Sunday, October 16, 2011

Real Life Drama: Take This Job And Shove It

I suppose now that I have moved house, it's an appropriate time to say that I no longer work at Cassandra Academy.  I've settled back in to Uijeongbu and am due to start a new job one week from tomorrow.  I'm really excited both to be back in Uijeongbu and also to start this new job because it seems like a good one.  And once again the header of my blog is relevant to my locale!

Even with all the excitement, however, there's also more than a little resentment and bile below the surface—after all, I did leave the job for a reason.  Many reasons. The first instinct is to spew that bile far and wide over the Internet, even though I realize that's not entirely fair.  The school was simply not a good match for me, and they can't be blamed entirely.  Not only that, but there are plenty of other English teachers who get treated even worse—to say nothing of the manic work schedule of a typical Korean.  There is a little bit of entitlement in my anger, I realize.  In the interest of moderation, I will enumerate my reasons (because hey, it's my blog and I do what I want), but avoid naming names.

Cassandra Academy used to be to a branch (or franchise, I'm hazy on how these things are sorted) of the mega-chain POLY.  That's the most identifying information I'll name, mostly because its history as a POLY school has a lot to do with how it's run now.  The books and curriculum are all (I'm 90% certain) POLY's material, as are the hours (9 AM to 7.30 PM).  Cassandra has two campuses, with plans to open nine(!) more; right now one campus has typical hagwon hours and the other campus has atypical hours.  I worked at the atypical one. 

My first and foremost complaint is the hours.  While there is a ninety minute block in the middle of the day to prep for your afternoon classes, plus another hour for lunch, the fact remains that you spend ten and a half hours every day more or less tethered to your work. If you're the kind of person who has boundless energy, both mental and physical, then it's not an entirely untenable schedule.  When I first arrived in Korea, even, I could manage it, since the sheer and utter exuberance of being back in Korea carried me through the hours to scheduled dinner dates with friends I had not seen for a year and change.  Once I got settled in, however, it didn't take long for me to wear down. 

That's why my updates have been so intermittent and lacking in depth since I've been back:  I don't have the time to sit down and set down my thoughts in anything other than a cursory, skim-the-surface manner.  The longer entries I've posted (for example, what I wrote a while back about "who owns Arirang?") have taken weeks, due in part to the fact that just as I would hit a good writing groove, I'd check the time and realize I had to go to bed.   Then factor in revisions and editing and spell-checking, and you add even more time.  There are still two more drafts sitting in the Internet ether, waiting to be finished at a time when I have more brain juice.

Not only that, but the broad expanse of hours means that doing any kind of life maintenance is impossible.  Your only real free time is the weekend, but most of the things you need to do are closed on the weekend.  Either that, or they're the things you don't WANT to spend your weekend doing (like getting teeth pulled).   Your only window of opportunity for life administrative duties would be your lunch hour and part of your prep.  Otherwise, you have to call off and then everyone else who does work gets screwed over because they have to cover your classes.

The other big reason I left was an absolutely toxic work environment.  My manager at Sherlock was not the most popular guy, but  I've never carried as much sustained rage at his shenanigans as I have at the (former) head foreign teacher at Cassandra, a woman held in utter contempt by each and every teacher who worked under her.  In one of those twists of fate you kind of come to expect in the corporate world, at the company picnic on Saturday the owners announced that she was being promoted to Vice Director.  The fact that they did this despite numerous complaints from teachers about her is, paradoxically, both mind-boggling and par for the course.  Clearly they value her decision to stick with the school (and the pretty sweet gig and cozy schedule she set up for herself) above the complaints from teachers who come and go after a year, or two at the most.   Even when they keep hearing complaints from a number of different teachers.

There's a whole litany of complaints I have about her, but I will sum it up as neatly as possible: she is in a managerial position without even an iota of managerial training, and it shows.  She micromanages, she undermines your authority in the classroom, she delegates work to teachers that should really be under her purview, and she is not one to rise above petty disagreements.  Even the students—or at least most of the ones that I taught—dislike her.  One of my older students called her Voldemort.  And I say all of this as a teacher who managed to get treated pretty well: she only dumped work for me to do during my free periods (named, of course, "R&D periods" so they can justify giving you more work to do) a couple of times and never pulled me aside for awkward confrontations.

Other little things came up that contributed to my decision to leave: lack of communication between the owners, other administrators, and the teachers; the fact that they do the bogus "base salary plus a monthly bonus" bullshit so as to cheat you out of money on your pension and severance; useless and inefficient "teacher meetings" (but then, is there ever an effective and efficient meeting?); lots of little bullshit that we were some how required to do despite it not ever being mentioned either in the interview or in the contract.

In the interest of being "fair and balanced," I will say this:  those who work at the other campus with more typical hours and without the same head foreign teacher enjoy their work and seem to be treated pretty well.  It is not a problem with the whole company, per se; just that the particular campus where I worked was not a fun place.  If the managing situation was different, it could easily be a tolerable, if not fun, place to work.  And while the "low base salary plus monthly bonus" is a bunch of crap, they still send you home every month with very decent pay, all told.  The actual teaching is a breeze, as there is a lot of content in the material (maybe, in some cases, too much) so you're not stuck with wondering what to do next.  Coming from a school that used utterly contentless books (try spending ten class periods teaching fifth graders the concept of comparatives and superlatives after they get it on the first day, from a book targeted at seven year olds),  I had a lot more fun in my classes at Cassandra than I did at Sherlock.  It just wasn't enough to counter the fact that the hours were soul-sucking and that the management was subpar.

I would hate for this to be anyone's first experience in Korea.  My prior life here meant I had loads of networking opportunities available: people recommended recruiters to me, forwarded job openings, and eventually I found my new job via the Uijeongbu Crew Facebook group.  Many other people at Cassandra, however, don't have that prior experience to draw on, which makes leaving much more difficult.  Hopefully I can provide them even just a fraction of the assistance I received, should they make that decision. 

Anything else would be too personal to provide in a public forum, I feel, but I am amenable to any questions asked of me in private.  I'll just let Johnny Paycheck and David Allen Coe play this entry out:

No comments:

Post a Comment