Showing posts with label Tefl News. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tefl News. Show all posts

Monday, July 7, 2008

Volunteer to be a Sucker

Following on the heels of the discovery that the TEFL certificate course I completed six years ago is essentially worthless, I'm in a nasty mood regarding all things related to TEFL training.


If the ostensible motive for any action is to help out those in need, basically anything goes. Even if the end result is huge profit for those making the supposedly altrusitic effort.

Take a look at this ad dressed up as a "news story." An outfit called i-to-i, a self-proclaimed "volunteer travel operator," will hook you up with schools in Cambodia, where you can teach without receiving any remuneration and feel as if you're making a difference.

The catch, of course, is that you cough up $1425 U.S. dollars for the privilege of doing this for three weeks. Curiously, the dollar figure has an asterisk next to it but nowhere is there an indication what the qualifier is. The payout covers a 40 hour online TEFL course, accommodation, meals and miscellaneous things like "24/7 emergency support."

I've always found that such hand-holding set-ups always play on any newbie's sense of fear when making their sales pitch. It would be interesting to know what this emergency support consists of.

Much of what is stated in the ad strikes me as disingenuous, misleading or just plain out of line.

This kind of arrangement takes away jobs from those who are working as English teachers. Someone might respond by claiming that isn't the case since extremely under-funded schools wouldn't be able to afford foreign teachers anyway. There may be something to that logic but if so, then no one should be reaping a profit from such an undertaking.

For anyone really interested in working with poor children in third world countries, there are numerous NGOs that could help to organize a similar experience. Or, you could simply contact schools online and offer your time or show up in person. Either way, many would welcome volunteers with open arms.

i-to-i (what does that stand for anyway, "ignorance to insipidness"?) should also answer a simple question: are they double dipping? In other words, together with the fees from the volunteers, are they paid by the schools or given government grants for performing such an honourable and selfless service?

They continue on with their misuse of punctuation and other language conventions at the end of the ad when a quote is provided: "The beauty of these projects is that the rewards are mutual..."

The problem is, the words are attributed to no one (presumably they are from the mouth of the individual mentioned five paragraphs previously.) It simply stands alone as if the fact that someone somewhere made the statement lends it credence.

I have no problem with an organization offering such a service and trying to make a buck. But I also feel it is my duty to point out the spin and absurdity.

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.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

TEFL Niche Markets

A number of years ago I worked weekends at a language school in Bangkok to supplement my regular income. There were plenty of students and a core of full-time and part-time foreigners teaching classes six days a week. But, at best, the school only managed to break even on the language classes.

The real money came from many of those same students whose parents sent them to Australia for periods of one month to many years. The language school had partnership agreements with numerous educational institutions in Australia and earned a healthy commission for every student they signed up. They also arranged accommodation, flights and other practicalities to help get the youngsters set up in their new temporary homes. Numerous other support services and products were available to the students throughout the duration of their stay.

The language school created an entire lifestyle brand associated with the experience of living and studying abroad. They published a glossy monthly magazine with models on the cover and articles profiling students already in Australia. Once or twice a year they rented out a convention centre and put on a recruiting drive with fashion shows and live bands for entertainment. In short, they were selling a dream and many were buying.

It was a lucrative business and there were/are only a handful of other similar outfits in Thailand actively recruiting students to study in Australia. There are probably another dozen or so organizations who operate the same kind of business for the U.K., Canada, the U.S. and other locations.

Niche markets for EFL teaching appear to be growing.

Teaching and learning can be nebulous concepts. Seeking a credible school with good teachers is a daunting task. Advertising, price and the promises sold often play a bigger role in determining where a person will study as opposed to any statistics or other tangible proof.

How else to explain the Philippines as one of the most popular places for South Koreans to go for studying English? No doubt proximity, the added incentive of a vacation in a warm climate and the factor that leads to unqualified people being employed the world over as English teachers--i.e. the inability of the learner to accurately judge whether the teacher has a clue what he or she is talking about--also fuels its popularity.

This article discusses the phenomenon:

"A total of 111,000 students from South Korea came to the Philippines last year for English classes and other study tours, accounting for 17 percent of the 653,320 Korean arrivals, the Department of Tourism said.

Koreans have become the biggest group of visitors to the Philippines, surpassing Americans. The tourism department expects them to number a million by 2010 and account for one-fifth of its target of five million visitors a year."

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

TEFL/TESL Training Courses

A 4-8 week TEFL course is the only training that many English language teachers receive before accepting their first job overseas. What do such courses offer? Are they necessary? What other options exist for those who recognize the need for some preparation but have limited time and/or money?

My Experience

I did one of these six week TEFL courses before I started teaching in Thailand. Looking back, the real information that I absorbed could have been picked up in three weeks of serious self-study on the internet and at the local library. However, this is an easy claim to make after the fact. Would I have known what to look for? Probably not.

Regardless, the basic things you will be taught include:

A brief history of language teaching and the methods and approaches that have come and gone in the past.

A focus on the “communicative approach” that is used almost universally in language teaching at the moment.

A simple but effective classroom methodology known as the “3 Ps” (present, practice, produce), sometimes labeled differently depending on the course provider.

How and when to implement pair activities, group activities and various classroom games.

The basics of classroom management.

How to make a lesson plan

You will prepare your own lesson plans, teach to an actual class of learners and be observed by one of the course instructors. Essentially, that is what you will get for your 1000 dollars. But is it worth it?

The Cynical View

In recent years more than a few people have discovered how lucrative the TEFL certificate racket is. 30 individuals rammed into a room, each of whom has paid approximately one thousand dollars for the privilege of hearing someone expound on how to play simplistic English language games with children. Every six weeks usher in a new herd of dupes.

Why do so many people feel it is necessary to take a teacher training course?

Fear is the biggest reason. Never having stood at the front of a classroom before, most of these neophytes believe that this six-week induction will set them on the way to being successful teachers.

Those offering the training play on this fear incessantly, flooding discussion boards with tales of the importance of such instruction. They hint at the dire consequences that will result if you dare to take on a teaching job without having first been anointed by one of their gurus.

This is an ideal business for anyone with a shred of ambition and potentially few scruples. It is completely unregulated, there is little overhead and there is a constant flow of eager western refugees ready to shell out the money. Best of all for those who offer instruction is the fact that such a certificate does apparently hold weight with many who are in a position to hire in the TEFL world.

Undoubtedly, many people swear by the fact that their money was well spent and the information they gained has helped them become the teachers they are today.

My guess is that they want to feel validated in their decision. Teaching is an acquired skill/art/science…whatever you want to call it. Those who do it for a long period of time necessarily rightly want to feel a sense of self-worth and pride.

But there is an attempt by many to attach greater significance than necessary to the skills needed to succeed. In doing so they increase their own sense of importance. Those offering these courses play up this myth of hard to define skills simply because they want your money.

Once you begin listening to the supposed wisdom, it often feels like the ostensible goal is to help prospective teachers learn how to eat up huge wads of classroom time and in the process hopefully instill their students with improved language skills. And the same general principle applies in the TEFL course itself…by demonstrating such activities much of the instruction time is pissed away.

A Positive Take on TEFL Training Courses

Most people recognize the limitations that are inherent in such classes. Four weeks is nothing more than an introduction that gives a person a glimpse of the major areas that they will need to learn more about if they are serious about teaching for the long term. But it is still a valuable primer presented to you by those who (hopefully) have many years of experience in the field. They can answer your questions and distill the vast amount of preparation a teacher needs into the bare minimum required to get started.

It also allows those with limited time the opportunity to instantly get their feet wet. It would be great if everyone who decided to be an EFL teacher made their decision years in advance and meticulously prepared for their first job. It rarely works that way. Many people get involved due to circumstance: lost jobs, vacations to a foreign country that convinced them to move there, long distance romances, and numerous other reasons. Signing up for TEFL training requires little advance planning or early registration.

Another positive aspect is the bringing together of like-minded people in the same situation. The support group mentality that develops amongst classmates shouldn't be undervalued. Many friends and family members may criticize or outright oppose your plans. The people you get to know throughout the duration of your instruction can provide a great deal of positive reinforcement. Also, the connections you make could provide you with valuable information regarding the country you are heading to or give you a lead on various jobs.

An additional important fact when considering enrollment is that many schools do see TEFL certificates a positive sign and it may be the deciding factor when there are a number of candidates for a job opening. Will the lack of a certificate disqualify you from being hired? Not necessarily, but in certain markets inexperience and the absence of a certificate will definitely make you less marketable as a teacher.

The teaching practice that is provided by most course providers (if the one you are looking at doesn't offer this, give it a miss) is probably the most valuable thing you will gain.

If you have planned well in advance, an alternative to this would be to contact organizations in your area that offer free or inexpensive ESL lessons to recently arrived immigrants and volunteer to do some teaching. Together with some intensive self-study, you could probably gain as much or more as any course offers. Of course, you wouldn't have a certificate to show to prospective employers.


These observations are based on the TEFL training that I completed as well as countless first person accounts from friends and colleagues. But not all courses are created equal. Do as much research as possible on both the training centre and the individual who will be teaching you. If possible, contact better business bureaus, government funded school watchdog organizations and former students.

I recommend that people looking to teach overseas sign up for some kind of training beforehand. The fee for most courses is running at about one to two thousand dollars. For the length of time involved, that really isn't too expensive.

However, after you have finished your studies and have secured your first job, you will quickly realize how much you still have to learn.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Li Yang and Crazy English

Most people in the English language teaching game have heard about Crazy English at some point. Started by Chinese entrepreneur Li Yang, Crazy English is the brand he has created to market his high-octane method of teaching English.

The New Yorker has an extensive piece on Li Yang and Crazy English in their current online edition. It details Li's background, the methods he uses, some of the resistance he has encountered and the controversy he has created:

"Last fall, Li’s blog site posted photographs from a middle-school lecture in Inner Mongolia. One picture showed hundreds of students on their hands and knees, kowtowing. Bowing one’s head to the ground is, in China, a potent symbol reserved mainly for honoring the dead. It was once required of visitors to the Emperor, and during the Cultural Revolution it was used as a tool of humiliation against those who were accused of committing political crimes.

The response to the photographs was swift. A columnist in the state-run China Daily pronounced Li a 'demagogue,' and his lectures 'like cult meetings.' 'Cult' is a dangerous word in a country that affixed that label to the spiritual group Falun Gong nearly a decade ago and has been rounding up its followers ever since."
Many so-called language experts question whether his techniques truly help people acquire English language skills. They may have a point but what they are possibly overlooking is the fact that a teacher should also motivate their students to learn as opposed to only offering instruction during the few hours they meet every week.

Li emphasizes a mantra-like recital of English as a way to learn. The exaggerated volume and the kind of "out of yourself" trance that develops seems to at least push some students towards practicing and putting in the hours necessary to learn. Not only that, but simply the sense many of Li's followers have that they are part of something special--i.e. his movement--spurs many on to greater heights as well.

I probably have more of an affinity for Li than many other EFL teachers. In my own language learning experience, I have engaged in some rote learning methods and out-loud repetition as a way to retain as many words and phrases as possible in a short amount of time. I find that this method, together with pacing back and forth in a decent sized room, works for me. It's kind of difficult to do this in the classroom in Thailand though I do mention it to my students in the hopes they may do some similar practice in combination with other study methods.

And I have also seen the effect that whipping a class into a frenzy can have. Everyone is in a heightened state and they leave with a positive feeling and walk into class the following week with a smile on their faces and a sense of expectation.

But Li is far more than an English teacher. In his 5,000 student plus, evangelical-like mass rallies/English lessons, he pushes the audience to challenge themselves and the accepted way of doing things.

An article well worth checking out.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Tefl News: Britons Murdered in Somalia

Four teachers have been murdered after militants raided a school in central Somalia.

Two of the teachers were British passport holders of Somali origin.

The names of the teachers haven't been released. The victims are a 32 year-old woman and a 70 year-old man. The attack took place at Hakab Private English school.

You can read all the sordid, twisted details surrounding the incident here.

Obviously not the best country or region in the world to be a teacher. I have no idea if the fact that they held British passports had anything to do with their murders or if that detail was even known by the attackers.

It was less than six months ago that the case of Gillian Gibbons grabbed international headlines. She was the British woman teaching in nearby Sudan who faced the wrath of extremists outraged that she had allowed her Sudanese students to name a teddy bear Muhammad.

However, having done a fair amount of traveling in my days, I know that events that are reported on by the media have a habit of convincing people that there is mayhem in the streets and nobody is safe. It's usually not as dramatic as breathless reporters would have us believe. Still, the randomness and violence of this attack is disturbing. It would be interesting to hear from anyone who is currently teaching in the area or has done so in the past.

A tragic couple of days for British nationals overseas. Five British women, all of them in their late teens or 20's, were killed in a bus crash in Ecuador yesterday. And now another young British woman has been found dead in Argentina.

I know the cynics amongst us will say that their deaths are no more tragic than the people who have been killed in the same time period under similarly horrible circumstances in their own countries. As I've written about before, there's something about death in a foreign land that increases the sense of loneliness, heartbreak and loss. It no doubt plays into the fear of the unknown that is part of human nature as well.

Condolences to all the families and friends.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Tefl News: Teflguardian to Monitor Schools, Provide Forum

Some of the most popular discussion forums for EFL teachers shy away from allowing posters to complain about or criticize specific schools. Advertising dollars and threats of lawsuits are reasons that make it much simpler to impose strict "no naming and shaming" policies. With the anonymity of the internet and all the potential headaches involved, it's easy to see their logic.

There have been attempts in the past to set up a specific site to deal with the myriad problems that arise regarding English teachers abroad and their dealings with employers. So far, none have lasted beyond a few years and/or limited popularity.

There's a new online player in the school watchdog game willing to give it a shot:

I recently conducted an e-mail interview with the site's owner and administrator, James.

Tefl Spin: Thanks for talking (writing) to me. Can you tell us something about yourself? Background, teaching experience? Remain as anonymous as you feel necessary. I would think that keeping a low profile would almost be a requirement with the kind of site you are launching but at least give us some idea of the person or people behind

James: Hi and thanks for this opportunity to be heard. My background is one of diversity ranging from law to teaching. I have been a TEFL teacher for 7 years starting in France and moving through Asia. The TEFL profession has opened my eyes to many things and allowed me to travel and live in different cultures.

TS: What is your motivation for starting this site? Will it be commercial at some point in the future and if so, how will you generate revenue?

James: The main motivation for TEFLGUARDIAN was to have a central place with school information. The site is set up and designed for both positive and negative ratings of schools. When a person is looking for a job there is no single place to get views from former and present employees. I hope this site will change that.

My grandiose thinking about any future income from the site would be in the form of a 5 star badge schools can put on their site. This will take many years, I think, to achieve, but who knows.

refereeTS: As a self-appointed watchdog of schools and a moderator of disputes between owners and teachers, give us some reasons why we should accept teflguardian as credible and fair? Or, if I have misrepresented what you stand for, please clarify.

James: It is a hard question to answer. I don’t know many people who believe everything they see on the internet. The school review section of TEFLGUARDIAN is rated from teachers who have worked there or are working there now. There will be no interference from TEFLGUARDIAN related to the school review section. If people adapt to this new format there should always be fresh information available about any school. Ultimately, it is always up to the reader to make their own decision.

TS: How will you avoid attracting the inevitable grudge holders who want to unfairly criticize schools? Or worse yet, mischief makers who get a kick out of stirring up trouble online? What sort of vetting process, if any, do you have before allowing posters to cut loose with their complaints?

James: Well that is and will always be a problem. The truth is, you can’t stop it. In the beginning we may have that, but as time passes things will normalize and each school will get a fair and just rating.

TS: How will your site differ from others who have tried and failed to create an online location for EFL teachers to share information about schools?

James: My site is not set up for negative purposes only. The other sites that have done this always seem to have a negative slant to them. TEFLGUARDIAN is different and will remain different.

TS: Fair enough. However, it's a truism that conflict and negativity sell. And people are less likely to seek out a place where they can discuss positive experiences (in fact, some might like to keep their good school a secret so as to avoid attracting the riff raff.) Won't the focus end up being negative in the long run?

James: True, negativity sells. It may in the beginning have disgruntled employees posting which would bring a school's rating down. But I don’t see that happening over the long run. When teachers see the benefit of a site like this it will become a positive experience.

TS: Have you been connected with any previous school watchdog sites?

James: No.

TS: How long has this idea been in the planning stage? Or, is it in direct response to the vacuum created by the collapse of another site?

James: The idea has been there for about 6 months. It took a long time to find a format that would be suitable without using the old forum method. The launch of TEFLGUARDIAN was a pure coincidence with the loss of the other site.

online libelTS: The days of "anything goes" online are coming to an end. People are more willing to take legal action and there have been cases of large settlements related to libel on websites.

How are you going to avoid such a situation? If and when the first lawsuit comes down the pipe (spurious or not), will that be the end of teflguardian? Have you already sought legal advice?

James: Things are a bit less wild west now on the net. Without showing my trump card, I have taken all steps to insure the protection of TEFLGUARDIAN and its owner(s). Legal advice was sought and that is why we have this new format. TEFLGUARDIAN is not going anywhere, unless I can’t pay my hosting bill.

TS: It's been my observation that start-up forums take a good while to become established and attract a steady following. Without content being churned out by those in charge, it takes much longer to grow a discussion board.

Will you be actively creating threads and contributing to the discussion? Will you use multiple user names to do this? Is the practice disingenuous or just something that is necessary to draw in readers?

James: My only involvement in the school rating section is to put the information on the site. That includes school name, location and some general information about the place. I will not falsely rate any school that I have no knowledge of, under any name. It is up to the teachers to supply any rating information and comments about the school.

The forum is the only place I will be posting information. The forum will not have any school information only general talk about living and working in that country.

I have 2 names on the site. The first is TEFLGUARDIAN admin and the second is baker. I use the second to test and make sure things are working like they should for other users. Baker has no admin privilege only normal user status. That’s it, no reason to create false names. If the site is going to be successful it can’t start with lies.

TS: Any plans to expand the site beyond school reviews and the discussion forum?

James: At this stage it is hard to tell. I can’t say I have no plans, but I don’t know what they are yet.

TS: What is it about this industry that seems to result in a fairly large number of disputes between teachers and owners?

James: Speaking only from personal experience. Communication between employee and employer is poor. Things are not laid out in advance or stated before a person flies 8000 miles for a job. This results in hard feelings and a bad situation for the employee. I have heard of less than honorable employers, but have not experienced that. So, I can’t really comment on those situations.

TS: What has your personal experience been as a teacher? Does a professional and responsible approach limit the potential for mistreatment from employers ? Or is there simply a group of unscrupulous owners out there bent on cheating and abusing foreign teachers?

James: My experience as a teacher has been mostly positive. No horror stories from me to tell. I have always tried to be professional and responsible in any job I do. It is not always enough if you have employers that value only the $. My advice for anyone looking for a job is to trust your senses. If it feels bad, walk away.

TS: What is your opinion of the TEFL industry as a whole? What are the current trends? Is it a credible career for those who decide to acquire further degrees, training and certificates? Where do you see things ten years from now?

James: My opinion of the TEFL industry is one of change and no clear direction. There seems to be no standard and all depends on where you live. It makes it very difficult to establish a valued pool of teachers. If a person is serious about this career, get a Masters Degree.

TS: Do you have any final comments you would like to share with teachers/potential readers of your new site?

James: The format of TEFLGUARDIAN is different from sites of old. It will take a little adjustment, but in the end will prove to be a valuable resource.

TS: Good luck and thanks for taking the time to respond to these questions.

James: Thanks for the opportunity.