I had the displeasure of working at Viva English for the best part of a year. Management was generally poor with the handling of contractual situations. In my honest opinion, the different classes & curriculums offered are at best, a platform for making money, and whilst it is understandable that most of these schools are a business where money comes first, there is also truth in the fact that the successful English language centres offer a ‘quality product’, and Viva certainly do not. This profit-centric approach is more akin to a larger ESL company; however, Viva will try to tell you differently. I had no choice other than to develop a comprehensive 2-year science curriculum and continually review other curriculums (which were rushed to print) for spelling/grammatical errors. After my employment had been terminated, my pay was withheld for a period of time. I was threatened on numerous times by management that I would not receive this money unless I did the extra work required of me and continue with the development even after I had left Shanghai. I had no prior experience of developing a wide-ranging science syllabus and this requirement was not stipulated in my contract either. The company, including the management, had no qualms with breaking multiple copyright laws and these infringements were justified with the poor reasoning that in China, laws were not enforced and that these were the circumstances I had to live with. I refused to comply and sought out the necessary contacts to gain legal access and shipping of science materials. My employment was not terminated by the company, I gave sufficient notice (7 weeks in advance) and as a gesture of good will agreed to stay on until the end of the semester in the interest of the students, to minimise any disruption to their learning progress.
Unrestricted creative freedom to plan your own lessons. Paid on time (although not what was always expected – and pay had been deducted for sick days). The children were very likeable and enthusiastic. Fairly good support in granting a visa, although I had to sponsor my initial visa to get to China which was very expensive. The work visa was paid for by the company, and this required a small fee. To my dismay, this favour by the company was continually brought up against me when I tried to ask for the privileges stipulated in the contract (holiday pay etc.).
Summer and winter courses can be exhausting where you are teaching full days with no office hours (9-6 with a 1-hour lunch break), I was also made to cover other teachers during this time without overtime pay. At times, I was the only teacher in the whole school, even though and had little to no support as a new teacher. Employment/labour law was broken when I was made to work 15 days and 13 days consecutively without a day off, for which I received no extra money for those months and as a result lead me to become very ill. The work/life balance was generally poor because of the unsociable teaching hours. Little to no training and development opportunities available for new teachers and very little feedback is given during the course of employment. Health insurance policy is vague and covers only accidents whereas they advertise full comprehensive cover. During employment, there were multiple violations of contract, including working over the specified number of hours, and not receiving money on sick days as written. Further violations also included not paying for the flight as specified and holiday-pay was difficult to negotiate over. Another written obligation of my contract was Mandarin Chinese lessons from the beginning, although I did not receive this benefit to almost 4-months in. Management didn’t like constructive feedback or criticism and they would use their authoritative power to threaten me on occasion. When I raised issues related to the grievances listed above I was told in other words to accept the situation otherwise I should be escorted by a manager to the nearby embassy to cancel my visa without reason.
Advice to Management
The curriculum that has been rushed through development is horribly inefficient and unprofessional. I suggest s*r*pping away what is unnecessary and focus on improving existing syllabi. Learn to strike a fine balance between education and sales, improve working conditions and this may, in turn, lead to better teacher retention. Provide a better structure for arriving teachers, such as assistance with opening bank accounts and acquiring a mobile phone sim card instead of assuming the teacher can accomplish these tasks by him/herself in a country where the foreign language and culture is vastly dissimilar. I will be seeking the money I am owed and will be following the necessary measures with the labour arbitration bureau in China.
Room 1703, Mingzhu Building, No.59 Shuicheng South Road, Changning District, Shanghai City, Shanghai, 200000, China