This is a report I put together mid 2012, at the request of Maggie Wang. She wanted feedback on the company founded by her parents, that she manages. I spent several days writing this, afterwards, I gave a copy to her and Sophie, a key staff member, as well as several current or former expat teachers with the company. I did not get a word of thanks from Maggie, and only heard later from Sophie, when prompted, that she did not like the report. I'm quite sure that her sentiments echo those of her employer. It was not my intention to cast Tian Shuo in a negative light, I had plenty of positive experiences with them, my goal was to be as objective as possible. Of course, I am only one individual, and was with them for but a year and a half.... early 2010 to mid 2011. However, we all know that negative experiences tend to offset those positive, and those more recent weigh heavier. So, aside from labouring over this report, I made up discs full of teaching materials and resources for future teachers at Tian Shuo. If you read this report, you will find that this was a key issue I identified. In addition, I brought a school to their portfolio...a decent private institute...Pattison.
Maggie took a cut from my earnings with no input at all. She earned from other teachers she sent there. I exercised loyalty and acted in their interest. But, not a word of thanks from Maggie or her mother. I have heard since that TS has managed to fuck things up with Pattison, breaking arrangements. Tian Shuo has a high turnover of quality/native English teachers. It is said in the expat community in Changchun, that Tian Shuo has no decent teachers. If this is true, then it is part and parcel with the way in which they treat their staff. I'm not sure that Maggie, Sophie or Mr and Mrs Wang appreciate me posting this here, but again, I have attempted to be objective, and in the West we believe in the freedom of expression. There is a link here to a video I made celebrating the good times with Tian Shuo. I had many good experiences, but mostly because I gave my all to the teaching.
Their inaction with the substandard accomodation they provided, and using me in deceitful misrepresentation. Since leaving Tian Shuo, and consequently, China,...this lack of gratitude and reciprocation from Tian Shuo has soured relations for me.
Vincent du Feu - New Zealand - July 2012
Introduction - Opening Remarks
I remember several times you have said to me Maggie: “you know nothing.” What you meant by that was that I know nothing about your family’s company 天硕. Our conversation was about the company’s past and about the rumours of passports, cars and Kiki. At that time, I was relaying what I’d heard from teachers who had been working for you much longer than I had. To write this report, I did a little research and what I found confirms what I’d heard… and what you had denied.
What a person or business does in the past does not necessarily reflect what they do now. We can learn from our mistakes. In addition, what’s very important is the way in which you, individually, are treated. Overall, I’m happy with the way things have gone between you and I Maggie. Which is part of the reason I am going to the trouble to write you this report. Lastly, I would like to add that while some of the practices of you and your company while are often seen as being deceptive and unethical by western standards, are commonly done in China. The longer I stay here the more I realize this.
It is unfortunate: the levels of corruption and ineffectiveness of the law to protect citizens from authority, but things are improving. I am a student of history, including that of China. Things used to be worse. Social evolution will follow economic growth. Much of this evolution, a fundamental aspect, is education. I am proud to be part of this and felt honoured to be chosen by Jilin for an award to this effect. Perhaps I don’t know a lot about Chinese culture, Tian Shuo or business in this, the middle kingdom, but I am learning. As for your company, I have only been here for a year and a half, but have listened to those stories from those who have been here longer What I do know of Tian Shuo is that it employs about one hundred foreign teachers, of which perhaps half are from The Phillipines and a quarter of the total are native English speakers.
I know that Tian Shuo also has a hand in is importing wines from France and other countries which it then sells locally. There is another business exporting car parts from here to Japan. These things I know because you have told me.
Introduction - Changchun
Changchun I have grown to like. Despite living in Taichung for about three times as long, I have a stronger emotional connection to this city. I think that is largely reflective of how I’ve grown since then. When I was living in Taiwan I suffered from chronic anxiety, depression and thought often of suicide. There were some dark times. Those problems I’ve had as long as I can remember, but its much easier to feel and be isolated in an alien environment and culture.
Since Taiwan, I got the help I needed in New Zealand and took the money, advice and invitation of my father and brother to return to Changchun with Nick. Things have gone much better for me out here. All the anti-depressant medicine my doctor gave me bring remains untouched. But it is time to move on. I only realized this recently. I went to Shenyang to get my visa processed there for a contract with Pattison. While there I was stunned at how friendly people are in comparison to Changchun. I asked myself if it was it because it’s warmer, or because it’s a wealthier city?
The history: because it wasn’t the capital of the brutal Japanese occupation? None of these answers seemed to fit. Later I realized, like Taichung, it might not be about the place itself, but rather about me, how I was different then. In Shenyang, I felt alive again; things were new, an adventure! I smiled more, and people smiled back. They would talk to me, strangers. I was by myself, but not alone. I thought then about working a branch of Pattison there in Shenyang, they have a shortage of teachers, I have experience with their systems, but no, go further I told myself, escape the winter, head south, more money….this student loan isn’t going to repay itself. So, now, soon, I will head to Shenzhen, take up work there teaching high school kids preparing to go abroad for tertiary studies.
How long I’ll stay there, I don’t know. Perhaps a year, perhaps less. Changchun is a good place, and I argued with Ester about her trashing the place. She couldn’t handle the cold and while she saw some of the city on foot, and made a trip to Inner Mongolia, there were some treasures that she didn’t discover. The things that make this city stand apart for me are Jing Yue Tan, The World Sculpture Park and PuYi’s palace. For the first two, I have been to each many times. Aside from that, the people are generally high spirited with a good sense of humour.
Introduction - Orientation
I’m pleased to note that you now have maps for all your new teachers. That is progressive. I had great difficulty finding my way around when I began here last year. As you and Sophie know. It was some time before I learnt that English and Pinyin maps could be purchased from the Shangrila for only ten yuan. Further to this I would suggest getting one of your staff members or going through the council to get a listing of bus routes a timetable for them. Changchun, Jilin 长春，吉林 Population: 7,240,000 Area: 20,751 square kilometers Area code: 0431 Zip code: 130000 Nickname: City of Cars
Schools - Overall Impressions
For me, working here has been an amazing experience. Overall, Dongbei is less competitive to find work than Taiwan. Less foreigners want to live here it seems. Because of this, I was able to learn how to work at many different types of schools that I had never dreamed of teaching in before. These include colleges, the vocational and the art schools. The most important experience was with teaching adults, something I found a first to be very intimidating and at first I was highly nervous. Almost all my experiences in Taichung was with teaching children. As you can learn from Sophie's old college, 长春职业技术学� � , I have become an effective educator of young adults, as with Pattison. For the latter, I brought this school to you and now you have the opportunity to have a mutually beneficial working relationship with them.
Schools - Individual evaluation
Jilin Commercial Office Kindergarten 吉林省商务厅幼儿园 A good kindergarten, friendly co teachers, a serious boss (Conny). No curriculum provided when I was there. In all, I enjoyed the experience teaching there. A great opportunity to develop some creative ideas. As I needed to come up with lessons, I needed to be inventive. I was able to use experiences teaching in a larger and more expensive kindergarten in Taichung to plan these lessons and to better understand the children’s needs and functions.
Dong Guang Primary/Middle School 东光小学/中学 A good school. Great kids, Chinese English teachers somewhat bored and uncreative, especially the older ones. Crowded offices. I learnt a lot there, and used the time to gain experience for later teaching in better schools. I became friends with some of the teachers and was invited into their nearby homes to tutor their kids in exchange for Chinese lessons and dinners. Good memories.
Number Two Experimental Middle School 第二实验中学 An excellent school. Great staff: friendly and professional, I like the headmasters Mrs. Gengjia. Classrooms well equipped. Great cafeteria. I believe middle school is the easiest level to teach. Number One Experimental Primary School 第一实验小学 Wonderful children and a very well run school overall. However, some of the teachers have no sense of humour, are too proud and don’t like children. The head of the English department is a lonely woman looking to make foreign friends (like Patrick) I liked the school and the kids, but preferred my coworkers at Dong Guang.
Jilin Business and Technology College 吉林职业技术学� � A relatively poor college I gather. Although I too lived in a dormitory whilst at University, it was largely a time for partying, sex and drinking. Very different from the lives of the students I taught there. Students are typically fairly conservative, naïve and immature. They love their parents dearly and are forced to learn about Marx and Mao. They are all great people, they have their dreams and their ambitions. The majority are young women, especially in the classes majoring in English. Typical of Chinese students they are shy and not used to the western style of education. Universities in the west encourage participation and critical thinking. I learnt a great deal here and felt passionate about the work. Nice restaurants nearby and an excellent park. Often went to lunch with students. A great experience.
Changchun Vocational School 长春职业技术学� � An interesting place to work. The students are quite different to Number Two High School. They have their own choices of clothes. As most of the students were young women, they spent a lot of time with mirrors and makeup, and would flirt somewhat. Some had coloured hair and contact lenses. Their clothes were sexy and they knew it. The young men there were friendly and cool. They love basketball, cars and girls. More couples there than at 二中. Their English levels were low and some weren’t motivated. My liaison was Helen, who I liked. She was genuinely interested in English and learning in general.
Changchun Art School 长春艺术学� � I really wanted to teach here after hearing my brother Nick talk about it. As an artist, I thought it interesting that they focus on: music, drama, dancing, drawing and crafts. Furthermore, most go on to teach at kindergarten, with which I have about two years experience. Actually, here I met my former boss and two teachers from 吉林省商务厅幼儿园. When working at that kindergarten in early 2010, I met a couple of students from the art school who were visiting to gaining experience. Overall, I had a great experience teaching there. Like the vocational school, almost all of the students were female. But because they had uniforms and the rules were stricter, they paid more attention. They were not shy, rather quite expressive and confident in general. I had a lot of fun there and worked hard to teach them English and practical methods for teaching English in kindergarten. My teaching assistants there, Clara and Sarah, were helpful. The head of the English department, Grace is a nice lady also.
Changchun Number Two High School 长春市第二高中 This was the worst school I taught at during my time in Changchun. It’s no fault of the students; they have incredibly long days and little free time. Their studies are very difficult and they are often tired. Because there was no exam based on the foreign teachers classes, and because we were not really integrated into the school, most students didn’t pay attention. Instead most would sleep, talk, play cards or do their homework. It was pointless trying to install discipline and I sympathized with them. A few of the students were very bright and attentive, and those students made it bearable. Generally there were no Chinese teachers present. Like primary and middle school, in China the classes are too big…sixty to seventy students which reflects the lack of Government spending. Pattison Pattison is a great school. Like Joy Children’s English School that I worked in Taichung, it is a chain school with many branches. However, Joy’s headquarters are in Taibei, whereas Pattison is based out of Canada.
Joy uses a series of books designed to teach children, with a teaching guide for each individual lesson. When teaching kids at Pattison, I needed to come up with my own lesson plans and materials. Often I did so, and I worked with the two Chinese children’s teachers, who were using text books to base their classes upon. Those two teachers are named Tina (photo) and Prada. In the photos you can see the kid’s room and you can also see Angel. She is in charge of recruiting and organizing the foreign teachers at Pattison Changchun. In addition, she also teaches. The majority of teaching done by Chinese teachers there is, in fact, tutoring. They are called VIP (Very Important Person) classes, and like the group classes, are in fifty minute blocks with ten minutes between.
The students are generally teenagers and are in, or have finished, high school. They need to improve their English in order to pass IELTS (International English Language Testing System) exams. Passing the exam allows them to study in a foreign university. It is well know that many Chinese universities are not up the same standard of those in western countries, especially the Ivy League colleges in the US or others like Oxford or Cambridge in the UK. Most of the student’s parents, both kids and teens, are quite wealthy. They need to be, as Pattison is not cheap. VIP classes with a foreign teacher are over three hundred yuan for fifty minutes. One to one with a Chinese tutor is less expensive, as are group classes. Some students are adults in professions. They want to improve their English for their jobs. Some of them work in the automotive industry, another women worked for AMWAY, an American-based company. Still other adults just have a general interest in English and or find it more interesting than watching soap operas at home.
Pattison is very social, and students there often become good friends. Also, there are not the same divisions between them and teachers as with other schools I’ve taught. There are offices with computers for the teachers to prepare their lessons, and a big computer room for students. But the eating area is mutually shared. In addition, there is much glass (and mirrors) there: high visibility. The Chinese teachers there dress formally: blouses/shirts, dress pants and decent shoes, but there isn’t the same expectation for the foreign teachers, despite the contract saying no shorts, t-shirts or slippers. Most of the branches of Pattison for Dong Bei are found in Shenyang. There they have seven schools. The one in Changchun opened late last year, with the completion of Wanda, and there is another, recently opened in Haerbin. I heard a rumour about another one opening here. Their most direct competitor I think is New Oriental. There is a big branch down Hongqi Jie. My understanding is that most of their students are also high school level and preparing to go abroad. Sean used to work there, along with his girlfriend Cherry. I have also heard that Pattison is a bit less expensive than New Oriental, but I’m not sure about the quality of teaching.
The Chinese and foreign teachers at Pattison I believe are pretty good. Pattison has quite good marketing systems. I’m not exactly sure how they work except that they have quite a few “course consultants” and they have a person out the front to lure movie goers. Some of the students I taught were from Beijing and returned during their university holidays to see family here. During that time, their parents paid for them to improve their English. Here in Changchun, Pattison has some trouble finding enough quality foreign teachers, and I recently learnt Shenyang does also. I have helped the branch here, referring individual teachers and your company as a source. Consequently, I saw Norman and Douglas there, and they were well groomed and professional. Unfortunately for you, Pattison does demand native speakers, and so that leaves you with fewer options. There is the risk that teachers you send there will sign their next contract with Pattison, as I nearly did. They offer a better contract that Tian Shuo. For eighty five hours teaching per month, the salary is 8 500, with one thousand for accommodation. For completing a one year contract they grant a six thousand yuan flight allowance, nearly double what I received. Like you, there is no bonus for a half year contract. For hours worked over those eighty five for the month, there is 90 RMB per hour. The salary increases when a contract is renewed after a year.
Employees - Chinese Staff
I have seen a number of staff come and go during my time working at Tian Shuo. Of those still here, there is only Sophie and Kerry. Some had worked there a long time before I arrived, like Serena. Sophie is a diligent and efficient worker. She is a major asset to your company. Jiali also, I think is good at her job, and has a lot of worldly experience. Jo has been there some time and I like him. He is a genuinely friendly and warm person. As for the others, its really not worth the effort to get to know them personally because they leave after such a short period of time. Overall, the English levels of the staff are adequate, and they usually improve during their time at Tian Shuo. The best sense of humour belonged to Serena. One thing that initially struck me about the staff, more exactly Lucy, is the terribly bad breath. I remember going to one school with her, and the smell of her month made me feel sick, I felt so unwell I thought I wouldn’t be able to teach. Others too have bad breath and I would suggest that you encourage everyone to brush their teeth after having lunch together at the office. Actually, bad breath is typical of Changchun it seems. Taxis and buses have a horrible stench.
Employees - Foreign Teachers
Filipinos who make up roughly half of your numbers. In my experience, many of those teachers are quite good. In terms of having teachers who are not native speakers, there are disadvantages. This is generally, I believe, more apparent at the higher levels. A native speaker may have no real advantage at a kindergarten level of teaching so long as they have their basic grammar and pronunciation mastered. Some of the teachers I’ve met from The Philippines are brilliant with kindergarten. However, it may be more of an issue at say, college level. Then there is the inherent level of racism in China. In general, Chinese people look down on those with darker skin. That includes Filipinos. That is sad but true and I only hope this prejudice evaporates over time. With non-native speakers of English, generally, their native language is useless. The only languages that could be of use would be French, Japanese, Spanish, German and Russian. However, the international language is English. The most useful non-English native language (here) is definitely Chinese. Which makes me wonder why you don’t have Chinese teachers in your payroll? Because the schools demand foreigners? What of employing more ABCs (American Born Chinese), or in fact, any Chinese person who has spent large chunks of their life in an English speaking country? They would be your second best choice in teachers surely? I note that you have a couple of these teachers currently. The couple in their thirties from the east coast of the US.
Training - Systems
My understanding is that your training systems are: - New teachers are given instruction by existing, experienced ones - New or weak teachers go to observe classes by those better These are both good methods. However, I think you should probably start building up teaching materials as well. I’ve noticed that often teachers come to the office to use the Internet and printer to prepare lessons. I would suggest you invest in more equipment such as a laminator. Laminators can preserve the lifespan of materials made. They are fairly cheap to buy (I bought an A3 laminator online recently for less than three hundred yuan). Get hold of some books on teaching. Find teaching ideas on the Net (or ask your teachers to), print them, and put them in a folder. Have one filled with kindergarten ideas/activities, primary, middle, high school and college. Flashcards are a primary resource, but many teachers say that they can’t draw. Print out images of animals, shapes, sports, foods and so on. Have a light box (quite cheap) whereby teachers can put a piece of paper over the original and the trace. Ask experienced teachers (pay them) to write lesson plans as a resource as well as games and so on that work. Better yet, make videos of them demonstrating how they work, perhaps in a classroom. I am giving you and your teachers videos of myself teaching primary and college. I would suggest you try and get more of these kinds of materials from experienced teachers before they leave.
Training - Vincent’s DVDs
I have put a lot of time and energy in creating and compiling the dvds that I am now offering you for no personal profit. I believe that one significant problem that your company faces is the lack of training systems in place. There is a high turnover of teachers, and while it’s good that some quality teachers such as Andy and Courtney, Nick and Clint, Ryan and Peter stay for a good length of time, there are many new faces. This is in itself not a problem so long as the new teachers can learn quickly the basics of being an educator. I hope that these dvds can help to this effect.
Training - TESOL
Could I suggest that teachers qualify for a higher salary if they have a TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certificate or complete one whilst working for you. I know that Admin did that during his time in Changchun. He did it because it is very difficult to find a job in the south of China without one. He told me that what he was learning was helpful in both primary and high school. A better qualification still is CELTA. These cannot be studied from afar. They require you to go to a specific place where the course is run, and there undertake an intensive six week program of practical study.
Social - Parties
On social events: I am pleased to note that the parties I have attended through Tian Shuo have all been successful. The last two, at that KTV restaurant with Peter and Ryan as MCs (masters of ceremony), games and plenty of beer were unqualified successes. Overall, I would say that the show of face with expensive food matters less with your staff than with government officials. Those bureaucrats you wine and dine to build guanxi. If you could have three parties with cheaper food (but plenty of beer) for the price of two more expensive ones, myself I would prefer three. Talking to Courtney about this last year, we were in agreement. The best party I think was the one at the bbq place near the office mid-last year. The one at Xmas had a problem. People told me afterwards they felt ripped off….everyone paying fifty, but some saying they ate and drank less than that. But, the party hats were good, and you Maggie, are up for a drink and a laugh.
Accommodation - Apartments
Accommodation is a problem for your company. Some of the apartments I have visited are nice, a couple of them near the office for example. Michel and Admin’s old one is decent. As is the one Raquel is living in now that used have Chris, Beth, Nick, Maria, Ester, Josa, Tina and so on. I hear that Joe’s place is very nice. Marek said that after visiting it, “we are living like pigs.” Nick and Clint’s, Andy and Courtney/James are both okay. The apartment I live in currently, on Mingshan Er Hutong is acceptable. Much better than the one last year on Yatai as I and others have noted. But, I have heard from other teachers such as Marek and Maria about losing a lot of their deposits from faults that were already there before them. Also, just using the plumbing costs some expensive damages, as I discovered last year. Last year I was very disappointed by the lack of compassion and action by you and the staff at Tian Shuo. I was teaching at your best primary school, and I had a toilet that didn’t work. Every morning, I would have to shit into a plastic bag. I repeatedly did tell you, Jiali and Sophie about this situation, nothing was done. Looking back, it would have been best to stop going to class until the situation was resolved, that would have got results.
Then there was the issue with those horrible people downstairs. The first problem was that the bathroom floor was not sealed, despite the fact that the shower went directly onto the floor. The other problem was that the pipes under the sink burst when the cold set it. Then they leaked through the floor, as the bathroom had done. Only after looking at taking legal action against your company did you agree to pay half of compensation demanded by the people downstairs. Some of the damages to the apartment I was responsible for, others, not. The landlords, as I understand it from Jiali and others, try to get as much money from foreigners when they go. They see us as rich (relatively speaking, some of us are) and going to leave anyway. In this way, I was made to replace an old broken toilet with a new one and various other things. Overall, I would rather have lived in a better apartment, and paid the additional costs, because with an old apartment, in the end I had to pay to repair or improve its condition. I do accept responsibility for this, as I insisted on living alone, and chose both apartments. But, remember that accommodation is an important aspect of quality of life. If you want native English speakers, remember you are competing with the rest of China, and if they have university degrees, you are competing with South Korea, Japan as well as China and the world at large. Take a look at “Reputation” and you will find that accommodation is an issue for Tian Shuo.
Accommodation - Changchun
However, some of the issues with accommodation are beyond the control of you or anyone else besides the local Government. While I expected to see garbage, and experience water and air pollution in Changchun, I was not prepared for the level of noise pollution. Two noises I hear everyday that disgust and annoy are spitting and honking vehicles. Within the apartments I’ve stayed, garbage collectors are a problem. They are generally inconsiderate, howling at residents, some asleep in their beds. On Pingquan, roosters were an issue. As China has the same time zone, east to west, the sun rises very early here, especially in the summer. The roosters start making noise earlier still. As a teacher, a lack of sleep seriously affects performance, not to mention quality of life. Both are important issues for your teachers. If they are unhappy, they are likely to leave. When they leave they take that experience with them, and you need to recruit replacements. I did complain to you about the roosters, but there was really nothing you could do. While Changchun, and China in general, is rapidly improving, it remains a second-world nation, and the infrastructure, privacy levels and some social behavior (like spitting and honking horns). These elements remain below with English speaking countries, like New Zealand, and below countries competing for those teachers, like South Korea.
Recruitment - Locals
I’m not sure how you go about recruiting new teachers. I know you got many from Teach and Travel last year. That is great. Others, word of mouth, like me, through my brother. I would suggest you recruit locally also, as you no doubt do. Look into listing 天硕 on: Changchun Friends (www.richardroman.ning.com) Changchunstuff (www.changchunstuff.com) Teachers that finish their contracts with English First or other companies and may feel bored or constrained with their existing jobs may want to sign with you. One advantage Tian Shuo has the range of schools that you can offer: all kinds of teaching, and not just limited to Changchun city. For me, I had taught at a place like English First, when I was in Taichung, most of my teaching was done at a children’s chain school called Joy. It was good in that I didn’t need to waste time commuting, but it was boring going to the same place each day and having the same kinds of teaching. For me, the money teaching here is not good (not just your company but others too, including Patterson).
Recruitment - Word of Mouth
I would suggest that you set up an arrangement with foreign teachers that they earn a commission if they bring their friends to your company to sign up. I came here because of Nick. He apparently arranged a finders fee, but I don’t know if he collected on it. What I would suggest is that you have people recruit for you after they return to their countries. Especially with The Philippines where most of your teachers come from. Chain schools such as Hess in Taiwan, have recruiters operating and advertising in Vancouver, Canada. They guarantee they have enough teachers this way. Ben told me he first went to Japan to teach after meeting a Japanese girl in a bar who got him set up (and herself paid no doubt).
Recruitment - "Sophie's" College
I understand from Sophie that many of your Chinese staff come from her former college, Jilin Business and Technology College. Those new staff are English or business majors. They have no practical experience, and you pay them very low wages. They accept this situation as they know they lack experience. Once they gain experience, and think they can find a better job, like at English First, they leave. You told me that this is no problem in this, as the tasks they perform, like taking new teachers to schools or the hospital, banking etc, are quickly learned. Your most valuable staff member may be Sophie. Make sure that you reward your staff for their hard work and loyalty. Give them increasingly responsibility and remuneration.
Reputation - Crime
“..Last FRIDAY 12th of June The Tian Shuo Company in Changchun was raid by the Provincial PSB in Jilin Province by the report of certain individual or rival company. The PPSB retrieve more or less 60 passports of different nationalities and some other documents pertaining to the scrupolous dealings of the said company led of course by the matriarch Mama Wang who is now allegedly ( not yet clear about it) being detained and .........”
Reputation - Individual testimonies
Matt Tupy. November 15th, 2004. “I am presently living in Changchun City, Jilin Province, China. Before I agreed to come to China to teach English for a company named Tianshuo,..Tianshuo set me up in a small, dirty apartment. ..The company has made 6 promises to fix it but have not successfully done so. The Chinese staff at Tianshuo have a terrible time solving small problems… They tried to get out of paying overtime, arguing that although my contract says anything over 22 hours per week is overtime, it really means anything over 88 hours per month is overtime…So if you want to work for Tianshuo, go to any search engine and type in their name. What you find will help you make your decision.”
Adella December 21st, 2004 “Look out for Tian Shuo in Jilin Province…I went to China with the thought that it would be a great experience with yes a few challenges. But not as many as I did. To start with my contract was a total waste of time the company only went along with the contract if it was in their favour. My first apartment was a hell hole it was a 1 bedroom with a horrible bathroom that had a toilet that didn’t work properly and the shower was always cold. This I could live with I can handle the toilet and the shower but the worst thing about this apartment is that the place was so dirty you couldn’t take off you shoes for fear that cockroaches would run over your feet and you get covered in balck dust everytime you do…. just remember if you are a girl goping to china go with a friend preferably a boy or you will be treated terribly.”
Fulya June 18, 2008 I came here in March and worked for the Tian Shuo Company as an English teacher for 1,5 Months and I can say that 1,5 months were for me just a night mare. In my 1st day, the company brought me to a terrible apartment where I was supposed to live!.. they also let me work illegal and wanted me to make extra hours. They called me in my free days and sent me to some substitution classes, of course without payment. Now they reject, of course, to pay me my salary and in addition to that want me to leave China as soon as possible. The passports of some of my friends are also kept by the company because of again some funny reasons.
Alex. 8 December 2009 I never got a full schedule, not even 20 hours a week. I never got a full salary, they would be always stealing money from me. I never got that famous "release letter". When I left, they chased me around the city saying that I owed them money (regardless of the fact that they didn\'t pay me my last salary). and so much other crap that I don't want to remember.
Maggie, it’s been a pleasure working with you. Thanks to the opportunities through 天硕 I have improved greatly as an educator. I was able to expand upon my experiences as a children’s teacher and learn new skills: teaching teens and adults in a variety of scenarios. It was an honour to receive the teaching award last year, and I wish to apply again this year. At that time, I felt rewarded for all extra effort and dedication I put into my lessons. To me, my concern isn’t to your company nor the schools, it’s to the students. By this I mean both collectively and individually. My ideas about education have developed over time from teaching and life experience. I think there is a lot of room for improvement in both New Zealand’s and China’s systems. These are the two countries that I have direct experience with: as a student and teacher respectively.
I do feel very disappointed overall with the education I received in my home town of Tauranga. Emotional and spiritual learning were limited/non-existent. This is true of China too I believe. There is too much emphasis on maths and sciences. Chinese is a very labour intensive language to learn with its thousands of characters and while I somewhat believe in the morality lessons of Confucius, I think that the political ideals of Marx are best suited to when they were written, about one hundred and fifty years ago. There isn’t enough critical thinking in schools here. Students have too much pressure and too little time to get part-jobs to learn real life skills, and as they are tied to their studies day in day out, they end up lacking independence and imagination as they rarely have the opportunity for such things.
The pressure comes from parents. Having a son or daughter as a doctor or lawyer is a status thing: face. The weaknesses (or challenges) for Tian Shuo as I showed in this report are accommodation and reputation above all. Tian Shuo is referred to by some teachers from English First as “The Evil Empire.” Poor reputation and accommodation are two things affect your ability to recruit and retain teachers respectively. I heard that at the moment…mid year 2011, you are struggling to find enough teachers to fill the positions. I’m not sure if you have this problem at the end of every term, but I would have assumed that teachers were less likely to sign again at the end of the year, in the midst of winter. So, a lack of teachers means that you are not keeping enough of your existing ones and or your recruitment isn’t effective enough. Your recruitment will be affected by the company’s reputation.
Those individual testimonies were easy to find, just by using google and “tian shuo”. You can assume that at least half of your new teachers will perform a search like that. You cannot control what is written on bulletin boards like those. Those sites are invaluable for your efforts to find new teachers. Sean, now in Shenzhen, did a thorough search on the company he now works for before he signed on. Because he is now there, and they are treating him well, I will be joining him and adding another experienced teacher to their staff. With your company, Nick vouched for you, and so largely based on that, I signed. I don’t regret doing so, but others have. You were quite lucky that I returned this year because I was so enraged by how poorly I was treated with regard to broken plumbing in my apartment. Then there was that episode for the Christmas party where you asked me to organize a venue and help invite people as I pretty much single-handedly did with that mid-year bbq. You then refused to answer my calls or even just message me back, which was a slap in the face. I was very angry with you over that and still had no water in my bathroom.
When I met Gary earlier this year, he was amazed that I, one of the best teachers you had, would put up with that. I did want to leave, but wasn’t organized. Also I spent all my money traveling in South East Asia. What redeemed you in my eyes was when I spoke to you on Skype from Siem Reap, Cambodia, and you agreed to bank my flight allowance from afar, meaning that I could continue my travels. That and the fact that it is hard to stay angry with you face to face. You are pretty, and charming, and you know it! But you aren’t too proud, not vain. You are a good person I feel Maggie, it’s just that you need to think carefully about the points that I’ve raised in this report and consider a few, small changes. Overall, I think you are doing a good job with Tian Shuo. But you are spread too thin. You are just one person and you have about a hundred teachers.
Sophie does a great job, rarely makes mistakes despite long hours. She is a workaholic and a great asset to your business. Jiali also is good at her job, better than Lucy ever was. When Serena left though, I though you would find someone to take over her role. Is this what Jo does? I’m not sure, but I was concerned that Sophie would now be overseeing all the schools. Too much. Another weakness for Tian Shuo, is neither you nor your staff have any actual teaching experience. However, your company is an education provider to many public schools. You may want to consider having a consultant to this effect. I know that you would ply Courtney with questions about teaching and running the business. He told me this, and suggested to you pay him a thousand a so a month perform this role for you. Many western companies do use consultants, because they have very specialized skills and in-depth experience. Also because they are cheaper, and you don’t have enough work for someone full-time.
Your information networks seem lacking too. It was naïve that you didn’t know of Pattison until I brought it to your attention. You seem to have the market for public schools cornered, but if you want to expand, I would suggest private schools like Pattison, better still, open your own school. Base it out of the same building, start small. How do you go about gathering information about competitors and opportunities in Changchun? Is it an active process? New Oriental uses spies to infiltrate Pattison. They pose as students, and are sometimes discovered. They can discover important information: student demographics, numbers, teaching systems, which foreign teachers they have and more. Once I started teaching kids at Pattison, that side of their business expanded. I had quite a few demo classes. Based on what parents saw: me, they enrolled their children. These kids could have gone to another place, R.ISE for example. Maggie, you need timely information if you want to be effective and expand. Training: this is important, to ensure that your schools are satisfied with the teachers you provide.
At the vocational school, 长春职业技术学� �, Ms. Jiao told me that they had two unsatisfactory teachers there last year. The first was replaced with another, who also turned out to inadequate. Teaching is not a static profession. I think that a key reason that people tell me I am a good teacher is that I am continually trying to improve. In part, this means better job security, opportunities and money. However, the main reason is that I would be bored otherwise. Since being in Changchun I have deliberately sought out new challenges, and if it is teaching that I am already familiar with, such as children, then I try to invent new techniques. For example, I know that for me to improve upon teaching children, it would be good to learn more about child psychology. It would also help to learn how to hold a note…sing better! So, training is important, not just for new teachers but to share ideas and keep everyone passionate about what they do. But, continual new teachers are reality for 天硕. Some of which is beyond your control, for example, most of those from Teach and Travel were teaching just a means to experience China. Jade and Val were taking six months out from their studies and have since returned to finish them. Anita, James and Ester: drifting. The winter forced Ester to leave.
For me, you can’t offer me enough money to stay, I can teach almost anywhere in the world, and Jilin is not wealthy, nor is China, especially with an undervalued currency. The teachers more likely to stay are those Filipinos you employ, as there is over-population in their relatively poor country, and it’s hard for them to find teaching work in modern cities like Taibei or Shanghai, and near impossible in Japan or South Korea. So, much of the high turnover of teachers is beyond your control, but not all. Your reputation is not good, and this can prevent you finding new teachers, and if you provide new ones with poor accommodation, they will write about it on bulletin boards, like Matt, Adella, Fulya and Alex have done. You need positive reports of their time here, even if you have to bribe them! Not sure how long I’ll stay in Shenzhen, I’m scared of the pollution shortening my lifespan and I’ve heard that it’s a bit of a soulless city. But if the money is good, I’ll stay for that, and try and pay off some of my student. I plan on being free of that by the time I’m thirty five. Doesn’t sound that impressive: mid thirties, no assets, but the reality is that for many people in Western countries, they are enslaved by debt, especially once they have children and a mortgage, with spiraling inflation and growing unemployment. Luckily, being an English teacher is a profession with a future and one that I am passionate about.
Hope this is useful Additional Videos I made of teaching in Changchun can be found on my youtube account - http://www.youtube.com/user/ChaoKiwi1978?feature=mhee "The Ladder" - Some of the schools I worked at - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=laSgR2Mjonc "Perceptions" - Visions of Changchun - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kduUi1UusZc "Photography" - A Photo Essay on Changchun/Jilin - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8Iw9190PnQ "Teacher's Day" - While Teaching at a Primary School - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euePzlQB8yY There are many other Made in CChun videos on my account. Notably "WHY", "外国人", "Black White Board", "the teacher" "Narcissistic Jim", "Vanity", "El Bama", etc
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