The school is owned and managed by David Hao and his wife Ellen, both of whom speak English to a competent level. For most teachers, myself included, their approach to management left feelings of exasperation and annoyance.
You will always be the last to know anything regarding the school, even if it directly relates to you. This was infuriating. Whether it be new classes, cancelled classes, extra students, a change in schedule, changed class times, or a change of study book, I was always the last person to find out, sometimes finding out in the class from the students themselves. Once I was even stopped in the street by a stranger who knew something about my classes that I had yet to be told. To me, this shows a complete lack of respect. But it‘s important to remember that withholding information is deeply rooted in Chinese culture. Information is power, and by disseminating the information you are allowing the possibility of being undermined.
Benxi Future English School is solely a money making venture. I often had disagreements with my boss over school principles based upon greed rather than a child’s access to a good education. I came here to teach to the best of my abilities, not to lower my standards in order to make my employer wealthier. If I was prepared to lose sight of my principles and have my dignity trampled all over, then there wouldn’t have been any problems. I’d rather leave though with my head held high knowing I did the best job I could.
Your position as a teacher will be undermined if your actions affect potential income. After disciplining a girl in class for constant interruptions one teacher was left with no alternative than to send the girl out of the classroom until she listened. This infuriated the girl’s mother, who complained ferociously to David and threatened to take her out of his school. Instead of backing his teacher, he bought gifts for the girl and tried to make the teacher apologise to her in class.
David made no secret that he prefers male teachers to female teachers, whom he feels are more independent and less likely to complain. This attitude didn’t go down well with my wife. At first he wouldn’t even speak to her directly, always going through me. With an influx of female teachers towards the end of my contract, his ability to interact with teachers of the opposite sex did improve.
When it comes to hiring teachers, the application process has always baffled me. Instead of a dedicated effort into finding a perfect match for his school, David seems to take the, "I’ll hire anybody and if they aren’t any good I’ll just sack them," approach. While this might work and helps explain the high percentage of teachers leaving or getting fired, it’s very unfair on those who are on the receiving end, especially if they have travelled halfway across the world for this opportunity.
In recent months David attempted to bring six teachers to Benxi for only three teaching positions, with those arriving unaware that they were taking part in a ‘teach-off’ and their job wasn’t guaranteed. Luckily he was only able to hire the three teachers he needed. For a first time experience abroad, to come in to such a situation and be sacked in a matter of weeks could easily deter you from travelling ever again.
Another new trick is to bring teachers in on a tourist visa. Considering the illegality of such a move, I’d seriously reconsider accepting such an offer. If you are offered a job on a tourist visa, there are two reasons why this may be so. One, David needs teachers urgently and is losing money by cancelling classes. Two, he isn’t quite sure if you will be a success, so if you are sacked, he doesn’t lose any money on paying for a work visa.
My relationship with David was professional. I worked hard and he appreciated that. He does have a darker side should you ever cross him. After teaching in Benxi for eighteen months (six months in to a second one-year contract) one teacher, upon getting tired of the constant undermining and sackings decided to seek employment elsewhere. Upon finding a new job, he followed his contract to a tee, paying the $500 break clause fee (this has since been increased to $1000 or $2000 to stop this happening again) that enabled him to move jobs and receive the appropriate paperwork.
Unfortunately David saw this as a personal insult and betrayal, refusing to cooperate by sending the necessary document to have his working visa switched to his new school. After ignoring email requests and constant phone calls, by both the teacher and his new employers, the Dean from his new job (a well known university) was forced to make a surprise visit to Benxi to enquire why David was being so difficult. Upon arriving at David’s school, David stubbornly tried to hide in his office. Such behaviour, after following the contract so carefully, goes a fair way to showing somebody’s true colours.
While I might disagree with his principles and the way he has treated other teachers, I have few personal complaints. My problems were dealt with quickly and efficiently, including being taken to the hospital and having tests paid for during a hypochondriac moment. Other teachers went almost an entire winter without heat, three weeks without a working shower and an unfixed washing machine for months. If you show respect (even if you don’t think it’s deserved) you will always get a more positive response.
I was always paid on time and in full and David was happy to help with buying train and plane tickets. While he may prefer teachers who are independent, if you had any translation problems while out and about in Benxi, David would always help. There are certainly plenty of worse bosses in China than David. Working for a school with Western influences (both in ownership and management) would certainly help eradicate many of the negative issues I faced.
You will have little professional interaction with David’s wife, who manages the local assistant teachers who work alongside the foreign teachers. Unfortunately their morale levels were always low during my time in Benxi, because of how they were treated. Instead of being encouraged to flourish, they were constantly reminded how poor they were and given unnecessary tasks to show who was in control. Upon finding out an assistant was studying in her spare time, she was immediately sacked, her aspirations her downfall. This management style often creates a sombre attitude around the school.