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RUNNER EDUCATION, XIAMEN. BEWARE of this Chinese-managed school!

I am a freelance English teacher and worked at the branch near Xiamen University part-time for six months to May 2004 teaching mainly IELTS. I refused to return because of a pay dispute. But there’s more...

To function as a serious contender to the top Xiamen schools, RUNNER would need to duplicate their business procedures viz. have readiness to learn as the standard for course admission, display curriculum development, use modern and appropriate texts, set sensible minimum class sizes, obtain commitment from students through early fee collection, hire a pool of full-time ex-pat professional language teachers, build statutory holidays and external exams into the teaching schedule and basically give staff communication high priority. Not to mention teacher payment on time, without hassle.

Placing this challenge in the too hard round file, RUNNER has instead
capitulated to student pressure. Trolling for its clientele among mainly
university students, it operates on small classes and slim margins. Students then pay on an as-they-attend basis. This combination makes classes and courses vulnerable to cancellation should numbers drop. Reasons for my lost classes included: students having parties or too tired or both; too many other expenses that week; external exams not previously revealed to the school; and course toughness. Because fees were collected piecemeal, the financial risk of class cancellation was passed directly to the teachers, RUNNER deftly side stepping its responsibility.

My frequently rescheduled classes played havoc with budgeted income. Sometimes a dud would be phoned through but I left finally because I once arrived on the doorstep to be told only then of the cancellation. Little effort had been put into reaching me and my conclusion was that they just didn’t care. As I had met my responsibility I felt I was due something. But, no, they weren’t interested. Other Xiamen language schools, such as Times, pay 50% in this situation. Foreign teachers at RUNNER are expendable, even at IELTS level.

Predictably, both my successors experienced the same treatment and left.
In the absence of structured placement tests, students are interviewed
informally by the Chinese DOS. On a good day, his English level might brush 2A level. With few students consequently placed correctly, frustrations were bound to set in once true levels became clear in class. Certainly, the objective at IELTS level was to quick start classes without thought to student readiness. Preserving management jobs and pouncing on student fees far outweighed long-term concern for English progress.

RUNNER had no compunction in hiring an IELTS examiner to teach IELTS over the British Council’s explicit ban on this. I complained to the Guangzhou office after losing a class to her and, following investigation, she is no longer examining.

The environment reeks of marginal investment – no teacher room or resource room as all teachers are part-time, and the linoleum-clad floors convert classrooms into world-class echo chambers – “I’m sorry Tony, you’ll just have to shout more clearly”.

I had been offered on arrival an illegally photocopied Chinese text. The
operating procedure was to hire Chinese IELTS teachers (paid at one third my rate) for Reading, Listening and Writing with foreign teachers used only for Speaking. This professional disservice certainly held fees down, but students were sandwiched between teaching methodologies miles apart, leading to not a little confusion. I declined the local text in favour of a modern, international, multi-skilled one, but could make little headway with reconciling the teaching anomaly.

In a later attempt to wrest funds from students who would otherwise probably not study at RUNNER, IELTS candidates were encouraged by the DOS to self-study Reading and Listening with myself handling Speaking and Writing. I was scheduled to pressure cook all of these elements together in the exam's penultimate week. High risk stuff, I can tell you.

A further, inventive recruiting scheme involved not telling students that once the course finished, their English level would decline without daily practice. Hence, students would inform me of examination dates several months further on from course completion! Droopy faces greeted the reality from me.

Having bounced these ideas off other teachers domiciled here longer than my two years, I was intrigued at their response along the line “Don’t worry, RUNNER will be doing the same thing in 10 years!” Sometimes Chinese thinking is so entrenched they just can’t change.

It is some months since I left RUNNER. Upon reflection I consider the content still important enough to post. I recommend in Xiamen other schools I teach at: Times, English First.

This industry does not need cowboy outfits like RUNNER EDUCATION. AVOID.

Tony Hale MA, CELTA
Xiamen, CHINA