Anyone who is debating whether to work for Oxford Kids or not may be interested in knowing what I know.
Oxford Kids is a new company. They were born out of another company - Oxford Crown - in January of this year (2016). There are three characters involved in this company - Olga, the new boss; Nikolai, the new assistant director; and Elena, comms.
It is a very haphazard company. Dictionary.com defines 'haphazard' as: "characterized by a lack of order or planning, by irregularity, or by randomness; determined by or dependent on chance; aimless."
The emotional distress caused by my sudden, unforeseen departure; the constant worrying that another email from Oxford Kids might be waiting for me in my inbox; and the support of friends who recommended me to share my experiences, have led me to write this present review. I thank them for their support.
My biggest pet hate about Oxford Kids - a view shared by five former employees of which I have spoken to - was the constant last minute emailing of very urgent business which absolutely must be completed at the cost of any and all plans you, the employee, may have. For example, one email sent at 18:00 would finish with: "I expect your reply saying you agree by 10:00 tomorrow."
Granted, with smartphones, people can receive work messages instantly so in one light this might not be a problem. However, when you finish a long working day at 20:30 and have a one and a half hour commute to do and dinner to eat, you can see how this sort of repet*t*ve behavior starts becoming a problem.
The nature of emails was always for "the most urgent things." It remains my belief that anything of such vital significance would have been known about in advance. This made me feel panic daily for the next thing which was going to be asked of me which never took into account the other things they had already convinced me to do beyond teaching.
There was also a game of, what could arguably be called "tag teaming" which bordered on manipulation. All emails are directed to Elena, although she forwards messages on to Nikolai for an extra 'authoritative stamp' quite unnecessary in a company run by just three people. I had numerous messages from Nikolai of emotional blackmail directed to my empathetic side and used entirely to get further freebies from me, the employee, for company profit from high paying clients.
It was also a huge life inconvenience that the company could not guarantee me schools for my nine month tenure, and before my departure from them at the end of May 2016 they had sent no information as to whether there would be a repet*t*on in September 2016 of September 2015, in which I was made to teach private lessons two hours from the centre while I waited for the majority of my promised schools to start in October. Two days after arrival back I strongly debated moving to South Korea. Perhaps I should have escaped then.
Housing is not provided and the housing assistance which was provided last year left a lot to be asked for. I lost my first month’s deposit as I had to move out of the diabolical apartment which was arranged by the company and of which it was expected that I would spend nine months. When I left Moscow I lost a second deposit thanks again to the company although that experience I shall save for the end of my review.
I was also made to do a lot of activities unpaid, usually during national holidays (no other free time is given throughout your nine months and asking for a day off comes with a 6,000 ruble a day price tag - 1,000 rubles more than last year’s contract and 1,827 rubles higher than what you earn in a day if you calculate a full-time wage of 96,000 rubles, divided by 23 working days, in a month with 31 days) and to travel around Moscow above and beyond the call of duty.
Let me address each of these three points in detail.
Unpaid activities - include: writing twice annual reports for all of your children whilst continuing to prepare lessons and travel exaggerated lengths across Moscow. On the 8th of May 2016, it took 5 and a half hours for me to write more than 120 reports. I also frequently had my free mornings taken away for doing mandatory meetings at prospective schools for the company for their following years' contracts, and I was even made to sing at one of them, a request which came entirely out of the blue while I was improvising answers to questions which had absolutely nothing to do with me.
Trips to the office in Tulskaya for meetings with Elena and Nikolai when they request a face-to-face talk (something of a common tactic for them when email requests were unsuccessful) and constant errands, also took away from mornings which were supposed to be for lesson planning or travel time to your school far away. The long travel was never factored into their communications from the office and yes, while I am aware Moscow is a large city, the distances were polar, meaning there was no spot in which an apartment could be found to reduce travel times.
No holidays - Every six weeks, teachers who work ordinarily at state schools have a one week holiday. While I don't expect this to transfer across to private enterprise, working non-stop from September to December and then after the national holidays in January to the end of May (except for public holidays which have work given to complete during) is exhausting. You are contractually obliged to complete online records like state school teachers; give tests, mark them and publish the results like state school teachers; but you receive none of the holiday time.
Travel: Open a Moscow metro map and check out these names. My working week for the year was:
Monday = Krylatskoye.
Tuesday = Yasenevo
Wednesday = Buninskaya Aller
Thursday = Baumanskaya
Friday = Petrovsko-Razumovskaya
Monday one could walk to the location from the metro in 10 minutes. Tuesday was a st*r*y 15-minute walk which was difficult in the winter time. Wednesday needed a 15-minute bus after arrival at the very last station in Moscow region (so no longer in the city of Moscow). Thursday was walkable to the school and Friday required a 25-minute bus after arrival at the metro.
Monthly Friday morning meetings were quite simply a farce. A woman would come and give small presentations on course content which were just taken straight out of the contents page of the books we were working from...
...which reminds me: Oxford Kids provide little to no materials to you directly to run your courses in state schools. All of the materials you eventually manage to sc*a*e together over the first few months (yes, that means giving a month or two of lessons using either the children's books or the internet - if the state school has internet access working that day) you must carry around with you like a mule, as materials are not given for each class. So, if you have two schools at the same level you can’t leave materials you don’t need for lesson planning at one school as you need to take them to the next school. That said, you are not given a space to leave materials. In September 2015, when I asked the company who would be providing materials, they said: “the state schools.” State schools had to provide us at the private enterprise with the materials we needed to teach the English course! When I returned all of my materials at the end of May (the email which alerted you to this by the way didn’t say: “please remember to return your materials at the end of the academic year,” but “return your materials on or before the 31st of May or we will dock your pay for the retail price of buying a new one from your last month’s salary on June 1st”) the office was surprised I had so many materials. That is because they gave me just a few old, tattered books to teach from and the rest of the materials should, I suppose, belong to the schools that I was working at.
and give us no instructions on what to do if schools refused to buy materials or if there were no facilities at all such as printers, photocopiers or the internet. Suffice it to say, making extra trips to the office for photocopying and printing was out of the question, one because they did not have a colour printer and two because the office isn’t set up for teachers to come and reproduce materials but almost entirely for administration. A trip to the office before travelling far out of the centre was also out of the question and some of the schools we went to refused many, many times to provide printers, photocopiers or materials to allow us to prepare at the school in question.
I speak specifically about the school at Baumanskaya. I taught there for an entire year and not once did a child bring a notebook or a pencil to class. School children did not buy course books and the state school itself provided old library books to teach from, which did not match the children's levels or even belong to the children. Has anyone tried teaching a course for an entire year where the children can not take notes, can not complete exercises in a course book, read passages to classmates or simply follow a course structure from start to finish? I can not comprehend what role the course director had if a school was permitted to be run in such a fashion for an entire year. That class also went through three teachers this year, two of which left, and the entire time Elena was sending emails to the supervisor to no result and, as such, leaving the status quo to thrive. It was terrible.
Be aware that after you sign your contract. After a while almost all emails to you will begin with: “Well, according to the contract, you must...” The contract becomes its own entity without a face and to be adhered to without the space for reasoning or discussion (except in completing Its will). For the more, when the company changed its name I did not sign a new contract. Neither was I informed of the change except when I tried to log-in to the online system - a daily activities sheet which must be completed online for every class, every day and, again, later turned out to be “part of the contract” and, therefore, unpaid - and when it didn’t work I was treated as though I, of course, should have known all along that the website had changed. Considering the amount of unpaid company promotion events I personally had to do over the year, a fundamental change in boss and change of name should have been communicated by the new boss in the very least, preferably with a little explanation. But that wasn’t so.
A quick note: flights are not included, although it was implied that they would be, and I didn't have valid medical insurance for the entire duration of my stay. I was provided with a health insurance card months after my arrival which had an expirary date of one month before the end of the academic year.
It is also quite lonely working for this company. They don't organize socials for employees (although they tried to organize afternoon bowling for the day after the last working day of the year) and as a result, I didn't know who my fellow English teachers were or have the opportunity to make friends with them. Once a month I saw some of the teachers at Friday morning meetings but this is always a two hour 'sit and listen' affair followed by the necessity to leave immediately to go to work.
I was also referred to as “the favourite” by the assistant director at the start of May 2016. That changed at the end of May when Oxford Kids scheduled a meeting, urgently, on the same day and at the same time as their rival company (Oxford Crown, my employers at the start of the year) who had emailed far in advance. The Oxford Kids meeting was poorly worded in English which generated the initial confusion, but it was also labelled “urgent” and “obligatory to attend” and, of course, was unpaid. Olga - the new boss - “did not like” that I asked, this time, to be paid for my time, and a meeting yet again had to be held in Tulskaya which specifically questioned my “loyalty” (to use their words) to their company and suggested, again, that they might not be able to renew my visa if I did not do as they asked.
My necessity to have summer work was rendered mute with the argument “John. We’re talking about giving you nine months of work. Surely that’s more important.” It was suggested I “pick strawberries in Britain instead” for the summer, and it was beyond Oxford Kids to think that their teachers might need to get through the summer months first before they could think about that nine-month contract again.
As a result, Oxford Kids ‘won’ and I canceled my summer camp meeting to go to theirs. The pictures of me at last years summer camp when the company was still Oxford Crown, however, remain on the wall of the conference room at Oxford Kids.
I must make two more comments and I thank readers if they have made it this far through my review.
I love my children. In my last classes at my Friday school, children stayed back after class, aware that the year had finished, to enquire with eyes wide open like Antonio Banderas’s cat in ‘Shrek,’ as to whether I would be returning the following year. In my very last class, one of the girls said: “I was the best teacher she had had in her entire life.” When I informed the school supervisor of the news that I wouldn’t be returning for 2016/2017 she said: “It’s awful news! I’m very disappointed. The children will miss you,” and she is absolutely right, though I know I will miss them more as they were my day-to-day life in Moscow for the past year and a half.
My last story I take from my Facebook status the moment I landed safely in Bulgaria on the 9th of June, one day before my visa ran out, and from the message I told to former supervisors. I remain abhorred by my savage treatment.
Facebook status: “So, after being told - by email, and then twice on the phone when I called them confused and frustrated - that I have four days to leave the country as Oxford Kids failed to renew my visa on time (even after a message on the evening of Tuesday 10th of May saying that I must come in the next morning to discuss my visa - there had been a three-day national holiday before, so for the company there was no urgency during their holidays - and an email which stated: “due to your refusal to come tomorrow morning, we can not guarantee to renew your visa on time.” I, of course, came in on Wednesday morning to secure this guarantee), I now find myself in Bulgaria furious that I had to flee the country and leave behind a summer camp in Moscow where everyone cried at the news that I had to leave against my will or face being barred from the country for five years. I lost my deposit (for the second time) and seven working days of earnings and was distraught by the necessity to enter survival mode and round up or abandon my affairs and leave the country on such short notice.”
Message to former supervisors: “Greetings from Bulgaria! I thought I should communicate to you that I won’t be returning to your school in September. The new managers at Oxford Kids - who took over from Oxford Crown in January of this year - have proven themselves time and again to be poor communicators, constant excuse makers and highly demanding to the point of extortion. As a result of many incidents, the red line of which was Oxford Kids’ mishandling of my visa forcing me to flee Russia with four days’ notice, I now have to look for other work, although this has the worst outcome on the children, whom I wanted so passionately to continue teaching.”
I thereby recommend caution to all those who may wish to have dealings with Oxford Kids in the future.
Gamsonovskiy per., 2с1, 316, Moscow, Russia, 115191
Former employee. January 12th 2015 to May 27th 2016