Working with a Chinese Company

So I applied to a local English center in the building next to mine to see if they could use me during my very limited hours of availability, and they hired me (so to speak), to teach a ten-year-old girl in her home 3 days a week, 2 hours a day. When I first went to meet with the center director (or whatever she is), they told me I would be paid 80 RMB for a Demo class, and then 100 RMB after that. Next thing I know, I get a call from them saying they want me to go to a girl’s house to tutor her, no Demo class necessary. They give me a time sheet to keep track of my classes and send me off. When I get to her house, I learn pretty quickly that everything they told me about her is wrong, except for the fact that she wants to learn English. They told me her father traveled to America sometimes and also wanted to learn English (he’s never been to America and never wants to go, and his English is pretty decent), that she was 16, that they wanted me every day for 6 months (they’re leaving in April or May to travel the world for a while, and they only want me 3 days a week). But I love her, she is so sweet and her parents are so nice, and I really love the time I spend teaching her. 3.5 weeks into teaching her, I write to ask the center about when I will get paid, and they say, “Have you signed a contract?” I say, “No.” So they tell me to come in today to sign a contract. I get there and I read over the contract, and the first things I notice are that I need to complete 180 hours of teaching to fulfill my contract, and that my pay for my first 3 students is 80 RMB, then it is moved up to 100.

I tell the woman who deals with me (the only one who speaks English), that I only want to have my one student for now, and maybe when she leaves, take on another. Because I have children and I don’t want to spend much time away from them, I am afraid I will not fulfill 180 hours of teaching. She says, “Oh, don’t worry about that,” but how can I not, when already I can tell that there is often a big difference between the facts and what they tell me. Then I tell her that all I was told last time was that I would get paid 80 for my first class and 100 after that, so I’ve been going to teach under the impression that I would be getting 100 per hour. She says, “Oh this is just what we always do. (Thanks for telling me.) We need to know that you’re a good teacher before we pay you more.” (I understand, but at this pace it would take me a year to get to my fourth student, and it is NOT what they told me.) I told her that she can ask my student and her family whether or not I am doing a good job, but I do not feel comfortable signing a contract that binds me to 80 RMB for the foreseeable future, as I could do much better on my own. We go back and forth on this for a while, while I secretly feel nauseous and terrified–I hate conflict so much.

Ultimately, I refuse to sign on those terms, and finally her boss agrees to 100 RMB but they have to let me know how special I am that they are doing this for me, as they’ve never done it for another foreign teacher before (hard to believe). We agree to that, and THEN she points out that they will keep the first 2000 of my pay as a bond, which they will keep if I don’t fulfill my contract. This is news to me. Because I only have one student, that is a whole month of pay. And besides, if I’m signing a contract that says I’ll teach 180 hours, if I don’t fulfill that, even if they’ve told me verbally that that doesn’t matter, they can hold that over my head and refuse to give me the 2000. We go back and forth over this again for a long time. The boss is clearly frustrated, I am miserable and uncomfortable, but I tell them that I just do not feel comfortable signing a contract that says that.

I leave the room to call Brian for the third time (I consulted him two other times throughout this whole exchange), and when I come back, there’s a foreign teacher there. They want me to hear from her that keeping 2000 is normal, which is not what matters to me. They may treat their foreign teachers that way, but I still don’t feel comfortable signing the contract–Chinese companies try to do a lot of bad things to foreign teachers that are not right, and they often get away with it. Brian certainly doesn’t have to give his company a set amount of money to guarantee that he will stay. It’s not like we can leave China anytime soon. My husband’s in a contract for a year, our lease isn’t up until December. I appreciate that they’re hiring me illegally and offering me jobs that fit with my needs for flexible hours, but I really can do better than 100 on my own; I just didn’t want to have to find a student myself. They don’t even provide their teachers with teaching materials. I talked to the foreign teacher. She said, “Well you knew that they’d keep 2000 when you started–they do that for all of us.” And I said, “Um, no, I was not told that. I’m pretty sure I’d remember something like that.” She said that to them, and they said they did tell me. Of course I can’t prove they didn’t tell me, but what does it matter anyway? I was prepared to walk out the door many times during this whole conversation, but I do want to stay with my student. If I had walked out the door, unpaid and without a student anymore, I would have gone to her house and told them that Oxford didn’t pay me and did not do what they said they’d do for me, and hope that perhaps they didn’t have so much guanxi with Oxford that they wouldn’t hire me independently.

It ended in this way. I agreed to let them keep the 2000, but I will not sign a contract. I will show up with my time sheet on the first of each month and get paid, and when I am done with my student, I am done with them. Hopefully they will give me the 2000 back when I am done teaching, which is what they do when you are under contract, and what they SAY they will do when I am done with my student. But at least I am not bound to them by a contract. What a stressful day. I  have never had to be so stubborn and insistent with someone in my life. At least they get to save face instead of having their foreign teacher back out when she’s only just begun a job.

This is the girl I teach. Her English name is Sunny, and she is smart and funny and adorable.  And her parents will never see this because WordPress is blocked in China. Today we learned about colors and clothing.

Being a good sport while putting on the "white socks with purple stripes."

The whole ensemble. I think she's wearing three pairs of pants. She thought it was strange that American children dress up in their parents' clothing as a game.

Aren't we beautiful?

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2 comments

  1. Sunny is so cute! It looks like you have so much fun with her:) Hopefully it makes up for the awful encounter with the company…way to stand up for yourself, though!

  2. Dana Mangels · · Reply

    You can do better on your own. I expect people will start coming to you! That is if the Chinese beurocracy allows it.
    Sounds soooo stressful! I am proud of you! Love the pictures of you and your adorable student. Looks like you’re in your element.

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