Saturday, July 5, 2008

TEFL Fly By Night

4-6 week TEFL courses don't have the best reputation. No regulations, reams of horror stories and a "give us your money and fuck off to Asia ya schlepp" kind of feel have contributed to the less than stellar distinction.

My own TEFL certificate has been rendered almost worthless as of late by the discovery that the place went tits up a few years after I completed the course. This fact came to light as I recently sought new employment opportunities and went through the usual dusting off of references and other contacts that goes along with such an exercise. I was surprised to find the school's website now non-existent. My guts dropped even further when I realized the most unlikely of situations: not a single hit when I plugged their name into a search engine.

Thankfully, the woman who owned the school at the time has a unique name and has remained in the industry. I tracked her down at a university in the middle east where she occupies a respected position that no doubt validates the years she spent acquiring post-graduate degrees in the field. I sent her an e-mail seeking assistance in proving the legitimacy of my certificate should anyone want evidence beyond the institution's (former) name and location. She promptly responded and assured me that I could provide her e-mail address to anyone who would like confirmation that I had completed the course.

Better than nothing I suppose. Though the whiff of dodginess will remain for many who learn of the demise of the school. In fact, this is one of the oldest ploys pulled by the under-educated and marginalized who have few opportunities and decide there is nothing to lose. They find the name of a school that has gone under and claim to hold a degree from them. So people who truly are faced with this situation may be doubted somewhat.

My trust in the former school owner to come through if any verification is required was shaken recently. An opportunity came up and fairly detailed information regarding the TEFL course was requested. Because of the friendly and agreeable response to my my initial e-mail, I assumed she would be willing to provide a breakdown of all the material we had studied. There was no indication of topics or courses covered on the final grade mail-out nor can this information be checked anywhere as the school no longer exists. My memory of the course is a bit hazy so I blasted off another message asking for her help.

But there was no response this time. Which now makes me wonder if her first e-mail to me was just an attempt to get rid of an annoyance that has probably plagued her periodically since she sold the school. I'm now concerned that I can't trust her to follow through if any potential employer e-mails her for details. I blithely accepted her story that the school was sold and that the new owners quickly rode it into the ground. She also stated that the government institution that monitors private education institutions in British Columbia cannot locate the school's records nor confirm which students studied there.

As I look back at the time I studied there, I realize there were warning signs. It was clear that she was in a marriage that was on the rocks. In the small waiting room and adjoining office outside the first floor classroom, she was often there with her sullen, middle-eastern-looking husband. The mutual contempt was palpable. They were likely winding down their business affairs and looking for potential buyers.

She also hinted cryptically at competitors who were trying to undermine her credibility. Knowing more about the whole TEFL industry, I now realize those people who were making problems for her were probably justified.

When you are given reason to doubt someone, every little thing takes on significance and the nasty tendency to fill in the blanks and ascribe motives takes over.

At the very least, I would like to find out what happened and have some assurance that there is some way to prove that I in fact paid a thousand dollars, received four weeks of training and successfully completed the course. If no agency or person is able to vouch for that, then I can take appropriate measures (i.e. not put it on a resume again or heavily qualify its mention.)

I urge anyone in a similar situation to determine if there is any kind of watchdog organization in your area that oversees private training institutes. Another step that might be worthwhile is to contact other people you studied with. You can at least alert them to what is going on and together your collective voice may succeed in securing some kind of official document indicating that the school was not a figment of your imagination.

I will try to provide an update in the near future regarding the final outcome of my investigation.


Anonymous said...

Just stick to Trinity and Cambridge CELTA would seem to be the moral of the story

Ken said...

I guess it's no different than any industry. Some research before plunging in is advisable. If a school has been around for a reasonable length of time, that's probably a good sign. And contacting any regulatory agencies before you sign up can't hurt.

At the time I did the course I was eager to get some quick training and head overseas. Location, starting date and price were all factors that made the choice easy.

I probably still would have taken the course even if I had been aware of the possible pitfalls.

Anonymous said...

It's funny, I have 8 years teaching experience and 2 degrees. I was getting the same pay for most of those years. However, I took a 4 week TEFL course with some online grammar module and was able to get an extra 300 USD a month. The course was absolutely pointless, most of the stuff that we studied I already knew and most of the subjects talked about were how to find a job and how to adapt to a different country. Very little on 'Teaching English as a Foreign Language.'
TEFL courses can be good for one thing... it can get you a promotion... sometimes.
Come visit my website, ESL and EFL News:

Anonymous said...

Probably your best practical response now is to use whatever proof you can get from her to get onto a higher level qualification course like a Trinity Diploma, Cambridge DELTA or MA TESOL, then you just use that as proof of qualifications in the future without complications.

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