Powerball TEFL

Sometimes we have to do what is ridiculous


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.

Shazam!

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."

'Encapsulate'

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.

Human behavior

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.

Health scare

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.

"Oh?"

"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.

"Six months"

Six months?!?!?!

"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.

Beckerman's studies

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."


Comments

“I am not sure why you seem to have a personal vendetta against me”

Not at all, Jack. I’m trying to have a conversation. I hope we all are. People will often disagree with others. It doesn’t have to be personal. All you can do is put forward your points. Take them or leave them. Don't be angry because someone won’t come to your way of thinking.

“You seem to believe one’s nationality has no impact on one’s professional prospects”

I never said that. I said I felt it depressing (and might I add now, reprehensible) that anyone would alienate others based on their gender, race and/or socioeconomic circumstances.

“I suspect you could use the fact the average income in Sweden and Bangladesh are exactly the same”

What would you like the people of Sweden to do? Apologize for being born? Bend over? Why not compare Japan’s average income with that of the Chinese? I do believe the two countries have a bit of a history. One side being a bit of an asshole to the other during WW2. That would have been more relative. Well, except that they’re most definitely not Caucasian.

“one’s appearance (including gender and skin color) is never considered when applying for a job”

Don’t understand this one. My school has a Chinese program where they insist on you having a bachelor’s degree and you have to be a native-speaker of Chinese. The science program you need a degree in science. The English program you need a degree in education and a CELTA. Oh, and you need to be a native-speaker of English. They make around 55-65k a month. They prefer females. The school’s policy.

“you seem to believe the path to success for native English speaking teachers in Thailand is to play the victim and claim one is being exploited by evil Thais or others”

I haven’t referenced Thais or any others who may or may not have exploited anyone. My whole point was your ‘while males’ comment. This is what I wanted to talk to you about. That’s all I wanted to talk about. You seem to be speaking to Steve and some other members through me.

Yes, just agree to disagree. It’s a lot simpler. Or, actually address the points being made.

By Craig, Bangkok (2 weeks, 5 days ago)

Craig

I am not sure why you seem to have a personal vendetta against me. But it looks we will have to agree to disagree.

You seem to believe one’s nationality has no impact on one’s professional prospects (I suspect you could use the fact the average income in Sweden and Bangladesh are exactly the same and the demand for Indonesian English teachers is the same as for British English teachers to support your position), one’s appearance (including gender and skin color) is never considered when applying for a job, and like Steve, you seem to believe the path to success for native English speaking teachers in Thailand is to play the victim and claim one is being exploited by evil Thais or others.

I disagree.

We can leave it at that.

By Jack, Around here (2 weeks, 6 days ago)

"Exploitation happens when people have no other or only a few other bad choices"

That's not what exploitation is. Exploitation is using someone unfairly to get an advantage. If people believed in your idea of exploitation, then society would feel that ripping off people you deem to have more than you (based on their appearance or even the color of their skin) would be okay. Which it clearly isn't. We can't just say that because someone is a white male from a rich nation they can't be exploited. Of course they can. Their gender or race has nothing to do with it. This is why this kind of thinking is so harmful.

No one has to be anywhere. And no one has to exploit anyone. We make these choices. If people don't like a place, move. If people don't like being called out for being deceitful, don't be deceitful.

If you feel white males are fair game, don't be too surprised when someone calls you out on that. Many people in the West have grown up believing this ideology is acceptable and never think about it or question it. I personally find it depressing that people would feel it okay to alienate any group of people based on their gender, race and socioeconomic circumstances.

It was nice to see you referring to these people as males and not white males. You're half way there. And, yes, I did major in philosophy. Hence my position as head of SCIENCE. They were forced to give me the job because I'm white, male who has untold riches.

By Craig, Bangkok (3 weeks, 1 day ago)

Yawn . after first 300 words knew what a nonsense rant it was!

By Mark, Bangkok (3 weeks, 1 day ago)

Craig

I am not sure what your rant is about and why you are aiming your anger at me.

On average, being born in a rich English speaking country generally provides an individual with more opportunities to get a quality education and find a way to make a good salary than being born in the least developed economies and most other places in the world. It also provides us an opportunity to go abroad and teach our mother tongue to others with little training or specialized skills.

If you do not think being a white male from a rich Western country does not increase the probability of earning higher wages than obviously you do not have the ability to read or understand basic statistics. (Although if you are like Steve and majored in Philosophy, the major I believe with the lowest average salary of its graduates, you squander some of the advantages).

Exploitation happens when people have no other or only a few other bad choices. While males (which it seems the vast majority of Ajarn readers and contributors are) in general have many options to earn a living. If you want to claim you are exploited because you decided you wanted to leave home, explore the world, and teach English instead of pursuing your other opportunities go ahead.

But when playing the victim, don't be surprised if you get little sympathy from anyone other than like-minded victim oriented English teachers.

By Jack, Here again (3 weeks, 2 days ago)

"Craig, if you read my statement, I stated on average, which in no way implies all white males are part of an undifferentiated group. I cannot comment on the rest of your response as I do not understand it"

Jack, I didn't read past this statement as you are talking to me about something I didn't address. I do not care about finding happiness through acceptance. I'm like a big cow over the moon level of happy. Address my point if you wish, but don't rant on and on about something to me that I'm not talking about. Stop creating strawmen to force the same point down people's throats again and again.

What should readers infer from your 'white males' comment? Why not white females? Do you know how to read and properly interpret stats? You're segregating a group of people to push your agenda. What that agenda is I really don't care. Just don't lump up us all in as the same 'on average' category.

On average white males are very lucky. Sure, that's why I got the job as head of science. Luck. I didn't work hard and pay a fortune for my education. I don't work hard in my job. Give my job to someone else. They clearly deserve it more than me.

Can you see why I found your comment vulgar?

By Craig, Bangkok (3 weeks, 4 days ago)

Craig, if you read my statement, I stated on average, which in no way implies all white males are part of an undifferentiated group. I cannot comment on the rest of your response as I do not understand it.

I do not like to eat liver. So instead of eating liver for dinner every night and then running around my neighborhood telling everyone how terrible my meal was, I just don’t eat it. I don’t like Hip-Hop music, so instead of listening to loud Hip-Hop music just so I am able to complain about the music when I go to work the next day, I don’t listen to it. I once worked on an assembly line, I hated it, so I quit. Are liver, hip-hop music and working on an assembly line “bad”? I don’t know, they are what they are, I just don’t like them so I avoid them.

I didn’t hate teaching ESL, but I thought I could do better (my personal definition of better) so I gained the skills, experience and education needed to move into other types of work that suited me better. Of course I could have, like Steve, stayed in ESL and complained about it every day, but I prefer my chosen path.

Maybe my personal experience was unique, and while I had one school and its British lackey director try to stiff me out of my final paycheck (I raised a big stink and did get paid in the end), but for the most part I liked and respected most of my co-workers, supervisors, students and other people I encountered in my time teaching English. But, for me, the work was not very intellectually stimulating and the pay was pretty poor. So I moved on. My choices, no one forced me to start or stop teaching English.

Each of us can make our own choices. The English teaching business is what it is, in general a low-paid, low status occupation which allows those of us lucky enough to born in an English speaking country to go abroad and work with little training or few specialized skills except having a good grasp of our mother tongue. I think for many people, teaching ESL for a few years can be a great experience, but not a great career. But there are other people with different opportunities, talents, and desires and might find teaching English a rewarding long-term occupation. I don’t think people who make different choices or have different viewpoint from my own are “wrong.” But we should take responsibility for our choices and not blame others for choices that do not work out perfectly.

I am not going to argue with anyone over the quality of life of an ESL teacher or the overall value of the industry, these are very subjective judgments.

But I don’t think having a very negative view of the world and instead of doing something to better one’s life decide to blame some abstract concept such as the ESL industry or the system for one’s unhappiness is either useful or healthy.

Hey, I am an educator, when I see someone doing something which is causing pain, like Steve is experiencing, I want to help. But a person is not going to learn what they don’t want to know. It is emotionally easier in the short-term to blame external forces for one’s unhappiness, but in the long run this is the path to a wasted and miserable life.

I am not trying to insult Steve, I would actually like to see Steve get some help and change paths, away from wallowing in bitterness and self-pity to a path which is more productive and satisfying.

My last word on this post.

By Jack, Away (3 weeks, 5 days ago)

"On average, white guys from rich countries have far more options to make a quality living than the majority of people on the planet"

And herein lies a huge problem. The mentality of assuming/simply telling yourself someone is rich/better off than you/'has enough', therefore it's okay to take something from them. White males are not a set of individuals with different circumstances. They're all merely 'white males'.

2018 is really gonna suck hard. White men shitting all over themselves and other white men for what? To get a pat on the back from other self-loathing white males. No one else is impressed. I came to Thailand to get away from this kind of detrimental thinking.

By Craig, Bangkok (3 weeks, 5 days ago)

My agency tax teachers regardless if they have work permits or not. Most don't have work permits. I pay less in tax than the ones who are on edu visas and tourist visas.

I found out last year that if a teacher leaves at the end of a contract or early, they tax their last month double what they usually would. They told teachers leaving that that's how the tax works. One female teacher went crazy. Told them she'd inform police, immigration and anyone who would listen. She was on tourist visa but didn't care. She was so angry. Agency agreed to only tax normal rate. She kept threatening them and they returned all tax money for her last month. Agency boss laughed awkwardly like it was all a big misunderstanding.

I've never seen my agency boss being so humbled. Didn't see him for two weeks after. That female teacher really embarrassed him. I guess that's the risk you take when stealing from peoples salaries. This is why I keep myself to myself at work. Leave me alone. I don't wanna know what goes on. It's depressing.



By Nick, Chiang Mai (3 weeks, 5 days ago)

Steve

I just don’t believe your desire to paint yourself as a “victim” of the “system” is either useful or positive.

I am not “defending” the ESL industry, it is what it is. Compared to most professional occupations at home or expat jobs, teaching ESL is a low-paid and low-status occupation where the most important qualification is being born in a country where English is the native language. Whoever promised you anything different? This was true when you started 20 years ago and it is true today.

Those of us lucky enough to have been born in wealthy Western countries where English is the native language have on average far more opportunities than the vast majority of people on the planet. We can try our luck through education or other means to try to become part of the elite “one percent” which is mostly made up of people from rich countries, or even if we go into a trade instead of a following a professional career path we can expect to end up in the top 20 or 30 percentile of income earners within the world. Almost none of us are part of the 1 billion people on the planet currently living on less than 1 dollar a day or the other billions living just above this benchmark.

Or those of us lucky enough to be born in rich English speaking countries can even choose to go abroad and find a job teaching English, with being a native of an English speaking country being our main qualification (An option many other people are envious of). Claiming you are a victim because you made this choice is not rational.

On average, white guys from rich countries have far more options to make a quality living than the majority of people on the planet. No one forces any of us to go to Thailand to teach English.

You admit having taught for 20 years and the industry in your view is getting worse, despite your 20 years of attempting to change the industry. So you can easily see all of your whining and complaining have not changed the industry. Do you expect more whining and complaining to work despite the failure of this strategy for the majority of your working life? I suspect you know you cannot change the ESL industry through writing irrational blog posts.

So what is your purpose in playing the victim card?

Go ahead, whine away, but I have serious doubts your claims of exploitation of the white men who voluntarily come to Thailand to teach English (who on average make at least double the national average income) or other countries in Asia is likely to grab the public’s imagination.

But I am pretty sure you know this. Therefore it would appear you have another purpose. I suspect you are seeking confirmation from like-minded individuals to support your blaming some abstract versions of “them” or the “system” for your extreme unhappiness and despair.

While I do understand the short term psychological benefits of blaming external forces for one's situation, I don’t like the chances of your strategy of playing the victim on having any long-term positive effect on your life.

If you disagree, carry on, whine away and come back in a few more years to tell us the results of your chosen path.

By Jack, About here (3 weeks, 6 days ago)

Well said, Steven

"I believe that the Powerball TEFL industry is the most corrupt, morally bankrupt........."

I would like to talk about how some friends and I changed our former agency's policy on sick days. They didn't pay sick days before we worked for them, They said they used to (a collosal lie) but teachers used to take too many of them so they scrapped it completely. We tried to explain to them that they should limit the number of sick days people can have. Have a reward and punishment based system. They said in the most condescending manner possible, "Na, we think it's better the way it is".

We took this on the chin at first, but resentment started to brew. We were teaching kindergarten kids, so you can imagine all the bugs and illnesses going around. One teacher contracted 'pink eye' from the kids. He went to the doctor and got some eye drops. The doctor wrote him a note explaining to his employers (the agency) that he needs to take the week off. The pink eye is very contagious and he should not go in. He asked the agency if he would be paid, and they told him, "NO!". The kind of how-dare-you-ask no. The pink eye was the catalyst for change (bet that sentence has never been uttered before).

The foreign staff called a meeting. The agency said we couldn't. We said we're having a meeting. They said they were too busy. We said we're having a meeting and then they came. We put our case forward and they gave us every excuse under the sun not to pay any sicks days. We told them that without sick days the job is basically part-time. You don't work you don't get paid. We won't feel bad taking sick days because we don't get paid. After a lot of passive aggressiveness they offered us a deal. We could have two sick days paid. The only caveat being that we wouldn't get them paid until the end of the contract. We said absolutely not. We went back and forth and we agreed to five sick days paid in full. The days were also to be paid at the time. Not great but better than before. Oh, they said we must have a doctor's note. We said sure, we'll give you a note as soon as we can pay to see the doctor from the health insurance you promised us. We never got it and they never got their doctor's notes.

I still have friends who work for the agency and they still get their 5 days. Apparently the agency once said something vaguely along the lines of, "If you use all your sick days, it may affect your bonus". Teachers asked them to articulate more and put it into the contract. They didn't and it was all forgotten about.

Agreeable people earn less money and take more shit than less agreeable people. We stopped being so agreeable as it was only serving the interests of the agency. We stuck up for ourselves as a group and we got something that was important to us. That something has carried on to the next group of teachers.

If anyone is offended by a group of teachers fighting for (and getting) some sick days paid, I'd like to tell them simply, "don't ask me why I fought my agency for paid sick days, and I won't ask you why you wouldn't". We all have our motives. Mine was honest.





By Tracy, Nomadicway (3 weeks, 6 days ago)

The comment section of a blog tends to fall into two camps: (1) those who agree with the subject matter and some of the points within it; or (2) those who disagree with the subject matter and some of the points within it.
There seems to be a third camp here, which can be called "nothing to contribute here, but I just thought I'd say something", or "ad hominem." Those who agree may contribute to the conversation by offering other solutions to the problems laid out in the blog. Those who disagree can contribute by stating exactly what it is they disagree with and/or defend certain elements that the blogger railed against. In my case, that would be the educational system or the TEFL industry.

A side note: in 2005 I was fired from my job at a Bangkok language school. They too did not like some of my blogs. One of the men in the room at the time of my firing was the night manager. He also excoriated me one evening after reading something in one of my blogs. Where is this night manager now? He is rotting in a U.S. prison after being tried and convicted of pedophilia. So you'll have to forgive me if I do not take the ad hominem attacks seriously.

For people like "Jim Beam" "and "Jack", assuming you are teachers and human beings, I will hold you to a high standard. As human beings, you are supposedly endowed with reason, powers of persuasion, and the ability to think cohenently. If you disagree with any part of my blog, (or all of it), that's fantastic! You are certainly invited to "move the ball forward" by clearly stating what it is about the TEFL industry or the educational system that you seem to be defending? What exactly is it that you're defending?

The same goes for you, Tom Tuohy. Your point about birds and fish was very interesting. But I seem to have trouble connecting that with the problems of burned-out teachers at 30 years old, overcrowded classrooms, standardized testing, teaching material that is way above the ability of students, the incompetency of many school administrators, and so on. Not everyone is Buddhist. The problems in education are world-wide. Please connect the dots here. I'm not looking for advice. I'm looking for solutions to the problems presented in my blog. Please feel free to contribute some of your own solutions.

And Tom, in 2001 I was teaching at a language school in Daegu, Korea. I was not in Thailand then, and I never taught at Mahidol. Just thought I'd let you know.

By Steve Schertzer, Bangkok (4 weeks ago)

Steve,

you're both hilarious and sad at the same time. I can't decide which at this point. You also appear not to have changed a bit since I worked with you at Mahidol in 2001. That's 17 years and you are still whining about TEFL and thinking it ought to work the way you want it to. You just don't get it and by now it's obvious you never will.

Seems to me that the best advice I can offer is for you to see that your health scare was nature's way of giving you a wake up call; nature's way of telling you that all that negativity you allow to fester in your mind has consequences on your health. The poisonous ideas that you allow yourself to carry around in your head are seriously deleterious and thus damaging to your general wellbeing.

Although I'm married to one, I am not a  Buddhist myself, and so I have undoubtedly absorbed some of their thinking and core beliefs often unconsciously. I find it ironic that one such is the idea that all living things have good and bad elements inside them depending on good and bad past actions and if allowed to stay in the host body, they can cause havoc.

For example, Buddhists will release birds and fish back into the wild usually near or in temples to gain good karma and to expel and expiate bad actions However, they also believe that if, for example, you go to a river next to a temple and remove said fish and eat them, you take on those bad actions yourself and receive bad karma.

That's what I was thinking as I read your post above. You seem to have let your mind get poisoned by unnecessary pablum which you seem incapable of letting go, something in itself quite un-Buddhist and which is slowly causing a great strain on your mental state.

My advice is find another occupation less detrimental to your mental health or nature may not be so forgiving next time around.

Tom

By Tom Tuohy, Zanzibar (4 weeks, 1 day ago)

Tracy: Wow! Now this is what you call a 'rant' An epic one.

Jack: Maybe, or maybe it is a plea for help from someone battling internal demons. It is hard to think of seeing one’s life, prospects, career and everyone and everything one has come across in 20 years of teaching in such a negative life as being healthy or normal.

I suggested to Steve to get some counseling years ago, I don’t know if he took my advice or not (I suspect not) but his world view and self-esteem do not seem to have improved over the years. If anything, his unhappiness and despair seem to have increased (If we can judge these things by his writings).

It would be easy to point out the irrationality of Steve assuming everyone else is evil while assuming he is the only person in the ESL industry and the whole world with good and pure intentions, but I don’t think an argument about whether the entire ESL industry and most of the world are totally bad or not is what Steve is actually seeking out.

I ain’t that type of doctor, but I feel his pain; going through life with so much unnecessary pain and hatred has to be very difficult, I hope he seeks the help it appears he needs.

I found myself in a position where I was asked to help with a co-worker who was dealing with serious mental health issues a little over a year ago, I have never found myself as being so incompetent and out of my depth in my life (I had no idea what to say or do to improve the situation) but it did increase my empathy for people suffering from these issues.

Good luck Steve, you might not be able to change the ESL industry or the entire world but you can change your attitudes and become a happier person if you’re willing to give up the safety net of blaming all of your problems on things out of your control.

By Jack, Here (4 weeks, 2 days ago)

Wow! Now this is what you call a 'rant' An epic one. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Don't agree with half of it, but this is the great thing about being an adult who can think for themselves. You can like someone or something without having to agree with everything they say, and you can dislike someone or something but still find some points you agree on. Life isn't black and white.

"I believe that the Powerball TEFL industry is the most corrupt, morally bankrupt........."

And soon to be bankrupt. Well, the agencies anyway. They're the new 'Blockbuster'.

By Tracy, Nomadicway (4 weeks, 2 days ago)

“But hey, maybe it's just me.”

I think you hit the nail on the head here. Seriously Steve, consider getting some professional help. I am not a specialist or expert, but this rambling incoherent rant would appear to have been written by someone who might benefit from some professional counseling to deal with his personal issues.


By Jack, Here (1 month ago)

This rant puzzles me because its full of contradictions. On the one hand, he slams the TEFL industry for hiring unqualified people who just happen to be in the right place at the right time. On the other hand, it seems that this teacher has never bothered to earn the qualifications to rise about the muck. There ARE plenty of schools that do things the right way - hiring only qualified and experienced teachers, paying a good salary, and creating positive learning environments. But it seems this teacher never really tried to become the sort of teacher that such schools would consider. If you only aspire to the bottom rung of schools that hire anyone that walks through the door, well, what sort of educational standards do you expect?

By Danny, Bangkok (1 month ago)

If you were trying to use Harvard referencing, you forgot the year of the publishing.

By Steve, Bangkok (1 month ago)

Decent rant. I think the biggest issue with tefl (in Thailand in particular) is the use of agents. Agents, of course, skim off the top of everyone's wages for every single payment from start to end of employment. They are parasites. Every single one of them, no matter what BS they try to pull to convince you that they are 'more than just agents'.

Agents seem to dominate most of the jobs on offer in Thailand so they're kind of difficult to avoid. Ours does things like make all the foreign staff come in weeks before the Thai staff each term to decorate their classrooms (!) Obviously, this is just to make the agent 'look good' to the owner of the school. We (foreign teachers) work much harder than the Thais. This is a new one on me, it has to be said. Rumors abound of agents giving 'kickbacks' from staff salaries to the owner(s) too in many cases. I wouldn't doubt for a New York minute that such a thing goes on.

Salaries have frozen here, the cost of living has rocketed and the workloads have increased. I now have to work online too to make a decent salary. I get about 65,000-75,000 baht a month and it's still not all that great. It's certainly not enough to think about retirement plans etc.

Add to this frustration, a proliferation of Pinoy teachers who have bowed and scraped and enslaved themselves to such a level it has impacted on everyone else. Face it, TEFL as a 'career' of any kind in Thailand is over. Unless you're prepared to work 60 hours a week with few benefits (the 'Health insurance' packages are a joke in most cases) forget it. Stay out here too long and you risk being booted out of the country if you fall ill (no matter if you've got a wife and kids and ten years' of 'helping the nation' by teaching in the government schools). Yup. Time to think how 'valued' we really are to these schools/countries.

Despite this, I don't get angry anymore. The best thing to do (if you enjoy teaching, which I do) is to get qualified. I have obtained an M.Ed now and will return to my home country to get properly licensed. If anyone is in the same boat, you just need to take a deep breath , relax and plan your escape. Everyone is different, but I'll need about a million baht to return and start teaching in my country (apartment/flight/money to support myself whilst I train etc). Just choose the path of least resistance when it comes to earning cash to save. For me, that means either the middle east or China later in the year once I've saved a little.

So please everyone in the same predicament, don't get mad. Don't cry. Just plan your way out and don't get angry at how the education systems in far away lands work. Do you think they'll ever listen to Mr Farang? You might as well bring your cat with you and ask them to listen to Mr. Tiddles' opinions. It's all about the money and status, I'm afraid with many Asian education systems. The desperately sad thing is that the kids' education is barely important to many(not all) schools.

Just do what you can (your best for the students) and don't get angry or upset at things you will never be able to change. Believe me, I've got myself into really angry moods (punching walls at home once!) at the frustrations of the Thai education system and feeling 'trapped'.

There are ways out if you need one. Find them and use them. Because nothing will change.

On a final note, tefling is great for a youngster wanting to try life abroad for a couple of years. Probably unfair on the kids in some cases, but I don't think the (now diminishing) presence of western teachers makes this education system any worse. Some teflers find that they enjoy teaching and return home to teach in their own countries. But as a career? Well unless you're talking about some of those high paying jobs in the middle-east, as your sister said, 'You're digging your own grave.'

And as for trying to introduce 'Democratic Learning' in Thailand, that's about as likely as John Goodman being the next Wonderwoman. Actually, I'm not a huge fan of Summerhill myself, but that's another story (I prefer more traditional education models mixed in with a little modern cognitive learning - think the top private/grammar schools in the west and you're there).

Oh, I forgot. You might make a career out of tefl if you become an agent. Personally, I couldn't live with myself if I did that. I do have some morals left, even after living in Thailand for a couple of years!

Anyway, enjoyed your rant and good luck!

By Don't workforagents, Bangkok (1 month ago)

Maybe the best article on the ESL industry I've ever read. Absolutely spot on and exceptionally well written. Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences.

By Clif, Pak Chong (1 month ago)

The TEFL industry would be much better off without these kind of losers. Jeez man stop your rants and you'll feel better already. Your negativity corrupts newcomers no matter how good their intentions are. TEFL is an industry, get with the programme or get a job in your own first world country. See if you like that better, which I really doubt.

By Jim Beam, Bangkok (1 month ago)

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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.


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?


The dreaded demo

The dreaded demo

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


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.