Saturday, September 17, 2016

TEFLpocolypse: Day of Reckoning

"For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?" - Revelation 6:17

The TEFLpocolypse abides. 

Oh, me? I'm fine. Don't worry. My job seems to be going well enough, and I really dig Beijing. 

But I narrowly dodged a bullet at my last job, and some of my colleagues there weren't so lucky. 

Fucking contracting companies. 

I am referring in this case to government contracting companies, not plain old recruitment companies. (The term is sometimes mis-used.) Contracting companies provide personnel for government contracts, usually military / industrial in nature. I worked for one last year in America, and I worked for one in 2013 / 2014 in the Kingdom.

Basically, they provide employees so that the government don't have to provide employees with full time jobs, permanent contracts, full security clearances, and full benefit packages. While your salary might be good or even great, it is the result of a formula designed to provide the lowest bid on the contract. 

And you're fucking expendable. 

My first contracting job, in which me and maybe a hundred other people provided our TEFL skills for the state-run oil company in Kingdom, was to me very unpleasant though highly paid, and I left after a year. I didn't have any particular problem with my contracting company, but I saw many others -- people being suddenly let go for little reason, paperwork being bungled, money not getting paid, people being forgotten about after being promised jobs

Most of the hundred or so people I was hired with were let go in summer of 2015, when the low price of oil caused major repercussions in the economies in the Middle East. Most of them were older guys who had been hoping to ride that gravy train until they retired, and most of them had been constantly reassured they would be offered another contract. 

My last job, in America, struck me as a half-assed, tentative deal from the very beginning.  I was interviewed, then didn't hear anything, then offered a different job, then offered a part-time job, then finally offered the job on the condition that I could start in a week. 

Needing to stay in America to help my Parkinson's-stricken father, I took the job, but I could tell it was no sure thing. The HR guy who met me on the first day was a cynical retired military guy who said he doubted the job would last until Christmas. (The job did, but he only lasted until March of the next year.) When my boss, the manager of the program, came to meet me, she was in tears, having just been bawled out by her superiors (government folks, I guess) over something she didn't want to discuss. 

As the months passed, I was appalled by the e-mails full of corporate nonsense-speak about teams and goals and leveraging our sensibilities, which were lengthy but said very little. I was required to watch something like 5 hours of videos of training in things unrelated to my field. They even once sent out an e-mail asking if we had previously worked on any contracts that they might be able to bid on and poach. 

The students at that job could not care less about learning English; there were nearly 200 when I arrived and they were being sent home in droves, for discipline violations and occasionally completely criminal acts, while none were arriving. 

I expressed my doubts to my colleagues. They were a mixed bag -- mainly retired public school teachers and a lot of younger TEFL refugees bounced back from whatever jobs abroad. 

Usually, I was told to stop being so negative. 

The whole government contract world is extremely complex, with a lot of regulations and rules, and anybody who has ever dealt with the Kingdom will tell you that things rarely get done quickly or accurately. Everyone knew the original 2-year contract was going to end in September of 2016 -- that is, the original contract between the government and the company. (The employees were all on at-will employment agreements, which could be ended at any time.)

In the spring of this year, we found we had few students -- less than 50 remained from 200 --  and a lot of doubts about what would happen next. 

Fortunately I got this job offer at a Chinese international school in May. I continued working in the USA until a week before I left, because mainly we were sitting around doing not much. (My favorite kind of job.) 

About the same time, the boss told everybody that a new company would be taking over the contract in September, and sometime after that, "at least 800" new students would be arriving. She promised everyone they would have their jobs, and she even thought she could get everybody a bit more money. 

Maybe she even believed it. 

All week long, I've been getting panicky, horrified e-mails  from people working there. 

The new bosses came  -- and said that since they have not yet received orders for the arrival of new students before the end of the year yet, they would only be hiring 2/3 of the staff. 

One colleague was a guy who I worked with in the contracting job in the Kingdom. He is in his late 50s and had been terribly relieved when he was hired to replace me in May. Now he's at least hoping he'll be eligible for unemployment. 

One guy, who had relocated from another state with his wife and new baby, got an offer -- $2000 less a year than he'd been making before. 

One colleague had developed a brain tumor which was being successfully treated; she will be unemployed and out of insurance at the end of the week. She is thankful for Obamacare. 

"Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is." -- Mark 13:33. 


Anonymous said...

Hope springs eternal. Glad you didn't ignore the
warning signs and had options.

Government contracting is the worst but some types
seem to thrive in that environment and end up getting
pretty rich.

I'll probably be going to China myself to teach soon.
Won't be making beaucoup money like you but it's
better than unemployment and will hopefully lead to
something that pays better.

Looking forward to updates. How big are your classes?

Tom said...

Sounds rough out there. I'm about to finish my second year in Korea (happy to be leaving). There aren't contract cancelations here but I know Korea is trying to use fewer foreign teachers. The bilingual Koreans can do the job for less and are often more effective.

I'm hoping to make the switch to international schools next year, but I've heard the market is really flooded. I've gotten offers for shit pay in 3rd world countries, but the better jobs are being taken by experienced teachers trying to escape the job situation in the US/UK. I don't mind low pay for a way but hope it isn't a permanent downturn.

I actually read recently in the Economist about how international schools are booming in China/Middle East as the new rich want their kids to get a Western education locally. Have you heard that?

Also did you use a recruiter for your job in China? And are you still working on that 0-25 book? Or did you shelf it for now? Sorry for all the questions haha.

Here's that article if you're interested.

englishteacherx said...

Yeah, English language education is booming in Asia and the Middle East, but there are plenty of teachers fleeing the USA and UK to do it, and plenty of bilingual teachers, although probably not as many as would be necessary to teach all those kids.

I have not concentrated on the 0 - 25 book about my youth for some time, but I think I'm going to start on it again soon -- probably this will take the form of increased numbers of blog entries about my childhood, which I hope nobody minds too much.

I didn't get this job through a contracting company, I got it through pretty much sheer chance.

Anonymous said...

I spent 3 years in Seoul, working on the new airport in Inchon from '95-98. I had a great job - Director of Bus Dev for the 2nd largest capital project in the world at the time - after the "3 gorge dam" in China. I was recruited to this "prestigious" post after ten years as an airport executive in the US. I can honestly say that I hated every minute of my work life there - and every other minute of my time away from work. I used to see the expat teachers on the same commuter train - every fucking day, a good hour commute. I got to know a handful of them and they had it tough compared to me. All good kids and having their "expat adventure" before heading back to the American dream. I've lived/travelled abroad since then - 62 countries and counting. Asia can be a hoot when you're young and stupid, but it will beat you into submission if you stay too long. A quiet apartment in Sofia or Sarajevo, with a nice cafe on the corner. Thankyou.

englishteacherx said...

I have always imagined the business world abroad as completely different than the teaching world. When I have brushed against that world, I find the engineers and executives usually just as drunk but far more stressed out than the teachers. It's just a whole nother dimension, I think.

Tom said...

Yeah the professional work climate in Korea is awful. Can't imagine working in business here. The country in general is drab and depressing, and the work hours would make it even worse.

Teaching here is good for the low hours and for being generally easy, but it isn't something I want to get stuck doing long-term. At least not in Korea.

You worked here for a while X. How does it compare to provincial Russia? A lot of the older buildings here make me think of old Soviet style ones.