Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Monkey at the Circus

It all started when Monkey was fired by the receptionist and then it got progressively more absurd.

The private language school industry in Prague is a joke. Your average teacher of “English for Business” is a backpacker who may stay for one year, has never taught English before and also knows nothing about business. S/he probably has a TEFL certificate, which s/he got by paying USD 1500 and going to school for 4 weeks. S/he is not interested in the local language and culture, but is probably interested in the local beer.

This is an ugly picture and by no means does it describe every English teacher. The problem is that it does describe how foreign English teachers are perceived by most Praguers, and it is part of the reason I don’t teach anymore.

I was a professional teacher with advanced qualifications; teaching for a private language school in Prague was one of the most frustrating experiences of my life, which is why I have not done it since 1995. Monkey is an extraordinary teacher with substantial experience, but in September he went to work amongst the amateurs in one of the private language circuses.

I am not going to name names because admittedly I have primarily heard Monkey’s side of the story. I also know that Monkey is not exactly an exemplary employee. I also wish to avoid being accused of defamation. But I will tell you a little bit about Monkey’s experience with the circus.

The Contract

Monkey worked without a contract for quite a while because the circus refused to negotiate with him. Their standard contract had ridiculous terms and weird conditions that were designed to take advantage of foreigners. Monkey and I agreed that he should not sign it. Monkey asked if he could sign the standard contract for Czech employees but the owner of the school would not let him. Finally Monkey signed their silly contract because he got bored playing the game.


Monkey’s pay was quoted by the hour. A standard language school hour is 45 minutes. As a teacher, I was always paid the quoted hourly rate for my academic hour - meaning, for example, that if I had been quoted $10/hour, I received $10 for each 45 minutes. On Monkey’s first pay day, he learned that he was only being paid ¾ of the quoted hourly rate, i.e. $7.50 instead of $10. I had never before heard of a school doing that. At best I would call the practice unfair and misleading; at worst I would call it theft by deception.


Monkey had to travel all over Prague by tram, metro, bus and train to teach his classes at client companies. He was told that if he travelled more than 40 hours in a calendar month, he would get paid something for his travel time. He was travelling in excess of 40 hours, but when he asked about it, he was told that, no, it was not 40 hours to and from, but 40 hours just to. He was at about 60 hours in total, and therefore only 30 one-way, which was too little to get any compensation at all.

Since being fired by the receptionist, Monkey has not been paid for the month of November. He has been asked to first return the materials owned by the circus, which he has of course agreed to do. But Monkey has also been asked to go back into the circus to do additional database entry. This Monkey has refused. From a Monkey e-mail to the circus’ director of studies:

Let me explain this in terms you can understand:

If employee A at McDonald's was fired by a cashier for not putting cheese on the Big Macs, even though the employee manual said that all Big Macs must have cheese, employee A would not be expected to go back and put cheese on the Big Macs after termination. However, employee A would definitely be paid for the hours spent working at McDonald's. Get it?

Negotiations have been going on for over a week, wasting Monkey’s time, the circus’ time and my time. This is where we are now: the circus has agreed to pay Monkey only 80% of his salary for November; the deducted 20% supposedly going for his incomplete database work because they will have to do it. The circus wants its teaching materials back in advance so they can make sure that Monkey has not vandalised anything. Monkey has counter-offered, asking for 95% of his salary and a simultaneous exchange, i.e. the materials for the cash. Please keep in mind that Monkey taught about 9 hours in December (before being fired by the receptionist), and he is not asking for those wages at all, despite the fact that he is entitled to them.

We have not actually gone so far as to threaten the circus, but perhaps they should bear in mind that Monkey is not a pushover transient backpacker, Monkey’s Max left education to become a lawyer (and hates private language circuses), and Monkey and Max both find it fun to bring injustice to the attention of the press and the public.


Monkey said...

Ready to go to the mattresses.

Tits Malone said...


Poor Monkey!

I would have thought the language business would have evolved a bit more since I left.

The being fired by the receptionist is a new one - again, Poor Monkey!

Audie said...

Go get 'em, y'all!