The Truth About AEON: Part III

August 3, 2009

Ignorance

Often times, as was the case at my branch, the manager was completely unfamiliar with the contract signed by foreign staff. When I persisted in certain actions that I knew were allowed according to my contract, the manager always had to call headquarters in the end and be put in her place… they pointed out that “yes, he is right according to the contract.”

I hated doing things that way. I tried to explain that “this is what I signed up for, this is what I was told, and this is the way things will be according to Japanese law,” but was often shut down and contradicted; sometimes, I just went along to mollify things. In most cases, the requested work or action wasn’t any big deal, despite the fact it was against the contract. But sometimes… the amount of stubbornness and ignorance I witnessed was just staggering.

For this entry, each argument will have two pieces: one, the actual quotation from the AEON manual or contract, and two, what happened in my case.

AEON encourages teachers to develop friendships with students in a group situation. However, AEON discourages all teachers from having inappropriate, intimate relationships with AEON students, and in particular, teachers should not, under any circumstances, socialize with students under the age of 20 on a one-to-one basis.

I had met a new student in one of my high-level conversation classes (Odyssey), and invited her to come out to karaoke with my friends in Hiroshima next weekend. I passed her my email address when I was supposedly alone in the hallway. It didn’t take more than five minutes before the manager approached me, telling me one of the teachers saw me giving my email address to a student. I confirmed this, and explained the situation; according to the contract, I was entirely within my rights to socialize with a student.

“Going out with students is ok, but you can’t ask them in the lobby, or in front of other teachers…”

I was too surprised to react. Of course this was in complete contradiction to what I knew to be true… strangely hypocritical for an organization that supposedly encourages socializing. I can only conclude that management must not have liked the idea of me spending time with a female student, even in a group scenario. That’s the kind of mentality we see in Gaijin Ura Hanzai File – the innocent Japanese girl being corrupted by the dirty foreign dog.

1. The teacher’s contracted salary is based on a 29.5-hour workweek, which is a combination of teaching time and office duty hours. Breaks are not included in the workweek calculation. The 29.5-hour workweek consists of a maximum teaching time of 25 hours per week (1500 minutes, which is equivalent to thirty 50-minute lessons) with the remainder of the time spent in various office hours. Workdays may vary in their combination of teaching time and office duty hours.

2. The maximum teaching time is 25 hours per week. Teachers may be requested to teach over these limits. In such cases, all teaching time exceeding this limit is calculated as overtime. The number of classes may vary considerably from day to day or season to season. Whenever the teaching time exceeds 25 hours per week, the teacher will be paid the overtime rate for all hours or fractions of the hours…

3. Office hours include, but are not limited to, prospective student interviews, counseling, promotional activities, office maintenance, class preparation and other tasks necessary for the smooth operation of the school… Teachers are required to be in the office for their scheduled working hours. However, teachers may leave the office during their schedule breaks.

This is what we call a convenient loophole. Convenient for AEON, that is, in that they never pay their teachers overtime for certain extra “teaching time”. Let me explain – I mentioned that AEON has many campaigns, involving a host of different teaching materials which you are required to follow up on directly with students. This means that although you are, in every sense of the word, teaching students these materials in the 10-minute intervals between classes, you are not considered “teaching” under the contract, and are not paid for overtime if enough of these sessions occur.

To repeat: you are teaching, and not getting paid for it. In fact, during some busy months, you can have these student meetings after almost every class all week, amounting to a few hours extra work.

In addition, there is an aspect of Japanese culture you’ll just have to adapt to; I’m not complaining about this, because I understand it’s necessary if you work in Japan. I’m referring to cleaning up. Many Japanese businesses, even big ones, do not hire janitors or cleaning staff to tidy up after hours. As a result, employees are expected to take out the trash, vacuum, replace the air vents, clean the bathrooms, etc. Even in Japanese schools, students have a cleaning break to wipe the boards and sweep the floor.

At AEON, this cleaning time does add up, especially if you have to wait until the last student leaves the building before you can begin doing things that are not for the public’s eyes (cleaning, you dirty thinkers). I just wish they would put this time on your work schedule as part of your office hours, since you are required to stay and do your part. I have written documentation that management asked me on multiple occasions to stay after 9:00 PM (scheduled working time), and clean the boards in what was legally my off time.

Management may tell you have to wait until every last student leaves before you can start doing your “required” cleaning work. AEON headquarters would disagree with this – your working time is only on the schedule, which does not include time after your last class. If they want you to stay during this time, ask them to schedule it from your office hours. Doing so will seem petty and incur the wrath of everyone at your branch, so you pretty much have to stay in your own time if you want your coworkers to at least act cordial.

The time after the last class was probably the source of greatest dispute I had with management. I knew I was free. Yet I was told otherwise. And when headquarters informed them I was correct, I was told I had to behave according to my branch’s rules anyway if I “wanted a good recommendation”; it was such a flimsy threat I was lucky I didn’t die laughing on the spot. I later found out no one from your branch school is responsible for writing your final recommendation letter (although you can request it).

You are told you need to do your part with cleaning the building.
This is true, but if they want you to clean after the last class at 9:00 PM, inform them it should be scheduled as office hours. If they are unwilling to do that, kindly explain that the cleaning will be done the next day during scheduled work time.

You are told you cannot leave until the last student leaves
See previous statement. I was also a little frustrated with this “request” because some teachers knowingly kept their classes 20-30 minutes late at times. If they want to work late, that’s fine, that’s their decision, but it shouldn’t affect my working hours. This is also true for teachers talking to students in the lobby after class… again, have these long conversations in your own time if you expect the other staff to stick around; this isn’t about being rude to students and trying to avoid personal conversations, it’s about freedom. If you tell me I cannot leave the building until all the students are gone, and then condone other teachers keeping students in the building after hours, sparks are going to fly.

Completely unrelated to this argument – working hours. 29.5. Why? Because, according to Japanese law, if you work over 30 hours you are a full-time worker, and entitled to full-time benefits (and on the reverse, different taxes, of course). Still, management just stared me in the face when I explained this to them.

“According to Japanese law, I am a part-time worker.”
“No, you are not. You are full time teacher.”
“No, not according to the law.”
“Why are you saying this?”

Because it’s important for all parties to understand that. No amount of insistence or stubbornness will change that fact. And if I am a part time worker, I should not be coerced into working extra hours unless you want to face the consequences of employing me as a full-time worker.

Other part-time workers in Japan have had it much worse; everyone knows unpaid overtime is as natural as having black hair in Japan. Some were working 40-50 hour/weeks while still under a part-time contract. No health insurance. Part-time wages. No assistance for childcare. There have been some attempts to improve this, but I believe it’s still rather rampant.

Management will assign break periods within the business day. Teachers are free to leave the office during their breaks, provided they notify the Branch Manager before leaving the office, they clock out/in on the Time Recorder, and return prior to their scheduled time. The Branch Manager may ask the teacher to reschedule break times for other periods during the same week. This may be for attending workshops, trainings or classes.

During my first few weeks, perhaps just under two months, at AEON, I didn’t really leave the office during my scheduled break times. I went out to grab lunch or a snack, brought it back, and ate at my small desk while studying Japanese or making weekend plans. This was entirely my decision; I didn’t want the other staff to believe I was a slacker and would be adhering to the exact numbers in the work schedule (that later changed when respect stopped being given from both sides).

In my first schedule, I had at least one two-hour break on a given day. My manager asked if she could reschedule this particular break to a different day – turning one two-hour break into two one-hour breaks. From her tone I thought I could negotiate a slightly different time, and asked her if I would be possible to make a new break the next day:

“Could you move one hour to tomorrow? I need to pay some bills at the post office; they’re due tomorrow.” (true, I should have signed up for a bank account withdrawal)
“Oh, break time is not for paying bills. You can leave, but you have to stay close to the office.”

Again. Utter stock. This is on verge of stupidity, and it would not stand this time. I wasn’t going to argue the point that day, but that kind of lie (or at least ignorance) told to foreign teachers did prompt me to take full advantage of all the break time I had scheduled in the future. I don’t think my manager ever believed me when I told her I was free to do as I chose during scheduled off hours; it took a meeting with my trainer to convince her otherwise (maybe not even really convince her, but at least get her to stop forcing the issue).

a. Employees earn one Employee Designated Paid Vacation day for every two-month period of work, or five days per year, calculated from the beginning of the third month from the starting date of the current contract. Therefore, the teacher can submit a request for the dates of two of these five Employee Designated Paid Vacation days within the first six months of work. Beginning with the seventh month of employment, the teacher may request dates for all unused Employee Designated Paid Vacation days.

b. The company may ask that the teacher make changes to his/her requested vacation days if those dates fall on days that are crucial to the smooth business operations of the company. In such cases, teachers should submit a second request for other desired vacation dates. The company encourages the teachers to take their vacation days on those dates that immediately precede the Company Designated Vacation periods. The company encourages teachers not to request Employee Designated Paid Vacation days during the last two weeks of their contract. This period is a crucial time for departing teachers to conduct their final lessons and prepare for a smooth transition with incoming teachers.

“The company encourages the teachers to take their vacation days on those dates that immediately precede the Company Designated Vacation periods.” If AEON is referring to the days preceding Obon (national holiday week in August) and Shogatsu (New Year’s national holiday week), this is true – you are free to request days before these holidays and generally have them granted. This is how I was able to go home over Christmas. AEON has blackout days which cannot be used for vacation before Golden Week.

However, the “Company Designated Vacation periods” include days off, which were Sundays and Mondays in my case. Requesting Saturday off was never a possibility. I asked on multiple occasions – when my family was coming to visit for one week only, when I had to do a job interview, and Saturday was the only day available, when I wanted to attend the last days of the Sapporo Snow Festival… completely inflexible.

I know Saturday is a busy day for a school that caters to children, but if you don’t want teachers to request it, don’t say they can. Don’t lead them into believing they can request any dates not on the company blackout list – it’s just plain deception.

Even when these restricted vacation days were granted (again, never on Saturdays), I was told I could not explain to my students why I was leaving; I had to tell them I was going to an “official AEON business meeting, and was very sorry… but I have urgent business.” Wow. For lack of a rational answer, what is wrong with this company?

This goes back to the great divide between employee and manager expectations. Teachers come over here with the promise of:

Why not spend the next year (or more!) teaching in Japan, skiing the Japanese Alps, exploring Japan (not to mention Thailand, Cambodia, Australia, and China), and eating amazing food all while gaining valuable professional and life experience?

Managers accept new teachers in their branch on the condition that their hearts are in one place, and one place alone: the well-being and betterment of the company. I don’t think this is the case for any foreign teacher in Japan. No one comes solely for the purpose of being a part-time worker or an English teacher (nothing against teaching, I just think your interests should lie a little deeper). We come to travel, to learn, to explore, to socialize, to evolve. AEON doesn’t want to hear this, nor do they want you to spread such “dangerous” facts to the student population. This was the case during my experience, anyway.

Send comments my way. Wow, this entry really was bitter and biased. All fact and heart mixed together.

The Truth About AEON: Part I
The Truth About AEON: Part II
The Truth About AEON: Part III
The Truth About AEON: Part IV
The Truth About AEON: Part V
The Truth About AEON: Part VI
The Truth About AEON: Part VII

2 Responses to The Truth About AEON: Part III

  1. mee on November 2, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    hi, i worked for AEON in 2004 and i am now trying to get another contract with them (my interview is this weekend in vancouver). do you know anything about past teachers re-applying? is AEON harder on us or easier?

    any info would be great. i like your postings by the way.

    thanks!!

  2. Turner on November 3, 2010 at 5:44 am

    I would imagine they’d be more inclined to hire you if you have your recommendation letter from 2004 and as long as you originally had the offer to renew. But I don’t know anything firsthand, sorry.

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