In April, an Wuxi kindergarten principal, the company boss, and I sat in the office and verbally agreed on a contract they had showed me. After a few days, however, I was having doubts, and they told me “try it for a month, and then decide whether or not to sign the contract”. I said OK, and started working the first week of May.
Things were fine at first. However, a week into the job, there was a rumor that I wouldn’t get paid for my time there if I didn’t wind up signing the contract. I panicked and asked the principal to pay me immediately for the work done so far. She quickly obliged, I appreciated that, and I felt at ease and that the matter is settled. This incident was not her fault, but I was low on money and had no time to waste. Aside from this incident, everything was fine.
A week later, the school decided -- despite claiming to have acquired in March the license to issue Foreign Expert Certificates -- to try to outsource to a man named Vincent Wang (王安之, email: firstname.lastname@example.org; PHONE & WECHAT EDITED OUT
), who would handle foreign teacher-related things, namely salary, visa processing, insurance, and taxes. It seems their negotiations were not finalized until the end of the month, when the school made the decision to get rid of me. All future foreign teachers would eventually be contracted under Vincent’s company’s name (Wuxi Jiangnan Group Training Center).
Vincent had heard about this school from another new foreign teacher, and he immediately showed up with promises. Probable reasons why the school hired him:
1) the recent salary issue with me left the principal irrationally afraid to deal with foreign teachers. She was probably afraid from the beginning, and then it was exacerbated
2) In fall 2015, the school's ownership will open a big kindergarten in another district. They supposedly will need 16-20 new foreign teachers in the coming months.
Vincent’s business card says www.wigo.cn
on it. The website has no English on it, and doesn’t appear to have any relevance to this kind of kindergarten job. But he purported to have a vast warehouse of foreign teachers, or at least the ability to amass one, and he claimed he was currently staffing for 25 different kindergartens in Wuxi. I can’t find any information about this man or Wuxi Jiangnan Group Training Center on the internet. Here is my experience with him, which lasted a total of 9 days:
Initially, I was suspicious of him, as I think many people would be of an outsider who comes out of nowhere, strikes a deal with the school in 1 or 2 days, and tells you that he, not the school with whom you've already built trust, will assume all responsibility for your salary, benefits, visa, recommendation letter, etc. But he seemed ok, and answered a few of my questions in a fairly straightforward manner, although his English was not very good.
However, his contract, which I was expected to eventually sign if I was to continue working at the kindy, was just awful, bearing no resemblance to what the kindy and I had previously agreed on. It is a generic copy which I’m sure he gives to every prospective teacher, with no adjustments for each individual workplace. For example, the contract says the foreign teacher should prepare mid-terms and final exams, though the kindy has no exams. Additionally, it forbids things like “fraternizing with students” or “living with a student of the opposite sex”, rules which are clearly intended for a different kind of job.
Some glaring problems with the contract:
1) It states that Party A (his company, not the kindy) has the right to change the work place of Party B (the foreign teacher), making no mention of the need for kindy’s or my own consent. The kindy’s principal told me that Vincent would always listen to her demands. Well, I didn’t see that in writing in my contract. How naïve can this woman be?
2) It demands 100 teaching hours/month. The kindy, like many kindergartens, has ~80 teaching hours/month. Vincent could easily tell me I must work an additional 20 hours at another school if I want to be paid in full.
3) There is no mention of the 1500 rmb monthly housing stipend the kindy offered me, nor was it tacked onto the salary.
4) It calls for “Weekly Satisfaction Surveys conducted by students and the teaching assistant”. If the foreign teacher scores less than <60% for a given month, HE/SHE WILL NOT GET PAID FOR THAT MONTH. Who exactly are the teaching assistants? And how is one to assess the satisfaction of 3-to-6-year-olds?
He put this contract in my hands and chatted with me for 30 minutes, making no mention of the obvious discrepancies between his contract and the typical duties required for a foreign teacher at this kindy. Is he insane, expecting me to sign that?
I basically wrote a brand new contract, which no employee should have to do. It took several days of meticulously rereading every sentence to make things look more reasonable. He approached me by the copy machine on a Thursday morning and I told him I was getting ready to send my edits to him.
Despite having never been in my class, he said “I watched your teaching. It’s not very good.” He said he spoke to my previous school and got bad feedback about me, and that said school would not hire me again today. Never mind the fact that said school gave me an official recommendation letter, that I regularly got the highest scores on student feedback forms, that they had recently offered me part-time work, and that the very next day I visited said school’s headquarters, where the city manager stamped another document for me and told me she doesn’t know anything about Vincent’s claims.
I was stunned by Vincent’s rudeness and dubious of his claims. I asked him what he wanted to do. Reduce my salary? Train me? I was happy to discuss. He got distracted and walked away, and never offered a single suggestion.
That morning, I realize that Vincent had recently sent a twenty-something-year-old Chinese woman named Cynthia to spend a few hours in my classroom. She had approached me and introduced herself as an intern/college senior about to graduate and looking for a teaching job. All lies. What little trust existed had evaporated by this point.
Thursday afternoon, I met a newly-arrived director from the parent company, and I told her about my misgivings about Vincent. I said I was happy to negotiate/sign directly with the kindy. After all, they did have the license to hire me, they had brought me in before had Vincent entered the picture, and my visa transfer would be fairly simple, though surely Vincent was trying hard to convince them otherwise. The director seemed unsure, and gave no clear indication as to the kindy’s plans.
I had not given the kindy an ultimatum, but I was starting to think it would take a miracle for me to agree sign with Vincent. Nevertheless, later that afternoon, I sent him my edited contract to see his reaction. I used April’s initial agreement as a starting point. Vincent had already told me that he would not force me to work at more than one school, and that my teaching hours would be 80, not 100, per month. I edited the contract to reflect that, and I edited other parts to make it resemble the previous month’s verbal agreement with the kindy.
He got back to me 4 hours later and had included virtually every change I had requested. He phoned me and sounded shockingly polite and accommodating, to a ridiculous degree, in sharp contrast to the tension we had earlier in the day. This didn’t make me feel more comfortable. But I rolled with it.
The next day, Friday, I looked a bit closer and noticed a few careless mistakes/typos in the contract which were not there before. Things like numbers and/or dates not matching, which could lead to confusion/disputes in the future. These were NOT related to my edits, and I was NOT making any additional requests. I simply pointed out these mistakes out one at a time, starting at 2:30pm on Friday afternoon. He made the first two or three edits and said “Anything you want Mr. X, just let me know”; again, alarmingly polite and accommodating. At 2:50pm, 10 minutes before my last class of the day (I’m sure he planned it this way), he called me and told me his boss (boss? He had said he owned this company) said I had asked for too much in the contract. He told me not to come on Monday, because he found a replacement for me. He told me not to call him on the weekend, despite having recently told me he was available 24/7. I didn’t argue with him. I was fed up with him, and also had to run to class.
I messaged the kindy's principal. Told her I was informed of her decision and I asked about my remaining salary. It turns out she knew nothing about this decision. Vincent had fired me without ever consulting or informing her. The kindy management was angry. They said they would meet with Vincent that evening. I emailed the newly-arrived director a timeline of my interactions with Vincent. I tried to put up a fight, reiterated my willingness to sign directly with the kindy. Alas, over the weekend they chose Vincent and whatever promises he made. My time at the kindy lasted a total of 4 weeks.
The following Monday, on WeChat, I asked Vincent “what was wrong with the contract?”. Before I messaged him, I could see his timeline/photos. A few moments after I messaged him, I could no longer see his timeline/photos. So he blocked me because I asked him for an explanation.
He never intended to negotiate. He was a racketeering, lying, manipulative, paranoid, insecure man. He sold himself as a straightforward guy skilled in solving problems, bridging cultural gaps, and communicating with foreigners effectively. He was none of that. He was the opposite of that. He solved no problems. He created them and worsened them. During his very first week, the kindy management was put in the position of mediating between him and me. In other words, doing the very task that Vincent claims to be able to do so well. Something is very wrong with this picture. I can’t imagine how Vincent gets anyone to work with him, other than by preying on people’s naïveté. I am extremely skeptical of his ability to keep teachers and schools satisfied in the future.
Furthermore, his English is terrible. There was not one conversation where he and I didn’t have problems understanding each other’s words. He never introduced me to anyone who spoke decent English. The kindy management spoke better English than he did.
Vincent also certainly doesn't care about children, as I'm quite certain those children never have never liked a teacher, local or foreign, as much as they liked me.
The kindy claims they didn’t sign me directly not because I wasn’t qualified, but due to a lack of knowledge about paperwork and employment laws. They want the benefit of being able to fill their classrooms with a slew of foreign faces without having to put in any effort to keep those foreigners happy. This is what Vincent promises, but, as I said earlier, I remain extremely skeptical, with good reason, of his ability to deliver on that. If you come across this man in the future, proceed at your own risk.