Warning about Hess

For the benefit of anyone thinking about working for Hess that is with it enough to read this forum, I would say take some time to really think about it first. Obviously Hess is a big school, and different areas vary quite a bit, so I’m really just talking about Hess in the Hsindien(Xindian)/South Taipei area.

 When I first arrived at my branch, the teachers there told me that management wasn't all that great and that I should really think about it before continuing beyond the one month trial period. Of course, by that time I'd forked over a big chunk of money getting to Taiwan, getting an apartment and such and just wanted to start getting some money. Plus, there are always people that complain about their bosses, and given that buxibans are money-making enterprises, I didn't really expect that another school would be much better, so I stuck with it.

 Turns out I should have heeded their advice. The management of the area displays zero concern for teachers. I enjoy teaching most of the time, I get along really well with the staff and other teachers at the school, but I'm forking out the NT $20,000 fine to leave. 

 I doubt that one post is going to change anybody's mind about anything, but people thinking about working for Hess, think hard about taking a job that is going to charge you NT$20,000 for leaving. (Of course, you could wait until payday and then just leave. That would save you some money, but it is also a pretty inconsiderate thing to do to your fellow teachers.) I didn't really pay attention to previous posts about Hess because I have a tendency not to trust bitter posters with an axe to grind. I've got a nice new job (not teaching), and can live with paying the fine. Dont' assume that I'm some arrogant, lazy white face that is mad because I actually had to work. If you are set on working for Hess, stay away from the Hsintien area.

Anyway, fair warning.

Well just saying that the management wasn’t good doesn’t really help people does it? If you’re really warning people to stay away, you should say more about why you left. How was the management bad?
And by the way, I heard that Hess keeps a close eye on this forum. Maybe they can improve things if you make constructive criticisms.

“Well just saying that the management wasn’t good doesn’t really help people does it? If you’re really warning people to stay away, you should say more about why you left. How was the management bad?”

Fair enough. Let me clarify three things. 1. It wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t bear to stay there anymore. Had I not gotten a new, better job offer, I would probably have stayed (but mainly because the visa hassle and 20,000 fine were pretty unappealing.) 2. Actually I gave my employers a very specific list of things that they should consider fixing before I left, so I’ve made my constructive criticisms to them that may or may not be listened to. 3. My main point was to say that people that want to teach at Hess (or probably at any language school) need to listen to what the employees say before signing a contract with a 20,000 fine attached.

To be specific, I’m going to first repeat what I said earlier, that the management displays zero concern for teachers. Granted, that’s a pretty general and probably unhelpful statement, but it seemed to be the root of every problem I encountered. There were plenty of little problems, but one of the most bothersome was scheduling.

Scheduling seems like an area that they would at least ask teachers about. I can understand if scheduling doesn’t always work out the way a teacher would like it, but there is an expectation that teachers are available to work all the time. For example, it never occurs to them that assigning a person 6-8 hours of classes (often at different locations)spread out over a 12-13 hour work day might be less than ideal for the teacher that wants to either make money by working more or do something else with their time other than sit around waiting for their next class.

It would have made a difference if the people that make the schedules had at least asked me before planning everything. Their tactic is to plan the schedule and then give it to you a week before the next group of classes start. (They do the same thing with open houses, waiting until a few days before to tell you that they need you to do an open house, which is usually on Sunday, the one day of the week when you do not have classes.) Of course, by this time, there isn’t much you can do about a problem with the schedule. That is what I mean by “displays zero concern for teachers.” The way a particular decision might effect individual teachers is simply not on their list of factors to consider. Maybe that’s because they already have many other factors to consider, but the end result is still unfavorable to teachers.

Of course, how disconcerting you find scheduling depends on your reasons for coming to teach in Taiwan. If it is because you really want to teach and this is a good experience, or if it is because you want to work a lot and make money, I’d imagine you might be more willing to work whenever they want you to.

One of the most common things I heard from my bosses was that I might be really busy, but I was making lots of money. That’s another problem. Taiwanese management knows that you are making lots of money by Taiwanese standards, so I don’t think it really bothers them if they inconvenience you. After all, they are paying foreigners (that may or may not be qualified to teach) $500 an hour to teach. During the summer, I was teaching over 30 hours of classes per week that were often spread out from 8:00 in the morning until 8:30 at night. That’s $60,000 per month, which by Taiwan standards is pretty good. As far as I can see, the fact that they were paying me $60,000 a month justified the situation in their eyes.

By my standards, getting only 30 hours of pay per week and still finding myself with no time to pursue other things is not such a good deal.

Anyway, if there are any of you Hess folks out there, here are my specific suggestions:

1.Any scheduling decision that requires you to work 7 days in a week (i.e. Sunday open houses) should be completely optional. And the branch management should know this and not expect employees to work 7 days per week as a favor to them. In other words, if the employee doesn’t want to work on Sunday, they should accept it and find someone else, they should not continue to plead, guilt, threaten or whatever for another 5 minutes.

  1. Management should find a teacher willing to do an open house before promising all the parents that they will have one. Short-term planning is more flexible for management, but it puts teachers in the position of either doing the open house or not doing it and forcing Hess to reschedule, teachers should not be put in this position.

3.Summer classes should be limited to 30 hours per week, with anything over this optional.

  1. Teachers should be included in the scheduling process and should be consulted before final decisions are made.

One of the trickiest issues is setting limits for summer class hours. It is very easy to set a cap of 30 hours, but 30 hours could be good or bad depending on how they schedule the classes. (For example, having class from 8-12 then 1-3 would be really nice. Having class at 2:30-8:30 would be really nice too. Having 2-hour classes at 10:00, 2:00, and 6:40 is a real waste of a day.) Without some kind of concrete measure to limit the spread of classes, the best thing is really to let someone who actually cares about employees do the scheduling.

However, the large supply of jobless Western university graduates, the fact that most teachers leave after one year anyway, and the fine for breaking contract create a situation where the threat of employees leaving is not that great and there is little incentive to spend significant amounts of time being concerned over their job satisfaction.

Barring any huge changes, the best way to deal with this is to move scheduling decisions down to lower level people, possibly to the Head NST, who are more likely to care about the people whose schedules they are deciding.

You make some good points. I’ve seen similar instances of ignoring teachers’ preferences, ambiguity over what is mandatory and what is optional (in terms of work hours and extra activities), and little warning of schedule changes and obligations. I’ve worked in 5 different language schools in Taipei, and from my experience this is not just one company’s weakness. In my own experience and from what I’ve observed in other foriegn English teachers, the best situation for many is where the teachers have a foreign coordinator/manager who communicates to the teachers from the management. These managers may or may not have any influence on administrative decisions that effect you, but at least they usually can let you the teacher know the bottom line, things like whether or not you can get out of something, or how many hours you’ll be working in reality. Other teachers prefer the situation where they have almost no contact with the administration or other teachers, the kind of situation where you just need to show up to for class and that’s it.

I’ve asked here before if anyone worked somewhere that they could really brag about, a great place to work, and the response was minimal. Everyone just has to decide what they can live with and what they can’t stand, be it split hours, dealing with an unrealistic boss, using a less than ideal curriculum, relatively low pay, working Saturday mornings, or whatever.

Hess does seem to have been getting a bad press for some time (as long as I can remember!), and I wonder if that’s to do with unrealistic expectations on the part of teachers, or the fact that for many it will have been their first taste of a Taiwanese school. As ckvw points out, many of the criticisms levelled at Hess could apply to any school, and branches of the same school can show a wider variation in management styles than two entirely different schools. In response to “What school do you work at ?” the answer given was always “ELSI 4” or “Yong He Joy” - the location giving as much info as the name of the school.

I worked at Hess for four years. I was guaranteed 18 hours of normal kids classes (not kindergarten, which had only been going for a year when I left).
Hess policy at the time was that teachers were allowed to decline extra hours if they were offered. Usually people took them but in some cases where teachers said no to extra hours there was quite a lot of pressure to take the class when there was noone else who could take it. Many teachers didn’t even know they were technically allowed to say no. Policy must have changed since then - bad move.

Summer classes were optional too when I was there. It usually depended on the director of the branch, but if the director was being too tyrannical, head office was sometimes symathetic to the NST if they were being forced to take classes they didn’t want. I specifically remember a female teacher being told by the head NST at Mucha and by the director that she had to take a class. She complained to head office who agreed with her that she didnt have to take the class because she already had 18 hours/week. That must have been 1994-5 though!

[I worked at Jing-mei, and Mucha but also took a class at XinDien for a while on Sundays.]

and although it is probably the most demanding job i’ve ever had, you have to make an attitudinal adjustment. realize that you’ll be saving a LOT of money after only a month or two, and that there are so many advantages to living here - the food, the people, the new language, opportunity to travel, etc.

Some advice:
for one, specify from the onset that you want to teach bushiban/kindy AT THE SAME LOCATION. Or else you might spend a lot of time travelling, which sucks in this heat. Second, don’t stress too much about accommodation - you’ll probably find something better than you expected. third, these are great teachers, and my HNST in taipei county has been great and responsive. fourth, teach in taipei or taipei county - there are a lot more things to do socially, and you can always take a train elsewhere on the weekends.

kindy is hard! but you get attached to your kids and it eventually gets easier, as you hit a groove. 6 months - a year will start to fly by.

lastly, if you have a masters degree consider teaching at a university instead. you won’t have to work like a dog, and the pay’s about the same.

if you really don’t want a tough job, go to taipei and register for a class and just to ‘privates’, although these are apparently less consistent in salary.

some people don’t like hess’ rigid structure, but it tends to work, and this has been proven by their success. also they are about the only truly legit language school around! schools may hire you then tell you they can’t get an ARC for you - after your 2 months visa has nearly expired!

think about it!

As a long term resident of Taipei and one who has worked a number of different teaching establishments I find it funny to think that people think NT$60 000 is a load of money especially if your hours are spread over 6 days and 12+ hours a day. You would not catch me dead working that kind of arragenment.

Schools (and I use that term very losely) here have no concept of good business with education in mind. How can anyone excpect a teacher to perform well if they have their schedule spread out so much. Burnout is inevitable. Plus if you are pissing of your employees with por managemnet styles you will pay the price.

As for NT$500/hr that was what I got paid years ago. I will not acccept that kind of pay anymore. Hey everyone start demanding at least $600/hr.

I don’t know the mechanics of this, but I find it absolutely amazing that anyone would fork over NT$20,000 as a deposit to work at a school.
There are only about a hundred other places to work that don’t require this.
Very strange indeed.

Wolf, at Hess the NT$20,000 is not a deposit, it’s a fine if u quit before the contract is up. Of course, u can just take your money and run and people at Hess have done that and probably still do that, but then you don’t get a reference and you can’t work at Hess ever again, which is no great loss to most people.

True, you can work at loads of other places which don’t have the penalty but it does not seem to deter hundreds of new applicants every year.

I think Hess got pissed off with so many people giving them the run around i.e just quitting and leaving them without a teacher. Previously, you had to have proof u were up to date with all your taxes before you could get an exit visa which prevented people from simply disappearing. It wasn’t long after that proof was no longer required that the fine was introduced.

I think Hess should only fine if only short notice is given, like less than a month. In fact, the fine encourages people to quit without any notice. I gave a month’s notice and still had to pay the fine. I’m honest, but possibly also stupid.