When I first came to the school, it was in the spring of 2018. I felt like I had made the right choice as the duration of the spring semester and the fall of 2018/spring of 2019 was the best teaching experience I’d had whilst in China. I was allowed to come and go as I pleased as long as I completed all my lesson plans and was on time for class. My teaching partners for the most part put in effort and communicated with me about classes. There was a clearly set out schedule with what was supposed to be taught when and I felt that 3 weeks per chapter was a reasonable expectation for all the students. If I needed help with something outside of work (not that I asked all that often) I felt that I could ask. A certain member of administration went above and beyond the call of duty when I got swindled by a local shop to help me get my money back. I really felt at home at the school and could see myself working there for a long period of time. I’m sure my friends that worked at other schools got sick of me saying how much I liked my work. Then the fall of 2019 happened. I don’t know what exactly brought about the change but had the colors and faces not been the same I would have thought I went through a wormhole and wound up at a different school.
The school has 2 enrollment options for students. One option is to pay 20,000 RMB per semester and this entitles the student to one class with a foreign teacher per month. The other option is to pay 40,000 and your student will have class with a foreign teacher every day. The 40,000 tuition also grants the student access to special cultural events such as a Halloween festival and Easter egg hunt. These events take place in either the courtyard or the sports field where anybody who happens to be looking out the window or having mandatory morning exercises can clearly see what’s going on. The students that don’t pay the 40,000 more or less have it rubbed in their faces that they don’t get to participate in these events. Keep in mind this happens at a primary school that claims to be communist complete with pictures of Lenin and Mao on the walls. This isn’t some extremely manipulative advertising technique because students aren’t able to change programs if the family’s financial standing were to change. All this is is complete disregard for students’ feelings.
I was told each class came with a budget of 1,000 RMB per class per year to buy things that would help enhance the students’ learning. Another teacher purchased a wall calendar that could be changed every day and somebody else purchased whiteboards. I asked for 70 RMB to purchase some reward stickers that would be used in both of my classes. These stickers had been previously reimbursed in the prior year but I was told that wouldn’t be done anymore. I hadn’t asked for anything else for my classroom, nor did any of the coteachers purchase anything that would have used up the budget to my knowledge. I wasn’t given a reason for the rule change.
I asked to go to the doctor in the fall of 2019 because I wasn’t able to hear out of an ear and it had been painful for a few days. I was told it’s “Not our responsibility to take you to the doctor. Do you have any friends you can ask?” That’s completely unacceptable as I was hired as a foreign teacher. I can’t speak Chinese and this was known at the time. If a school is going to have foreigners on staff, they need to be able to take care of their needs and do so willingly. I’m not somebody who complains for every little ache and pain. In the two years that I worked at Ciji Primary I never once took a sick day. I had however, gotten into an argument with a Chinese teacher earlier about how using social media on a smartphone wasn’t acceptable behavior when said teacher was supposed to be assisting me in a class. When I explained again that I needed help to get whatever was wrong with me taken care of I was told I could “Ask a Chinese teacher as a favor.” This isn’t something that should be contingent on how well one gets along with coworkers. I did eventually get taken to the doctor but not without having to basically beg for it. If I had to pinpoint a place where I stopped feeling respected and comfortable at the school this was that exact moment.
During the winter I had a handwarmer to keep my hands warm on the walk to the cafeteria from the main building. My contract specified my break time was 11-12:45 so when I would go to the lunchroom after my class finished at 11 I was on break. I was told I couldn’t have my handwarmer. I asked why this was the rule as I wasn’t on the clock, nor did I ever take it into a classroom where it would be distracting from lessons. Nowhere in the contract or employee handbook did it say that handwarmers weren’t allowed. The administration wasn’t able to answer my question about how I was breaking the rules. However, obvious safety rules such as no smoking on campus and not physically disciplining students may as well have not even been printed. Higher ups in administration and regular teachers alike would light up in plain sight within the confines of the school and leave cigarette b*t*s and packages where kids could find them. I observed multiple teachers hitting students.
Upon coming back to China after Lunar New Year of 2020 and the virus that followed, I was told we’d be working Sat*r*ays to make up for time lost because of the shutdown. I pointed out where in the contract it said that only 4 Sat*r*ays could be worked per contract period and those had already been used before the shutdown. Administration attempted to guilt trip me into saying that I’d been paid during the lockdown so I should work on Sat*r*ays. No. That’s not how contracts operate, nor was I told this was going be what was expected of me after school resumed at any point during the approximately two month lockdown. I said I’d be willing to work if I was compensated and the contract did say it could be modified on mutual consent. I asked for the rules/compensation rates for Sat*r*ays to be written on the back of said contract and both myself and administration should sign it and then we’d be following the rules. This suggestion wasn’t immediately followed and it was only grudgingly written down and signed after I pointed out the other section in the contract where it said that if the contract wasn’t followed, I was well within my right to quit. I was told I should just trust the school and nobody else insisted on doing this. If the school had every intention of paying me, why would having something written down as per contract protocol be something the school would be opposed to doing? Administration has lamented to me, “You always do what the contract says!” Yes, I do. That is a legally binding agreement and if I were to not follow it, my job could be in danger. But when I demand to have what was agreed upon followed, I’m being difficult.
I didn’t say to any recruiter (nor have I said here) anything that wasn’t true. But apparently me saying what happened made recruiters not want to send foreign teachers to Ciji Primary. I asked my boss about the possibility of signing another contract (I didn’t actually plan on doing it, I just wanted to know what all my options were). He said he knew I wasn’t happy because a recruiter had posted a form I filled out online and part of that form was the reason for me wanting to leave my current school. Because I told the truth and caused problems for the school I’m no longer welcome there. Instead of getting angry at me for telling the truth, Ciji Primary needs to examine how it treats foreign teachers and students alike and wonder why three out of eight foreign teachers had committed to leaving the school before the virus hit.
The free cafeteria lunches are better than the options at local restaurants most of the time. There are some really friendly security guards that are happy to help you with all they can.
Qianyang Road and Baishalu Steet, Cixi City, Ningbo City, Zhejiang Province, China 315300
I worked at this school for slightly over two years. One contract was a 14 month contract and the other one was a 12 month contract.