I'm very sorry to hear some of you have had the very unfortunate experience of having to work for these despicable clowns too. Here is an account of my own - and several of my teaching colleagues' and friends - experiences at this awful excuse for an English school:
Birmy International English (China) are one of the worst private English schools – if not THE worst – to work for in China. If you receive an offer from these scam artists and cheats, run as far as you can in the opposite direction.
Here is an account of some of my own, and some my teaching colleagues’, experiences at this despicable school:
1. When you arrive, if you are a girl, you will spend your first one or two nights in a shared, filthy, tiny dorm-room with 5 or 6 Chinese, English tutors from the school. You will have to do all your ablutions (going to the toilet, trying to wash yourself with no shower, bath etc.) in a tiny, filthy shared space with absolutely no privacy (you will be trying to wash yourself whilst surrounded by tutors defecating & urinating right next to you, with no-one ever cleaning up after themselves). Your first night, you will have to try sleep on what amounts to no more than a wooden board, crammed into this tiny, filthy space with 5 or 6 of the tutors. The next morning, you will have to make your way to the hospital to have your medical, very likely after not being able to wash yourself or get any sleep due to the appalling conditions. To add insult to injury, you will have to pay your medical check-up expenses yourself, which the school should actually pay for you but are to cheap to do.
2. If you are lucky enough to be a guy in this instance (yes, the school is sexist), you will spend your first night in the cheapest motel available. Anything above 140 RMB & you’ll have to pay the extra yourself.
3. You will have to cover all your visa costs yourself (the school should actually pay these for you) and, if in China already, will have to go to Hong Kong, at great expense, to try obtaining your work visa there. The school will not tell you that certain nationalities (such as South Africans) can no longer obtain a Z visa in Hong Kong, and must return to their home country first. So, if you discover this only when you arrive in Hong Kong, you will have no choice but to return home again, after having wasted your time and money.
4. When you first arrive, the school will tell you to take one or two days ‘rest’ to recover from your long journey. What you may mistake for kindness here is only a rouse on their part for, when you receive your first month’s salary, you will find they have deducted those one or two nights ‘jetlag recuperation’ off the money they owe you. You did not ask for this rest nor were you told they would deduct this from your salary, but they will do it anyway.
5. Speaking of monthly salary, the school will cheat you out of this too. Don’t count on getting any more than 1/3rd of your first month’s salary. They use some bizarre, crooked system which deducts all your paid leave time (you are entitled to 2 days paid leave per week in accordance with your contract, but they will say this is unpaid leave). Plus, the fingerprint reader (which makes you feel like you’re in a prison every time you clock in or out) is faulty and operates only in Chinese, many times not recording your clock in or clock out times or, telling you in Chinese that it has been accepted and then – a few minutes later – saying in an electronic Chinese voice, which of course you cannot understand, that you need to re-do the process as there has been an error. I kept an exact log of ALL my clock-ins & outs and was still cheated by Birmy on my monthly salary. They said the fingerprint reader indicated that I had clocked in late several times that month, a total lie and something fabricated by the HR department as they can alter these figures at will. You cannot argue this as it’s all in Chinese and they will say the machine is infallible.
6. According to your contract, the school cannot make you teach more than 5 classes a day or teach more than 5 days in row without leave. But, they will try cheating you on this at every turn, throwing in a 6th and sometimes even 7th class at a moment’s notice, often forcing you to work 9 days without a break.
7. There are no lesson plans at all for upper level students and, the one’s you may find hidden in a cupboard somewhere, are nothing more than Google-translated ramblings on the most complex and hopelessly uninteresting and useless topics. Upper and intermediate students will often come to class clutching just the first page of this so-called lesson, whilst you come in balancing reams of Google-translated material which the students were not given – but should have been – by their Chinese, English tutors beforehand.
8. After your first one or two nights in a filthy dorm room or fleabag motel, you will have to find your own apartment. The school will (if you are lucky) have arranged only one or two for you to look at AND you need to be at work to do training during this time too (which they will try get out of paying you for). Considering you will be training and working till after 9pm every night, it will be almost impossible for you to find a decent apartment in such a short time. For any apartment you settle on just so you are not sleeping on the street, you will need to pay at least 4 to 6 months rent as a deposit upfront. Considering that you will be cheated out of most of your first month’s salary, plus the fact that you will have had to pay for your medical and flight ticket upfront, with no help or reimbursement from the school, you will not survive even a day at this new job in China unless you arrive with at least 15 thousand RMB to start.
9. Although your monthly salary may seem good at 8 thousand RMB per month for your first two or three month’s probation (make that 3 months as the school will lie to you again in negotiations, saying you will only have to do two) & 10 thousand per month thereafter, the school is actually paying you one of the LOWEST salaries an English teacher could possibly earn in China. You will be working 40 hours a week; be called to meetings (often 3 to 4 hours long) during your off days, for which you will not be paid; you will have to outlay so much money in the first month and are being cheated on your first month’s salary; you will receive only 3 days paid leave per year (the lowest of ANY English school in China); you will be cheated out of Chinese public holidays too (for example, you will get only 3 days leave instead of the obligatory 7 days over Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival)
10. You will share an office with the Chinese, English tutors who are on the phone to students the whole day at fever-pitch volume levels, when not teaching, and encourage students to come in and out of the office at will. This will make it almost impossible for you to concentrate on your lesson preparations.
11. The school has disabled all the USB ports & CD drives on the computers and the IT department is absolutely useless and hopelessly ineffectual. This will make your life as a teacher a nightmare as you cannot use or save any outside lesson material from USB, DVD or CD, nor will you have flash or the latest Internet browser on your machine to prepare video clips for your students.
12. Don’t count on actually working at the branch you agreed to work for in your contract. When you arrive, as so many foreign teachers are quitting in disgust every few weeks or months, you will more than likely be told you will be teaching at another branch. They will try force you to do this and you will be very lucky if you can get out of it.
13. Not only are this disgraceful school cheating their foreign teachers, they are cheating their own government too. The school only pays a fraction of the tax it should be paying on your salary. It gets away with this by illegally forcing you to sign a document saying you are earning less than you actually are, so the government are none the wiser. But, we will be nailing the school on this too as several of us have gotten together to send a signed affidavit to the Chinese Education Bureau, detailing this deliberate tax evasion by the school. Make no mistake; the government will be contacting them about this VERY soon.
14. When I first arrived at this awful school, I wondered why all the foreign teachers never had anything to do with anyone else at the school. They just silently came in, tried to prepare and teach their lessons, and then left as quickly as possible, not saying a word to anyone. I soon realized the reason when one of my fellow foreign teachers told me that, anything you say to any of the Chinese staff at the school, will immediately get passed around the whole school (to your students too), only to come back to you in some twisted or warped form, making it seem like you have been up to no good. This applies to your movements and interactions outside the school too. Many foreign teachers were furious when being confronted by Chinese, English tutors at the school as to why they were having lunch or dinner with a Chinese girl, reported back to the school by who knows which staff member or student. It’s a free country (supposedly) and we are fully entitled to meet with our Chinese friends at anytime, especially being single and having the right to meet with whomever we want, whenever we want. How dare they pass judgment and cast aspersions on our character here. What in heaven’s name has it got to do with them anyhow?
15. This excuse for an English school does not stop at just cheating you. They cheat their students too by making them pay 10 to 20 thousand RMB upfront (no returns at all if dissatisfied), plus making them pay for their own textbooks at great expense (they have to buy these from the school, of course). Some students have had to beg and borrow this money and it has left them in an extremely difficult financial predicament for years to come. Also, 50% of the coursework must be done by students on their own, so they are only getting 50% of what they are paying for from the very beginning.
16. The textbooks Birmy forces you to teach from are appalling. They are hopelessly out of date and peppered with all manner of English errors. They are of course written & compiled by the school’s Chinese employees who are far from fluent in English. Most of the time, you will spend your lessons trying to explain to students why the lesson you were trying to teach them made little sense, and having to re-write and change things on the fly.
17. The promotional materials (videos, photos etc.) Birmy uses in their marketing are also misleading and fake. The westerners presented have either long since quit the school, have never worked for the school at all or certainly never agreed to, or received any form of payment for, their images being used to promote the school.
18. Although you will have specifically been told that you will only be teaching adults at Birmy, you will soon find yourself with classes full of children as young as 11 or 12, often mixed with adults in their 30’s and 40’s. This is because, although Birmy have spent a fortune creating kids teaching facilities in all their branches, they are too cheap to employ additional foreign teachers to teach in them. So, you will have to do most of the donkeywork.
19. In most of your social talking and conversation classes, you will have students of all levels in class, from absolute beginner to advanced. This makes your task as a teacher impossible, as the very basic students won’t understand a word you are saying and the advanced ones will be upset if you keep things too simple. The school will in turn say you are a bad teacher and that the students are complaining about you.
20. All of the schools are controlled from head office in Jiaojiang, Taizhou. Unfortunately, this creates massive problems as the people up there have no idea of the comings and goings of each individual branch, making their devastatingly incompetent and damaging decisions from the ivory tower, with no regard for, or interest in, the foreign teachers’ well-being. The director of our school knew no English at all, same with the finance and IT departments. You will incessantly be bothered at all times of the night and morning – outside of working hours – by staff asking you to do this and that and G-d knows what else. With little and often no notice at all, you will be asked to drop everything and go help out at another branch, often 2 to 3 hours away. You will have to get there first at your own expense, and will have no time to prepare anything (pack your things; plan your lessons, accommodation etc.).
21. Applying for leave will cause you the most headaches. You have only 3 days paid leave per year (worst for any school in China) and, to apply for unpaid leave, you have to find a teacher to take over your duties, who you must pay during that time. Even if you manage to pull of this feat (not easy when you only have one other foreign teacher at your branch, who was planning on going away the same time as you), they can pull the plug on this at a moment’s notice, making some excuse like they urgently need you at another branch. So, once you start at this school, plan on having hardly ANY leave per year at all.
This list could continue for days but, suffice to say, this school is disgusting and you have only yourself to blame if you accept a position there. As I write this, there is a class action lawsuit being prepared against these despicable cheats, by many former teachers who have decided that enough is enough. The school will also be facing a legal inquiry from the Chinese government soon, in regard to their evasion of tax on foreign teachers’ salaries.
I hope this will stop any foreign English teacher from accepting ‘work’ at this awful place. We do not want any of you to experience the torment and misery we had to endure at this terrible excuse for an English school.