As I bask in the warm glow of my 20th year in the TEFL industry, I... (wait a minute! That doesn't sound right. And it doesn't even feel right. Let me try it again.)
As I lament the last 20 years of my life in and out of the TEFL industry, (YES, that's it!), I can't help but wonder how I haven't completely lost my mind. (Now that's far more realistic.)
The 20-year mark is a source of shame in my family. Ask one of my sisters what I do for a living and she may respond, "he's a grave digger." And in some ways, she's right. It seems I've been digging my own grave since 1997, my first-year teaching in Korea.
In August 2004, I was sitting in a beer bar in Bangkok listening to "Mike" from the UK. He had just won the Powerball TEFL Lottery and he was grinning from ear to ear. "So, there I was in Koh Phi Phi just working on my tan and minding my own business when this guy walks over to me and offered me a job at his language school. I never taught English in my life, but he said it doesn't matter. Just keep the students happy, he said, and you'll do well. And just like that, shazam! I'm an English teacher. And just like that, shazam! I'm making 30,000 baht a month!"
Every word of that is true, except ‘shazam.' (I like the word ‘shazam.')
In 2002 I was applying for a teaching job in Korea. The language school director called my home in Montreal and my step-mother answered. (I wasn't home at the time.) My step-mother inquired about what documents should be sent to him as part of the application process. I just have one question, the director responded. Is he handsome?
Yes, that was the question! Is he handsome? Apparently, my Bachelor's Degree in Philosophy meant nothing. How insulting! People who have met me over the years are usually shocked at my uncanny resemblance to Brad Pitt. In fact, people have been calling me Brad (or Mr. Pitt) for many years. I'm often stopped on the streets of major world cities, surrounded by throngs of screaming young women asking for my autograph. I've grown used to it.
Yes, he is, replied my step-mother. And just like that, shazam! I got the job.
Times have changed
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. I believe that the Powerball TEFL industry is the most corrupt, morally bankrupt, ethically challenged, and educationally-stunted industry in the universe. But hey, maybe it's just me.
True, many schools are now asking for criminal background checks, checking references, and making applicants authenticate their degrees and certificates, (things I didn't see 15-20 years ago), but it is still fairly easy to fake this or get around that. With the right connections, many teachers never have to go through this process.
The Powerball TEFL Lottery is still very much alive and well. Schools still, by and large, settle for whoever they can get when all the Masters Degrees in Education and PhDs are sitting comfortably at their desks. When I was scouting around for schools just last August, I was told by the assistant director at a school in Laos that the job didn't go to me because someone just happened to walk in the door at the exact time the director was looking for someone to fill a vacancy. Sometimes the TEFL power balls fall in line to kiss you, and sometimes they don't.
I can't help but wonder what can happen if any other sector in a free-market society chose their employees this way; where someone is hired just for winning the lottery or for simply being in the right place at the right time. Take the medical profession. Can you imagine some 24-year-old backpacking shmoo sitting on the beach minding his own business when suddenly the director of Good Luck Memorial Hospital happens to stroll by looking for doctors?
"So, there I was, just catching some rays on the beach when this guy from Good Luck Memorial Hospital strolls by and offers me a job. Just like that! But I don't have any experience, I say. That's okay, he says. We also have a 120-hour online course where you learn the latest techniques in brain surgery and liver transplants. Okay, I say, and shazam! I'm a doctor."
Needless to say, I would have some concern for heart-attack and stroke patients under his care.
Take the airline industry.
"So, I just happened to walk into Fly Anywhere Airlines and the CEO says to me, Hey! So glad you're here. Just so happens we're looking for a pilot. The other one we had just disappeared. But I have no flying experience, I say. No problem, he says. We offer a 120-hour online course where we familiarize you with all the control panels. Then we put you in a simulator where you can practice take-offs and landings. Okay, I say, sounds great! And, shazam! I'm a pilot." I'm thinking the lawsuits are the only things that will fly.
"So, I just happen to walk into Harry, Larry, and Barry's Law Office and Harry says to me..."
Okay, I'll stop now. Yes, the Powerball TEFL industry is a joke. In fact, it's a series of jokes. And when the laughing stops, people suffer. At the very least they get robbed. Far too many parents are taken for their money, and too many students are robbed of a genuine and decent education.
The Chinese way
I'm thinking about the school in China where I taught last year. I would rather not think about it since it gives me a headache. It was a K-12 boarding school on the outskirts of a major city. The high school students were in class from 7:00 a.m. until 9:00, sometimes 9:30 p.m. Eleven, sometimes twelve classes a day with a two hour and twenty-minute break for lunch.
There I was, teaching for the TOEFL exam. I loved most of the students, especially my grade 10 class, and still miss many of them. But the management --- oh, don't get me started on that! From the owner, a rich builder with absolutely no background in education or child psychology, to the principal, a marketer with absolutely no background in education or child psychology, to the Chinese teachers, many of them dedicated, but sycophantic yes - people too timid and fearful to stand up to a corrupt and morally bankrupt management.
When four of my grade 11 students colluded to cheat on a TOEFL writing assignment, I brought them to the head teacher of the English department and asked to talk to their parents. After being given excuses by the head teacher, (oh, but the parents live far from here. And they are very busy...), I did meet with one of the parents. I also let the principal know. They were given the proverbial slap on the wrist and told not to do it again.
On another occasion, I accused some of the Chinese teachers of helping their students cheat, and turn a blind eye when they do, when I noticed inconsistent markings on test papers I was correcting. (Coincidently, I was never asked to correct test papers after that. If any teacher out there is wondering how to get out of correcting essays, try this.)
But the most remarkable thing that I have ever heard in my 20 years in this corrupt, morally bankrupt, ethically challenged, and horrific excuse for an industry, was at this school. It was relayed to me by a colleague, a foreign teacher from the United States. It was something the owner of the school told him, (the same owner and builder with absolutely no background in education or child psychology), a full three years before I arrived. A little context here:
We were preparing the grade 10 students for their monthly unit test. I thought I was going to write the test for my grade 10 class, and I was looking forward to that. But no! Since I was in charge of the TOEFL writing part, all I had to do was come up with a TOEFL writing task that would match the unit in the English textbook.
The English textbook had absolutely nothing to do with the TOEFL exam. And to top it off, the book was way to difficult for at least 75 percent of the students; about 15-20 times above their ability to learn the English language gradually and in an engaging way. A few of the students could not even speak a word of English, let alone be expected to write a 300-word essay using the rigid TOEFL writing structure.
The book was chosen by the owner, (yes, the same owner with absolutely no background in education or child psychology.) And to top it off again, this book was used 14 times a week! Seven classes a week with a foreign teacher and seven classes a week with a Chinese teacher. Many of these students ‘tuned out', or slept, or sat there in a catatonic state. Why bother trying when the grades are predetermined?
Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) was a Russian cognitive psychologist who studied "how children learn new skills. Vygotsky explained that children learn best, and are most motivated, when the material they're learning is just beyond the reach of their current abilities. In the classroom context, this means the teacher guides them to clear the hurdle presented by the task, but not so heavy-handedly that they feel their existing skills weren't useful in reaching the task's solution. Vygotsky called this the ‘zone of proximal development.'" (Adam Alter, "Irresistible: Why you are addicted to technology and how to set yourself free." (Vintage books; London, England. pp. 174-75.)
In other words, learning in increments; learning a little bit at a time. This is not just child psychology; it's common sense, something that many school owners, principals, and directors lack.
When students learn this way, it's challenging and fun. Good teachers know this. It's unfortunate and incredible that the imbeciles running this school, and in so many other schools, have no inkling how students actually learn. It's like the dumber you are, the higher you rise in the insane world of TEFL.
Standing in the teacher's room that morning I was stunned. Stupidity I expected, but this!?!? I must have looked like an imbecile because the American teacher explained, "Three years ago I wrote to the editors of the book. I received an email from them saying that the book should not be used for 14 classes a week. It is only supplementary ESL material.
So, we had a meeting with the owner and the principal. I told them what the editors told me. I even showed them the email. Nothing! They wouldn't even listen to us. Finally, I let my anger show. This is ridiculous! I shouted. And you know what the owner said?"
I shook my head no. Then he told me. In eight words. It was an eight-word response from the owner that he would never forget. And neither would I. "She said ‘sometimes we have to do what is ridiculous.'"
"Sometimes we have to do what is ridiculous."
Those eight words completely encapsulate exactly what is wrong with the TEFL industry. Those eight words perfectly summarize precisely why this industry is the most corrupt, morally bankrupt, ethically challenged, and socially irresponsible industry on the face of the earth.
The people in charge would rather punish people, would rather see teachers suffer through their classes than treat them with respect, and educate the students properly.
Have a meeting to discuss and come up with solutions to material that is way above the ability of the students? Why do something that rational when they can just bang their heads against the same tree until all the coconuts fall.
"Sometimes we have to do what is ridiculous."
Engage the foreign teachers in discussions on how to stop cheating? Hey, there are still some coconuts on the tree.
"Sometimes we have to do what is ridiculous."
Twelve classes a day. Fourteen hours a day. You sit in English class, try to do and understand, and 45 minutes later a bell rings. You put your books away and walk to your next class. You sit in Biology class, try to do and understand, and 45 minutes later a bell rings. You put your books away and walk to your next class. You sit in Math class, try to do and understand, and 45 minutes later a bell rings. You put your books away and walk to your next class. You sit in History class, try to do and understand, and 45 minutes later a bell rings. You put your books away and...
Ken Robinson, a British writer and education reformer, and Lou Aronica, make an interesting point in their book, "Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That's Transforming Education", (Penguin Books, 2015), regarding the compartmentalizing of school days and the work place. But I will paraphrase from what I remember reading.
An interesting point
Imagine if whole societies ran this way. Imagine if the work place or free-market economies did this. You wake up at 7:00 a.m. and go straight to your job at HR. You do whatever it is you do at HR, then 45 minutes later a loud siren is heard throughout the city. You drop what you're doing and run to the hospital to perform an appendectomy. Then 45 minutes later a loud siren is heard throughout the city. You drop what you're doing and go to the airport to do some air-traffic controlling. Then 45 minutes later a loud siren is heard throughout the city. You drop what you're doing and go to the closest supermarket to bag groceries. Then 45 minutes later a loud siren is heard throughout the city. You drop what you're doing and...
My God, man! The whole bloody world would collapse if this happened. And yet, this is exactly how schools work; or don't work! This is how we educate children, or don't educate children.
How did we get to this point? How did we screw up so badly? We are the same species that put men on the moon. We invented language, automobiles, computers, iPads, smart phones, and pop tarts. Pop tarts! And toasters to put them in to make them hot and crispy.
But we still have no idea how to properly educate children? No idea how to find solutions to the problem of education? Really? And we sit around with our collective thumbs up our collective butts and wonder why many students do poorly. The dumber you are, the higher you rise in the world of education. Keep banging your head against the same tree until all the coconuts fall.
"Sometimes we have to do what is ridiculous."
I should say that the abysmal state of education is a worldwide problem, and not confined to the world of TEFL, or a few countries, or a particular continent.
The zone of proximal development, which Vygotsky talks about, is incredibly motivating for students. Students don't just learn effectively and efficiently, they also enjoy it.
In his 1990 book, Flow, about the "psychic benefits of mastering a challenge," Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, (pronounced, ‘Chick-sent-me-high'), "noticed that many artists became deeply embedded in the business of making art --- so deeply that they allowed hours and hours to pass without feeling the need to eat or drink... they lost track of time.
Some report a sense of profound joy or rapture; a rare, long-lasting euphoria that only seems to arise reliably in these rare situations characterized by challenges and the ability to just barely overcome those challenges. (As Csikszentmihalyi acknowledged, flow has been a major part of many Eastern philosophies and religions for centuries. His major contribution was to refine and translate the idea for a new audience."Adam Alter, "Irresistible: Why you are addicted to technology and how to set yourself free." (Vintage books; London, England. p. 176.)
Try to interrupt students experiencing this rapture and euphoria while they immerse themselves in a task they enjoy. Try that experiment and see what happens. You may run headlong into the ‘Zeigarnik Effect.' Twentieth Century Lithuanian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik designed an experiment where she invited "a group of adults into her lab to work on twenty different brief tasks.
Some of these tasks were manual, like creating clay figurines and building boxes, and others were mental, like arithmetic sums and puzzles. Zeigarnik allowed her participants to complete some of the tasks, but she interrupted them before they could complete others, and forced them to move on to the next task. The subjects were loath to stop, and they sometimes objected quite strenuously. Some were even angry, which showed how much tension Zeigarnik introduced with her interruptions. At the end of the experiment, she asked them to remember as many of the tasks as they could.
The results were striking. Her participants recalled about twice as many unfinished tasks as they did finished ones. Zeigarnik summarized her results: ‘When the subject sets out to perform the operations required by one of these tasks there develops within him a quasi-need for completion of the task. This is like the occurrence of a tension system which tends towards resolution. Completing the task means resolving the tension system, or discharging the quasi-need. If a task is not completed, a state of tension remains and the quasi-need is unstilled.'" (Adam Alter, "Irresistible: Why you are addicted to technology and how to set yourself free." (Vintage books; London, England. pp. 193-94)
So, what is the ‘Zeigarnik Effect?' "Incomplete experiences occupy our minds far more than completed ones." (Ibid. p. 194.)
The next time you're at a job interview, dear teachers, and some idiot interviewer asks this idiotic question, "So tell me, how do you motivate your students?", point this out. Quote Vygotsky and Csikszentmihalyi. Then inquire about the material they're using to bore the students to death. Throw the ‘Zeigarnik Effect' at them. You probably won't get the job, (nobody likes a smartass, especially an arrogant smartass), but it's always fun seeing the moronic looks on their faces from an answer they didn't expect.
There is no law which states that students must drop whatever they're doing every 45 or 50 minutes so that they can mindlessly move on to something else. There is no rule which states that 30 or 40 or 50 children of different abilities, different moods, and different life experiences must sit in the same room, wear the same clothes, read the same book, be on the same page, answer the same questions, have the same answer to the same questions, have the same opinion, eat the same food, and have their bladders function at precisely the same time.
If there is a rule like that, it was put in place, and kept in place, by evil, sick, and psychologically-twisted people who take sadistic pleasure in watching other people suffer.
I don't need this anymore; this stress, this aggravation, this stupidity. I'm 58 years old and I'm still recovering. I have money in the bank. I have books to read. I don't need this. What am I recovering from? Oh, thank you for asking.
Last August 2017, I awoke with a headache and severe double vision in my right eye. I went to the hospital. All sorts of tests were taken. I saw an ophthalmologist. I was diagnosed with ‘Sixth Cranial Nerve Palsy.' The muscles around my right eye collapsed, and so did my right eye!
"Your eye is fine" the doctor said.
"Oh, that's good" I said relieved.
"It's your brain. Something wrong in your brain."
"Well gee! Thanks doc." Who said Thai doctors aren't direct? I asked what it could be.
"We don't know yet. Could be cancer. Could be brain tumor. You need CT scan. Then we know." Just what I needed, more directness.
Two mornings later I went back for the CT scan. For two days I thought I had cancer. For two long days I thought I could have a brain tumor. What will I tell my family? Here I am in Thailand, alone and loving it. And now this. That same evening, I went back for the results.
"Good news!" the doctor beamed.
"You had a stroke. A minor stroke."
That's good news? I would hate to hear the bad news. A damaged cranial nerve. But I guess it's better than cancer or a brain tumor. So now the recovery begins. "How long will it take to recover?" I asked the good doctor.
"You need to lose weight. You need to change your diet. More fruits and vegetables. More fish. No fried food. You need to increase your blood-pressure and cholesterol medication. Your blood-pressure is very high. You need to exercise. And you need to lose weight."
"You already said that."
"Losing weight is very important."
I did recover, in five months instead of six. Long walks on the beach, more healthy food, monitoring my blood pressure, I quit drinking alcohol. I don't smoke, so that's not a problem. I got the hell off social media, or anti-social media as I like to call it. No more arguing with idiots on Facebook. And I'm trying to lose weight. That last part is not easy.
But the best part of having double vision for three months was walking into a go-go bar and, instead of seeing 10 bikini-clad women on stage, I saw 20. I was almost sad to see my double vision clear.
When life flashes before you
It is true what they say about people who suffer health scares and medical emergencies. There is no feeling of calm or serenity; I'll save that for the old-age home. But there is a fierce need to suddenly prioritize; to realize and accept what is truly important in life.
I no longer tolerate stupidity or stupid people; found abundantly in this industry. I no longer allow myself, or other dedicated and caring teachers, to carry the blame for the stupidity, idiocy, and ridiculous polices put in place by the educationally-challenged bigwigs. (A large load, indeed.) I am no longer willing to spend another second of my life in bad schools with a toxic work environment watching dumb people doing dumb things.
What? You mean to say there are still some people out there who think, "This Steve Schertzer character is exaggerating. It really can't be this bad." Well, as the good doc said, I am brain damaged. So, cut me some slack.
In the 20 years I've been in this hellhole of an industry, I have seen 14-year old's with gray hair, fifteen-year old's with anxiety disorders, sixteen-year old's hugging pillows in class the way a four-year-old clutches Winnie the Poo. High school students with high-blood pressure, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
There are thousands of adolescents who fling themselves off 25 story apartment buildings every year because they failed a Math exam, or weren't admitted into a top university. This is normal to the people who run this industry? Nothing wrong here! Nothing to see as they cover up another dead body! Everybody go home!
"Sometimes we have to do what is ridiculous."
To me, it's an absolute miracle, not to mention a living testament to the strength and courage of middle and high school students everywhere, that they don't take that knife out of their backpack and stab themselves 47 times given what they have to go through day in and day out.
As English teachers throughout the world know, many societies in Asia and the Middle-East are hierarchical. That's different from what we westerners are used to. But the need by those in positions of authority to control teachers and other employees to the point of breaking contracts, withholding payment, publicly embarrassing them, disrespecting them, humiliating them, and even threatening them would be seen in the West as a psychiatric disorder.
Ken Robinson does offer solutions, for those who want to hear. Again, I will paraphrase. First and foremost, students must want to be in school. It's impossible to teach someone who's hanging out at the mall. Second, find out what the students are interested in, and focus on that.
A room with a purpose
Next, get rid of this horrible and pathological concept that each class must be 45-50 minutes in length. Make the classrooms bigger, much bigger. Remove those horrible tiny wooden desks and rickety chairs, (reminiscent of the Soviet era), and replace them with round tables more conducive to group work and student cooperation. (Some schools already do this.) And classify the classrooms by subject: A Math room, a Biology room, an English room, a Chinese room, a History room, and so on.
Have reading rooms, music rooms, gym rooms, woodworking shops, car repair shops, and a theater room where students can rehearse plays, put on skits, and strut around like Hamlet and Othello. The students will still have every subject they need to study, but they will do them much more creatively, intelligently, and more aligned with the psychology of human development.
Get rid of clocks. No more clocks in the classrooms. They will not be needed. The students will go from room to room to learn and study each subject in their own time. If some of them want to spend an hour in the Math room doing mathematical things before moving on to the music room, that's fine.
If some others want to spend 90 minutes or two hours in the woodworking shop before moving on to an English class, fantastic! If some of them want to spend all day reading and running laps, great! If others want an hour of history but only 30 minutes of Chinese, then it's time to congratulate them on their time-management skills.
If some students want to spend half the day practicing Shakespeare and the other half alternating between Math and Science, give them a high-five! They will still be graded on all their subjects. Better than that, the teachers will be free to grade their students in accordance with their character and personality.
Diagnostic, formative, and summative assessment has always been tricky for schools and teachers. For students who are not good at taking tests or exams, they can do more task-based or project-based assignments. For those that are not proficient in writing book reports or something more project-based, they can take more exams.
Best of all, besides the core subjects, students are also learning life lessons such as responsibility, respect, cooperation, self-discipline, self-motivation, team work, and time-management skills, just to name a few. As for the teachers, it's time to get off the stage. As a teacher in Robinson's book says, we are not "the sage on the stage, but the guide on the side."
If spending 10 or 12 hours a day in a brick and mortar school seems excessive, take two or three afternoons a week and have the students do community volunteer work. They could clean parks, visit hospitals to read stories to children with cancer, entertain children in orphanages, and help feed the elderly in geriatric centers. The students will even get extra credit for this. What a learning experience this would be for them!
And, for God sakes, get rid of the ubiquitous and abhorrently loud school bell along with the equally annoying announcements on loud-speakers made by 56-year-old, grey-haired lady administrators: "DEAR STUDENTS! TODAY'S MENU IS MACARRONI AND CHEESE. PLEASE WASH YOUR HANDS THOROUGHLY BEFORE ENTERING THE LUNCH ROOM, AND ENJOY YOUR LUNCH!" (Sound of a microphone being dropped.)
Do schools really need that? Besides, it's Thursday. Every student already knows that Thursday is macaroni and cheese day.
Joel Beckerman is a musician and the author of "The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the way We Think, Feel, and Buy." (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Press, 2014.) There are things in this book that most people will never think about, but will certainly feel.
Beckerman is also a strategic sound consultant. He goes to hospitals, companies, and schools to advise people how sound could be used to create a more comfortable and vibrant work environment conducive to learning, creating, and feeling better.
Why would a school need a strategic sound consultant? Loud noises frighten people. The last thing schools need are loud bells that can wake the dead and scare the living. Each of the rooms in the school could have its own unique music or sounds that create the atmosphere needed for the students to learn and complete their work at their own pace.
We are guiding the students through incremental learning, since it is they who are learning at their own pace. Each room becomes a ‘Zone of Proximal Development.' We are guiding them through Csikszentmihalyi's version of flow. Since there are no clocks, no bells, no whistles or loud blasts of any kind, there are no interruptions, leaving the students with the choice of completing a task before moving to the next one. Thus, no ‘Zeigarnik Effect.'
I actually tried some of this with task-based exercises for my grade 10 class last year at that horrible school in China. This "experiment" lasted three wonderful weeks. I was reading Robinson's book at the time, and thought I'd "give it a whirl." The students loved it, but many, admittedly, weren't ready for the responsibility and self-discipline this method calls for; another way schools are failing their students by not teaching these life lessons.
The principal, the head teacher of the English department, and the Chinese English teacher of that grade 10 class, how did they react? Boy, did they come after me! They chased me down the hall as I checked on the students. The poor students could hear us yelling at each other as I defended them. Needless to say, my contract wasn't renewed.
In the 20 years I've been slowly losing my mind in the industry, I do have regrets. But only three of them.
1) Not standing up to the bullies and educational retards that run many schools;
2) Not standing up for good, dedicated, and caring teachers as much as I should have; and
3) Not standing next to many students, as they let teachers know what is important to them, and specifically how they themselves learn.
A case in point on number three: A few years ago when I taught at a high school in Phnom Penh, I caught a student in my 12th grade class drawing pictures in her art book rather than doing her English work. I told her to put it away. When she did not, I took the sketch book from her and didn't give it back until the end of the day.
It was like I ripped her arm off, and in a strange way, I did. She hated me after that. Two years later, at this horrible school in China, I caught one of my 10th graders drawing pictures. I slowly walked over to her, bent over to take a closer look and said, "Wow, that is beautiful!" Her smile lit up the room. In both cases the pictures were beautiful; three-dimensional figures of singers or movie-stars in elaborate gowns and sequined jewelry. It's incredible how some students can do that. As I enquired into her artistic skills, it turns out that she spent a lot of her time drawing, raising the ire of her parents. Whenever she felt sad or anxious or depressed, she told me, she would draw, and immediately felt better.
In the second term on every Friday I began "Catch up day", where, for the 45-minute class, students who finished their work for that week could do whatever they wanted, except sleep. Some read a book, others listened to music, or got caught up with homework, or did work from another class. The girl who drew pictures continued to draw pictures. I looked forward to "Catch up day" and so did the students. It gave us a chance to know each other better.
It is often said that a teacher wears many hats. That is true. A teacher is also asked to wear a uniform, and the uniform a teacher chooses will make all the difference whether or not he or she is liked, valued, respected, and supported by the principal, director, administrators, fellow teachers, and the students. Different uniforms will get you valued and respected by different people.
Wear the uniform of a strict administrator and you run the risk of not being liked by the students. Wear the uniform of the students and you run the risk of being run out of town by the principal or the director. Wear the uniform of a director and nobody will like or support you.
Let there be no doubt where my loyalties lie. After 20 years of watching students getting screwed out of a decent education, I am squarely on their side. I wear the student's uniform proudly and with honor. Why do I choose to wear the students' uniform? It's like the old joke, why do grandparents and their grandchildren get along so well? Because they share a common enemy!
I know I have come down hard on this industry in this blog, and for good reason. What started as an industry with so much potential has turned into just another industry run by sleazy, ethically-bankrupt people who put profits above principle and money over morality. What began as a potentially worthwhile cultural exchange opportunity for both sides, ended up becoming a corrupt criminal enterprise.
It's sad because....
In the end, it's sad. It's sad because this industry could have been so much better. It can do so much better. It's sad because an ESL monkey like me can spend time and energy reading and studying how to become a better teacher, and learn from his experiences, while most of the bigshots in positions of power can't be bothered to pick up a book on education reform or spend one minute in deep thought about how they got it so wrong.
It's sad because so many teachers from the United States, Canada, the UK, Australia, South Africa, and the Philippines go to countries around the globe with the best of intentions; with dreams and aspirations of making a positive difference in the lives of their students, only to be disrespected by the powers that be, used as cash cows by the schools, their ideas ignored, their unique experiences invalidated, their creativity quashed as they are constantly told to "do as you're told" and "not make waves."
It's sad because instead of supporting caring and dedicated teachers, the powers that be choose to continually walk away without listening to them. This goes for both the local and foreign teachers. It's not only the students who dare to stand out like a nail that gets hammered down; it's the teachers as well. Try something new, something unorthodox, even something weird; then watch the hammers come after you. That's an industry stuck in the mud, spinning its wheels, and going nowhere. That's sad.
The TEFL Powerball is still in place, but every once in a while, it seems to morph into something resembling a different monster.
Favoritism, an avoidance of older teachers or pleasingly corpulent teachers in favor of young and thin backpackers with all their teeth. Many schools are now a ruse for nepotism, preferring to hire friends or friends of friends of the teachers and administrators already there. Better to play it safe, I suppose. At times this may give the appearance of change, but as the saying goes, the more things change the more they stay the same.
I am feeling better since my health scare last August, but I still have my days. In the last few weeks I have looked on ajarn.com and sent a few cover letters and CVs out to a few schools that interest me; the few schools that I think supports its teachers and treats them with the respect they deserve. Why, you may ask? With my recent health scare and everything I have said about this industry? That's ridiculous.
Well, I do miss the students and the classroom experience. Remember, I wear their uniform with pride and honor. And let's not forget the new educational mantra...
"Sometimes we have to do what is ridiculous."