Steve Schertzer

The TEFL Industry

A rotting, putrid, stinking corpse


The half dozen emails that I received on December 16th and 17th, 2008, were very similar except for slight variations in content. What follows is a combination of requests from a few of those emails.
_________________________________________________

Dear Mr. Schertzer:

My name is _____ ______. I am a journalist/reporter with Canwest News Service/The Globe and Mail/Washington Post/International Media, etc.

I am looking to speak with you about Mr. John Wrenshall, who was a Canadian teacher with you at a school in Thailand. He was arrested earlier this week in London on allegations that he was involved in abusing young Thai boys. He is facing several charges relating to international sex tourism.

I got your name when I Googled his name and the school you both worked at. In a 2004 posting on the ajarn forum, you mentioned him, among others, as a helpful person in your own career as an ESL teacher in Thailand. I would very much appreciate it if you could drop me a line telling me your impressions of Mr. Wrenshall, how he was able to help you, and, of course, whether there was any talk that referenced the kind of activities with which he has been charged.

I will not quote you by name if you prefer since this is a sensitive matter. Nevertheless, I hope you will be able to share some insight with our readers.

Thank you for any help you can provide.
_______________________________________________

Mmmm. I love the smell of EFL hypocrisy first thing in the morning. I did not respond to any of those emails. My response is this opinion piece.

Another man charged with having sex with minors in Bangkok? It must be Tuesday. What's so different about this one? Probably nothing. Just another day in Thailand. But for me it's different. For me, this one strikes home. It's a knife through the heart. My heart, and the heart of EFL.

John Mark Karr, Christopher Paul Neil, and the thousands of others just like them, who prowl the streets of Bangkok looking for their next prey, are just names to most people. They read the stories, look at their pictures on cable news and think, "Oh well, just another pervert in Southeast Asia." Then they move on. There are people to meet and money to make, after all.

I knew John Wrenshall. I spent 18 months working with him at a very well-known Bangkok language school. He was my supervisor. More than that, he was my mentor. He was my friend. At least, I considered him a friend. And I think he considered me his friend.

According to a story in Canada's National Post, John, (and I think I can call him John), is charged with "one count of conspiracy to engage in sex tourism, two counts of aiding and abetting sex tourism, one count of conspiracy to produce child pornography, seven counts of production of child pornography, and seven counts of distribution of child pornography." ("Canadian arrested in U.K. for allegedly pimping children." National Post. December 15, 2008.)

The story goes on to say that "Mr. Wrenshall essentially acted as a pimp, arranging trips by U.S. sex tourists and others to his home in Thailand where they would pay to engage in sex with boys as young as six, sometimes for weeks at a time." The indictment also alleges that "Mr. Wrenshall's customers were allowed to videotape and photograph their abuse." ("Canadian arrested in U.K. for allegedly pimping children." National Post. December 15, 2008.)

Now here's a question for you, John:

WHAT THE F*CK WERE YOU THINKING?

John, I spent 18 months at this language school learning from you. I observed a couple of your classes. You observed a few of mine. Most of the time you complimented my teaching. Sometimes you didn't. You said I had great potential as a teacher, and I believed you. And when I had problems with that academic writing class, (you remember that, John), you took me under your wing and offered to co-teach the class with me. You went the extra mile for me then, and I was grateful. I still am.

Now this. From The Province, "In 1970, he [Wrenshall] was convicted of sexually assaulting boys, was given a suspended sentence and put on probation for two years." In 1997, he [Wrenshall] "had been charged with indecent assaults on choir boys from Calgary's Cathedral Church of the Redeemer." ("Calgary man accused in Thai paedophile ring led double life." The Province. December 17, 2008.)

"The former scout master, then 51, lured the boys to his home under the pretence that he was running a study on preteen boys' sexuality. During his trial, Wrenshall admitted that he also had molested at least a dozen other boys aged nine to 12. He was never charged in the latter incidents." ("Calgary man accused in Thai paedophile ring led double life." The Province. December 17, 2008.)

So this has been going on for over 40 years, in Canada and Thailand. A church goer, a former scout master. Now that explains a lot. An EFL teacher too. That explains even more.

John, we had some interesting conversations in your office. About teaching. About your Master's Thesis on bringing the psychoanalytic concept of inter-subjectivity into the classroom. About my columns for ajarn.com. About our mothers. I remember you telling me that your mother died of multiple sclerosis. My mother passed away too of MS related complications on September 1, 2008.

I also remember one particular class of mine which you observed. You excoriated me afterwards, telling me that I didn't use my students' names often enough. I went home and cried, John. I cried for days. And what did you do? You went home and pimped prepubescent Thai boys to American sex tourists. Do you or any of your sex tourist clients remember the names of the little boys you assaulted? Did you, or any of the perverts you helped bring to Thailand, call your victims by name as they were being raped?

I trusted you, John. I trusted you, and the other supervisors at the prestigious Bangkok language school, to turn me into a better teacher. How can anyone put their trust and faith into any supervisor at any language school now? To say that native English speaking teachers and their supervisors have lost all credibility and legitimacy is to assume that we had some to begin with.

Let's make something very clear. John Wrenshall is not the only person to blame here. Everyone is to blame. Everyone. From the court system who let John down by allowing him to walk free, to the school recruiters who just want their commission on every blond-haired, blue-eyed foreigner they can drag into the classroom, to the language school owners who hired John without checking into his sordid past, to the thousands of EFL teachers out there who don't give a damn about teaching. We are all to blame.

Let's make something else very clear. John Wrenshall is symbolic of everything that is wrong with the TEFL industry. We can't blame this on the young. John was 62 at the time of his arrest. We can't say that John was just a teacher. He was a supervisor who worked his way up to a position of power and authority in just a few short years. He was in the upper echelons of the TEFL industry, giving lectures and public speeches on teaching at TESOL seminars, and helping to run a professional development program at his school. He was no backpacker who just wanted to spend a year of his life exploring Asia. And it is this that is the real danger and hypocrisy of the TEFL industry.

To say the TEFL industry is full of young and useless good-for-nothings may be obvious, but you'd be missing the point. To be a 20 something year old backpacker who pines to explore Asia while supporting himself by teaching English at privately run language schools is the common stereotype of this business. It's bad enough that most of these 20 somethings can barely speak English themselves, let alone teach it. But most of them are young and good looking, so many members of the opposite sex flock to these language schools to get a good look at the foreign monkey willing to play English games with them. Hence the copious amount of money that flows from EFL students to TEFL school owners.

A victimless crime? Think of the billions of dollars being wasted every year so that a bunch of useless 20 something year olds from the English speaking countries of the West can fund their Eastern travels. But at least most of them go home after a year or two with no money and lots of memories. Unlike John Wrenshall, they didn't spend long enough in the far East to work their way up to a position of power and authority.

John did, and that is the real danger of the TEFL industry. If us lowly EFL teachers are the feet of this rotting, stinking corpse that is the TEFL industry, then the supervisors are the head. The supervisors, the school owners, the principals, vice-principals, the board of education officials, are the head of this putrid rotten corpse. This sickness, this cancer has now spread upwards, all the way up to the top.

Is there a blessing in disguise in this? For me, maybe. I'm waiting, I'm just waiting for the next supervisor, the next school owner, the next principal or vice-principal, the next board of education official to say to me, "Steve your class was okay, but you didn't refer to your students by name often enough." My response:

"Thank you for your constructive criticism, Sir/Madam, but the last supervisor who said that to me turned out to be a child molester. Yeah, that's right. At the end of the day he went home and pimped little boys to sex tourists. What do YOU do when the sun goes down?"

A tad harsh? Perhaps. But who the hell do these people think they are? These supervisors, these board of education officials, these school owners. Well, maybe they are not child molesters but, at the end of the day, they're doing something. If they're not pimping little boys, then they're beating their wife. If they're not beating their wife, then they're beating their dog. If they're not beating their dog, then they're beating their meat to Internet porn, assuming they can find their meat after 12 beers. If they're not beating their meat to Internet porn, then they hang out in red-light districts. If they don't hang out in red-light districts........

My point is this: Just about everybody in this business is doing something they shouldn't be doing. Most TEFL'ers do not stay home and read Shakespeare or watch Masterpiece Theatre on PBS. And that includes the lowly teachers at the bottom. Now I'm not going to compare beating ones meat to Internet porn to pimping little boys. But the hypocrisy in this business is astounding as it is horrifying.

Just log on to any expat/EFL teacher's forum, and if you have an extra few years, read the thousands of insipid, vile, racist, bigoted, and ignorant posts written by hundreds of EFL teachers all over the world. They complain about everything, from their salaries to the free apartments they live in. Or better yet, Google me. Google my name, Steve Schertzer, and see what comes up. You will see that I have a lot more enemies than John Wrenshall. All because I dare to expose this stinking, rotten corpse that is the TEFL industry. All because I dare to say that there a lot more useless good-for-nothings in this business than there are dedicated and committed teachers. All because I bravely say that John Wrenshall and his ilk make up more of the TEFL industry than any of us dare to admit.

What many people don't know about John was that he was also a prophet. That's right. He wasn't just a choir boy and a part time Santa. One day John and I were discussing the TEFL industry with a few other teachers during a professional development meeting. One of the other supervisors had pulled an article off the Internet which criticized the industry because it allowed into its fold, among others, Christian Missionaries. The article called on these missionary teachers to stop proselytizing and start teaching. When John was asked what he thought of the article, he replied,

"We should stop beating ourselves up over who should or should not be teaching. There is room for all of us."

Indeed, John. How prophetic. There is room for all of us in this rotten, putrid industry. There is room for Bible-thumpers, drunks, cross-dressers, cocaine and heroin addicts, women who were once men, women who want to be men, child molesters, and all the other psychopathic sexually frustrated social misfits posing as EFL teachers spending night after night congregating in cyberspace because they can't get a date. Judging by the behaviour of thousands of TEFL'ers out there in TEFL Land, these seem to be the requirements for the job.

It is both shocking and appalling that the vast majority of Asian parents have not a clue as to the clear and present danger their children face by many foreign teachers. That the majority of teachers, whether foreign or domestic, should not be teaching is obvious. Most have absolutely no idea how to properly teach children or teenagers. Classroom incompetence is not a crime, for if it were, our prisons would be filled with teachers. Classroom incompetence can be rectified with the proper training, but even many of the training programs are wholly inadequate and do not address the needs of both students and teachers.

That many teachers have no idea how to teach is nothing new. However, the tolerance level of Asian societies which turn a blind eye to the abuse of their own children by foreigners is. Instead of locking these people up for life, instead of punishing people like John Wrenshall to the full extent of the law, we are now trying to understand them, we are now writing books about them, we are now psychoanalyzing them. Moreover, we are now making them supervisors at major EFL language schools. That's what's new.

What is also shocking and appalling is the deafening silence by the expat community surrounding this story. Unlike John Mark Karr and Christopher Paul Neil, there was very little news about it in the electronic media. A few stories in major North American newspapers. And almost nothing on the EFL teacher's/expat forums. But I guarantee that if John Wrenshall were a Korean teacher, if he were a Thai teacher, if he were a Chinese or a Japanese teacher, then the expat forums would be inundated with vile and racist posts about these "bleeping" teachers and how these Asian societies are full of perverts who shouldn't be teaching.

Yes, I love the smell of EFL hypocrisy first thing in the morning. Or for that matter, late at night. Google me. Google my name and see what comes up. I dare you. In fact, I beg you. Better yet, log on to the teacher's/expat forums and read the responses to this opinion piece. I do have more enemies than John Wrenshall.

Bangkok is a whore. For decades she has been spreading her legs for just about any foreigner, fat or thin, ugly or handsome, rich, poor, or otherwise. So why the shock and surprise when millions of foreigners decide to take her up on her offer? To be fair, this is not a Thailand problem or an Asian problem. It's a world problem, of which the TEFL industry is a player. And a bigger and bigger player every year, it seems.

I was fired from this language school of which John Wrenshall and I were a part. After 18 months as a teacher there, I was fired by committee. John Wrenshall was a part of that committee. I wrote about it in my December, 2005 column for ajarn.com. I heavily criticized the school for what I considered it's lack of concern for the real needs of its students along with their antiquated teaching methods.

The Director of Courses and her sidekick stood before me with several copies of my columns and chastised me for my "cowardly" act of airing my grievances on a public website. As I walked out the door that day in December of 2005, I looked into the school director's eyes and saw nothing. I looked into her sidekick's eyes and saw nothing, except perhaps, a little anger. Then I looked into John Wrenshall's eyes. I saw compassion. I saw a man who felt bad for me. He understood. John understood my need to fight a system that let the students and teachers down. He understood my need to shout at the top of my lungs for reform of an industry run by stupid greedy people who allow just about anyone with two pair of underpants to teach English.

I understand that people are going to be uncomfortable when I say that I saw compassion that day in a child molester's eyes. I write this not to say that John Wrenshall is a monster. He is not. He is a human being. And that is real danger on the TEFL industry. John Wrenshall resides in all of us, and all of us reside in John Wrenshall. For those uncomfortable with that fact, too bad. We share over 98 percent of our DNA with monkeys, after all. Another uncomfortable fact for many people. John Wrenshall fooled his school and thousands of other people on two continents for decades with his sexual sickness. Most others teachers fool their school and hundreds of other people for a year or two pretending that they can teach English.

Looking back, it's interesting having been fired by a child molester and his sidekicks because I dared to criticize their precious pedagogical methodology. That's going to look good on my resume. But this is not an "I told you so" moment. Even though I've been right all along about the sick nature of this industry, too many students and children are getting hurt to gloat in such a moment.

A huge question remains: What should we do with this rotten, putrid, stinking corpse that is the TEFL industry? If by some cosmic fluke or Divine intervention, tens of thousands of Asians took to the streets and demanded that their respective governments round us EFL'ers up and throw us out for professional incompetence, wasting taxpayer's money, and perpetrating heinous crimes against their children, it would be very difficult to disagree with them. "Throw the bums out!", they can shout in unison. "Shut this whole industry down." Hardly anyone is learning anything from a bunch of young drunks, middle-aged Bible thumpers, and old perverts anyway. Maybe it's time to shut this sucker down. Too many people are getting hurt.

TEFL'ers are supposed to come here and make a positive difference in the lives of their students. They are supposed to come here and help their students become better people. TEFL'ers are not supposed to go to Asia with the intention of having sex with their students. They are not supposed to videotape their sexual exploits with the very people they are claiming to help. They are not supposed to take naked pictures of Asian children. But some EFL teachers do. Time to shut this sucker down? Maybe.

A huge concern for everyone pertaining to this industry is the almost complete lack of introspection by anyone in it. No one is bothering to ask the essential questions necessary to either reform the TEFL industry, or to get rid of those who do grave harm while employed within it. No one is willing to take any responsibility whatsoever for badly needed reformation. The vetting process implemented by some governments is a joke; many of the school owners are still determined to turn a blind-eye to the abuses of EFL teachers in the Holy name of profit; and greed, incompetence, and sheer stupidity seem to rule the hearts and minds of educational officials and bureaucrats everywhere. Add to that the sycophants and "yes men" culturally endemic in Asian societies, and a lack of leadership in just about every segment of these societies, and the situation seems hopeless. Time to shut this sucker down? Maybe.

If reform is ever to happen, it must start with the teachers. It must begin at the grassroots level, where all social change has its most humblest of beginings. The few brave and determined teachers that remain in this industry must lead the way by asking, where do we go from here? Those usless good-for-nothing backpackers, drunks, and perverts posing as English teachers must stop shouting at the world. They must stop congragating on TEFL/expat websites under aliases and spreading their vile lies, illnesses, racism, bigotry, and hatred. They must stop playing the victim card. That's getting old and very stale.

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

If convicted, according to newspaper reports, John Wrenshall "faces up to 15 years in prison for each count of sex tourism, a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of 20 years in prison for each count of producing child pornography, and up to 15 years in prison for distributing child pornography. He also faces a fine up to $250,000 per count." ("RCMP tip led to Thai sex ring bust." National Post. December 17, 2008.)

This man spent the better part of a decade in Bangkok as an EFL teacher, a supervisor, and almost made it all the way up to the top of a major language school. He, and others like him, should serve as a constant reminder of how sick the TEFL industry truly is, and how far it needs to go before it can boldly claim to be helpful to anyone.




Comments

A rivetting story. I would dare to suggest though that folks from many, many different industries, if asked to share their observations, would report an extremely 'colorful' C.V. to describe it - dogged by incompetence, dishonesty, corruption, nepotism, et al. Sound familiar? This writer asks "a tad harsh?" Notwithstanding the exceptionally repugnant example of Mr. John Wrenshall, I would suggest, yes, a tad harsh.

By Sam McNally, Sydney (11th April 2011)

I came out to Thailand to teach this year but after conversing with some of the teachers? in the local bar areas I found out that they were not real teachers at all. Some were very honest with me, like you are being in your article here, and told me not to think like I was back in England. You can be anyone you like when you are travelling-rocket scientist/Doctor/Surgeon, you name it. When I said to many people that I am a teacher and a real one in England, (I came here to work for one year) everyone seemed to find that funny. I just get angry why all the misfits come here and give Thailand a bad name, Malaysia doesn't have this problem! A very good article.

By Chris J, London, UK (4th April 2011)

The name of the school where Wrenshall taught was published in the Bangkok Post and other national newspapers around the world, so it is public knowledge. However it is my belief, in this particular case, that after that initial name-and-shame, the school should be left alone to continue giving good education in Thailand and fix its mistakes. And I pray that all the other schools will follow suit (i.e. in screening of teachers), because at the time of the scandal the lack of screening was national, in all schools.
If you want the name of the school a quick google search will suffice.

By Joe, Chiang Mai (2nd February 2011)

John Wrenshall was finally sent to prison in the US today for 25 years. Why Canada couldn't have done it is a mystery.
I agree with most of what has been said here, but I don't understand why Joe and Steve and journalists refrain from naming the school where John Wrenshall was a supervisor--particularly since Steve was fired from the school and Joe no longer works there.

Surely this should be public information that is simply a fact, and can therefore not be liable for a lawsuit? It seems strange that the school that kept such a dangerous man in a position of power should be protected.

By Alissa, Canada (1st February 2011)

Unfortunately too many teachers continue to work at bad schools. I began at such a school on Sukhumvit Road, but lasted only 6 weeks before resigning and moving to the school where John Wrenshall was a supervisor. The school in question is one of maybe a few dozen schools in Thailand that actually give value for money for the students. The teachers who stay at bad schools unknowingly conspire with the owners, ripping off Thais who pay for ineffective education. Surprisingly, I always thought of Wrenshall as a 'sweet old man'. How wrong I was. I feel for the victims, the boys. But also for all those who worked closely with him, for years, and then found out the truth.

By Joe, Chiang Mai (9th November 2010)

Well said! I couldn't agree with you more. I'm appalled at what I've found here in Thailand yet, I feel the need to stay here if only to keep one dangerous, incompetent teacher OUT of the classroom. Not like I'm such an awesome teacher but at least I try and I do care about the students. Of course I don't like being lumped into a group of "good for nothings" but you are right, there are a lot of teachers over here who are exactly that. That being said, I've met a handful of amazing people who live and work here in Thailand and do an amazing job. To the best of my knowledge they are not perverts either. America has plenty of certified educators who aren't any better.

By Nicole Gilbo, Ayutthaya, Thailand (6th June 2010)

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