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Author Topic: iCanSay, Suzhou, Jiangsu  (Read 2632 times)

Raoul F. Duke

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iCanSay, Suzhou, Jiangsu
« on: July 28, 2008, 07:49:14 PM »
OK...some dust settled, on to other battles...
Please note that I've received some threats from certain local-expat gasbags against posting this review, which to me kinda requires me to post it.

Anyway.

iCanSay (ICS) is one of the oldest English schools in Suzhou...been around more than 5 years now. It's an adult training center. Its owner, Bob Ding, may well qualify as the most clueless, hopelessly inept businessmen in China; ICS's longevity may indeed stem from the fact that, after a couple years of going nowhere, he left the school in the hands of local managers and withdrew to Shanghai to run a poorly-conceived internet-content company into the ground.

So, the school has continued to exist on the fringes of Suzhou's EFL scene, not really thriving and not quite going under, for all these years. Their basic program under Chinese teachers was actually quite good and very effective, or at least it was when I arrived there, because they had a brace of outstanding Chinese teachers working there.

Classes with foreigners, though, have always been terribly checkered, thanks to their firm policy of hiring only live, foreign-looking mammalians as teachers. Some of them were good, some were disastrous, and many were simply affable wankers who eschewed the use of textbooks, "just talked", and kinda pretended they were doing something worthwhile. If a foreign job applicant happened to ask about a textbook or curriculum, the typical response was something like "Gee, I dunno...you think we should have one?" I knew of one teacher who simply walked in each night and read articles from the newspaper for two hours. The school management neither knew, nor gave a wet slap, what happened in the classroom as long as you managed to retain a quotient of your students.

When I first started this job, it was the sweetest job I'd ever had. The money was so-so, and there weren't really any benefits, but the schedule was usually pretty light, the classes were easy, and I absolutely loved teaching there. The Chinese manager was excellent- she wasn't strong on academics, but was very supportive if you were. Most importantly, she would actually listen to you and your ideas, and (believe it or not) carefully consider what you said, and sometimes would even implement your requests and suggestions. I felt like I was doing some of the best work I'd ever done in a classroom in this period.

The downsides were the office staff, most of whom could not find their own butts using both hands and who were led by a woman so stupid I honestly don't know how she found the building every day; and the interior of the school. It was (and is) a depressing, grisly semi-finished near-shell that looked like an abandoned warehouse...it gave the strong impression that some business had recently moved out of the space and ICS had taken it over as is. It had 7 classrooms, ranging from glass-walled modernity to bare-gypsum indifference, all festooned with large, ancient, decrepit whiteboards that looked as if they had been dragged from the rubble of bombed-out Dresden. But at least if you stayed focused on the class you could ignore the bummer outside.

And so the months passed blissfully by...

...until the day I walked in and learned that A) the great manager had been cursed out and given the bum's rush, and replaced by one of the Chinese teachers, and B) they were finally bringing in an organized, comprehensive curriculum called "Action English". The new program was backed by a handsome Chinese-language brochure, an obviously bogus photocopied "newspaper clipping" extolling the program and linking it to Cambridge University's prestigious ICOM institute and its head, Dr. Clive Kinder, and a bizarre sign showing ultracool black people standing around in a ridiculuous, un-natural pose that I quickly made part of my classroom routine.

It pretty quickly became evident that beyond the brochure, the fake clipping, and the horrible sign, there WAS no Action English. It was a brilliant, revolutionary idea based partly on real-type but totally eviscerated classes with New Interchange  textbooks, partly on topic-laden English Corners, partly on unspecified "focus classes" or some such that we teachers were expected to shag over and develop for them, and partly on unspecified real-world out-of-the-building activities that, again, we teachers were of course going to dream up for them. This, of course, was NOT a Cambridge program. A quick bit of web sleuthing quickly revealed that there IS an ICOM, and there IS a Dr. Clive Kinder, and they HAVE developed an advanced training series...but they don't do language training in any form. Best of all, the new program would come with a steep price hike...maybe not advisable for a school that owed its existence to the fact that it was the cheapest training center in town.

When I politely suggested that this program didn't really add up, and that it wasn't really going to have any effect at all on anyone's English, Bob Ding told me- direct quote- that "Aw, it doesn't matter...these people are all stupid anyway." However, my concern immediately branded me as "bad teechah", and I was simply taken out of the loop.

Surprisingly enough, the already-tenuous enrollment at iCanSay plummeted like a stone. Many students left quickly in disgust; since students could go to any class at any time the remainder all immediately gravitated to the highest-level classes...even if they were hopelessly unprepared for them. The school sold off about half its space to an incoming interior-decoration company, reducing it to 4 small classrooms and adding to the vulture-on-its-shoulder depression of the surroundings.

I have to admit that this knocked most of the fight out of me as far as teaching anymore went. My enthusiasm and attendance went down the toilet.

It was about this time that the other shoe dropped. When some of us went out to get our Work/Residence Permits renewed, it was discovered that ICS was using Bob's defunct computer company to issue Permits illegally, and was understating all our salaries (for tax purposes, I guess) as well. The police were livid, and warned ICS in both phone calls and personal visits that they had to stop using foreign teachers immediately.

However, much to my surprise, iCanSay is still operating...and still using foreign teachers. I'm going to be doing my best to change both of these facts.

More details will come in other stories, but let me end by saying you don't want to work here because:
1) They don't honor their contracts if they decide they don't want to. These sleazeballs owe me over 10,000 RMB in contractual pay and visa-related costs.

2) They can't legally hire foreigners, a fact that hopefully will be coming back to bite them on the ass, as they are continuing to employ them.

Don't be caught in these rooms when the hammer comes down...not even part time. And the hammer IS coming down.
« Last Edit: July 30, 2008, 03:48:12 PM by Raoul Duke »
"Vicodin and dumplings...it's a great combination!" (Anthony Bourdain, in Harbin)

"Here in China we aren't just teaching...
we're building the corrupt, incompetent, baijiu-swilling buttheads of tomorrow!" (Raoul F. Duke)

James the Brit

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Re: iCanSay, Suzhou, Jiangsu
« Reply #1 on: July 29, 2008, 03:26:34 AM »
What are people threatening you about?
« Last Edit: July 29, 2008, 08:30:10 AM by James the Brit »

Raoul F. Duke

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Re: iCanSay, Suzhou, Jiangsu
« Reply #2 on: July 29, 2008, 08:16:31 AM »
Not sure what the ass-face was babbling about, really, but it doesn't really matter. I assure you, I will be fine. I'm full of surprises. uuuuuuuuuu
"Vicodin and dumplings...it's a great combination!" (Anthony Bourdain, in Harbin)

"Here in China we aren't just teaching...
we're building the corrupt, incompetent, baijiu-swilling buttheads of tomorrow!" (Raoul F. Duke)

Raoul F. Duke

  • Lovable Rogue
  • Despot in Absentia
  • *****
  • Posts: 9572
  • "Be specific if you order the mushrooms!"
Re: iCanSay, Suzhou, Jiangsu
« Reply #3 on: July 29, 2008, 08:29:56 AM »
Oh...I would further add that iCanSay was treading water, or in decline, while most schools in Suzhou were enjoying an unprecedented boom time and literally exploding enrollments.

A pretty telling indicator of the utter incompetence and cluelessness of the dimbulbs that ran this place... llllllllll
"Vicodin and dumplings...it's a great combination!" (Anthony Bourdain, in Harbin)

"Here in China we aren't just teaching...
we're building the corrupt, incompetent, baijiu-swilling buttheads of tomorrow!" (Raoul F. Duke)