Posted in Teaching Things

On Eikaiwa Schedules

Now that I’m back in the eikaiwa schedule, let’s talk about a few things real quick, mainly about how the irregularity of these schedules can be maddening.

I understand that everyone gets the warning in the application process that some people will get more hours than others, and that some days will be more busy than others. But holy hell, man, sometimes when I get home I’m just EXHAUSTED. And it occurs to me as I sit at home eating crap food because I feel like crap that these schedules are so freakin’ weird.

I get some of the schedule irregularities. It’s business and customer service oriented, so when we do taiken (trail) lessons then we need to set aside time for those. Alright, fine enough. But then there are times when I’m working a day of back-to-back classes and I go, “Gee, wonder why this turnover rate is so damn high?!”

I can understand wanting to keep customers happy, so you prioritize their time over the employees. But I also don’t understand why you’d fail so hard at scheduling things that your employees end up wanting to quit.

My hard day is Saturday, where-in I teach four back-to-back classes in the morning. This wouldn’t kill me if it weren’t for the following classes in the afternoon, which are all kids group classes. Young kids, as in toddlers and elementary school kids. The amount of energy required to “teach” them, as in play in English with them, is more than the energy I actually have in a week.

This particular schedule has cycled through three other people before me, all of whom based on those who worked with them, also hated the schedule. It was apparently a factor in one person leaving.

And I know for a fact many eikaiwas do this practice of impossible workloads with demanding time constraints because god forbid we pay you a full lunch hour instead of the allotted forty five or actually give you overtime hours for doing extra prep.

Nope, gotta keep them labor costs down.

I get that owning a business is difficult, keeping customers must be a difficult endeavor, but consistently making impossible schedules isn’t going to fix those problems. Making schedules that give little to no prep time means that students get little to no quality in classes, it means teachers having little to no energy to get through the day, it means students leaving because they’re paying for these lessons and they want good quality for what they pay.

In the case of this Saturday schedule, they’ve added more children into my toddler class. I can already foretell a trend of adding more students into other classes of mine. I guess that’s because I do good demos, perhaps because my class times are more convenient for moms. But a really obvious solution, one would think, is instead of adding more students into an already full-ish class or shoving make-up students all into this particular day, would be instead to hire one more teacher for the school.

But we can’t because gotta keep those labor costs down, right?

It drives me crazy to think about how often these schedules happen in eikaiwa work, and they’re needlessly bad. If you can tell on paper that a schedule is causing a turnover, then maybe it might be a good idea to, I dunno, fix it?

Or even prevent it from happening! “Prevention is worth a pound of cure,” is a quote I often think about when it comes to problem solving. If you already tell there’s going to be a problem, then do your best to prevent it from happening, and maybe you’ll be better off for it. It’s simple, but in the eikaiwa industry they often seem to shoot themselves in the foot and ruin good instructors by demanding too much with harsh schedules.

Essentially in giving instructors enough time to plan, enough time between classes for set-up, and that forty five minute break, the quality of lessons will be better. It seems like common sense, and yet I saw this in Coco Juku before this current eikaiwa. Schedules are often designed on some days to simply cram as many students in as possible. Once again, I understand the need for a customer base, but if you have more customers than instructors for classes, that’s an over-extension of resources no matter how you look at it.

Now in fairness I’m actually really, really lucky. My boss chose schools that were close to my apartment, so I’m not spending two hours on a train to go to and from a school. My Monday through Thursday hours aren’t back-to-back madness at all, mainly because I get a full hour of prep on these days. These schedules are well designed to maintain a regular customer base.

But all too often the consistent customer base isn’t a part of the “quotas” and “targets” of an eikaiwa school. Constant customer growth is higher on the ladder. Quotas and targets won’t keep customers coming back, instructors do. Allowing the system to ruin instructors is how eikaiwas go under, just look at NOVA for that reminder. Push people too hard and something will give, be it in the form of a one month notice or a lawsuit or an angry tirade on a blog…

I’m well aware that this post won’t really solve anything. I’ve already spoken with several people about the harshness of that Saturday, and everyone basically shrugs their shoulders and says, “Yeah, Saturdays man,” and go on with their lives. Also, it’s not like one day out of the week is gonna make me quit (lived in Japan for seven years now, please, I’ll be here a while longer).

And yet, I worry about the new people, the ones who came half way across the world to be instructors and might have way worse schedules. I worry about my friends who talk about their eikaiwa work where they get zero personal days, just days without pay, sometimes even a whole unpaid summer. Instructors in the eikaiwa industry have little incentive to stay loyal with any company what-so-ever, scheduling is just one of many factors that bothers me about this work.

Once again, I’m lucky. I work for a company with personal days, paid leave, insurance, so the basic non-slavery-like package deal. And yet, I can already see cracks in this foundation. I can already start to see parallels to problematic system practices. I wish that things could change.

What kind of changes? A cap on back to back classes would be a good start (like perhaps three-four), a minimal ten minute prep before each class, and a standard hour of a lunch break (because come on, everyone uses it for prep time, who are we kidding?). But I know those changes are never gonna happen. A person so low on the ladder is never gonna get the attention of the big administrators and the company heads, there’s just no way that’ll ever happen.

It’s nice to talk about it, though, at least just a bit.

 

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Life in Japan suits me, so I write about it.

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