TESOL - Horses for courses

The most versatile, if not the most intelligent, of all our large four-footed friends, is a non-horned variety: the horse.
Horses are fairly intelligent and like teachers they are adaptable and can live in all climates; once broken in they are fairly docile, do as they are told, and are pretty hard to make really angry. Most exotic destinations, or at least the affordable ones, are in developing countries and anyone who wants to teach in Thailand or China needs to be adaptable, unflappable, and above all be prepared to be tamed and trained. Maybe the analogy with the horse is not totally accurate, but it could come close.

Over the last couple of years a lot of wind has whipped up about the situation of those who train the teachers, particularly in Thailand, and there has been a great deal of speculation about their credibility. Teachers a re among  the most  well-meaning, but  naïve people on the planet, and are an easy  target for anyone with a scam as a business plan.

Some course providers have got themselves a very bad name by using some rather underhanded marketing methods even if the courses they provide may have quite good content. Many take great care to avoid mentioning that even with their ‘key to all jobs’ certificate, a university degree is also mandatory in almost all countries. Others tell blatant  lies about their accreditation or the qualifications of their training  staff.

Many organisations are offering on-line courses. Some exist only in cyberspace on a lonely  server, while some firms are nothing more than travel agencies, offering to train teachers with a promise of a job in order to sell their travel package to the ‘exotic’ destination. Others are merely job agencies, providing TESOL courses as a key for the visas for the newly ‘qualified’ teachers to take up positions in their customers’ schools. Those schools are desperate for teachers and are often more concerned with being able to proclaim that they employ native speakers than they are with quality. They often offer low salaries and less than desirable working conditions. Often the promises of a contract and a Work Permit do not come to fruition.
The schools that aim at quality are less ready to accept on-line qualifications, and expect teachers to have had some practical experience as part of their training. Through practice, a horse will be able to learn to do a lot of things, but it will never get there by reading a book about it.

TEFL Institutes are not governed by any rules or regulations, and the administrators and instructors are under no obligation to be qualified in any field whatsoever. There are no controls. It is thus extremely easy to set up in business with little more than a computer, a printer and a website in a home office to offer on-line courses, and a private PayPal account. Face-to-face courses are also easy to set up. In countries which do not have such stringent labour, tax and company registrations laws as the UK, it has become a popular theme to offer TEFL courses in ‘exotic locations’. Some of these locations are in rented space on  a university campus, giving  the impression that course is University  operated and acredited.

TEFL colleges thus automatically have their own licence to print diploma certificates. Contrary to what is popularly understood, there are no worldwide accrediting organisations for TEFL courses. Many course providers, particularly those operating franchise branches, establish their own ‘independent’ accrediting institute or external boards of advisors to accredit themselves.

The sheer perceived size of an organisation is far from being a criterion of the quality of the courses it offers. The use of the internet and a few domains purchased for very little money can give the impression that a TEFL organisation is very large indeed, but still may only be a one-man show. There are so many course providers that it is difficult even for the most experienced recruiters to place true value on a certificate presented by a candidate for a teaching position. Most employers value a course on the strength of its international standing, and the university courses offered by established institutes will receive almost instant recognition. Some ‘universitiy’ courses are not  provided by universities at all, but by totally independent institutes that have rented shop space on a university campus shopping mall, to benefit from the prestigious address.
There are many honest organisations providing an excellent service, but anyone contemplating a course that is not from one of the traditional sources, is well advised to proceed with caution and carry out some intensive research into the provider before parting with any money, particularly if asked to pay by fax, e-mail, or by phone - a genuine company will have a verifiable Visa & MasterCard secure payment gateway on its website which will guarantee a refund if something goes wrong. Some TESOL institutes are job agencies and clearing houses for teachers for local schools. Beyond a website, some do not exist at all.

Read about what  might be the world’s most respected TESOL course.

Visit this rather different TESOL forum and post your questions to obtain a greater awareness of the situation, advice on how to recognise a good course, and for some leads to classic examples of courses to be avoided at all costs.

TEFLtastic with  Alex Case also  gives some excdellent  tips and advice.