Sunday, August 26, 2007

Impolite Pressure

About a month ago, the referral agency I use for getting private students called and asked me to accept a new student at 9:30 am on Saturday morning. The schedule I provided them with back when I initially signed on with them states that I don't accept lessons before 10:00 am on the weekend so they already knew this was too early before making the request.

The woman who spoke with me pleaded with me to accept this particular student for just two lessons either in August or September. At the time of this initial call, she said the student had contracted to do only 4 lessons and needed to finish off the last two of them. I told her that I would do it if it were only 2 lessons though I'd prefer it was in September because the two dates she gave me were August 18 and 25 and the latter is my birthday. With audible relief, she told me she'd contact the student about the dates and get back to me. Of course, the student wanted to come in August despite September being offered as an option to me.

After the first lesson, I realized that part of the reason she may only be taking a handful of lessons was that she required relatively specialized lesson planning and was dissatisfied with the type of generic lesson she'd received before. The teacher with whom she'd taken a lesson (or two) before was an older man who had her doing relatively low-level grammatical pattern practice from an antique book (which she purchased but then didn't want to use). She found this sort of lesson not only boring but rather tedious and pointless. She's 55 years old and interested in serious topics like feminism. She doesn't want to spend her time speaking like a child. It was her desire to express her opinions and ideas on topics she was interested in. She just had a lot of trouble doing so.

While it may not be what she technically needs, I concluded that she could have what she wanted if she was willing to put the work into it and if her future teacher was willing to be patient. As a courtesy to the referral agency, I wrote them a letter recommending that any future teacher find articles on issues related to the student's interests (particularly women's issues) and have the student read it and think it over before each lesson. The student would be able to consider the topic and vocabulary well beforehand and then they could discuss it with the teacher working on her grammar issues as part of the discussion.

The result of my voluntary good deed was that I got a phone call from the agency thanking me for the letter but also attempting to pressure me into teaching her in the future. I should mention that I not only made it clear during the initial phone exchange that I could not teacher her regularly at this time but I also mentioned it in the letter about her lesson planning. When I said that I could teach her if she could come later in the afternoon, the response was, "oh, you don't want to get up early." This struck me as incredibly rude and presumptuous. It was all I could do not to be angry on the phone but I explained that it had nothing to do with when I got up as I'm usually up early every morning but it's related to when my husband leaves for work.

The truth is that it's very inconvenient for me to have students arrive right on the heels of my husband's departure for work. We sit in the room in which I conduct the lessons and the folding table I use in the lesson can't be set up in it when we are both in it so I have to rush and set it up after he goes or leave it crammed into the space available such that he can't get in and out of the room easily because of the way it blocks the exit to the kitchen. I also have to rush and get any breakfast dishes done while he's still here and try to tidy up for the student. Additionally, it's not uncommon for my husband to start 20-40 minutes later than his usual schedule because of a late cancellation. In such cases, my husband has to hide out in the bedroom while I conduct a lesson and he waits to leave.

There's also a serious possibility that a student who is supposed to start at 9:30 am on Saturday will show up early enough that my husband will still be in the process of gathering his things and preparing to leave. In fact, the first week this 9:30 student showed up within two minutes of my husband's departure because she was 6 minutes early. Scheduling a student in the way they want would require my husband to regularly leave early to ensure there was no conflict in this regard and one more student is simply not worth rushing around, putting my husband out, and being stressed every week.

At any rate, I didn't go into this level of explanation with the agency, I simply said that my starting and finishing times were linked to my husband's work schedule and I couldn't accept students who wanted to start before he left or after he came home. One thing I can say for sure though is that this is the last time I'll consent to do them a favor which conflicts with my scheduling wishes. I don't need people foisting their conclusions about my lifestyle on me in order to pressure me into doing what they want me to do.


Emsk said...

Nothing short of a damned cheek, eh?

happy Birthday, for yesterday, Shari! xox

Luis said...

Part of this is undoubtedly the common point where Japanese managers will make a decision that goes contrary to promises made to the worker, and they simply have an almost unconscious belief that the worker will bend and do what they were promised would not be asked of them. You have to be firm, like you were... but perhaps even more firm, to the point of not even taking a few exceptions like you did.

Back when I was the head teacher at my school, I had the same problem. Other head teachers of other departments would bug out of town as quickly as they could, else pretend not to be there and not answer calls, knowing the school would have the usual "emergency" or five. But being in a different section, I had different duties which forced me to stay on an extra week or ten days. So the school planners for those other sections, who knew they had no teachers available, nevertheless scheduled and promised students special lessons and events.

Then, because the head teachers responsible for those areas had vanished, they would always come to me, despite my having no relation to the department or activity. I found that if I acquiesced once, no matter how strong my warning that this was the only time and they have to get the teachers lined up before they promise the event, they would see me as always being available. Eventually, I found that the only way to avoid being called on was to flat-out refuse to help at all. Eventually they found ways to pester others into doing the work, but left me alone.

As for your staff's reaction about wanting to sleep in late, that is also not hard to see coming in a few ways. First, however low our payment might be for teaching, the Japanese staff works a *lot* harder and almost always gets paid a lot less (there may be exceptions to the latter, but almost never to the former), and so they often see us as lazy and spoiled. The sad point is that there are enough people in the industry who live up to that image to give them an excuse to have the opinion that most or all of us are that way. I imagine that this is much more prevalent in the schools where they tend to get people on working holiday visas a lot.

Nevertheless, they tend to keep these opinions to themselves; that your scheduler actually voiced that, even in an "understanding" way, is pretty surprising. Maybe she lived overseas long enough to lose some of the native habits of reticence.

Still, there's no excuse for that kind of wheedling. If there are no people lined up before a promise to have them lined up is made, that's their own damned fault. Doesn't matter the pay, doesn't matter how hard the person works. But that's not as solid a concept in Japan as it is in the West--that an agreement is an agreement, between employers and workers, at least....

Miko said...

I agree, it's rude of the agency rep. to assume that you wish to sleep in on weekends rather than work (although if truth be told I've quit more than one job for that precise reason!). Don't forget to stress that your husband is still at home at 9:30 or whenever, because this is a perfectly valid reason in Japan for not accepting visitors.

Stand your ground. Some people, you give them an inch and they take a mile! I doubt that it's a uniquely Japanese phenomenon, though.