My old hagwon closed!

You may have heard about my awful first 6 months in Korea with CPIS.  I arrived and started working within 12 hours only to find out the “school” that hired me was a huge web of lies.  We had issues with paychecks, health insurance, eviction notices, incompetent administration and just about every issue that you hear about from a hagwon.

You can read about my struggle to find a new job and acquire a “letter of release,” the threats and accusations the administration came up with and a wholly negative work environment but I’m happy to announce they shut down!

I do feel sorry for any teachers who lost their jobs and if you happen to be one of them don’t hesitate to contact me.  I’ll do my best to help you get a better job!  As for the kids its nice to hear they’ll have a brief reprieve from the long hours in school although I”m sure their parents have already found alternate hagwons.

I usually don’t like to rejoice over someone else’s misfortune but the circumstances that this atrocious school & administration created soured my first experiences in Korea.  They took advantage of us every time they could and instilled a false mistrust of Korean administrators that I’m still working through.  So today I will let that smile creep into a grin as word about my old hagwon’s closure fills me with joy.

LAST WEEK AT CPIS!

With only one week left at CPIS (my hellhole of a school) you’d think things would be winding down smoothly.  Then again nothing about the past 6 months has gone “smoothly” so why should this be any different?

Between the school’s buyout and an incredibly unprofessional new director we’ve had our share of lies, surprises and “extra fun” meetings.  It all started with my director shouting at me on the street.  She was accusing me of going to Yonsei University (where I’ve never been) and telling all of the parents that we hadn’t paid in 2 months (which isn’t true).  She began screaming as I tried to complete my bus duty.  Somehow I stayed calm and she eventually went inside (only about 30 minutes late for work).

Every few days she would bring up some gripe that she had with me or one of my colleagues.  90% of it was false and it seemed like her attempt to find a scapegoat for all the issues the school was having.  We did our best to maintain composure and keep teaching but when we had merely 6 workdays left we couldn’t take it any more.

The silver lining to all this was that I’ve been moving into my Hyewha apartment every weekend and by our breaking point I was completely moved in.  I’ve got a bigger apartment with a larger kitchen, a balcony, tons of storage and a REAL SHOWER.  My new queen-size bed is set up and had been sleeping there for a few days.  The bad news was I still had 6 days at my hogwon.

CPIS, our school (I use that term loosely) was sold last month and as far as we could tell they were trying to screw us out of our severance and possibly even the last paycheck.  Some of us were threatened with lawsuits, deportation or just plain slander.  We all felt uncomfortable working without a new contract or letter of release; there was no guarantee we’d be paid so we organized a sit in.

Then we found out the school hadn’t been paying rent for 5 of our apartments… for the last 4 months!   Continue reading

Half a paycheck, still no pension

Payday should be on the 5th of every month.  We accepted that we wouldn’t get it before our week off so thought the paychecks would be deposited the day of our return on January 6th.  Wrong.  Today is Friday and this whole week we’ve been working without pay, and have gotten zero answers about our pension accounts.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I called the National Pension office and confirmed that my account in fact has ₩0 in it.  So I’ve got that going for me.

A friendly letter with clearly stated advantages & disadvantages of diligent payment was drafted.  It outlined how employee morale has bottomed out highlighting the stress of not being paid, the revelation about our fraudulent pensions and the uncertainty of the future.  It further stated that the simple solution to avoid complications at the school was to adhere to our contractual payday.

I really wanted to have this translated and left on the boss’ desk but I was out voted.  Only myself and the author were willing to sign our names.  I guess it doesn’t bother me too much since I didn’t really think there would be any effect other than some angry Korean.  It was more of a symbolic olive branch to try and fix the problems while helping our CEO see the benefit to a good business practice aka paying his employees.

Its bad enough on a normal Monday morning but everyday past our payday it grows harder and harder to remain motivated to do any work and to come each in morning.  I look forward to leaving this job in a way I have never before experienced.  I chalk most of the trouble up to the language barrier and cultural differences.  If Mr. Bae spoke any English or we spoke Korean well enough to have a conversation perhaps he could convince us what he was doing made sense.  Well, no chances are it would make me hate him even more if I understood what he was saying.

As a result of the stress and uncertainty we have had some interesting developments.  This week there have been a handful of absences; they can largely be attributed to catching viruses like the devil I brought back from the Philippines but I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two were directly related to the lack of pay.  I know I’m planning on taking at least 1 ‘sick’ day next week to give myself a 3-day weekend for my birthday and am certain the remaining 7 weeks will include coworkers following suit.

The unfortunate side of a teacher calling in sick is that we are required to give up our prep periods to sub.  Today that backfired on one of our administrators.  Roughly 10 minutes before the class started (the teacher has been absent all day yet they waited until the last minute to ask) they approached a teacher with a prep this afternoon asking her to cover.  It got a little ugly when she refused; stating significant work (including a private school application) and the intent to visit the doctor since she had been sick.

As teachers we can’t understand why our principal doesn’t cover on these occasions.  Her main responsibility is to develop our curriculum (which she fails to do) and online shops or chats on her phone most of the day.  She deals with parents when the need arises but usually pawns that responsibility off to our coteachers who are on the phone most of the school day as a result.  Well, anyway a screaming match ensued in the hallway; it was exacerbated by both parties lack of pay and resulted in a “warning” letter which was mistranslated as a “call to immigration.”

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Its a Hagwon Life part 1

Its been about a month since I accepted the new job but I still have another two before I can leave my Hagwon.  Things here continue to spiral downwards and reinforce my decision to leave as soon as possible.  I’ve collected a few anecdotes over the last weeks to illustrate how things have continued to deteriorate.

I. Starting to Feel Like a Police State

Last week my principal abruptly called me into her office.  I saw my coteacher leaving and sat down as I pondered why she needed to talk to both of us.  She asked if a fellow teacher had spoken to me today.

That’s strange, I thought to myself.  Yeah (insert coworker’s name here) stopped in to let me know she “name dropped” me in a previous meeting where my resignation had been discussed.  She apologized and it was over right?

I thought about how to respond when I realized they have CCTV; suddenly my mind did a double take.  I had just finished reading The Hunger Games and wondered if this is what it feels like to be under constant surveillance like Panem, 1984, or some other police state.  Well, I saw no reason to hide our minimal conversation so I told her.

“Yeah, (insert coworker’s name here) stopped by my room.  I was teaching and she mentioned that she spoke to you about an incident the previous day.”

My principal went on to give me details about the incident which were omitted by my coworker.  She told me how a parent had considered removing their child from the school and then asked me how I felt about it.  That’s a strange question from your new boss.  I assumed she was trying to ascertain if I would cause an incident that might make her lose students.  I assured her that I had no intention of causing any problems before she asked me the most shocking question.

“Do you think I did the right thing?  You know, with (insert coworker’s name here)?  I mean I had to do something right?  I’m the director.  Did she need more discipline?”

Wait.  Hold up a minute.  Is my new principal (who I told I was leaving the school 2 weeks after her first day) asking me for advice? I felt incredibly uncomfortable about her divulging information from private conversations with my friend and parent of a student that I am in no way involved with.  I thought she was being unprofessional but, she’s my boss, so I answered as candidly as possible.

“I’m not an administrator, but yes, it is your job to handle situations that arise.  I can’t comment on what actually happened and any intent that may or may not have been present. To the best of my knowledge the teachers all do their best to keep the students and parents happy.”

We continued talking a little longer but the conversation kept going in circles.  I was getting annoyed since she already kept me from doing anything productive during my only prep that day.  I’m don’t know how a meeting could have been worse without anything bad actually happening to me;  I excused myself to go teach.

II. A Second Strange Encounter

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Pseudo Strike Day 5

It has now been a full week since the teachers at CPIS were supposed to be paid.  No paycheck today but we were told “maybe Tuesday or Wednesday” so there’s a slight chance it’ll come tomorrow.  I could go on about how I’m not doing any work with my students but that would be a lie.  Its too tough to sit here and just give them playtime for a whole school day!

In a surprise move our school officially has a new name with the same initials.  They put up new stickers all over the school changing the words “primary” & “school” to “place” and “society.”  We suspect that has to do with the inspectors coming back a few times over the past few weeks since we know our school doesn’t follow the guidelines required to be an “international school.”  (I would love to post the name but need to keep this anonymous while I’m still employed here)

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