Please answer the following:
Each question must be 1 and a half page total 4.5 pages
1)How would you advise Bert?
2)Why would you advise that ?
3)What things lead him to this situation?
AN ENGLISH TEACHER IN SOUTH KOREA
Stacey R. Fitzsimmons and Paul Shantz wrote this case solely to provide material for class discussion. The authors do not intend to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of a managerial situation. The authors may have disguised certain names and other identifying information to protect confidentiality.
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Copyright © 2010, Richard Ivey School of Business Foundation Version: 2011-01-04
I first suspected something was wrong after about a month of working for EZ-ABC, a South Korean English as a second language (ESL) school in Seoul. I was spending time on a Saturday night with Larry, an American teacher who had been at the school for around five months, and we were comparing pay stubs. Larry noticed that he had a city tax deduction that had not been deducted from his previous paycheques; I also had a city tax deduction, but mine cost twelve times as much as his even though our gross salaries were equal. We each made KRW2.4 million1 per month (approximately Cdn$2,400) before taxes. Larry’s city tax deduction cost KRW20,000 (approximately Cdn$20) and mine cost KRW240,000 (approximately Cdn$240). I thought this seemed strange, and I was upset because my city tax was higher than his. I decided to call the Seoul City council office to find out what exactly this tax was and the formula used to calculate deductions; they told me that there was no such thing as a Seoul city tax and that my employer was likely using it as a way to pay us less. I assumed that this was exactly what was happening.
Most Koreans that I had spoken to admitted that pay deductions were common, but they pointed out that income tax in South Korea was only eight per cent as opposed to an average of 26 per cent in Canada. The argument that they made was that even if your employer skimmed a little, you were still seeing more of your money, and the money you were giving up went right back into your company to keep it operating as opposed to the government.
As I was looking at this pay discrepancy, I was wondering how much of this was due to cultural differences and at what point it became exploitation. I did not want to be like those picky teachers who complained about every little thing; the ones who learned about and preached cultural diversity and respect in school, but once they arrived expected Korea to adapt to them as opposed to the other way around. On the other hand, stealing was stealing, wasn’t it?
It was a few years after I graduated from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver with my business degree. I had decided to teach English in South Korea instead of getting a more traditional business job in Canada. It
1 KRW = South Korean won.
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was the perfect plan for me; I could earn enough money in a short amount of time to travel for the remainder of the year, all the while experiencing something completely new in the Kangnam district of Seoul, South Korea. Kangnam was a great area with all the latest shopping, bars, karaoke rooms and DVD bangs (private rooms where you could rent a DVD and watch it on a big screen. It was very popular for young Korean couples to go on a date, but it was also a cheap and interesting way to spend a few hours). I loved new experiences, and I found the challenge of teaching in a culture as different as South Korea’s thrilling.
I had taught English in South Korea for a year directly after graduating, and loved it. I did a lot of research before signing on with a company the first time, and it was worth the effort. My school was run well, my fellow teachers were a lot of fun and I had freedom to design my own courses. Teachers at that school often collaborated and helped each other improve our lessons. Among my friends that year, some people had schools with great management and a positive experience, while others felt that they were being taken advantage of; additionally, horror stories circulated about teachers who were told they would only work 20-30 hours per week, but who ended up working 70-80 hours per week without being paid for the balance. The worst story was about a school that just shut its doors one morning when the teachers were arriving; the staff was never paid, and the teachers were kicked out of their school-run apartments.
After having such a good experience the first time, I figured that I knew what to look for the second time I went to teach in South Korea. I spoke to some teachers who were working in South Korea at the time, and decided that some of the horror stories were exaggerated. Most of the people who taught ESL were coming straight out of school and had never had a real job with real responsibility before. When you combined that with the conservative nature of Korean society, it could make for some cross-cultural difficulties. I had had my fair share of cross-cultural challenges during my first year, but felt confident that my skills were honed this time around. I found a school, EZ-ABC, that only hired experienced teachers. It was a well-known brand name school that I remembered from last time. It was set up as a franchise; Mr. Lee, an older military man, owned the local branch in the Kangnam district, and he had hired Sandy, an Australian woman with a doctorate in educational leadership, to be school principal. This brand of school had a good reputation, so I assumed it would be a good place to work.
Sandy made most of the decisions, including hiring and firing. I had a phone interview with her before moving. Based on her description, the job sounded great: no planning lessons, a high salary compared to other schools and only experienced teachers around who are all good at their jobs. Sandy herself seemed very much in control. I remembered thinking during that first phone conversation that she seemed brusque but also professional, so I expected to find an organized, well-run school. I took the job and flew to Korea.
I started the job at the same time as two other men: Ian and Shawn. Shawn, an American in his late 20s, had previously worked in the Korean public school system where there was no profit motive. Ian, also an American, had had several teaching jobs. Both Ian and Shawn were drawn to EZ-ABC because of the high salary offered. They were nearly fluent in Korean and had Korean girlfriends; I expected them to live in Korea for a while. In contrast, my Korean language skills were only average, and I was not moving to Korea to be with a girlfriend. All 20 of the school’s teachers were male, because apparently Mr. Lee did not want to hire female teachers. Additionally, only one teacher had renewed his year-long contract the year before, meaning that 19 of the teachers were new this year. (In hindsight, that should have been my first signal). Shawn, Ian and I met Mr. Lee for the first and last time on our first day; after that, we only worked with Sandy. Mr. Lee handled payroll, but he dealt with all other issues through Sandy. Even though Sandy technically had decision-making power for the school, Mr. Lee put a lot of pressure on her to run her school the way he wanted; for example, he did not like that she offered unconventional classes such as interview preparation classes. I later learned that Mr. Lee was under a lot of stress because he owed
money to the EZ-ABC brand for the monthly franchise fees, and the recession had reduced the number of students attending private English schools. After Mr. Lee had welcomed us, Sandy gave us our orientation. It quickly became clear that this school would not be like my previous school. Sandy instructed us as she handed us thick binders of materials:
These are your class plans. I wrote them when I first opened this school, and you must follow them. I know you all have teaching experience, but you can consider yourselves permanently on probation. The Korean economy is sinking, and enrolment is down. Mr. Lee says we have too many teachers, so if you receive the lowest student ratings, you’re cut. No second chances.
I opened my binder to a lesson on the verb ‘to eat.’ The plan included a thorough class plan that looked acceptable to me. For example, she had planned out examples that we should use to make verb conjugation more intuitive. Although I was a little disappointed at the lack of freedom, I actually enjoyed the structure. The curriculum was not really all that bad, and I enjoyed teaching it. Luckily, I was still paying attention to Sandy, because her next instruction surprised me “Bert, you’re covering the eight-year-olds in room seven. Class starts in five minutes. Go.”
I later learned that these types of commands were common with Sandy, but I never got used to them. I also had a hard time getting used to the tense atmosphere at the school. Because the teachers were all competing with one another to keep our jobs, no one spoke to each other. The school norm was to just do your work, punch-in and punch-out without lingering to get to know the other teachers; in fact, during our second week, Ian mentioned to Shawn during lunch that he had been ten minutes late to work that morning because he had been at a friend’s place across town the night before and it took him longer than he had expected to get home in the morning. Sandy somehow found out and made Ian sign a document with a clause that he could be fired if he was late again, by even a minute. Behind closed doors, Shawn and I were somewhat supportive of Ian, but neither of us wanted to say anything out loud for fear of losing our jobs.
I had been working almost a month before I found out why Sandy was so cutthroat. I met up with Larry, who had a long-term Korean girlfriend whom he intended to marry. He seemed like a quiet and solid guy, and I liked and trusted him. He spoke more Korean than the rest of us, and he also had more awareness about the interactions between Sandy and Mr. Lee. He told me that Sandy had spent the last five months working on a completely new curriculum for the school; it was more ‘Westernized’ than the current curriculum, and drew on her years of research in educational leadership. In fact, she had originally agreed to become school principal in order to develop her curriculum. The class plans we were using at the time were only supposed to be temporary. There were hundreds of private language schools in South Korea, so it was important for schools to differentiate in order to gain students, and a popular curriculum could make a lot of money for its developer. Sandy felt that taking a ‘step down’ in her career to run an ESL school would be worth it once she had successfully created the ‘Sandy’ curriculum and sold it across the EZ-ABC chain. She assumed that she would have the freedom to make big changes to her school because of her status as a Doctor of Education. She had even consulted with some of the school’s teachers during the previous year to help her improve the curriculum; in short, this curriculum was her life’s ambition. Then Larry revealed Sandy’s problem: “Two months ago, Mr. Lee rejected Sandy’s new curriculum.”
According to Larry, Sandy had been tough before, but she had also been eager to develop something new that would be better than what was being used at the time. She had been more open to ideas and seemed to really care about her school and her employees; after this disappointment she became difficult to work with. Larry had some advice for me: “Keep your head down, keep your ratings high and don’t stand out.
Everyone at this school has worked in Korea before, so they all understand how the system works. If you try to take a stand and change things, you’ll be fired and you can’t do anything about it.”
I did not like Larry’s advice, but did not see what else I could do. Despite my natural inclinations (I could be reasonably outspoken), I tried to follow his suggestions. After all, I was also trying to fit into Korean society, and did not want to impose my “Canadian” ideas about how managers and employees should interact onto my current Korean organization. I succeeded for two or three days, keeping my ratings high and avoiding the other teachers; then Larry and I received our paycheques with the ‘city tax’ deductions. I had no idea if this was happening to everyone, because I did not want to bring it up at school in case it got back to Sandy, and I did not interact with any other teachers outside of school.
After talking to the Seoul bureaucrat about the non-existent city tax, I emailed Mr. Lee, trying to give him the benefit of the doubt:
Mr. Lee, Date sent: Sept. 23, 2005
I’ve noticed that my monthly pay has a deduction for a city tax. I’ve also noticed that Larry pays a smaller amount than I do. Officer Kim of the Seoul City Finance Department assured me that Seoul does not have a city tax. Could you please tell me what this deduction is for, and why we are paying it in different amounts?
Two days later, I received the following reply:
Bert, Date sent: Sept 25, 2005
It is against company policy to discuss pay with co-workers. You will face disciplinary action if you do not comply with company policy and procedures as laid out in the employee handbook.2
At this point I felt that the line had been crossed. I went to the Canadian embassy to try to figure out my options. They basically told me I did not have any options, but they filed a report anyway. There was a tribunal that I could attend, but legal fees were just as expensive in Korea as they were in Canada, and it was difficult to find an affordable bilingual lawyer. Also, the legal precedent was not in my favour; I noticed a cultural attitude that ESL teachers were unqualified and that they took jobs away from Koreans
— that is why I think the courts were reluctant to side with an ESL teacher.
I was not particularly concerned with the office politics at this point. All I wanted was a job in which my contract was honoured. I could not afford to break my contract because then I would have to pay for my flight to Korea and back, and I did not have enough money to do that. I figured the best thing would be to start looking for another job to see if I could somehow manage a smooth transition from one job to another.
This was not as easy as it sounded. Back in Canada, I could just quit and find a new job online; in Korea, my visa and apartment lease were tied to my employer. This was a normal practice. In order to switch to a new job I needed a “letter of release,” which was a note saying that my employer granted me permission to
2 Bert checked: there was nothing in the handbook about discussing pay with co-workers.
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look for a job somewhere else. Korean employers did not give this letter very often, especially if they felt that they had been slighted. Furthermore, if a school cancelled an employee’s visa, his/her apartment lease became due. Immigration would then issue an “exit order” and the employee had five days to leave the country, or else face the risk of deportation. Of course, because employees in this situation no longer had a lease, they also had nowhere to stay. This part in particular gave the Korean employer a lot of power and made it hard for ESL teachers to stay in the country to fight things through legal channels. Some experienced ESL teachers I knew said that this was one reason why some companies had such bad reputations, because they knew the laws were in their favour and it was also the reason why most teachers just ended up saying nothing and dealing with these things.
I was in a really bad situation. What should I have done? What should I do now?