Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Meeting Number 2

We were supposed to have a meeting with Julia yesterday, but she postponed it at the last minute.  She texted us at 10am to tell us that she hadn't had time to compose a letter (email) to us and so the meeting would be Tuesday (today) at 10am instead.

She didn't send us the email until 8 this morning; it's lucky I always check my email first thing because it asked us to reply with our thoughts and opinions.  Here is the opening of the letter:

To. Ian & Casey

We know, you did your best for last 2 weeks. 
You also might think that this is the first time in your life that you have worked so hard. You are right.
That’s probably the answer to how slow and lazy you were for the past 8 months.
I wonder why you didn’t do like now for 8 months.
Even the work you are doing right now is the basic thing that the teach should do.
We can only give you 60 out of 100 still.
Doing as now, will not bring any students that were dropped, and there are no merits that can keep our original students now.

Principals of each school says there are huge difference between when I go into your class and not. What is this suppose to mean? If I go in, they say you are so different. Is this true? This is cheating on me. You might want to ask what the difference is to the managers, but if they see something odd, then the problem is with you. Isn’t that right?

During 10 years of running Wonderland School, I have never trained any teachers as much as I did to you. I wonder how you still can’t get the sense of it. Normally, when I teach one thing, they understand the point well and are able to learn two or more things. This is really a hard time for me. It has been 8 months.

The letter goes on to place the full responsibility of our shrinking classes on us.  To be honest, we don't know why we are losing students.  I've lost some of my most engaged and motivated kids, not the ones you'd expect to tell their parents that their English teacher is horrible and boring and they should change hagwons.  Other teachers at different hagwons in this area say they've been losing students, too, and they don't have any answers either.  There was also section of numbered suggestions for Ian (but the letter said that they would help "Cathy," as well).

At the end she asked us to respond with "honest answers" and no "excuses," so I wrote a short, extremely submissive letter:

To Julia-

We want you to know that we are very concerned with the decrease in students in the schools, as well.  We understand the importance of returning and new students and the decrease worries us, too.  Because of this, we are looking to you for direction and guidance.  In the last two weeks, we have tried very hard to become the teachers you need and want. 

We understand that our performance for the 8 months prior was unacceptable to you.  For this we are deeply sorry.  Had we known that we were falling so short of your expectations, we would have done everything in our power to change that.  Unfortunately we can’t change the past, but we can make up for it in the future (and present).  Your suggestions these two weeks have helped us immensely and we intend to continue taking your advice so that we can be successful teachers and help the whole company succeed.

As your employees, we feel we do have a responsibility to work hard and be successful for the good of the whole.  We feel the great weight of that and we are working to show our commitment. 

We feel we have made improvements, but that there is more we can do and intend to do.  Casey needs to make sure the parents of her students have proof of exactly what was done in class.  Pasting worksheets into the books will now be a requirement.  Ian will do this as well.  We will also come up with more creative ways to engage the students at the beginning of each class, as you suggested.  Ian will check his student’s homework so that the parents can see how important it is and his students will have 2 notebooks.  With the new written lesson plans that you designed, our classes have been more consistent and cohesive and they will continue to be so.

Your suggestions have been very helpful and continue to be so.  I have faith that with your continued support and guidance that we are fully capable of being the teachers you need.

Thank you for your suggestions.  I know that they will help us. 

We left for Goam and directed Mom to the Dunkin' Donuts up the street where we would meet her afterwards.  The campus wasn't open when we walked up.  We were about three minutes early.  Julia came in about a minute later, but told us she needed ten minutes to prepare.  Thirty minutes later, she called us into one of the classrooms for our meeting.  A computer and webcam was set up and she was having difficulty getting ahold of Terry (her son who is in university in Australia).  She asked us if we had received her email and I told her that we had written her back, as well.  She said that she hadn't had time and that she would look at it later.  We conducted the first part of our meeting with Terry listening on the phone.  Julia went through and circled the different suggestions in her letter and then asked us, "How do you think about this?" after each one.  

They finally got Terry's video working and he translated a few more suggestions and questions from Julia.  My favorites included, "What if I (Julia) and you both do your best for the next month and there are still no new students and few re-enrolling students?  How do you think about this?"  Then Sue (Julia's right hand woman) came in, watched and occasionally chimed in with comments like, "I've been in your classes about three times, Ian, and you didn't check homework."  Julia told us explicitly that it was our "fault" if our students did not do their homework and asked us what we could do to make them do it.  We said there should be some sort of punishment for not doing their homework and Julia literally laughed at us.  Sue said, "But, I never punish my students."

In the end, Julia told us that she would give us one more month.  If at the end of this month there aren't new students and a good percentage of re-enrolling students, we will be let go.  I'm pretty nervous because I'm not sure how much agency we have when it comes to the school's enrollment.  We even suggested throwing a performance for the parents to watch, but Julia said that was "not important" and that she used to do that at her other school (Wonderland, which she always cites as an extremely successful operation), but that it isn't what we need here.  I think it'd be smart to pull ideas from the other, thriving school, but that's just my humble opinion.  She did say she'd spend some money on advertising, which will hopefully help.  We've never seen a single advertisement for any Yoon's academy; it's supposed to be the biggest franchise in the country.

Mom sat in on my classes today and even did some partner work with the students.  They seemed to like her.  She doesn't make them nervous like other people sitting in have in the past.

Good night!


  1. Hmm. Your letter was very diplomatic and yes, submissive. My letter back would have been "Fuck you. Love us." Then I would have packed my bags. I have a very low tolerance for disrespectful people (I don't care what country they are from) and I am a quitter by nature. I couldn't imagine putting up with what you are putting up with. It makes these months in Chicago seem like a dream. Keep persevering! You are doing a great job for your students, even if Julia can't see it. Try not to stress too much. You haven't written to whether you have the option of contacting the agency that put you in Korea. Do you?

  2. I agree with Chelsea. Your school sucks and I'm sorry you got stuck with them. Not all hagwons are like this. Everyone loses students, some parents are just fucking crazy and there is nothing you can do about it. Your school should be getting more kids, that's Julia's job as a director to recruit new students. You are smart to be diplomatic to Julia if you are going to try to stick it out. I would be wary though, it seems pretty likely that they will can you before you even have a shot at your severance. It might be time to come home, your call though. I wish you good luck with all of this and I will keep following your journey.

  3. I wonder if the real issue is just a matter of if there are fewer students, it's not cost-effective to keep as many teachers, but getting rid of people for purely business reasons isn't considered acceptable, or maybe is even illegal, so she is making up this whole tempest simply to downsize.