Hi everyone. I just want to pass along a warning to those of you in Taipei (or abroad) that have been tempted to get a job with the buxiban in Taipei called Rich English. They are the slimiest school in all of Taipei (and probably Taiwan).
Rich English is owned by a British guy named Richard (Rich) Mark Newell and operated by his Taiwanese "wife" Laura Lin Newell. They were located (when I left) right near Zhongshan Junior High School MRT station. Rich and Laura are, without a doubt, the two biggest crooks that I have ever met, withholding salaries, stealing tax payments, and pretty much failing to meet any of the requirements they put for in their own "contracts". Rich spent most of his time out of Taiwan, either back home in the UK or in Thailand. He left his "wife" Laura in Taiwan to run the business for months and months at a time, sometimes only coming back once a year. Sounds like he really cared about his school.
I first came to Taiwan in 2007 with a job secured at Rich English. I got the job after having a phone interview with both Laura and Rich. After the interview, I was expecting to be emailed my contract to have a look at to make sure it wasn't ridiculous. I wasn't told what hours I would be working, what kinds of material I would be teaching, or really anything about the job. I was a bit concerned, so I emailed Laura and asked to email me my contract. "Oh no, we can't email you that." What?? Did they really expect me to just show up in Taiwan without having and viewed the terms and conditions of my employment? Not happening. I eventually got her to Fedex me my contract (she still wouldn't email it).
After viewing my contract, I decided to take the job solely based on the salary. The contract was for 2 years, and the salary was astronomical for Taipei. I would be making $100,000 NT a month, almost double the normal English teaching salary. The rest of the contract was a bit draconian with ridiculous non-compete clauses and things (I apparently couldn't even work in Taipei for like 5 years after completing my contract with them), but I decided to give it a go. I didn't really notice things that were absent in the contract which would later bite me in the ass - they didn't stipulate my hours, only that I would have no more than 30 hours of classes a week.
Things started to go wrong pretty quickly after I got there. First, when I went to sign my contract, they gave me a "new and improved" version of my contract...this time for 3 years. So, basically I had to sign a 3 year contract or nothing at all. Great.
Now let me tell you what their idea of "Training" is. Instead of actually being taught and trained in their specific teaching method, I was forced to either sit at the back of a class and observe (there is basically an audience of parents at the back of each class at this school, and I was made to sit amongst them and watch) or I had to sit in a little closet thing they had and watch countless hours of videos of former teachers teaching. I wasn't told what sort of things to watch out for, wasn't given a primer on the methodology....nothing. Just sit and watch. As with most Taiwanese schools, it's not the quality of time spent at work..it's the quantity that makes a "good employee." I was expected to somehow absorb the teaching method through osmosis and be a perfect replica of Rich. If I mentioned that I could be doing more useful things, I was belittled by Laura who used the excuse that it was what Rich wanted me to do. Funny, I didn't think Rich was in the country giving orders. She would use that line anytime there was any hint of disagreement, as if Rich's word was the word of Jesus Christ himself.
I had my first real argument with Laura a few weeks in about my hours. I was on salary, not hourly pay. I figured that if I had finished teaching for a day, finished all my lesson plans, finished all my marking and everything, that it was alright for me to go home. My contract stipulated that I wouldn't have more than 30 hours of classtime a week, plus lesson plannig time. There was nothing in my contract about finishing times, just starting times. But noooo....apparently I was meant to go and watch more videos, even though my official “Training” had come to an end. Laura would always use this “video” excuse to make myself and the other teachers do busywork, even two years in. By the time I quit, I was still being made to watch “training videos” as a way to keep me from going home and enjoying life. I was made to stay unil 10pm each night, even though my classes and other work was often finished by 6 or 8 pm. If I left earlier than that, even after finishing the assigned videos, I would find that my salary would mysteriously be days or weeks late the next month. So the 30 hours in my contract turned into 60-70 hours, 6 days a week.
I also learned from the other teachers and from my land lord that Laura basically likes to spy on the western teachers and surreptitiously find out everything about their personal lives...even going so far as to check up with their landlords to find out who was coming and going and that sort of thing. Scary stuff, but I needed the money.
The money, however, was always late. Laura somehow always found the money to make sure she could keep up with her affluent lifestyle, but the teachers were never paid on time. I began to learn more and more about the history of the school from the other teachers and learned that this was nothing new. The older teachers (2 of which had been there for 7 years) said that they never were paid on time, but the money always ended up coming at one point or another, sometimes a month late. Turns out the teacher I replaced was suing Laura and Rich because they still owed him a lot of money. No teacher has ever left this school on good terms.
When I tried to contact Rich about the salary situations, Laura would fly into a tirade about how we went behind her back and blah blah blah, like it was our fault that we weren't getting paid. Rich played the good cop to Laura's bad cop, blatantly lying through his teeth that he didn't know a thing about it and that he would try and sort out the problem. Nothing was ever sorted out and pay came even later and was broken up into installments.
When Rich was in the country, salary was often used as a punishment. One teacher was a big scatter brained and didn't write his lesson plans in the exact Rich English way. Why? Because he was NEVER trained how to do it. I overheard Laura telling Rich this, and Rich said "Well, we'll just have to punish him and withhold his salary." WHAT?? I couldn't believe me ears, but he had said it loud and clear. Utterly despicable.
Turns out that they were doing extremely dodgy things with the tax office as well. I had my tax paid up for my first year there, but one of the other teachers went to the tax office and was told he owed around $70,000 NT! Rich English had told him they were taking out the proper amount of money, but either to do them stealing it or general ineptitude, this teacher was SOL. They way they operated the business was extremely dodgy as well. The school was two floors, and we apparently had to get two different work permits to correspond. Funny thing was, though, that they registered the second floor as a publishing company (presumably for their resources which weren't published on site). Nevermind the fact that the second floor had 3 classrooms and 2 offices and no publishing stuff. They apparently did this to get around certain taxes.
Working hours were still shit, schedules left to the whim of Laura and Rich who loved to play little power games with the teachers. Rich once described his management philosophy to me, and he made no qualms about the fact that he stongly believed in office hierarchy and that he shouldn’t have to trouble himself with the lower level teachers and their problems. I can see the logic of this in a major company, but there were, at that point, THREE westerners at the school including himself! He was so caught up in his little private world that he couldn’t see it crumbling around him. Two teachers had now quit...the most recent one quit after 7 years when Laura got into a screaming match with him and claimed that his wife was a “sabotaging bitch” who was trying to run the company into the ground. Really? I’m not sure any wife would do that to their husbands source of income. Needless to say, his salary was late too and they owed him two months salary by the time he went to the Labor Department. He was also owed a shit load of previous contract bonuses.
Side note: Each of our contracts has a contract completion bonus clause in it. It stipulatest that at the end of your contract, Rich English would pay you a monthly bonus for a set period of time totaling in a set amount. My contract completion bonus was something like $475,000 NT, paid over 15 months. The other teachers had similar bonuses. Now, each of the contracts were for 2 or 3 years, and since some of the teachers had already been there for 7 years and completed those contracts, they were owed their contract completion bonus in addition to their salary. Laura and Rich, however, thought that was something the teachers might have forgotten about so they refused to pay it. Big mistake....they were immediately sued by the teacher I replaced who was owed close to $1 million NT in bonuses. They just weren’t going to pay him. It happened with all the teachers before...they just expect that once a teacher finishes his contract, he’ll leave the country and will have no chance to get their money. They weren’t expecting that this one teacher would marry a Taiwanese woman and stay in the country. They were gong to get their comeuppance, big time.
Then winter 2008 came along. I was the only teacher they had left since the rest of them quit in disgust. I needed to stay and save money (I figured that even if pay was stupidly late and getting paid in installments, it was still more money than if I had gone to another school). December came around, and there was no money to be seen. January came, and still no money. Where the hell was my goddamn salary? When payday came around, Laura didn’t even say a single thing. It was like I was just supposed to ignore it and continue working. I was still expected to stay and work 60-70 hours, 6 days a week...most of it mindless tasks that she thought up on the spot to keep me busy. Rich was around more often now because he needed to pick up the extra classes that were left teacher-less after the quittings. New classes were being opened, class tuition was being paid, I even saw one parents hand Laura $100,000 NT to pay for her 4 children’s tuition. That would have paid off one month of my late salary. But no. Where was it going????
Into secret bank accounts. Laura and Rich were being sued by the former teacher owed his contract bonuses, and it was not looking good for them. It was a pretty open and shut case seeing as how Laura and Rich blatantly disregarded the law and their own contract. So they were hiding the money in bank accounts that the government didn’t know about. Oh, and they were remodeling a new school that we were going to move into. Really?? They had enough money to design and build a new school but not pay me or the Taiwanese staff our salaries?? They had enough money to pay for a ridiculously expensive Feng Shui master to come and do up the old school that was going to be shut down anyway? They had enough money to take hour long taxi rides into work each morning? They had enough money to take vacations to Thailand? But still, no money for their employees. I showed up for work one day having sold my scooter to pay my rent. Laura had the gall to ask why I wasn't driving to work that day, so I told her "I didn't drive today because I had to sell my scooter to pay my rent because you won't give me my salary." I said this in front of her secretary, making her lose huge amounts of face. As most of you probably know, this was a huge blow to any Taiwanese person. They are obsessed with the concept of "face" and would probably jump off a bridge before losing it. I then overheard Laura telling the secretary in Chinese that she thought I was a liar. I had picked up Chinese early on, but Laura still didn't know that I understood what she was saying. I had had enough.
I was fed the most bullshit excuses and lies by Rich and Laura. They knew damn well that they had enough money to pay my salary, but they just wouldn’t shell out. After three months of no money, I quit. I had had enough of their lies and deceit. I wasn’t going to stick around when the government came and asked where all the taxes they owed were. The day after I quit, I got a phone call from a desperate and psychotic Laura. I was a bit apprehensive to even pick up the phone. Previous teachers who had quit had the mafia show up at their door, been intimidated and roughed up. I was leaving the country now, though, so it didn’t matter to me. She made demands that I come back to work, and I told her that I would only come back if she deposited all of the money I was owed into my bank account. I didn’t ask for a single penny more, made no other demands. Not a chance in hell that was going to happen. “What about the children? Are you just going to abandon them?” Maybe you should have thought about that before you decided to break loads of laws and alienate your staff Laura. I actually felt that the kids would be better off if I left Rich English because then they could go to the school that the previous teacher who quit had opened up to compete with Rich English. They would get a better education than Rich (who now had to take my classes) could give them, and I could figuratively spit in Laura and Rich’s face. One thing I forgot to mention was that kids at Rich English didn’t really get a good English education at all. Rich had devised (or stole) a teaching method he thought was great and revolutionary, but it was crap. It relied solely on the threat of punishment for the kids if they did things incorrectly. They were humilitated in front of the class, made to do loads of writing punishments for getting things wrong, and were constantly under loads of peer pressure. I subtly changed a lot of the methodology to incorporate real TEFL methods and a more friendly and comfortable environment...more carrot and a lot less stick. That’s why so many of the parents liked me. They saw how much better their children performed on tests in my classes and they didn’t want to go back to the old ways of iron-fisted rote learning. The other teacher who opened up a competing school also taught in more grounded TEFL methods, and he had an influx of students when I quit.
It is now going on 7 months since I left Taiwan and I am still owed around $250,000 NT. I went into a labor dispute with the Labor Department in Taipei, but so far I have only received $20,000 NT, with another promised $40,000. That’s almost $200,000 NT that I’ll probably never see.
It turns out that the new school they had done up has already been closed by the government due to fire safety hazards and the fact that they owe loads of taxes. The Taiwanese government isn’t as receptive to bribes anymore, especially when the briber doesn’t actually pay. They’ve been cracking down on corruption, and Rich English’s new school seems to have been hit hard. Last I heard, they were renting a classroom somewhere near Zhongshan Junior High School MRT. They can’t go back to either of the two school sites they had before because the landlords want nothing to do with them. Every single one of the teachers that has worked at Rich English has left on a bad note and every single one of them cites the management as the reason. The kids were great, most of the Taiwanese staff was great, but the school was run so illegally and so ineptly that it was almost impossible to work there. I would never have quit like I did at a normal job. I would have given notice and followed the proper channels. However, I was lied to so much and so often, treated like shit every second of working there (and that was certainly better treatment than any of the other teachers just because most of the students at the school where my students), that I wasn’t going to give them any better than they gave me.
So, to conclude, thanks for listening to my rant and please, please, please stay away from this school unless you want to work for free and like to deal with evil management. The salary was what drew me to this school, but in the end, I didn’t even get that.