Psuedo strike day 1

Today we had an interesting weekly meeting at CPIS.  We met our future principal, and she was quite embarrassed to walk into such an awkward situation with all of our questions revolving around the absence of yesterday’s paycheck.  She mentioned that she has administrative & marketing experience and told us that she would be writing a new curriculum & a teacher code of conduct.

Some of her news was good but we were too focused on how to react to the owner’s present lack of financial means.  He collected more than enough money to pay all of the salaries & monthly expenses from last months tuition yet somehow lost over $150,000 in a week?

“What happened to the money?” Colin asked

Jane didn’t have a solid answer.  She said she doesn’t know what happened and there are 2 people that Mr. Bae will give his phone # too; neither of which speak English or are involved in the day to day academics of the school.  The accountant and a Mr. Choi who are both rarely seen.  There’s no way to get a hold of him but we were assured that we “might be paid” by the end of the week.

“that’s simply unacceptable.”  I retorted.  “If Mr. Bae wants us to act professionally and work as teachers he needs to pay us on time.  If he wants a glorified daycare where poor business practices can be accepted then he can’t hire certified teachers.”

Silence.

“Mrs. Yi told us last time that she would pay us directly from the tuition collected.  Why didn’t that happen?”

Silence.

Leaving the meeting a few coworkers discussed the situation.  We decided that no answer was probaly better than a blatant lie and decided how we would go about “teaching” today.  A few of us resolved to hold our planned lessons until after we were paid.  I did my regular morning meeting & taught art class but that was it for the morning; I extended their usual playtime and suddenly it was time to eat.

After lunch playtime went long today too and I opted to show Wreck it Ralph to the class in the afternoon.  They were ecstatic but got restless by the halfway mark.  I stopped the movie amidst cries and shouts and informed them we would finish it tomorrow and we ended the day with some centers.  I picked the academic games; crash game (sight words), matching time, matching dominoes (addition) and a quiet reading center. Coincidentally they were all independent centers which let Mary and I relax a little.

When I mentioned this plan in the morning Mary, my coteacher, was worried the parents would complain.  After all, she’s the one that has to deal with them.  The kids were asking “is this math?” during the movie so I think they realized something was amiss; it will be interesting to see if there is any backlash from the parents.  I told her to direct all complaints directly to Mr. Bae and the administration.

Tomorrow will continue without my regular lessons unless we are magically paid.  I know I was among at least half of the teachers here who participated in a similar capacity today.  The good news is I have an interview Saturday at a highly reputable private international school for a job that would start in the Spring giving me the 6 months required here to not repay my flight costs.

Thats all for now.   I’m off to some stabbing stress relief at fencing practice.

Payday…

Today is Monday, October 7th.  We are scheduled to be paid on the 5th except when it falls on a weekend so today should be payday.  Last month’s check didn’t come for my coworkers and then a week later they got half with the remainder arriving the following week. I wasn’t owed anything that time since I was so new but today I should get my paycheck.

My last student left at 4:50.  I sat in my room and prepped for tomorrow.  Moments later my coworker, Colin, came in and asked if I had been paid yet.  After religiously checking my account all day I knew there was nothing in it but refreshed once more.  Still nothing.  We sat and talked about what to do for a few moments; some said we should have a sit in tomorrow morning. Show up to school and sit at the entrance until the wire transfer went through but we all hoped the payment would come.  I said I’d go down at 5:30 and talk to the principal if I didn’t have the money by then.  He left and went on to the next room.

The clock lazily ticked by as I sat at my computer creating an interactive Halloween presentation in Activ Inspire.  Even though I don’t have a Smartboard I like using the software and telling the kids its magic when they drag their fingers along the white board.  I just follow with my mouse.

Distracting myself for a few moments I wondered if this really would be the moment that I’d start looking for a new job.  If we don’t get paid today and stage the sit in then the parents will all see; surely some will elect to find a new school.  We would be sealing this school’s fate.

5:20.  I checked again, still nothing.  Nervously I realized my presentation was ready and wrote tomorrow’s morning sentence “I will come to school with my little yo yo.”  I included 3 of their spelling words and had invited them all to bring in a yo yo given their words.   Another coworker came in and we discussed how to get around the potential lack of a “letter of release” if shit does in fact hit the fan.

5:30.  My bank account was still drearily low.  I walked down the two flights of stairs to find my principal on the phone.  Waiting outside her open door she asked if I needed her; I said yes and she invited me in while finishing her phone call.  When she hung up I got right to the point.

“Are we getting paid today?”

“Yes.”

“When?”

“Maybe right now? The accountant is doing it”

Her accent seemed worse as she shakily responded to my inquiry.  I said “thank you, good” and walked upstairs to Colin’s room.  Entering he let me know that he got paid.  I told him I hadn’t yet but quickly refreshed the app.  I nearly screamed and danced when I saw the extra digits and commas!  I did in fact get paid!  Fencing tonight with Ben will be that much sweeter knowing I don’t have to start looking for a new job tomorrow.

Unpaid and unsure

Another day without answers.  The owner was scarcely seen at school today; some saw it as a sign that he was working to get the money, others read his absence in a much darker light.  I’m not sure what to think about him or the administration.  Part of why I came here was to teach the kids, but that was only part.  This is a job, not volunteer work and unfortunately I don’t need another volunteering bullet on my resume.

The foreign teachers were called into the principals office after school so she could read a letter from the owner.  Many did not trust that it was in fact his own words or that her translation of his Korean was accurate.  It seemed to be a heartfelt letter; the problem was that it was lacking a solution or reason.    We were asked to trust them and be patient, that he doesn’t want to close the school but, if we starting taking drastic actions he might change his mind.

With some carefully worded questions we were able to get the principal to tell us how the owner is planning to get the money.  He is in the process of selling “one of his buildings,” we just hope its not this one.  The fact that we know he has a Ferrari, a BMW and now multiple buildings but failed to come up with the money for 2 weeks is unsettling to say the least.  Unfortunately there was no time-frame on the building sale so again we pried a few answers from the administration.  What happens if he can’t sell or it takes too long?  What about the income the school is making on tuition?

Bingo, we don’t know where the tuition money has been going but we are getting skeptical.  It gets delivered to an accountant who then pays us from the owners account.  A few teachers crunched the numbers and it doesn’t add up.  Tuition should be more than enough to cover the employees salaries.  Accusations about the owner taking money from this school for a different investment came flying out only to be retold that this school “doesn’t make a profit.”  Not the words we wanted to hear.

The good news is that the next round of tuition will be held by the principal to pay us directly, if our owner is unable to come up with the funds himself.  The bad news is that tuition isn’t due until this Friday and next week is a national holiday, Chuseok.  It takes up to 5 business days for the turn around so we’d have to wait until September 24th.  Personally, I still doubt I’ll get my paycheck on the 24th as it isn’t owed to me until the 5th of next month but I will find out for sure tomorrow.

A number of my coworkers say that the 24th is too long.  3 weeks without pay and not knowing whether or not the next paycheck will follow suit is unacceptable, by any standard, let alone when living in a foreign country.

Nobody knows what will happen; no one wants the school to close but all of us foreigners know that we can’t afford to work for free and can easily find work elsewhere.  One of my coworkers even had an unsolicited offer today; he hasn’t decided what to do with it and doesn’t want to screw the rest of us over.  We are meeting again tomorrow morning to determine if we are even comfortable waiting.

One glimmer of solace is that the principal has repeatedly said that there is a $1 million dollar deposit on the school.  If it closes the money is returned and she will use that to pay all of our back pay; provided we keep working.  Many of us don’t trust her and think she is just telling another lie; maybe its because I’m the eager new guy but I believe her.

I found the hostel I’ll stay in if I need to and will be contacting other recruiters just in case but am keeping my fingers crossed that the owner can sort this out asap!  I even was able to get the administration to agree to a contract renegotiation after we are paid.

The kids are still adorable and I really enjoy working with them but I’d like it even better if I knew that I had a paycheck coming.

IMG_20130910_183102

En route

6 hours of flying down and here I wait in San Fransisco.  In just under 3 hours I’ll board my Singapore Airlines flight to Seoul and be sitting on a plane for another 12 hours as I traverse the Pacific Ocean for the first time.  Excited?  Absolutely!

With my extra week at home I managed to see a few more good friends, some that I hadn’t seen or talked to in quite some time.  I loved their reminders that the last time we spoke, maybe as much as 2 years ago, I was talking about teaching in Korea and well, now I am!  If I can do it so can you.  Set your goals and go for it!

The nervousness has mostly died down.  I barely slept last night between repacking and all the adrenaline pumping through my system.  It still seems so surreal and I’m not sure if I believe that I’m actually going to be finding my home for the next 1+ years in the coming hours.

Friends and family, you will be missed. I’m terrible at farewells but gave out lots of hugs with only a few tears shed and plenty of my signature “until next time.”  Although these days I’ve been telling everyone next time is in Seoul because everyone is invited to come visit!  I’m already pumped for my brother’s visit in October.  We wanna check out Bukhansan National Park, the old city in Seoul and see if he can get us a special DMZ tour through one of his buddies on base.  But right now that seems too far away to think about.

I can’t wait to meet my coworkers and my students on Thursday and set up my apartment this weekend.  Its hard to fathom that I’ll be spending my upcoming weeks exploring a new city and new country.  Lets hope the culture shock isn’t too bad, I know the food will be great, even if it isn’t as good as my pizza joint back home.

Signing off for now.  See you in Seoul!