Posts Tagged With: Bao’an

The CITA fiasco

Last year I arranged for work in Shenzhen through an agency. Obviously teachers can get better deals if they approach schools directly, but being a thousand miles to the north it was very hard for me to interview if schools in Shenzhen and a lot of the public schools are required to hire their staff through agencies.

I would like to make it clear that I myself had no major problems with CITA. My contract was handled properly and I was able to work legally. I was paid what I had been promised and more-or less on time. The only gripe I had was that the school accommodation was nothing like we had been promised. More details on that are here: https://smokeytower.wordpress.com/2015/09/05/truth-is-relative-or-that-is-their-excuse/ However, for others the way in which CITA handled their employment was both farcical and criminal.

During that year CITA found itself at the center of a legal controversy which cost the agency a lot of money, cost many people their jobs and destroyed the reputation of the company. The consequences of that fiasco are still continuing, with many people coming back to China, due to start teaching this week and still having no idea of whether or not they will have a job or anywhere to live.

As I mentioned before, https://smokeytower.wordpress.com/2016/01/09/the-illegal-practices-of-teaching-agencies-in-china/ many people who were working through CITA were not working legally. Having grown steadily over the previous years, CITA was cutting corners to get as many people into jobs as possible. They entered on business or tourist visas, the lacked any experience and had false reference letters for non-existent jobs provided for them. Some even had falsified degree certificates arranged, as they lacked any qualifications. Most people didn’t mind this, as it gave teachers to the schools, jobs to the people who wanted them and money to the agency, but eventually their house of cards started to crumble.

There are still conflicting stories about what happened and who is to blame. At first a few disgruntled teachers were said to have reported the agency but the “official” story from a CITA spokesperson was that one of the schools decided to use their foreign teachers in material to promote the school, even though no invitation letters had formally been filed by the school to get Z visas to legally hire the teachers. This led to visits by the police, who wanted to see if there were foreign teachers staying there. The result was that two illegal teachers were deported from China, had their accounts frozen and lost all their pay, but that was just the beginning.

In the winter the Chinese government decided to crack down on the illegal hiring of foreign teachers in Bao’an. Schools were banned from accepting teachers who did not have the correct paperwork, nationality and qualifications. English teachers now needed to be native speakers. Some schools found ways around this, hiring teachers to be German or French teachers etc and still having them also teach English, but many people, especially Eastern-Europeans found themselves out of a job. A few American or English university graduates still found themselves out of work because they refused to lie about their lack of teaching experience.

By the end of the year CITA had lost quite a few teachers, but the ones who remained were mostly properly qualified and competent teachers. The schools were generally happy with them and wanted them to stay on. CITA offered them a retention bonus, to stay on for another year. However, it was not clear whether the Board of Education would give CITA the contract to supply teachers to Bao’an again.

There is a lot of money to be made from supplying teachers and it was clear that CITA had some ruthless competition. In the winter most of the CITA teachers received letters, allegedly from CITA saying that we had been defrauded by CITA and should respond to them in order to get compensation from their legal department. As the letters were sent to people who had initially been assigned to the schools, before changes in the first weeks, it was clear that they had got their information from CITA very early on, probably from a disgruntled former employee. Someone was clearly working hard to get more material to use in further destroying CITA’s reputation.

The contracts with teachers staying on included the promise of 20,000 rmb if at the start of term CITA could not offer them a teaching job.

Over the summer it became clear that the teaching bid had gone against CITA, but their teachers were told to sit tight, as they were trying to get the decision reversed. As time passed it became clear that they had failed, but there were still some possibilities.

  1. CITA merges with a company that got the contract.
  2. CITA sells the teachers to another company, for a finders fee.
  3. CITA somehow arranges teaching jobs at other schools, possibly not in Bao’an.
  4. The teacher could leave CITA, try to find other work and forfeit the penalty fee.
  5. CITA fails to do anything and people try to get their compensation.

It is now two days before the start of term and the teachers are still waiting. CITA seem to have failed to get the decision reversed and people are left feeling very insecure.  Some of my friends are still living at school accommodation and are being told that they will need to move out soon. However, because CITA are still fighting for a favorable resolution, the board of education have not yet issued a final decision.

As far as I have heard, no organisation can supply teachers to public schools in Bao’an until a final decision has been reached. Some schools are being advised to suspend  teaching for the first week due to legal technicalities, which is extremely frustrating for schools, teachers and parents, although I assume that some of the students are happy to get a bit of time off.

I honestly have nothing against the people who work for CITA. They have tried their best to give people jobs and keep them in jobs. They are no more dodgy in their practices than most of the employers I have had any dealings with in China, either directly or indirectly. However the situation is definitely a complete fiasco for the 50+ teachers still waiting to see whether they will have a job or not this year.

 

Update:

On September 1st the CITA teachers who had signed on for another year had to move out of their school accommodation and move into a hotel together. However, CITA are covering the cost of the hotel. It is hoped that they will have some sort of answer within the week. Despite messing things up CITA do seem to be trying to do right by their teachers, which is good.

Update 2:

two weeks after the start of term CITA was trying to place teachers in private schools. As was obvious, they did not get a contract to supply any state schools. CITA teachers were informed by the staff that had abandoned CITA to work for their competition about which companies had been given contracts. Because CITA had been offering people some sort of jobs, they felt that they did not need to pay the promised compensation, and that people needed to sign a release to forfeit the promised 20,000 rmb if they wanted to work elsewhere or stay at their old school by going through another agency. All in all, it was indeed a thorough fiasco.

Categories: Living in China, Teaching in China | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Disney comes to Bao’an

Sports days in China are very different from in Britain. The Chinese are very big on parades and spectacle, even when it is only for the benefit of the school chairman and a small number of minor local dignitaries. More effort goes into planning the opening ceremony of the sports day, than goes into preparing for the actual competition. From the perspective of the school directors, it makes no difference who wins or loses, but it does matter that the opening should make a good impression.

As well as the classes parading in costume, the teachers and local community groups were also involved.  The teachers for each year group were told that the theme for this year was countries.  Year 1 teachers would represent Honk Kong, year two was Macau and year 3 was Malaysia.  I had no idea what the students were meant to be doing. Nobody told me, although I did meet some who were meant to represent Britain.

We were initially told that the foreign teachers should dress in costume up as Hong Kong celebrities, but none of us look anything like any Hong Kong celebrities and the only person we could think of with a unique and recognizable costume was Bruce Lee. After some discussion we decided to go for Disney character.

Decisions in China are often rushed and advanced notice is a luxury that we are usually denied. While we were in class, a message was sent to us asking us to choose a character before the end of the last class. They also specified that we shouldn’t wear masks, so that we could be recognized as foreigners.  I immediately picked Prince Charming, thinking that it would be a better option than most. Most other teachers had no idea what to go for.

There were a lot of things we could have bought on TaoBao (China’s answer to e-bay) but the school wanted to save money.  The bought most of the teachers Disney character onesies, but wanted to rent costumes for those of us playing human characters. A rental shop said they had the costumes we wanted, but it was a lie. They had Chinese costumes and dance costumes, mostly for children, but nothing for us. In another shop we found something that looked ok for Prince Charming, and was only a little too small. Matt wanted to go in drag and we found a Snow White costume, but the only person it would fit was Rainbow, our translator and school liaison.

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Matt and Alex were unable to find anything even remotely Disney related in their size. They had no time to order anything online and no time before the end of the week to go to the far side of Shenzhen, to find a decent costume shop. Instead they were to try to put together generic pirate and cowboy costumes.

Then somebody decided that if Rainbow and I were to be Snow White and Sleeping beauty, then instead of just walking in the parade, we should dance together. They would also get small Snow White and prince costumes for the young children of some of the teachers, so that they could join us. We were told this two days before the opening ceremony.

The following day I tried to teach Rainbow to dance. She had never danced with a partner before and had no idea what to do. Since they wanted the other characters to circle us, I decided we should do a simple Cha-cha. We had one evening to plan the whole routine on the sports ground and then it was the day of the show.

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It was a very hot day, around 30 degrees, so all the costumes felt very hot. The costumes were mostly a bit lame, but I was happy. Our students found it all very amusing.

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Each group had its own dance performance and costumes. Some of the children were too young and too frightened of the big foreigners to join the parade, but we walked forward with the other foreign teachers holding a Hong Kong flag. The heads of year were dressed as Mickey and Minnie, with proper costumes.

We stopped in front of the bandstand and I danced with Rainbow, while the other teachers and children circled us. They then raised a sign and we were finished.

I was then able to watch the rest of the parade, most of which was over, as the teachers came on last. Nearly all the people with amazing costumes that I had seen going past while we waited to perform had already left to get changed. I had quite a few requests for photos and then went to change, so that my rental costume could be returned.

The actual sports day lasted that afternoon and the following morning and one of my classes dominated nearly everything, winning over half of the contests.

It was a nice experience, but decidedly strange.

Categories: Living in China, Teaching in China | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Truth is relative (or that is their excuse)

I have recently move to a new city in China, Shenzhen, and begun working for a new school, the Bao’an no.1 foreign language school.
The school is spread over two campuses and looks new, clean and quite attractive. I have heard that it is one of the best schools in the Bao’an district of Shenzhen and the best for foreign language study, so before arriving here I had high hopes.

I was a bit concerned when I was told that the teachers’ accommodation was in the high school campus, but that I would be teaching in the middle school, as the two campuses are about half an hour apart by car and an hour apart by public transport. There would be a bus to shuttle the teachers to the school in the morning and another to shuttle us back at the end of the day, with no real opportunity to come home and rest in between. The Chinese have a 2.5 hour lunch break, so that they can sleep at lunch time for a few hours, but without a shuttle bus at lunch time, there would barely be time to get to my apartment before I would need to return, so I would either be sleeping in the school office, or having a very long lunch break to wander around near the school.

The situation did not sound very appealing, but I was shown photos of the foreign teachers’ apartments and they seemed very nice (by Chinese standards) so I decided to accept the job offer.

A few months later I arrived in Shenzhen. After completing the training week with CITA, the agency I had got the job through, I and another seven teachers were introduced to some teachers from our new school and taken out to dinner with the school principle. After arriving at the restaurant we were kept waiting for over an hour for the principle to arrive. This should probably have been a good warning about how little they really care about us, but we were prepared to make allowances.

One of the teachers, a Spanish woman named Justy, had arranged to meet her brother later that evening. He was coming into Shenzhen from Hong Kong. He didn’t have a phone that he could use in the country and he had never been to China before. He was coming to Shenzhen to study Chinese. She had arranged to meet him at the Shenzhen Bay customs checkpoint at 7.30. We were initially meant to have met the representatives of the schools in the morning, but then it had been put back four hours, to the afternoon. This had messed up Justy’s plans. Since it was already after 6.00, we were an hour from the checkpoint and we were still waiting for the principle, Justy asked if she could go to meet her brother. She was told no. She was told that she had to stay. she was even told that she should go and meet her brother the next day instead! They expected her to leave her brother alone at the customs checkpoint with no phone, waiting a whole night for someone who would not turn up, just so that the principle could meet her. These people really did not care about us at all.
Fortunately Justy’s brother was able to get a wifi connection at the airport and was given the address of the school, so that he could try to get a taxi there, which was quite expensive, as it was at least an hour’s drive.

After the meal we were taken to the school campus and given our biggest disappointment yet. The campus was out in the middle of nowhere, on a street with no shops, houses or amenities of any kind. The accommodation block looked pretty new and nice from the outside, but the apartments were nothing like we had been shown. They were single rooms with hardly any furniture. There is a contractual obligation for them to provide a furnished apartment, with specific listed furnishings, most of which we did not have. My room had a new bed, but almost nothing else. A broken wardrobe with no rail for hanging clothes, no desk, no chair, no sofa, no drawers, no cupboards, no phone, no tv, no wifi, no internet.
The contract required a kitchen area with fridge, microwave, water cooler, gas stove, cooking utensils, cutlery, crockery etc. We have some of these: a fridge, a water fountain, a microwave, a single electric hot plate and one cooking pan. That is not a kitchen! The only sink, for both washing myself and for cooking, is out on the balcony. The tiny toilet is only accessible via the balcony. It has a shower hose above the toilet, but no space to hang a towel. To dry yourself, you need to come out onto the balcony, exposed to the road below, right above the turning area used for picking up and dropping off students. Given all the laws against public nudity in this country, I am pretty sure that it would be illegal for us to be seen naked on the balcony, but the school really has presented us with no alternative.
From the outset, I had told the school that my girlfriend would be living with me. They had provided a double bed, but only one pillow.
Unsurprisingly, nearly all the foreign teachers were livid. We had been lied to and tricked and where now getting completely shafted.
It is not that the rooms are so terrible. I have heard mixed reports from other CITA teachers. Some got lovely apartments, whilst others got tiny, dirty rooms with bed bugs and broken pipes. The rooms we were given are bigger than the student accommodation I had at university, but at university there were proper shared kitchens and dining rooms. We have nothing like that. The cooking facilities are completely useless and if we tried to build up a usable kitchen, it would take up much of the room and leave the bed and clothes stinking of anything that we cooked.
It is not just that the location is so remote that we need to walk half an hour to the nearest supermarket and have to wait an average of half an hour to get a bus for fifteen minutes, just to get to the nearest metro station, to allow us to have a one hour journey into the centre of town. The younger teachers are very upset about this. Two of the teachers like to go to the gym every day and asked if there is a gym nearby. They were told, yes. There is a gym nearby, at Bao’an stadium. By public transpoty it takes an hour to get to Bao’an stadium. The remote location is very frustrating, but at least the air is clear and the view is pretty.
What is most frustrating and annoying to me were the blatant lies used to get us here and the inability of the school to even prepare for our arrival. Last year the school had rented apartments off campus for the teachers. These were the apartments that we were shown. It was after saying that we would live on campus that we were shown the photos of the off campus apartments that we would definitely not be getting. The staff claim that they had told us the truth and that the pictures did show the foreign teachers’ apartments, but as they definitely knew we would not be living there, it is a feeble lie.
Then there is the fact that we were so unimportant to them that they couldn’t even bother furnishing the apartments (or prison cells) that they were giving us.
The school is government funded and all spending must be authorised by the local education ministry. We were told that the school had authorised funds for the rest of our furnishings, but that they are waiting on the government to authorise the spending, before they can buy anything.
I applied for the teaching job in February. In April I was interviewed by the director of this school and offered a place here. The other teachers were all being interviewed online during that same week. They had from April until September to get the funds authorised, but claim not to have had time. That is a lame excuse. They have just put it off, not considering us to be a priority worth thinking about until we were already here.
Our first night in our new homes, we felt like we were in a prison. We were left in our empty prison cells, in a locked, gated campus, with security guards sitting outside, watching our building, miles from anywhere. We would be shuttled from the prison cells to the work camp and then back again to our cells in the evening. The prospect of any sort of social life seemed extremely remote.

The only glimmer of light is that the CITA agency seem to be trying to help. The very next day they were at the school, trying to resolve our problems and seeing if they could arrange for better living conditions, or a more reasonable working arrangement. They have at least managed to save us the daily commute, by arranging for the native English speakers to teach at the high school and for the other teachers to live at the middle school. The middle school is a better location, with nearby shops, within walking distance of the metro, but the apartments are even smaller.

Categories: Living in China, Teaching in China | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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