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Can my boss make me do this?


Flying Pigeon
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Hello!

Long time, no post.

Would like some advice from people who are working or have worked at universities in China.

I work at a university in Beijing. My contract says 16 hours a week, 40 weeks a year. I teach reading. Contract lists English Reading, Oral English, English Writing as responsibilities. Great, no problem.

Currently I am only teaching 12 hours a week, so my boss wants to start some new classes to fill in the rest of the time. Great, no problem.

Then I hear, "I have a friend at the university who wants to improve her English . . . ." Basically, she wants me to teach her friend to make up the four hours of class time. She says she wants to start a new "project" at the school offering private English lessons.

The contract doesn't state classes or private lessons. When I was hired I was told I would be teaching classes.

Is this legit? Do universities offer private English lessons to students and faculty?

I'm fine with teaching a class to make up the time, but being paid 75 RMB an hour to teach my boss' friend brings to mind a certain Kids in the Hall skit.

Thanks in advance for any thoughts.

Dean

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Would like some advice from people who are working or have worked at universities in China.

Well I'm not qualified to answer but.......

Contract lists English Reading, Oral English, English Writing as responsibilities.
The contract doesn't state classes or private lessons. When I was hired I was told I would be teaching classes.

To me this sounds perfectly fine. You're hired to teach English, they want you to teach English. What's the problem? Even if they had stated classes, I see no reason why a class can't be just 1 person.

I'm fine with teaching a class to make up the time, but being paid 75 RMB an hour to teach my boss' friend brings to mind a certain Kids in the Hall skit.

I don't know these kids, but I really don't see why you object to teaching as agreed on in the contract. If the problem is that the boss uses government money to pay you and then lets you teach a friend for supposedly free I see a point. If the friend is paying I don't see anything wrong. But then even if he's getting the lessons for free, I don't think that refusing to do your job is the solution. Reporting it to some relevant 'authority' within or outside the university sounds more like it to me. I think however that it's reasonable to assume no-one really cares unless a lot more of issues are going on.

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This actually works out better for you. Teaching someone privately usually takes less preparation than teaching a roomful of kids. And with adult students, the expectations are less. There's usually no objective measure of progress, such as English exam scores, so as long as the student feels she is improving, that's enough.

If I were you, I wouldn't dream of complaining, instead I'd throw a little party to celebrate my good fortune.

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To be clear, I have never worked at any university.

But I see the work as something outside of the contract, which has been signed between you and the university instead of between you and your supervisor. Hiring you as a private English tutor would be perfectly fine as long as the pay is acceptable, but from a legal point of view, she has no right to ask you to do private lessons to make up for the gap hours. That is, she should have made the work as a private job offer (if she failed to do so), not as anything bound by the contract.

It’s entirely up to you to decide whether to take the job or not.

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I agree with feihong; I'd be hesitant to cause a stink (and possibly lose a decent job) over something as trivial as the boss skimming some of your contracted hours for a friend. I completely understand where your hesitance comes from, but the situation isn't a bad one for you, and almost certainly will become one if you make accusations behind your boss' back as suggested above. Either do the hours you signed on for or find a new job... TIFC.

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Despite my post above, assuming you get paid from the pocket of your boss or that of her friend’s she will be beyond any accusations unless she has explicitly told you the private lessons are bound by the contract.

I wouldn’t venture to refuse the request because the whole thing is merely a matter of phrasing if my assumption is right.

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Given it's no extra hours to what you agreed to, I'd be inclined to go along with it, assuming that your boss is in a position to positively or negatively influence how you enjoy your remaining time at the university. If the boss is making extra money out of you then sure, it would feel a bit off, but if you're having a good time out in China then just tell yourself you're going with the flow, with how things are often done.

I'd be concerned only about two things: first, if your boss is not very senior and this arrangement annoys someone higher up the food chain, which might not be great for you, and second, if your boss is making extra money out of you for these extra four hours, be careful she doesn't end up reducing your "official" workload further to give you more "private" hours.

Would be interested to ask Kenny or someone else how to go about accepting something like this, where you're kind of doing a slightly dodgy favour for your boss: if you decided yes, would it be best to accept happily and immediately, or is there benefit in delaying a bit before accepting, to make the person realise that you're aware this isn't a completely normal arrangement?

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@Realmayo

Good point.

The possibility can’t be ruled out that the OP’s boss is thinking about using him to make money.

If I were to accept the job, I would make it clear, politely, that I am fully aware that this is not anything obligatory by the contract, but that I wouldn’t mind doing the job - providing private lessons for her friend only.

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Good to see you around!

I'd bear in the mind the option of doing some incredibly dull and badly-prepared one-to-one lessons. That should put a stop to it fairly quickly. Failing that, talk about it loudly when other members of the administration are around in case this is a little on-the-side earner for your boss (could backfire, they may all want a slice of you) and mutter about how time consuming it is and how it's not what you expected. Then when contracts are due to be signed again get more money out of them, or try and get out of it.

I wouldn't worry about annoying them too much. If I remember correctly you've been there for a while (assuming this is the same place) and they're not going to ditch you over this. They're well aware your replacement could well be much worse.

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This is legal. What you signed didn't say you had to teach a certain class.

Private, regular are all classes and I find it funny how you would differentiate it in that case when your contract does not. If you cared, you should have specified. Since you didn't specify, then you can't do much about it.

I wouldn't balk from favors from supervisors. They tend to have a lot of power and the last thing you want to do is make them look bad in front of your peers. That's a major no-no and if I was your coworker I'd publically humiliate you for trying to do that to a supervisor. That's not acceptable no matter how much you hate him/her. That's not the route you take.

Even if the reason is to make money for the boss, I'd still think it's okay. He's using his resources and you can as well play the game. However, play the game correctly. Not doing so can make it pretty bad especially if he was compenstated for this favor which probably is the case. Even if he doesn't want to ditch you post contract, this could easily be considered a breach for failure to teach so it's not a big deal for him to ditch you. Finding new teachers for a university level job isn't that hard at all because of all the perks and low hours. Yea the new teacher could be worse, but who cares, he wants the money and he'll get it as long as the person is white which he can find and as long as the white person has a good job position which he controls.

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Private, regular are all classes and I find it funny how you would differentiate it in that case when your contract does not

yialanliu, I don't think you're addressing the question of who the OP's employer is: the school, or his boss.

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Roddy, great to be back on the forums! (Despite the threats of public humiliation.)

Thanks for all of the responses and feedback, everyone! I appreciate the different perspectives. I'll let you know how things work out. Hopefully my coworker won't publicly humiliate me tomorrow. :help

yialanliu, I don't think you're addressing the question of who the OP's employer is: the school, or his boss.

realmayo, thanks. I think your reply is more "harmonious" than the one I had in mind. :D

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As long you don't make it public, then your coworker won't either.

Last time I checked, unless you are in a high position, your employer might be your school but when it comes to hiring and firing, it's done at a lower level, with the supervisor acting on behalf of the school and it doesn't have to kick all the way up unless your tenured which I doubt.

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Even if the reason is to make money for the boss, I'd still think it's okay. He's using his resources and you can as well play the game.

Having worked at a university, there's really no harm in doing favours for the boss or other teachers (as long as you make it clear that you are doing it as a favour) - it will be helpful if you ever need that person's help in the future. And as you know, how well you do in China is all about how well you cultivate your guanxi.

Example: I helped one of my Chinese colleagues by sharing class plans and materials that I had prepared (quite a big favour, really), and when I had to cancel class a couple of times, she was falling over herself to help me out. Then when it came to leaving the position (and breaking my contract), she helped me negotiate with my boss and made the whole thing go much more smoothly. Oh, and she also invited me to dinner with her family :)

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  • 5 months later...

BrandeX and frankwall,

Thanks for the responses. I accidentally posted this twice.

Edit: Merged with original post.

It sounded dodgy to me, so I refused to do it. My boss gave me the cold shoulder for the entire semester. Didn't let it faze me or affect my classes. Powered through the semester and finished my contract. Ended up switching universities. Life is good.

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