Payday and stirring the hornets nest

Last time CPIS failed to pay us I went on what ended up being 6 days of “psuedo-strike.”  My coworkers and I had resolved that for as long as they were holding our paychecks hostage our “normal teaching” would halt.  It was an enjoyable time for my students since that meant we did minimal work and watched plenty of videos.

We’ve been continuing that schedule for most of January.  The shocking part is that the administration either is completely blind to it or doesn’t care.  After all we’re still talking in English and showing English speaking movies (unless its Wall-E).  This month I added to my striking by declaring that I would not do weekly or monthly parent comments until we are paid.

Well, today is when they are all due.  I walked into the teacher’s room to find my Korean co-teacher and a number of other Koreans including my principal.

“Mike Teacher, you know last week the parents did not get comments.”  Mary mentioned.  

“Yes, I know.” I responded loudly.  I wasn’t hiding anything and had even told them my plans 2 weeks prior.  “I told [director] and [principal in our whole school meeting two weeks ago that I would not send comments or complete any extra responsibilities until we are paid.  I will be in my room as a native English speaker but until we are compensated all that the school will get is my presence.”  

Nothing else was said and I went back to my room.  The last few weeks I am finding that my fuse has become shorter and shorter.  Ordinary student issues become a big problem and I have no patience for my administration, let alone a wise-ass student.  In some ways I think its good for them because I crack down more on negative behaviors.  Take yesterday for instance, I had some students fooling around and roughhousing.  They got immediate time outs which subsequently brought a waterfall of tears.  A few minutes later they were calm and had stopped pushing, shoving and putting each other in headlocks. Continue reading

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.

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T-1 week!

I leave in one week, I think?  My flight has not been booked yet and I don’t have an apartment but somehow I’m not worried.  My recruiter hasn’t given me any reason to doubt my August 20th departure; especially since the teacher I’m replacing told me they booked her flight on Friday before she flew out on the following Monday.

The last few weeks I’ve been fortunate enough to catch up with most of my friends through a going away party, last week’s trip to DC and a few other occasions.  I’m throwing myself a farewell barbeque on Thursday and have a wedding Saturday so will certainly see anyone that I haven’t gotten to!

I got a little surprise last night after my documents arrived in Korea.  An email from a disgruntled former employee who went into quite a lot of detail about the travesty that is the school I’m about to start at.  Oh joy!  I responded and spoke to a few other contacts and it appears my biggest cause for concern is that the administration is “more concerned about money than kids or education.”  Well that might be disheartening but a Hagwon is specifically a “for profit private school.”  Oh, and my principal might not be my friend.  Isn’t that what most principals are like?  Even so, the disgruntled employee said I’ll get paid on time and don’t have to worry about them breaking my contract but that I should be scared of the CCTV cameras they just installed.  You mean they aren’t just for security?

Needless to say it startled me but hasn’t swayed me from my path.  I’m packing my luggage as I write this and putting the rest of my life here in NJ into storage.  That’s the weirdest part.  Who knows how long they’ll stay there or if I’ll ever open them up again; frankly right now my main concern is getting ready to go!

As a whole I’m quite excited about it and can’t wait to wake up in Seoul.  I’ve got some key people that will be missed and will be Skyping with.  For the rest of my friends this’ll be a test.  If we stay in touch great!  If i don’t hear from you while I’m gone that’s cool too.  I honestly am more concerned with whether or not we’ll be able to pick back up again whenever I return.  I already have a few friends that I know are timeless, those who have already been away for a year or more and can jump right back in.  I hope that most people in my life are like that but for the rest of you I guess there’s always Facebook.

Counting down the days is tough when you don’t have a flight but I wouldn’t be too sad if I get an extra day to hang out.