Reprimands and Blogging
This entry covers the experience that caused the beginning of the end of a pleasant work environment for me at AEON. No, I didn't steal anything, insult anyone, or commit a fatal cultural error. I blogged about a business meeting. If you've been following me for some time (since September, at least), you know probably know this by now – it was one of the entries that scored me the highest hit count I had ever seen up to that point.
So what happened?
One Thursday after lunch, as I'm preparing for my next lesson, my manager pulls me aside and tells me we need to have a meeting. A little puzzled, I comply, and shuffle my feet towards an empty classroom.
"Tana sensei, other teachers read your blog, and we need to talk about it."
I was a little confused at that point. I had asked my trainer about blogging at AEON, because that was a big source of information for me researching back in the US, and I wanted to give prospective employees a better idea of what it meant to come to Japan and work in the eikaiwa. Although, I do have to admit my entries up to that point were very primitive and based largely upon GaijinSmash. My ignorance.
Still, my trainer gave me some advice that I took to be the official stance of AEON: don't mention names, and don't brag about any illegal activities that you may or may not be doing (I can't believe some people would put that kind of information on an easily traceable website). I had complied with this – I mentioned I was an AEON teacher and my location, but did not mention the name of my school or any of my staff. And yet...
"Some of the teachers read your blog, and they were so angry... [The assistant manager] read your blog and he was so angry. Why did you do this?"
She was mostly concerned with my entry about an AEON business meeting, which did not contain specific information about the earnings or students of the school, but did discuss my interpretation of the staff's reaction to certain information (e.g. genkiness in the workplace). I had also discussed my reaction to a terrible kids class I had taught earlier that week, and my own trepidation about teaching so many children's classes. In addition, I had covered some of the staff reactions to my presence in the office – this was mostly coming from my manager, but I had the impression they thought I was an idiot because of my poor Japanese skills: spelling everything out, using a childish tone to talk to me...
Essentially the meeting was me clarifying every point I had ever made on my blog. It was humiliating, and I can't believe she devoted company time to talk to me about it.
"Why do you write these things?"
"These are my thoughts, my opinions; I don't tell people these things. The blog helps me think things over, like a diary."
"But this is different than diary, you post these things on the internet. Anyone can read."
There was no point in arguing any further; I later wrote an entry about blogging in the workplace which summarizes my problem with this meeting very nicely: I didn't bring this information into the workplace. I kept my comments at home, on my personal weblog, which is by definition an online diary. The staff chose to read it, and find offense with it. It's no different than them snooping around a personal diary I might have had lying on my desk – they chose to read it, and must face the consequences of having that information. I didn't give it to them, I didn't complain to them, and I didn't see the point of bringing such problems into the school. Apparently management felt otherwise.
In the end, after making me feel pretty lousy and telling me all the teachers at the school hated me and didn't want to talk to me, she asked me if I would like to transfer to a different school (also in response to my uncertainty in teaching kid's classes). I said I would if it would solve the problems here (I didn't really want to pick up everything and go after just three months, but she made it sound like there was no recovery from this). She also stipulated that if she informed corporate headquarters about this, they would fire me; essentially, I was being censored. Told to remove all references to AEON or be fired. I walked away and stayed pretty silent for the rest of the day.
That night, I wrote this entry (sorry about the Lost in Translation cliché) as a way of apologizing and explaining myself. I also included a small note along the lines of: "Since I have not been understood at my current branch, I will be transferring to a different school as soon as possible."
The next day. About two minutes after I arrive at the office my manager pulls me aside and wants to talk about my latest entry. Again, devoting company time to my blog. This is beyond ridiculous.
"This part is ok, but why did you do this? Why did you say these things?"
Referring to my decision to transfer. It's my choice as an individual. Am I not allowed to talk anymore? If I choose to confide that information to someone, am I in violation of AEON's rules? Regardless, the point is moot, because it was written on a blog, and I didn't bring it into the workplace. It was so pathetic seeing sympathy from her, as if this situation warranted sympathy – she was completely ignoring the root of the problem: there was no problem unless you happened to bring it into the light.
Again, censored. Told to remove all reference to the transfer, and prepare for another meeting next week. Later that day, I also received a call from my trainer telling me I was going to be reprimanded and it was a "serious situation".
I didn't want to make a stand over this. I wanted to stay in Japan. To be honest, I found the whole situation laughable – AEON, a supposedly respectable Japanese company, was devoting company time to addressing a problem they were perpetuating. Over a blog.
And why? Why would the company waste time and resources talking to me about these things? My blog entries were interpretations of cultural differences, hardly whistle-blowing material. Yet, according to the policy manual, AEON has the right to control "anything detrimental or embarrassing to the image and reputation [of AEON]." They used this policy to fire two teachers in Tokyo over information they posted on their blogs, and actually employ someone to search the blogosphere for any and all information.
The next week, I had an official sit-down with my trainer, who observed one of my classes (no doubt to determine on behalf of AEON if my "dangerous behavior" affected my classroom performance), and gave me an official Disciplinary Notification:
This is an official notice of disciplinary action up to and including dismissal, as indicated in the AEON Foreign Teacher's Policy Manual, if the areas of performance discussed do not improve. Immediate and effective improvements need to be made in teaching and/or interpersonal skills.
The reasons for this notification have been explain fully, as well as guidelines and suggestions needed for improvement.
The employer reserves the right to take disciplinary action or terminate the employment contract, if performance or behavioral problems continue or do not improve.
Although I stubbornly felt the problem was with management and the company spending so much time discussing the "problem", I did make an effort to rectify things with the staff at my school. I wrote an official letter of apology. I stayed late without saying a word. I did things without question, even when they warranted questions. I talked to the staff, but it was all very mechanical, because I was dead inside; from that point onward, I decided not to let a single aspect of my outside life or personality show through in the office (classes were the exception); placing that AEON nametag around my neck first thing in the afternoon was like amputating part of myself.
There was a reason behind it all; if AEON didn't want to know my opinions (good or bad), then they wouldn't get them. They would get nothing, just like they wanted. No personality, no stories, no ambition, no emotion. Nothing. I hope I lived up to their expectations. You can't have the light without the dark.
These feelings only improved slightly over the course of the next several months, due to my own stubbornness and the conceit of the staff.
All this occurred before my renewal evaluation in December. All these opinions were embedded in the management and head teacher before my renewal.
My contract was not renewed, mainly on the basis of co-worker rapport. The staff let their feelings affect a person's career. Unbelievable. Of course, I hadn't planned to stay for over a year regardless, but to be turned down on the basis of a blog (and letting those feelings alter their judgment about my performance in other areas)... it was a little frustrating.
So where am I now? Writing about AEON on my blog. In the end, they accomplished nothing except giving me fire to fuel the raging debate about working in eikaiwa.
In all honesty, I was never really angry about the company's reaction to my articles. I knew the intent and purpose behind them, and it wasn’t meant to be personal or insulting – just information about working in Japan. There's only so much you can put up with before you decide what will and will not get to you. This was it for me. I just didn't care after that point.
So if AEON had fired me? So what? I could have done a job search and come up with something, or I could have gone home and searched for a job there, after blogging about the events and probably writing a news article for a legitimate media source.
If the staff had tried to make my existence in Japan as uncomfortable as possible? They didn't help, but again, it was impossible to let their behavior throw me off.
What if? What if...? The possibilities are endless. Nothing's changed about corporate responses to blogging – if the information is out there, someone will find it; I mention this because I told no one in the company, foreigner or otherwise, about my blog's URL or name. Be careful, but don't stop writing; you're always helping someone.
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