Monday, July 02, 2007

The Truth About AEON: Part II

Salesmanship

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.

Interviews

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.

Campaigns

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.

Counseling

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

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

man up and speak your mind, fella. there are countless ex-eikaiwa employees on the net, let alone current ones. www.letsjapan.org fer chrissakes...

ターナー said...

It's not a question of that - it's whether AEON will pursue legal action because of these postings.

Trust me, I still have a lot more to say, but speaking my mind is what caused trouble in the first place; this blog isn't a place to rant or rave, rather a ground to present rational arguments for or against a cause.

Shari said...

FWIW, I think there's far more value in a relatively dispassionate yet thoughtful piece on the facts rather than a rant. Rants don't really educate anyone and tend merely to be cathartic for the writer and vicariously so for readers.

This was quite enlightening. I had no idea that AEON used materials sales as a method of generating more revenue nor that teachers were pushed to council students rather strongly with an eye toward sales.

In your opinion, what would have happened if a teacher performed the reviews and interviews but refused to mislead the student or encourage him or her to sign up again or buy more materials?

酔っ払い先生 said...

I worked for AEON for two years and I am pretty sure I had no contract stipulating what I could say anyway, totally agree with the sales campaigns let me give further details
AEON self study campaign is all about making money and not about students progress each school is given a goal to reach for its self-study promotion and staff must try to acheive that goal if they do they get a cash prize or if they don't they get picked on by telephone or in person by area managers. The pressure is immense each week faxes come through showing league positions to 'motivate' teachers. E ach teacher at my school was told to give a list of students that should buy self study materials and a letter was wrote to each signed by the foreign or japanese teachers, the sales staff would then push the student into buying them, other techniques included masking the books in the price for newly signing up students so targets could be made...this was not only adults but for kids to..although I think kids did get a lot from these books whereas adults didn't. At my school students had to take a test from each level of the book to proceed and I was told I was being too strict that if the students didn't pass they would lose confidence and also not buy the next book in the series, the Japanese staff would sell books the students couldn't complete but passed them in speaking tests anyway.

The worst thing was that the staff always used our names as endorsements of the product, it was the ulitmate endorsement, as the manager told me they know that we are trying to sell them books but if it comes from you they trust you more.

I don't blame the staff at the school for trying to do their job, AEON is after all a business masquerading as English school and we shouldn't really forget that, but the problem lies in the pushy nature of the management above school level and right to the top where a culture of success in money drives everything

Anonymous said...

I worked for Aeon and I really disliked the selling aspect of the job. I saw my students cajoled into joining lucrative classes, even when there was no educational necessity for them to change. I was also asked to counsel some particular students - generally single working men with disposable income - on an embarrassingly regular basis. I know that obviously a business has to make a profit, but I felt it really compromised the teachers' position with the students. Money matters should be left to the management team.

ターナー said...

Exactly, that's cutting to the heart of the matter - management exploiting your good relationship with students to accomplish a sales goal, pushing you to do things neither you nor the student want. If they adopted a more laid-back attitude, they might lose sales from campaigning, but gain more students due to the more comfortable atmosphere.

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, yes. Absolutely true. Here are a couple of memorable quotes from my salestastic Aeon experience;

* "The purpose of the interview is not to do a level check - it is to have the students sign up for lessons with Aeon."

And, perhaps even more telling;

* "When you're sick, who would you take advice from - the doctor or the nurse? Teachers are the like the doctors at Aeon - so with the -campaign- materials, the recommendation means more coming from you."

J said...

At my branch, and back in my day,sales pressure within AEON was enormous. During "campaigns," teachers were asked to draw up "attack lists" for 2-3 students per class, that would then be attacked (given the hard sell) in the lobby as soon as class was over. By two or sometimes three staff members. And yes, the teacher's (read: my) name would be used as leverage to get the materials sold.

Incidentally, the materials offered during campaigns/for self-study consisted of pre-existing books one could walk down the street and buy for 1/10th the price--but the inflated in-house pricetag came with "special worksheets" that would then be graded with comments by native teachers.

Even outside campaigns, though, was the constant pressure that came from maintaining a certain position in terms of sales with other schools. I know for a fact that the manager and several top Japanese staff would pay out of their own pockets for blocks of one-on-one lessons (the most costly kind) in order to inflate sales figures. I know this because I saw the folders showing exactly who had paid for what, and on a few occasions was called upon to provide some of the lessons that had been paid for--and precious few of them had actually been used.

Anonymous said...

Please allow me to be the dissenting voice here. I definitely agree with most of your points. The pressure put on the manager (and also the Japanese teaching staff) is ridiculous. The regional offices don't have much concern for students as they deal more with balance sheets and quarterly reports than with teaching. However, I was relatively unpressured to sell materials to students. Managers or teachers might remind me that one route might be more profitable for the school, but in the same breath I was always told that my recommendation should reflect what I thought was best for the student. It may have just been that I had a good branch manager and head teacher, but I felt like while they were under pressure to meet sales goals, they still managed to keep the best interest of the students in mind.

Anonymous said...

I worked for Aeon for just over three years. During my last six months I spent three months at two different branches.

Regarding the interviewing and level placement of new students, I can't remember an occasion when I was over-ruled about level placement. However, during the first year I may have consulted with the head teacher as I wasn't very confident then about placing students at first, as I didn't know the textbooks well-enough.

As for the "self-study" campaign, many students would buy additional materials at bookstores anyway, but often I suspect not those best suited for their needs. This campaign is a good opportunity for teachers to help their students recommend something more suitable.

Another poster rightly makes the point that the materials in the campaign were much more expensive than they would be if they were bought down the book shop. However, the additional cost is for paying for the coaching - helping the student by checking their homework and encouraging them - by the native or Japanese teacher.

When it came to the price, I could explain to students that they were paying for the materials AND my time, and over a say two month course, they could benefit from an extra five or ten minutes chat in English. In that sense, these course are actually excellent value.

I would sometimes meet wingeing colleagues who would complain that they were teachers, not sales people. They seem to have missed the point. I thought their students were being ripped off, but not because of the school, but because those teachers weren't working hard enough. They were so hypocritical!

My friend once said: 'Don't come here looking for something you can't find at home!' You don't get something for nothing in the west, so don't go to Japan looking for that!

It's about finding a happy medium. I found my colleagues - management and teaching - hard-working and trying to do the right thing. I did my best for my students, in terms of preparation, counselling, chatting between classes and self-study. I don't think our students got a good deal.

Anonymous said...

Wow. You sound like a trainer or an automaton who has been successfully brainwashed by AEON's double-speak.

First of all, AEON does exploit your non-teaching time and never paid me for any overtime promotion activities.

Second, On a daily basis, I was asked to "make the student" buy into a newer and more expensive contract.

In addition, most of the students I taught from start to finish of the contract were constantly being misplaced due to our spirits goals.
Because my professional recommendations were usually ignored and the sales team ultimately decided when and where the class changes would take effect, I just smiled and did the best I could to deliver the lessons each student signed up for.

Moreover, the trainers I met were sometimes honest, but they usually compromised their integrity on a daily basis to secure their job and future promotion.

I have a MA in Education and a teaching credential; so I feel confident in saying that practices of AEON are unethical. They manipulate employees and students alike with shame, fear of reprisals, and peer pressure to not be the nail that sticks out.

Here's something to chew on: Why would three--American and Japanese --of seven employees go on forced medical leave due to anxiety and stress in the work place? After seeing my co-worker strain himself into un-remedied anxiety attacks resulting from his attempts to follow all managerial directives for overtime and sales, I quickly decided to turn off my cell-phone during non-work times. Unlike him, I didn't get called back daily into work to do an interview or a consultation while I was eating lunch.

Before finishing my contract, I knew that this company was not truly interested in their clients or staff. It came as no surprise that they didn't ask me to renew. It only confirmed the truth: an ethical and professional teacher would never want to be part of this business. I'm glad I learned this lesson. It has made me a better high school teacher.

kischa said...

I am looking into teaching in Japan. Bit nervous and heard that AEON was a good company but I hate selling things. How is the ECC program? I did apply for JET but that is very competitive.

Anonymous said...

To the Automatom Anonymous poster - your comment that students get an extra 5 to 10 minutes of the teacher's time is a laugh surely. I worked at two Aeons. I was aware of the huge cost of the - quite frankly, flimsy - materials, so would give each student a 15-minute check. Yes, I was aware that this was unpaid, but I just couldn't be that heartless or grabbing enough to deny them decent feedback. My first manager never said a thing, but it was different when I went to my second school. At one of the last meetings I ever attended, it was discussed how long we should give a student during self-study feedback. We apparently all had to agree on a time and stick to it, and the time that they picked was 3 minutes a pop. I said no way - these people were paying enough anyway, but the consensus was that we couldn't all give students different times, and at the end of the day we wanted as little work as possible! cWhile I agreed that teachers are exploited into giving their unpaid time, there's no need to rip the students off. At least have the balls not to sell them these packs in the first place if that's your attitude, I thought.

As for selling the s-s packs, the reation from a couple of students says a lot. One lady begged me not to try and sell her anything. Bearing in mind how the Japanese hate to say no and thus be seen as "rude", I immediately agreed. But, I said, I'm being forced to do this interview with you anyway. Would you mind just showing up ten minutes ealrly next week and we'll just htalk and I'll then say you've declined. Graciously, she agreed. Another students asked my co-worker if she minded if he saved his money for Summer Sonic.

I don't remember how my first manager reacted if sales weren't made, but my second one would go into a huff. Manager # 1, to her credit, had a big chart drawn up which was displayed in the lobby. Whenever a student moved on to the next level, a sticker was put on their row. So students did at least feel they were getting their money's worth, I think. The second school I worked at was a complete shambles though!

Doug said...

You're half right about the sales pitches. The school should inform prospective teachers about this aspect of the job, but the process of harassing students into buying materials they don't need would be unethical even if teachers knew about it in advance.

When it's rude, it's rude, known ahead of time or not.

That rant aside, I greatly appreciate the information you're providing. I had thought of applying to Aeon, but I'll reconsider now.

Anonymous said...

I went through hell working for AEON. I wish I found your blog before I worked there!

Anonymous said...

I'm not even sure if you're even working this blog anymore as it's a few years from when you began this, but I think I can top your dilemma of trying to convince students to continue with their contracts.

I worked for Aeon until a year ago, and we had a high-school student girl who wanted to cancel her contract. The manager asks me to try to convince her to continue (you know, the usual "you're doing so well, you shouldn't quit now" bs - she wasn't even my student, so I had no idea how she was progressing). She tells me she needs to cancel because her father just passed away, in addition to losing her grandmother a month before this! What am I going to say to that..."your father would have wanted you to continue learning English?" I told her flat out how sorry I was for her, and that taking care of her family situation was the most important thing for her right now. I told her she could come back here when she was ready, but this was not the time to be concerned about English. I walked out and told the manager about her situation, and that we should do what's right for her. Guess what? The manager sat with her for another 2 hours and managed to convince her to continue. WFT!!! I felt so sick to my stomach to see how soul-less my manager could be by taking advantage of a person who was emotionally a wreck and vulnerable.

Anonymous said...

I can tell you must be a white American. Arrogant, bending rules, fraternization. I get it, I mean I am African- American and a rebellious punk that can never shut up, and being with Aeon, I am weary of that education mantra BS that only disguises their need to hustle and get money. So basically, I am naturally against the grain, even in the good ole' racist USA. However, the Japanese mentality and values are so complex and the least you can do is respect that. I am still amazed that they continue to even allow us into their country after the white assholes bombed and conquered their nation. So when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Suck it up. be quiet, and have some respect. Your white skin may give you privilege in most places on the Earth, but not in Japan. They don't have time nor do they care. You are just as equal to a hispanic or black man in America. Good luck.

Nanya said...

I too worked for AEON at a branch school, at a regional head office and as a dispatch teacher in Kansai and Tokyo. I experienced a lot, both good and bad, but I would say the experience was positive overall.
One thing that definitely stood out as negative was losing any trust or rapport built with a student when I sat them down for a "counseling" and saw them come to the realization that it was just a sales pitch.
I wouldn't press hard on the students to buy, but for those that did I really did my best to make sure to go above and beyond to coach them and answer questions. I felt if they did pay and got a great learning experience, then the whole thing was somewhat justified and not a scam. Reframing unsavory tasks as something bearable is just part of being a working adult, isn't it? lol
I was lucky in that my branch school was big and consistently financially successful which kept staff morale high. I'd heard horror stories (some from my own training buddies) of branches where a totalitarian manager/head teacher or both had made the work environment a living hell.
Your experience is very much dependent on the management at your branch and their seemed to be few checks and balances to ensure managers weren't abusing their power by bullying staff.
Funny enough, after leaving AEON for other companies in Japan, both in the Eikaiwa field and far from it, I found that "power harassment" or bullying of subordinates, was the main constant. There really is no one to turn to if you are facing harrassment as, for instance, there may be no way to communicate issues to HR anonymously if there even is an HR person, the CEO may be the person doing the harassing while everyone turns a blind eye, being a foreigner tends to give you the disadvantage in any situation where it is your word against theirs, and so on and so on and so on.
It took some hard learning but I realized I never wanted to work for a Japnese company again due to the cruel transgressions I had seen and experienced and I've never looked back.
However, I will say that my experience out of uni working and living in Japan was incredible and I wouldn't have done it any other way. For anyone reading this website in order to consider whether to go teach English in Japan for a while, go do a year and go back home. It's the perfect amount of time to get the full experience but not long enough that it will have stunted your career trajectory when you entered the job market back home.