Working in a private cram school you soon become accustomed to the fact that you don’t work for a ‘school’ in any normal sense of the word. No, you work for a money-making machine whose product is small pieces of paper which apparently serve the purpose of assuring parents that their special little angel isn’t a complete fuckwit. Student enrolment is the fuel for this machine so education unashamedly takes a back seat to class numbers and any student leaving classes is an instant black mark against the teacher.
In Taiwan there exists a certain disconnect with reality which affects many of the population (my own personal hypothesis is that people are taught nothing vaguely resembling critical thinking or independent learning, but that’s another post for another blog) and this manifest itself in my school as the boss’s tendency to lay the blame for any student departure squarely on the shoulders of the teacher. This happens regardless of the actual reason and he will lie to your face about said reason if the real one doesn’t suit his purposes. (Incidentally, lying is integral to Taiwanese and Chinese culture, used to ‘save face’. Unfortunate, as nothing will cause someone to lose face faster in my eyes than lying to me.) His purpose in doing this is unclear but the current best guesses among my coworkers are 1) a belief that stress and low self-esteem will make us happier, more productive workers and 2) the fact that he’s utterly unqualified to run a business.
Why do we say unqualified? After all, none of us have run our own businesses so who are we to talk? Well, one of the basic facts of business, any business, is that over time you will lose customers and that in many cases there will be absolutely nothing you can do about this. It happens, businesses deal with it. The key is attracting new customers to fill the gap (and then some) to ensure a steady flow of income. My boss has failed to grasp this fundamental law and seems to assume (probably thanks to his astrologer) that new students will just come to him – he has built it, they will come. Of course any attempt to ask him about his efforts to attract new students are met with “Erm, well…” *mops brow* “tough market…” *mops brow* “thinking of something…” *exits room*
So anyway, here are some of the reasons for student departures as given by my boss first, then the real reasons gleaned from my teaching assistants. Yup, all my fault. I am a poor teacher.
Dora and Tammy (twins) – Boss: “We don’t know, they’re not coming back. This is not good.” TA Melissa: “They’ve gone on a long summer holiday to America. They might be back after.” Fault: mine.
Joe – Boss: “He just said he’s not coming back. We don’t know why. If the class was good he would have stayed.” TA Christy: “He’s moved to DaJia (35km away), it’s too far to drive every day.” Fault: mine.
Shinny – Boss: “She says the class is too easy for her” (NB: she consistently finishes middle of the class in scores) TA Christy: “She’s moved to another school because it was cheaper” (NB: my school is one of the most expensive in the business, and incidentally pays almost the lowest wages) Fault: mine
Dora – Boss: “She doesn’t want to come back, she must not like the class” (NB: Dora was one of my favourite students because she always enjoyed the classes and even made her parents let her come when she was ill) TA Steven: “She thinks there is too much homework, it’s too much stress. She might come back and join one of your low level classes” (NB: homework is set by the school, it is entirely out of my hands) Fault: mine.
Here’s my favourite though. Benson, a very bright yet insolent and loud student, left out of the blue. I’d been working to get him calm down since arriving in Taiwan and it was finally working, we’d established some level of mutual respect and he was in the middle of a huge breakthrough. On the final day of his most recent course, when parents come to the class and certificates are handed out, he committed the heinous crime of putting his first place certificate in his bag while my boss was addressing the class. He was bawled and screamed at for a good two minutes, to the extent that the other students, my TA and myself were all clearly uncomfortable. It was a totally unwarranted and disproportionate display. The following day I was informed that Benson would not be returning for the next course.
Boss: “I don’t know. It is very sad”
Benson, on meeting him by chance in a supermarket near the school two weeks after this incident: “Eric is an idiot. He shouldn’t have shouted at me like that. If he had asked me to stop and listen I would have done it, I just wanted to put the prize away, and he always tells us to put our things away. I’m at another school now.”
That’s a taster of what we have to deal with on a daily basis over here. Sorry for the rantage but recently things have been getting pretty damned stressful and some venting was necessarily. I promise the next post will be about kittens or some such…