Monday, 3 September 2012

TEFL Scams ll: What To Watch Out For

Dear Readers.

We are not going to name names - this would be unprofessional - but we do want to let you know of some of the TEFL scams which happen globally so that you, someone who is probably new to TEFL and who probably wouldn't be aware of the common trappings of choosing a TEFL school, can form a more balanced opinion when choosing your TEFL school. I have for the past 15+ years been actively involved in the TEFL business and this means that I am very much aware of what goes on online regarding TEFL/TESOL. It is my job to make sure that we are up to date on TEFL-related online issues.

The first examples of dodgy practice occurs in TEFL forum chat rooms:

1. If you can picture an online forum chat room as an actual solid room, with sofas and chairs, then picture almost half of those seats (or more) being occupied by TEFL school representatives, casually hiding their faces away from detection behind a newspaper or magazine - some of them with fake moustaches, some wearing shades, others wearing opposite gender garments. This is essentially how reality translates on the online forums. For a more clearer image try to think of Monty Python's The Life of Brian and the stone throwing scene, except one should ask if there are any TEFL Providers here? :-)
An example is as follows:
A real person interested in taking a TEFL course goes online and signs up for a forum page. They write a post asking which course is worth taking. Within a few hours or days an "independent" person joins the discussion, recommending a specific school, quoting the school's website page and adding "their two cents" as to how great and life changing the experience was. Now, in some cases this will be an authentic piece of feedback. However, I would say that in most cases it is simply the work of a school self-promoting. The same also works for negative feedback: someone asks about a school and a person or few people come on and attack the school.

2. There are some people who create very strong personas on TEFL-related website forums and who strive to be the authority when it comes to TEFL/TESOL knowledge. They are always there to give a tip, some feedback, and they spend vast amounts of seemingly their own free time helping out newbies who are undecided about which course they wish to take. Such lovely people who choose to devote their free time helping out people in the TEFL world! Or something sinister instead perhaps? A prime example of this occurred a few years back on a leading Czech Republic forum. A user named 'John Cold' created a framework where he was considered THE person to ask when it came to TEFL courses and practically anything TEFL-related. Whenever someone would mention a TEFL course he would either damn it immediately (of course in a clever way which was insinuating rather than obviously damning), or praise it as "highly reputable". It became apparent that this individual was spending vast amounts of their personal time on the forum and obviously had a bias towards one particular program (either he openly praised this course when someone asked about it, or he offered this course as an option if another course was asked about). It was also obvious that this John Cold character would instigate posts with other user names he had set up, which he would then respond to. Who was John Cold? John Cold (and his other aliases on other TEFL sites) was exposed as a fraud by another school (KUDOS to them) but the true identity of this user was never openly published. "John Cold" is the owner of one of our competitor TEFL courses and he retains a prolific online presence today both through his online blog and forum posts in his own (real) name, and through self-generated fake user names which he uses as his tools for self-promotion on various sites. He is based outside of the Czech Republic for most of the year and successfully hides behind abroad ip addresses, undetected by forum administrators. Even on his blog he appears to have created some anonymous users to add as "members" so he can give the impression that his school is somehow a popular course. This individual is a disgrace to the profession!

TEFL Review Sites:

Reviews are definitely useful guides when looking for feedback about a course.
Most of us who have traveled and looked for a place to stay have referred to for example. There is no doubt that tripadvisor is an independent website, but what of TEFL review sites? We believe that some review sites are authentic and some sites are owned by TEFL schools. It has even been claimed recently that a Prague TEFL school has set up their own reviews website and frankly I am not shocked at all by this news. While reviews are useful if questioning whether a school actually exists at all, I personally don't see TEFL reviews as being that useful. Think about it, when you come to take a course you have probably never taken a TEFL course before, so how do you compare your course with other courses? Still, TEFL schools are very sensitive about reviews because they can have an impact on business and as an example a competitor was recently banned from a reviews website for threatening legal action for receiving a negative review. ok, so that is clearly OTT and I agree with the reviews site warning message (now deleted) that they could have simply responded to the review in a clear and transparent manner, but this does demonstrate how important this particular school saw that negative review (also the alleged fact, warning also now deleted, that this school responded to the initial negative review by having 5 positive reviews posted in the course of a few hours on a Sunday afternoon, all apparently received from the same ip address). Now if a school is prepared to cruise the forums, posting under various aliases, then the same must apply to review sites too. It does. At ITTP we recommend to our graduates and clients because this site actually bothers to check and verify reviews (as opposed to being a free for all regardless if you took the course or not) and it looks to us that they are a truly independent reviews website because they have posted warnings throughout their site with respect to the authenticity of certain reviews regarding various TEFL course providers located around the world. If you are interested in our verified student feedback then you can view here:
If you have taken one of our courses then we invite you to post a review, if you feel like it and if you think it is appropriate.
Thank you.

Email addresses and Facebook profiles:

There is no doubt that authentic graduate feedback is important.
If a client requests graduate feedback then we immediately place them in touch with graduates who have clearly expressed that they don't mind having people ask them questions about the course. Sometimes people offer their email address as contact, sometimes their Facebook profile, sometimes both. However, most people who take the course would rather not have their Facebook profile or email address published and simply can't be bothered to answer emails regarding the course once their course is complete, either days, weeks, months, or years later. This is how real life works. Think back to that example of booking a hotel. How many times have you actually taken the initiative to sign up to tripadvisor and write a review? How many times would you have agreed to the hotel publishing your Facebook or email address to potential clients who would literally bombard you with questions. Life doesn't work like that. There is a school in Prague which claims to have access to literally hundreds of email addresses and Facebook profiles of graduates which they will put you in touch with so that you can form a clearer opinion about their product and hopefully take their course. At the very worst some of those contacts will be fake, probably created by the school's administrators. Almost as bad is that the school apparently pressurizes its graduates into being marketing tools after course graduation. But still, a year down the line would you be available at the drop of a hat to spend a significant amount of your personal time responding to emails and Facebook chat from potential clients of the TEFL course which you took? Or would you perhaps be willing to reply to one or two people at most and then get on with what is happening in your current life now? I think it's clear where the logic is.

"International" TEFL companies:

There are actual schools which operate in the city or country where they claim to operate, and there are agencies which create websites and who claim to run courses in these cities and countries but who don't. They are just middle person agencies. If you go through one of these companies you will give them your course deposit (actually a commission in some cases) and then you will get rerouted to the actual school which offers the TEFL certification. You could argue that this is just common business practice but it shouldn't be. The company which you secure your course place with should be the school which you study with. Period. If you choose ITTP then from the moment of your first communication with us you can be assured that you will only be dealing with ITTP subsequently throughout your whole TEFL/TESOL course career. This ensures a secure and high standard of business communication. Some schools use agents. We don't.

There are lots of good, reputable TEFL/TESOL schools, and (unfortunately) the odd one here and there which bring disrespect to the profession. Once again, we will name no names as this would be unprofessional but we hope that the above information at least enables you to be more savvy with regards to the initial stages of choosing a TEFL course.

Whichever school you do choose we wish you all the best with your course and your teaching English career.

Hope it helps!

Hezky den!/Lovely day!

Neville :-)