Like any private business, AEON has a certain obligation to maintain sales goals, recruit new clientele, and focus only on the yen at times. This is entirely understandable. I repeat: I understand AEON's need to be concerned with money; they have to have enough to pay employees, print new materials, cover the utilities, and recruit new members.
However, I disagree with how they lie to their employees regarding such intentions. Not just shadow or subtly conceal: lie.
From the beginning, in the initial briefing in your home country, you are told you are being brought into Japan to be a teacher, a cultural representative, a being free to explore Japanese culture in the manner you choose. This is a half-truth. AEON completely glosses over the work outside of the classroom, the work that is expected to be your priority, more so than any experiences you have with students: sales.
How can I explain this fairly...? Your manager will consider the time you spend outside the classroom recruiting students and promoting campaigns paramount. After all, once students have signed a contract, AEON has their money; after that, there is little more to do than ensure their happiness, so they can buy other materials in the future.
Recruiting new students is a fairly common event, especially during the month of April. When prospective students enter a branch of AEON, they are expected to see foreign teachers conversing happily with students in the lobby, the manager bowing and greeting them, and English materials all around.
It is inevitable that you'll be asked to conduct interviews during your time with AEON. It's rather simple, and quite friendly: introducing yourself to students, talking about yourself, getting them to talk about themselves, assessing their English level...
The entire interview is framed around you telling the student their English level is very good, and you hope you can see them in class at AEON very soon, so you can talk again. Sales goal accomplished.
But regardless of whether you know (based on your teaching experience) a student would fit perfectly in a certain class, you don't get the final word. Students can choose any class they like as long as they are willing to pay. Of course, management can inform them “the foreign teacher said you would do best here...” but the final decision is that of the student; thrust enough cash at AEON, and you can be in the highest conversation class regardless of whether you speak at a high school level.
This can be especially frustrating if you're asked to do private lessons for children who have absolutely no English skills; their parents just want to force some English into them by any means necessary, and AEON is happy to oblige. Many (depending on circumstances, of course) do not want to be there and will do everything in their power to disrupt lessons.
I can’t go into details as to the specific campaigns AEON promotes (mainly due to fear of reprisal – if you want the details, email me). Essentially, there are many different materials students can purchase, from listening CDs, to writing workshops, to English books related to different jobs.
"Teachers" are asked to think of their students ahead of time, to consider which materials would be best for them. This is ignoring the fact that some students can barely afford to attend class in the first place, let alone splurge on extra materials. This is also ignoring the fact that some professionals do not have the time to spend an extra hour or two using these materials at home.
Let me give you an example: one time, I had two high school students who had purchased two different material sets and fallen out of the habit of doing them. On instructions from my manager, I asked them when they could finish. They're high school students, and told me they were very busy (it was exam time). I understood, and relayed the message, promptly being told they had no choice in the matter: they bought the materials, and we had an obligation to make sure they finished, regardless of whether they wanted to or not. I should point out these girls were acting of their own accord – they didn't have to report to their parents. The school was completely in the dark about facts of life like financial responsibility, and necessary downtime.
But regarding the deception – it is quite obvious what we're trying to do: namely, sell students extra often times unnecessary materials to raise money. Management will tell you otherwise:
"This is not a business thing."
"This is so fun."
"This is not only money, this is an educational thing."
"Maybe you can 'remember' students who need [campaign materials]."
"We are doing [campaign] because of not money, we are doing it for our students' satisfaction."
Strange that they would try so hard to convince you that this is for students rather than putting money into the corporation. Although this may be a popular method for "advertising" campaigns to foreign teachers, the truth comes out in a crunch:
"They won't buy [campaign] in the future." (when my consultation didn't result in a sale)
"If they didn't buy [campaign], it means they didn't agree with that or they didn't understand." (inconceivable that some students have financial or other hardships)
"Sugoi, ne!!" (in response to my knowing the prices of some campaign materials)
"That's not the pretty side of it, but its true." (AEON trainer regarding campaign sales)
My concern, again, is not so much that this occurs at AEON, but that they misrepresent your purpose in coming to Japan. All of the training and interviews you do in your native country reveal nothing about selling materials, checking up on previous materials sold, and taking time away from office hours and between classes (technically not "teaching hours" – will discuss this in a later entry) to do such things.
This is a little more understandable, not as strongly focused on sales. Naturally, you want feedback from your students every so often regarding how they feel about class, if they want to change anything, what they enjoy most, how they practice at home...
Every few months or so, AEON employees are asked to meet with these students for a short talk about their performance in class and any concerns they might have in a meeting.
Usually, these meetings do not result in any sale whatsoever – they are merely to check up on pupils and open a dialogue with the instructor.
However, if a student has a contract with AEON ending in the near future, employees are asked to schedule a meeting to determine if they would like to continue with AEON, or finish out their contract (usually scheduled as a meeting with the teacher, then followed by a consultation with management).
Teachers are asked to provide a list of students' strengths and weaknesses in their respective classes. They are also required to list more strengths than weaknesses, even if the student may be struggling. In this manner, we can show them that AEON alone is responsible for their "great improvement with the English language", but ooohhh... there are still a few things they need to work on... why not start a new contract, sign up for another class?
This is nothing short of harassment of students at times. The worst thing I was ever asked to do was to try and sell materials to a woman about to give birth. Management wanted the details as to when she would return to AEON, and have me try to convince her to buy as many English-teaching materials as I could during her long absence. This was absolutely despicable.
...one of the first things I was told about counseling upon arrival at my new school:
"Of course, even if they are perfect, we must tell them they need to improve, so we can get money."
These are facts when you work at AEON, not open to interpretation. I have tried to convey them without any bitterness, but as you've read, it can be difficult as times.
However, I will say this: all these actions are a result of a blind corporate following. Managers push sales and campaigns so hard because headquarters pressures them; their jobs are to ensure sales goal are met, and they have no choice but to push these values onto the foreign staff at times.
This is where we see the main breakdown in communication; for although managers are entirely within their rights to make such requests to AEON employees, they don’t understand why we might be hesitant or confused at such requests. Managers weren’t there for the initial briefing, the information session, the interviews, the week of training in Okayama (for AEON West Japan) – they have no reason but to expect 100% blind obedience for work required. Ignorance on both sides: what foreign teachers are expected to do, and what managers are within their rights to do. This will be the topic of my next entry.
Send comments, open a dialogue.
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