Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Losing Business Through Bad Assumptions

When I'm offered a new student, I always ask the referral agency the same questions.
  1. What is the student's level?
  2. What particular type of lesson does the student want?
  3. What are the student's goals?
The answers I always get are something along the lines of:
  1. 'I think her level is ~, but I'm not sure. You'll find out soon enough.'
  2. 'I don't know, you'll have to ask her/him in the lesson.'
  3. 'I don't know, you'll have to ask her/him in the lesson.'
This is somewhat frustrating for me because not knowing these things makes it impossible to prepare to do what the student wants. In two recent cases, I did whatever "generic preparation" I could and didn't have any problems, but certainly didn't do as good a job as I'm capable of.

The bottom line is that the referral agency simply does not bother to ask these questions of the students who are considering signing up with them. While these questions are quite reasonable and the students would definitely not mind them, the agency doesn't bother. The reason they don't bother is that they buy into the commonly held notion that all Japanese people study English casually and are looking to have a casual "chat" with a foreign person who is being paid to be as nice as possible to them. This underlying mentality is one of the reasons teachers are viewed as unskilled and interchangeable and having an easy job where they just socialize for an hour for pay.

The truth is that there may indeed be many people who are looking for a chat. Another truth though is that not everyone is looking for that, particularly not in hard economic times where people are far less likely to invest their money in frivolous endeavors and much more likely to further themselves professionally. At present, I have 12 regular students and only 2 of them fall into the category of chatting to alleviate their boredom or for entertainment. All of the others have very specific goals in mind and actively want to advance their skills in specific areas.

In a previous post, I mentioned that I was asked to give a trial lesson to a 13-year-old girl and given very little information. The lesson ended up being one in which she needed instruction for a short-term goal (passing a test to enter a special school for those who have lived abroad for a long time and are now living in Japan). In particular, she needed to know a lot of vocabulary for the test and had a book she was studying from that needed to be used. Had the agency asked, I would have known this and could have considered my options before the lesson. As it was, I had to fly by the seat of my pants and it went okay, but I think it was very tiring for the girl and she complained that one of my requests (asking her to make sentences about her life using the words she was studying to help her remember the words since using new words aids greatly in recalling them) was too hard. With more time to plan, I could have varied the activities more and she may have enjoyed it more.

Today, I learned that she won't be taking my lessons. Color me totally unsurprised. The given excuse was my apartment is too far away, but I don't believe that. I'm not angry about losing the job as it was probably good for 10 lessons tops anyway given the fact that the test would be taken in November and she'd learn English at the school if she passed and not need it if she failed. I'm annoyed, however, that the referral agency doesn't ask a few basic questions to aid in my doing a professional job simply because they can't wrap their heads around the idea that anyone who teaches can be a professional.


Roy said...

Thank god they aren't a dating service! ;-)

Orchid64 said...

I guess that my being "professional" takes on a whole new connotation if they're a dating service. ;-)

Roy said...

BTW, you have a category called "Whining"??? Is that really a healthy attitude to be promoting? hmmm?

Orchid64 said...

I see it as me being honest with myself. I'm also hoping to keep the number of posts in that category low. In fact, seeing posts by label gives me a good idea how much I dwell on a topic.

Whining stands at 2 posts and food is at 10. Psychology is at 15 (as is philosophizing). Students is the winner at 18 so far. As long as the "whining" numbers stay low, I think it'll be okay. ;-)

Emsk said...

Hmmm, they're not doing themselves any favours, eh?