I worked for EF in Shenzhen for 3 years and saw the company grow, change, and deteriorate. From my experience, English took a back seat to expansion at a breakneck speed. Most of the managers were focused more on the numbers their school was producing, mainly enrollment, earnings, and audits than they ever were on teaching English. Still, the company continues to grow and expand, although lately they’ve been getting some harsh treatment from the media, have seen high employee turnover, and created a much less-skilled workforce.
Today let’s take a look at a few basics of the EF hierarchy in China.
EF Shanghai Headquarters
Shanghai is where the headquarters of EF is located in China. Shanghai also has the most EF schools in China, mainly because that’s the first city they started in when they came to China in 1993. Their mega center there is huge, and employs far more support personnel than they do teachers. Most of these people are supposed to come up with the teaching materials that teachers use, but these materials are usually quite lacking.
For instance, each summer when you teach the 2 to 3 month summer course you’ll be seeing the exact same materials that you saw the year before. Life Clubs, paid classes that are supposed to teach real world English, also are repeated year after year with little or no variation. So my question is, what are those people at the mega center doing all year long?
Many who get promoted up the chain of command, from teacher to senior teacher to Director of Studies (DOS) to possibly even Regional Manager, will eventually end up at the mega center. Many of them have become so indoctrinated by EF’s warped culture by that point that they’ll do nothing more than toe the company line.
Each major city besides Shanghai will have its own major headquarters. In Shenzhen it was located at the Diwang Building, a large, well-known building and icon of the city. I worked for a kid’s school but the Shenzhen EF headquarters was located within a Smart School, or adult school.
For the first 2 years I worked for EF we had the same regional manager, a dimwitted woman from Sweden. It seemed pretty clear to me after a while that you wouldn’t be getting into a top management position unless you were Swedish. Many who do get into those positions relish them and will do whatever it takes not to lose those positions. When their advancement slows or stops completely they’ll grow sullen, often lashing out at their subordinates.
The woman we had as a regional manager scared everyone, especially the DOS’s that had to report directly to her. I never understood why; it was obvious to me that she was a complete idiot. Why else would she have been in China for so long? Perhaps because she could do nothing else, and was now too old to start over at that point. Unfortunately you see that a lot at EF.
One time she had to give a summer training course and it was a complete joke. She was completely unprepared, with piles of papers sitting out in front of her, which she then proceeded to leaf through for a few minutes looking for something she never was able to find.
Everyone watching was surely thinking that if they did that in they’re own class the students would eat them for lunch. All EF teachers know you’ve got to be on the ball constantly, not allowing the slightest bit of time to go by without something happening, lest the students walk all over you.
This woman seemed to know none of that, and it was obvious she had no teaching experience. How does someone with no teaching experience get into a top or mid-level management position? Well, that’s EF for you.