

There are three stories about guys who got fired right in the middle of their contracts.

One guy was making little secret of the parade of young men (boys?) that he was running in and out of his apartment at all hours of the day and night, and finally the neighbors kicked up a fuss and he was quietly let go.

Another guy was arrested trying to smuggle duty-free alcohol back in from Bahrain; he was arrested, but laughed it off due to his un-named "connections" and despite losing his job here, was observed working in a nearby city a few months later.

And this story, which I love:

One notably loony teacher decided to kick up a fuss about the slovenly attire of many of the teachers; he went to the head of the department to complain about one teacher who habitually wore sandals.

He was told, undiplomatically, to stop complaining and mind his own business.

He went into his class, steaming with anger, and monomoniacally ranted to his class about it for a while.

"A job requires proper clothes!" he finally said. "What if I were just to come into class in my underwear every day?"

And then, of course, he stripped down to his underwear.

Ah, there was a time -- it would simply have been another unverified story of a teacher's lunacy.

But now -- all the students began making videos with their phones, and within a couple hours, it was all over YouTube.

I don't know if it's still on YouTube or not; I think not, and searches for "teachers undressing in class" mostly yield . . . I'm not sure what that stuff is. Porno films without the sex scenes?

Anyway, wrong gender, right idea, but fun nevertheless, here's a good one to sign off with: