Thursday, September 20, 2007

Nova's Troubles Continue!

The false advertising scandal just took another chunk out of Nova. According to a story on Japan Times Online, the giant eikaiwa (English school) may close as many as 200 branches. Just another reason I'm glad I got out when I did.

You have to imagine this is also related to the highly-publicized drug bust of a Nova teacher in Roppongi, and the horrific murder of another in Chiba. As one of my friends who still works there recently told me, "We are hemorrhaging kid students."

This isn't schadenfreude, or one of those typically anti-Nova posts by a disgruntled employee. I've read quite a few of those horror stories on blogs and on message boards, and heard versions in conversation by people who know them only secondhand or thirdhand. But I was there. I know what goes down at Nova. Some of these stories are true; many are the outpourings of socially dysfunctional or highly inexperienced people who committed job suicide there through failings both professional and personal. My own time there was generally positive, and as a result I have what I think is a very realistic view of the pros and cons of that frequently (and sometimes most deservedly) maligned giant of English education. Wounded giant, these days. Actually, this is the result of my ongoing nostalgia for what was one of the best and worst times of my life.

I think a lot of angry ex-Nova teachers tend to conflate everything negative about their experience (a lot of which is self-inflicted if they'd only be honest with themselves) and lump the staff and students together with the company itself in this big mass of hate. Maybe that's the normal result of experiencing severe negative reinforcement. Maybe it's some sort of displacement for their own failings. But whatever it is, it's not fair at all.

Do I blame the company for profiting off its employees by charging us ridiculous rent for our accommodations? Of course! Do I think the non-fraternization policy idiotic and unenforceable? Sure (except I also know of at least one Nova branch where the male teachers poached incessantly off the female students and only granted level-up slips to the cute ones and the ones that slept with them). Is it stupid to have Tuesday-Wednesday off instead of a normal weekend? Yeah (except the students there are generally office workers who only have Saturdays or Sundays free for self-enrichment projects like studying English).

And I can't tell you how sick it makes me to have been associated with a company that deliberately misleads its customers. Or how insane it was to have to put up with roommates who were almost constantly drunk and all too frequently unable to show up for work due to hangovers. Or dealing with sleazy guys who, back home, couldn't get laid with a bottle of Maker's Mark and a palm-load of Cetaphil doing the aforementioned student-poaching.

Still... once you've been a Nova teacher, you've been marked for good or bad. It's like having been in the military, one of those formative life adventures you share with a handful of others who were briefly your coworkers, best friends, family and roommates. The analogy holds when you consider that many of those teachers are fresh out of college and impossibly young.

So most of all, I genuinely feel bad for some of my friends who are Nova teachers (yeah, I met some shady, sketchy characters but I also met some kind, trustworthy and genuinely compassionate people as well), and for the many wonderful students I met and interacted with during my stint with the company. Oh yeah... and the hard-working Japanese staff who will no doubt bear the financial brunt of this, whatever that might turn out to be.

I'm thinking of the little Nagasakiya branch... an all-Nova Kids branch in a dumpy shopping center where I worked one day a week for about a month or so. That's where I taught my first Chibiko (tiny li'l kid) class, featuring a single adorable girl who alternated between shy reluctance and deliriously enthusiastic participation... until she fell against the wall and an unfortunately placed coffee table, banging her head twice and bringing on the tears.

I'm still haunted by that, and the image of her falling replays itself as I type this. I'm still pissed at myself for not removing that coffee table before the class. Any idiot would've known it for a hazard. And I still rankle a bit when I think of the near-argument I had later that week with our area Kid's coordinator about getting the damned thing out of the room during lessons.

For some reason, I feel protective of unloved and unlovable places like Nagasakiya. No style, no grace. A grubby orphan of a shopping center, standing off by itself and alone even in the midst of a densely-packed urban environment. I guess to a certain extent, I feel that way about Nova and its ambiguously-gendered pink rabbit spokesmodel.

Not the company. Certainly not the scumbags scattered amongst its employees. But the rest of the people. Kind, normal, everyday people with good intentions.

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