When I began teaching at EF in 2010 it was busy. When I left in 2013 it was unbearable. They had gone from decent working conditions to conditions which I considered to be unsafe, unhealthy, unethical, and often downright dangerous. I’m still amazed no one in the office was ever stabbed by a stray pen, or a parent in the hallways toppled over by teachers rushing from class to class.
If you teach at a brand new kid’s school you’ll probably have ample space, for awhile. If you teach at one of the older kid’s schools you’ll have none. We had 12 classrooms at my school when I first started and we routinely used 1 to 2 of those for storage. That changed after awhile, and we didn’t have room to put the larger desks when it was time to teach the kindergarten-aged students, who required smaller chairs. You’d constantly see the cleaner moving desks from one classroom to another, which must have played havoc on his 50-year old back.
The classrooms updated to Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs) about halfway through my time there. They actually worked pretty well, most of the time. Sometimes there’d be no sound, no video, or the computer would just be so slow that you couldn’t use them. Then you’ve got nothing to write on, unless you bring a small portable whiteboard to class, which really wasn’t much bigger than a notebook-sized piece of paper.
There were constant problems with the air conditioners at the school I worked in, especially in the summer when we needed them most. My school was in a very poor and dirty neighborhood, something even the president of the company commented upon when he visited. The next year when he came back he wondered why we were still there, a true sign of leadership.
The problem with this dirty neighborhood was that there were a lot of sleazy restaurants that poured their exhaust smoke and fumes out into the air. I’d often have to hold my breath until I was well away from it, but the air conditioners couldn’t do that. They quickly gummed up, and we’d have to suffer through the heat. Sometimes if we were lucky they’d bring in a portable fan, but there were never enough to go around.
Just like the classrooms, if you work in a new kid’s school you’ll probably be alright; if you work at an old kid’s school, God help you. The office I was in was designed for 17 teachers. Of course that’s a joke right there since there are at least that many support staff: Course Consultants (CCs) and Customer Representatives (CRs) coming in all the time to sit down and use the computers or just chat.
A major problem with the offices are the computers or the computer system they use. I don’t know if it is the main server in Shanghai or the smaller office servers, but those must have been the slowest computers in all of China. Imagine turning your computer on in the morning and then having to wait 10 minutes before you can even open a file. I routinely heard teachers mention this to management, but like most things at EF, nothing was ever done. After all, most teachers only last for one year; there’s always another schmuck to take their place who’ll be clueless for the first 6 months.
We also routinely got up to 17 to 19 teachers in the office, so many days you’d have up to 30 people in the office at any given time when classes were not being taught. Moving from one end of the office to another quickly became a process of dodging, sidestepping, and dancing your way around people, chairs, and desks.
Now, the office was made for 17 teachers, but there were only about 12 computers. This meant that you’d often have to share. At one point management had to say that no one had a desk, computer, or even chair to themselves; everything would have to be shared. It got so unbearable being in that unsafe and hazardous environment that I finally just abandoned the desk I’d had for 2 years and started carrying everything around from classroom to classroom in a small backpack. That didn’t work too well when students arrived to their classrooms an hour or so early expecting to talk with their friends. Then you weren’t able to work anywhere.
At the end of my contract, mainly due to teacher demands, of which I was a main voice, management finally decided to expand the teacher’s office. Instead of holding 17 teachers it would now be able to hold 19. They gave us a few extra days off one holiday week and when we came back I swear it was worse than before. At least the DOS had his office taken away so he’d now have to suffer like the rest of us, but the way they designed it, with two rows of chairs back-to-back between a small aisle, moving was even more impossible than before. And the next week they added 2 new teachers, pushing themselves up above 19 teachers, not to mention the support staff. I would have laughed if I didn’t think it was so sad and pathetic.
When I first started at EF you could walk down the hallway and go to your class with little problem. Sure, there might be 1 or 2 parents standing around, but most sat in the small lobby. By the time I left 3 years later there were routinely 20 to 30 parents spread out through all of the hallways, trying to watch their kids, pick up their kids, or just standing there because by that time the lobby was far too small to accommodate them.
In an attempt to remedy this, the school brought in small, wooden fences that would stand at the major hallway entrances. They also instituted a lanyard policy for parents which meant they’d have to be wearing one if they even wanted to enter the school. This worked for about a week before the policy was abandoned altogether but in name only. Walking down the halls became more of a headache than teaching classes, and put many teachers in a bad mood before they even started for the day.
This problem with the hallways was brought up regularly in staff meetings, both to our foreign boss and our Chinese Center Director (CD). Most of the time they told us nothing could be done, but the CD always encouraged us to smile as we walked through the halls. I don’t know how anyone can smile when your carrying a big load and no one will move out of your way, even if your shouting ‘excuse me’ in English and Chinese. Of course, she got promoted to a Regional Director, a very sad day for EF in my opinion and many of the teachers I worked with.