Steve Schertzer's blog on

Powerball TEFL

Sometimes we have to do what is ridiculous

As I lament the last 20 years of my life in and out of the TEFL industry, I can't help but wonder how I haven't completely lost my mind. Have things in the Powerball TEFL industry changed over the last 15-20 years? It depends on who you ask, who you believe, and what you believe, or choose to believe.

The real heroes of the TEFL industry

I raise a glass to those teachers that simply keep on going

There is an old joke in the TEFL industry: "What's the difference between a school administrator and a brain surgeon? A brain surgeon doesn't walk around thinking he's a school administrator!"

A permanent 'yes' relationship to the world

What it means to be poor

My family means a lot to me. In fact, they are all I have left. We are very close and I communicate regularly with my father and two sisters through Skype, email, and Facebook. I know how fortunate I am to have the family I do. Unfortunately, not too many others can say the same.

No pants (and no brains)

They're coming to a city near you and it could be anytime soon.

Improve Everywhere began taking their attention seeking illness to the subway in New York City in 2002. Since then, the illness has spread to over 60 cities worldwide. It is one thing to celebrate silliness in your own country; but, as a foreigner living and working in Asia, this kind of "silliness" has no place here

Happy hour at the ESL bar and grill

Amusing the students to death

Students are being scammed out of their money by an industry that is content to amuse the students to death by turning English language education into a perverted version of happy hour at Joe's Bar. Teachers and students deserve better than that.

Culture of insouciance

The Cambodian rubbish dump, and my not so final, final exam

Many of the students in my class with their fancy clothes, laptops, I-phones, and I-pads, rarely experience an atmosphere where true learning takes place. Outside of the odd serious teacher they may have encountered along the way, they also live and learn in a rubbish dump, an educational one.

Fast times at Hitler High

What on earth are the schoolkids being prepared for?

For those who think that the students may have missed the lessons on Hitler and the NAZIS, or perhaps fell asleep during the lectures, I say the opposite: I say that these students were probably very much awake and were mesmerized by all things NAZI. By the looks of things, they seem to have learned quite a bit.

He sleeps in a storm

Disorganization, discipline, and decisiveness in the overseas TEFL industry

I really dislike job interviews. Not because of anything I do. I show up on time; I wear the right clothes; I'm polite; I listen and I ask the right questions. But when it comes to the interview and meeting other people in this industry, whether fellow teachers, administrators, principals, or directors, the ‘niceties' stop at my cover-letter.

Business as usual

More rambling from a TEFL lunatic

I've been living and teaching in Phnom Penh Cambodia for six months now. I suppose I could write about the magnificent ancient temples of Ankhor Wat, the beaches of Sihanoukville, the Buddhist scriptures and artifacts, and the splendor of the Royal Palace. But I won't. What I would rather write about are the people.

Unfinished business

Musings from the tortured mind of a damaged teacher

I spend 12 hours a day at the school in which I teach. I don't have to, but I do. There is a two hour and forty-five minute break between the morning classes and the afternoon classes. That's common in Cambodia, I hear. The international schools and the language schools follow this pattern.

The enemy within

The evil side of the TEFL industry

It is a complicity of silence that sees many foreign teachers working hand-in-glove with a Thai administration that cares only about money and maintaining an educational system mired in cultural backwardness and social repression.


Standing up for the teaching profession, and the complicity of silence.

“Someone wrote on your blog that you are 'dangerous'. I say you are a neurotic loose canon and a liability for a school, working with children”

The courage of Arpaporn

In defense of exclusion, discrimination, and xenophobia

I would like to say that my latest writing assignment given to my grade 10 and 11 classes has given me hope; but I can’t. While some of the writing showed ‘glimmers of hope’, at least in my eyes, many of the opinions my students shared unfortunately matched the biased, ignorant, and bigoted statements made incessantly by many Thai adults.

A teacher, an old wise man, two punks, and a chicken

Taking responsibility for your teaching

Every once in a while I get frustrated with my students. Yes that’s right; I’m not a perfect teacher. But the person I should get most frustrated with, however, is me.

The Mismeasure of Thais

Teachers rarely take the blame for students constantly failing exams.

It is not the students’ fault that they are failing tests and exams. All students want to pass. They simply don’t know how since most teachers have never taught their students how to study effectively and to recognize the pitfalls of taking tests and examinations.

Responsibility: Teaching the fourth R in education

It's time to make our students look good - and not just academically

In our zeal to teach the three ‘R's, reading, ‘righting, and ‘rithmetic, we are neglecting to teach another very important ‘R': Responsibility; responsibility for oneself and responsibility for others

I am my mother's keeper

Living my mother’s legacy in a world of good and evil.

I tried to look for a teaching position, but my heart just wasn't into it. I couldn't concentrate. I couldn't focus. I had lost my energy, my drive to succeed. I barely functioned at all. I stayed in my hotel and watched the news. I did go out to eat and drink. There were nights when I drank and drank and drank. I tried to forget, but the more I tried to forget the more I remembered.

The promise of tomorrow

Making the classroom a sacred place

For every reputable school that is looking for serious, responsible, caring, and dedicated teachers who are committed to the success of the students, there are many more who simply don't care about the teachers they hire or the students under their tutelage.

Determine your own significance

The true value of an English teacher

Native English teachers incompetent in the classroom? Of course they're incompetent. Many of them, anyway. Then again, many of the Korean English teachers are incompetent as well.

Barbarians in the building

Teaching English to savages and the great recession

This past July I accepted a job teaching English at a university in Saudi Arabia. I was to teach Saudi males in their 20's and was excited about that opportunity. The tax-free salary of around $3,500 U.S. a month along with a rent-free apartment, return airfare, and long paid holidays didn't hurt either.

The woman of the world

Jane Doe and our true responsibilities as teachers

I am looking for a school where I can make a positive difference in the lives of my students. That's what I've been trying to do for years. That's what every dedicated and committed teacher strives to do.

Show me that you love me

The Bangkok freak show, and my response to John Wilson.

Last month John Wilson, the director of a Language Institute in Thailand, wrote an article for It was an article about creating a good impression at job interviews.

My tango with Tony the Tarantula

Dodging the TEFL scammers

There will always be people like Tony, or worse, in this industry. Just as there will always be hordes of backpacking sex-tourists posing as English teachers. This industry, like any other, is obsessed with money and power.

Sticking up for passionate teachers

Are we sore thumbs fighting the good fight?

This is a column (or a blog entry) that I should have written long ago. It is to thank those who have taken the time to email me. I do appreciate it and learn from all your letters. I say blog entry because a poster on a popular South Korean website, and a teacher in the EPIK program whom I've met, keeps telling me that it's not a column; it's a blog entry. Okay, johnhenry, whatever you say. You're much smarter than I.

The 3-4-3 principle and the importance of repetition

Putting students through their paces

Each lesson has four sides. I lift one side. If by the end of the lesson the students know what is under the remaining three sides, I do not repeat the lesson

When in Rome

Definitely don't do as the Romans do

With the school year just beginning, at least the public schools here in South Korea, this is as good an opportunity as ever to discuss the teacher-training workshop that is offered twice a year to native English speakers by the various Offices of Education. I've had the misfortune of attending two of them in my three years with the program, both presented in the exact same fashion.

The TEFL Industry

A rotting, putrid, stinking corpse

EFL teachers are put into positions of authority and responsibility, most at a time in their lives when they have yet to learn what it means to be responsible. EFL teachers must learn to teach properly. They must learn to love their work. They must learn to see it as a mission and an honor. They must learn to be accountable for their actions, or their inactions. In essence, they must learn to become fuller human beings.

Fresh off the boat

Newbies. Don't you just love 'em

I've seen it all before. We all have. These young, naive 20 something newbies, these walking erections with a backpack, who get off the airplane at Don Muang with nothing but a goofy grin and a 42 work vocabulary, and magically land that 40,000 Baht a month job te aching English, while the rest of us, with our credentials, our education, and our experience are left wondering where the good teaching jobs have gone.

Advice you can truly use

Don't listen to those barstool experts!

Having been warned-- or advised-- that appearance is very important here in Thailand, (just as important as Japan, Korea, or Taiwan I suppose), I set out on job interviews. Most of the advice for teachers on the Thailand websites struck me as either superficial or downright absurd.

Globilization at its best

Universal applications of ESL teaching approaches and methods

For those of us who have taught ESL in at least three of four different countries realize a major problem. All ESL teaching is local. What works in Thailand can get you fired in Korea. I know that from experience.

Why I came to Thailand

Let's consider the real reasons

How can life best be lived? Simply by living it. By grabbing life by the balls befo re life grabs yours! I walked into a travel agency and bought myself a one way ticket to Bangkok. I considered it an early birthday present.

Where children used to play

In the aftermath of the tsunami disaster

In this our darkest hour, seeing children once again at play. This is how we will carry on, with our children leading the way.

Notes on the Thailand TESOL conference

An event run and sponsored by self-centered, pompous, and arrogant buffoons

Do these pedantic pinheads at the TESOL conference actually believe that human nature has changed that drastically in the last 50 or 60 years, so as to allow contemporary technology to be used for its intended purpose?

ESL teachers as mentors and heroes

ESL teachers as linguistic imperialists and neo-colonialists

ESL teachers should be viewed as mentors and heroes, selflessly taking the time to improve the lives of our students. People like Julian Edge and Larry Smith should be ashamed of themselves. They spit in the face of every dedicated ESL teacher.

No fries with that!

Teachers as mentors and heroes (part two)

As we ESL teachers and TESOL providers--- especially those teaching in financially impoverished countries--- strive to help others to financially improve their "lot in life", are we not, at the same time, helping to turn them into the same capitalist and consumerist pigs that have now permeated Japan, South Korea, and other developed countries?

We're not just another brick in the wall

Hey teacher, leave those kids alone

I'm learning that ESL teaching is a useless endeavor unless there's a special student in your class. Someone who makes you care and feel. I'm learning that a wall around you, although useful at strategic times, is dangerous when students are relying on you to connect with them and deliver "the goods."

Why don't we ever learn?

ESL teachers, bar girls and the sex industry

I hoped that I would never feel the need to write about bar girls or the sex industry, but these two stories stood out for the simple reason that both of them involved ESL teachers living and teaching in Bangkok.

We work for the room

ESL ghosts of the past

There's been so many bad experiences, I don't know where to start. Forget the times I was ripped off hundreds of dollars from unscrupulous Korean hagwon owners and Taiwanese recruiters. That might take too long and it's another column entirely. I'm still trying to forget the time when one of the nine million Mr. Kims barged into my class and, in front of the students, told me in Korean what a horrible teacher I was.

Boredom in the ESL classroom

What every teacher, student and administrator should know

When I hear of students complaining that they're bored, my first response, at least to myself is, "So?" My next response is, "I really don't care." Which is true. I can't see why I should. I can't see why anybody should care. Education is the solution to boredom. Education offers opportunities for the student that staying ignorant doesn't. It's that simple.

I want your English and nothing more

Human beings first, English teachers second

Most of the students marched lockstep into the manager's office and demanded another teacher. Fair enough. I stepped aside. Was I ready for the seriousness of this class? Absolutely not. I had absolutely no intention of treating this class, or any writing class, with the seriousness that the students demanded. I am a human being first, an ESL teacher second.

Touch their hearts

Touch their hearts and their minds will follow

Let's leave the academic stuff to Thais. Leave all of this pedagogical, impersonal, pompous-ass, Ivy-league, academic mumbo-jumbo for their own people. As westerners, let's teach them some real English.

The TESOL diaspora

Making the outside world a home

I feel that the TESOL community, (if indeed there is such a thing as a TESOL community), is at a crossroads. Since so few of us have ever felt really comfortable living in another man's land, our story is not only one of alienation. It is also one of fragmentation, disillusion, and dissimulation.

The flame of hope

The optimistic goodbye and our living legacy

I've had some great times in Asia, especially Thailand. Times I will never forget. But when it's time to leave, it's time to leave. And we all know when it's time.

Teachers and learners as one

towards a new theology of TEFL

What if God was in our classrooms observing our teaching? Would that change the way we teach? Should it? I've been thinking about this lately. Even a non-believer like me. I would like to think that we would teach better if God were watching us. Would we come to class more prepared? Would we be more compassionate, more caring?

Coming home

It just ain't what it used to be

I remember what I told my family and friends before I left for Korea to teach English for the first time in the spring of 1997. I remember telling them about my biggest fear: To end up like everybody else. I didn't want to end up like everybody else. And what is everybody else?

A Korea story part one

Noble warriors and the culture of Irresponsibility

I believe that just about all of us noble warriors would like to look back on our overseas teaching experiences with pride and come to the conclusion that we did well. I don't know anyone of us who wants to look back at their experiences in anger and disappointment and conclude that they failed.

A family tragedy

How low can language school directors go?

I'm not only mourning my stepmother who lost her battle with cancer. I'm also mourning the cancer that has pervaded this business--- the cancer of hate, the cancer of politics, the cancer of mistrust. Over the years I have asked myself, how low can this TEFL industry go? How low can language school directors sink? Well, I think I just found out.

A Taiwan and Korea story continued

Noble warriors and the culture of Irresponsibility

It has often been said that a lot of people--- whether it be Immigration officials, those who work in Embassies or Consulates, members of the business and academic community, and many everyday people--- don't want us in their country. Some want to learn English. Many need to learn English. And most parents want their kids to learn English. But many people don't want us here.

Caring or kinky?

Corporal punishment in public schools

According to studies and surveys, neither the majority of teachers, parents, nor students are against corporal punishment in school. In fact, an overwhelming majority are for it and see very little, if anything wrong with it, as long as it is meted out "fairly."

We don't learn like that!

Arrogance at the top and the politics of language schools

I realize that many language schools have a huge problem listening to their teachers, especially the native English teachers. It's as if they want us to shut up and tow the party line; don't rock the boat; don't try to fix things. How is anything suppose to change for the better in an atmosphere like that? It's not enough for many language schools to tell us what to teach; they also feel they need to tell us what to think. It's their way or the highway.

The greatest myth

How communicative language teaching fails

These truths are not wild, philosophical, esoteric ramblings. How we choose to teach English as a second or foreign language is a perfect example of how our methods of teaching is failing the very same people it was meant to help.

From Boulder to Bangkok

Thailand at a crossroad

When I heard that a teacher, an EFL teacher at that, had been picked up in Bangkok on suspicion of the JonBenet Ramsey murder, I knew that things would change. Or, at least, I hope that things will change. For the better. I, like everyone else, heard the name John Mark Karr for the first time

The deep bow and the silent fart

Where does respect for teachers actually come from?

I don't care about students bowing to me when I enter the room. That is learned behavior. And whatever is learned can be unlearned and replaced with something more practical, like coming to class prepared to learn English by bringing your pen and notebook; like paying attention while the teacher is speaking

The courage to be fair and honest

The intelligence to see the big picture

I have just read the article in the Korea Times entitled "12 Foreign English Teachers Suspected of Drug Abuse" and have been appalled by the light in which you have put foreign English teachers in Korea. I can understand your need to sell a story by the use of using a powerful heading to draw people in. But it has come at a cost of discriminating against the foreign community in Korea.

Taking back the profession

getting rid of the EFL riff-raff

We are talking about setting objective standards to a profession that is long overdue. And by setting these standards, we will be getting rid of a whole lot of really bad people; people that have absolutely no business stepping foot inside a classroom, in Thailand or anywhere else.

The politics of Babopalooza

The joke is on us

The stress and aggravation of life in Korea for expats can be brutal at times, and that's why it's important to blow off a little steam every now and then. During times like these, most expats simply get together to eat, drink, and complain about life in a society that still views foreigners as less than equal.

Racism in the TEFL industry

The Hines-Ward effect

Yes racism still exists in America and other Western nations. But there's a difference. Here in many parts of Asia, there is no classification of racist acts because no distinction is made between the racist act and the racist person.

Teacher as leader

An article in the Korea Times

Far too many native English teachers come to Korea with neither plans nor goals in dramatically raising the English language ability of their students. Having failed, they then blame the Korean education system for being uninspiring and unprogressive.

The Virginia Tech backlash

Insensitive foreigners at a sensitive time

Koreans have taken this tragedy to heart, even when they didn't have to. That was the important thing missed by many foreigners here. After all, Cho Seung-hui had spent the last two-thirds of his life in the United States, and was very familiar with American values and customs

Delusions of the lowly and mediocre

A letter home from the mad world of an English teacher

Dear Mom and Dad. Just imagine, last year I was getting my B.A. in Sociology, (minor in Leisure Studies), and stacking cat food part-time on the shelves of Wal Mart. And now, bam! I'm a teacher. Glad I refused that job offer at Burger King. If only the guys can see me now.

TEFL's number one enemy

Losers to the right of me, morons to my left

There are many successful teachers here in Korea and elsewhere. I have been lucky enough to work with many great teachers. But they are a rare breed, indeed. Successful teachers don't allow the system to beat them down. They rise up to answer the call again and again.

You are the solution

what foreign teachers don't want to hear

Many foreign teachers forget that they're not in Kansas anymore, and demand that their hosts adapt to them rather than trying to find a middle-ground where a reasonable compromise can be reached. If many foreign teachers are the problem, (and they are), then they are also the solution.

Creating classroom culture

Cultivating universal values and striving for excellence

There are some good teachers out there to get you through these first rough few months of uncertainty. From those who say, "Lay down the law the first week of class. You're not their friend, you're their teacher", to those who offer good introductory first day lessons, there is a lot of good advice out there if one knows where to look.

The perfect storm

Dopey foreigners and mentally deficient Koreans part one

So Korea, go ahead and continue to hire unqualified native English teachers. You know exactly what you're doing. You're hardly walking and talking testaments to your own good judgement. A plague on all your houses!

Finding the poetry

English teachers, Sonny's outcry, and finding the poetry

Governments and Immigration officials in various countries, including South Korea and Thailand, are finally starting to crack down on English teachers who have proven themselves to be less than desirable.

Not in my classroom

Dopey foreigners and mentally deficient Koreans

It's not that I love to discipline students. I don't. But it is part of my job and I accept that. I have precious little time as it is to teach my students the English they need to know, so I would rather not waste class time telling students to sit down, keep quiet, and stop throwing things.

My tears and your legacy

A letter to President-Elect Lee Myung-bak.

Recently the laws of South Korea were modified to improve the vetting process in the hiring of foreign English teachers. Analyzing my blood and urine for specific diseases and pre-existing conditions is one thing.

Outsourcing in the TEFL industry

It's not just for blond-haired blue-eyed wonders anymore.

no one bitches and moans like foreign English teachers. Especially the foreign English teachers with blond hair and blue eyes. Especially the foreign English teachers who have been spoiled over the last three plus decades with free airline tickets to and from home and rent-free apartments

Understanding culture

Or the culture of understanding?

If knowing more about a specific culture can make me a better teacher while I'm living there, then I'd be more than happy to sign up and pay for some culture course. But keep the "My Culture Is Better Than Your Culture" crap out of it

Bananas and condoms

How some EFL teachers are attempting to proselytize the flock

Every now and then we come across ethnocentric people who believe that their culture and society are vastly superior to anything the "socially depraved" West has ever produced. There are two sides to this debate. This is the other side.

Honor thy mother and thy father

family, redemption, being a man and a priceless gift

When you reach my age--- I recently turned 49--- there are certain letters and phone calls I dread. My sister Rena emailed me towards the end of May. It was one such letter.

The purpose driven teacher

Self motivation and the teacher's heart

The Purpose Driven Teacher guides his students towards progression by using a pedagogical method that takes them where they need to go quickly, effectively, and efficiently. With a Purpose Driven Teacher, there is no time to waste; every moment counts.

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The Hot Spot

Teacher mistakes

Teacher mistakes

What are the most common mistakes that teachers make when they are about to embark on a teaching career in Thailand? We've got them all covered.

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Will I find work in Thailand?

Will I find work in Thailand?

It's one of the most common questions we get e-mailed to us. So find out exactly where you stand.

Air your views

Air your views

Got something to say on the topic of teaching, working or living in Thailand? The Ajarn Postbox is the place. Send us your letters!

The dreaded demo

The dreaded demo

Many schools ask for demo lessons before they hire. What should you the teacher be aware of?

Can you hear me OK?

Can you hear me OK?

In today's modern world, the on-line interview is becoming more and more popular. How do you prepare for it?

Renting an apartment?

Renting an apartment?

Before you go pounding the streets, check out our guide and know what to look out for.