ESL Forums – should they be taken seriously?

By JzG (Own work) [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

It seems to me that many of the ‘forums’ attached to English as a Second Language (ESL) websites have become the playground for people who purport to be teachers, but exhibit behavior more in-line with what you’d expect from your average, ‘garden variety’, school-yard bully.

Visit almost any ESL ‘forum’ world-wide and you’ll see an array of vitriol from so-called teachers directed at ESL schools and people who work at ESL schools. Those who occupy the unenviable position of Director of Studies are common targets, although school owners – who are often named – cop a lot abuse. In stark contrast, I’ve been unable to locate a single post on an ESL ‘forum’ anywhere in the world, attacking an ESL teacher.

ESL schools are purely profit driven?

If you believe what you read on ESL ‘forums’, ESL schools are purely profit driven and those who own them are the pit of humanity, have little regard for students and even less regard for teachers. Think about it for a minute. It just doesn’t make sense. Students and teachers are what make a school tick. School owners have a vested interest in keeping their students sufficiently motivated to continue building their English language skills and holding on to good teachers – and from my own experience – most schools conduct their affairs accordingly.

Sure, there’s occasionally something undesirable malingering at the bottom of a swimming pool, but precisely who was the responsible (or irresponsible) party, isn’t always apparent. History is littered with examples of the guilty person being the one who ran around shouting the loudest and pointing their finger with contrived contempt at others. You don’t have to look any further than what’s happening right now on the Korean Peninsula.

The truth of the matter is, many ESL teachers with an ‘axe to grind’ head straight to the internet and ‘anonymously’ post all kinds of rubbish about schools where they used work, comforted by the knowledge that their targets have absolutely no recourse.

Let’s look at a hypothetical situation. You own an English language school in the beautiful city of Can Tho, located in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region. You dismiss a Canadian ESL ‘teacher’ because you find out they have bogus qualifications. The next day your name is all over the internet. You’re portrayed as the employer from hell. What can you do? Nothing! If you choose to defend your good name, you simply add fuel to fire and 100 negative reviews becomes 200, although you know – and people who know you know – you’re too generous for your own good. With a rush of blood to the head you might come out with something like – I’m going to report the offender to the police – or perhaps – I’ll see them in court! Yeah, right! Then it dawns on you, they posted anonymously and no doubt have long since departed the dodgy internet café where they did the deed. Most likely, you wouldn’t have the resources to track them down anyway.

I understand the ‘freedom of speech’ line that’s often rolled out to support the kind of characters that I’m drawing attention to in this article. Any ESL teacher worth a grain of salt, however, understands that freedom of speech entails a range of responsibilities. In a civil society you can’t have one without the other. Anonymously attacking institutions and people on the internet has nothing to do with freedom of speech – and has no place in a civil society.

It seems to me that it would be really easy to resolve this issue, through any number of means. Perhaps the people who run the ESL ‘forums’ can be more mindful that those who are under attack have mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children and so forth – scrutinise what appears on their site and remove what’s simply personal abuse. Another option might be, require people to post under their real name. Boy, oh, boy – if this happened, the less scrupulous ESL forums would fold over night – and our industry would be a better place.

Getting back to the original question – ESL forums, should they be taken seriously? I think the answer is, it depends on how seriously you’re prepared to believe comments from anonymous people who live in cyberspace. Personally, if I want to know something, I’m sufficiently confident to make my own enquiries.

What do you think? Please leave your comments below.

About the writer: Peter Goudge is the Managing Director of the Australia-Vietnam School of English (AVSE) in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: www.avse.edu.vn

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6 comments on “ESL Forums – should they be taken seriously?

  1. Jade

    As a Teacher who didn’t quite fit in a particular school, and quite reasonably questioned my pay and conditions, I understand why other teachers tend to vent on forums. Forums are the only way teachers can express their feelings, and I find it spectacularly insulting that the writer of this article presumes that we are liars. And ultimately, private language schools are profit-driven, certainly not philanthropic!

  2. David Ball

    Having been in the business for a few years, I have definitely learned a few things things about information available on the internet.

    If it helps, this is how I see it:

    READ BLOGS.. Take FORUMS with a grains salt.

    When researching others opinions on the internet, it only makes proper sense to try and locate information on that particular school. I would suggest it is not the name of the chain you are taking into consideration, but the school itself.

    Forums generally tend to be a place for people to vent, or share their biased opinions. It is human nature to vent after having a negative experience, and this is indeed the place to do it. What it is not, is a place for people to celebrate the great time they had in Korea. That is for blogs.

    Many people who are posting their opinions on forums may not be so objective in their statements. With 1000′s of English teachers coming and going each year in Korea, it is only right to assume that there will be those whose placements did not work out for one of many reasons e.g. cultural difference, personality, work habits, conflict, financial issues, lesser quality schools, lesser quality teachers etc… This is no different from any other job except that the cultural component can play a role as well.

    Negative comments on a particular school: After a school has been in business for a few years, they are going to eventually have a teacher that does not work out. Those teachers are undoubtedly going to vent about it online. It is hard not to take it literally of course, but you must keep the same level head when reading these comments. Some may be accurate, but in my experience, most are not. Communication with a teacher who actually works there now, working with a good recruiter AND having some faith are all key in making a rational decision on a school.

    In short: most teachers who enjoy a great year or more in Korea won’t express it on forums. So when reading them, be critical and take what you read with a grain of salt; use a holistic approach to gathering information.

    Most importantly, be sure to read teacher’s blogs of their experience. This is the information you want to know.

    Good luck in your search!

    David
    Korjob Canada Recruiting

  3. TEFL Jobs World

    Hi Peter,
    Thanks for providing this article for our website and raising some interesting issues.

    Like Thea I could write a few pages in response to cover all the issues, however I’ll try and make my response concise. From working as a TEFL teacher, being in charge of residential programs, then looking in from the outside as a recruiter of TEFL teachers and now running this website I have seen a lot in this period of over 12 years.

    It’s certainly easy for teachers to anonymously blab about a school on a forum in a potentially libellous way. In many situations it could be that the teacher has behaved inappropriately and been let go by the language school, but then feel like they want to get back at the school in some way.

    There may be situations where both parties are at fault in some way, and equally situations where it is the school that is at fault.

    In my experience largely from my recruitment days, having worked with over 1,000 TEFL teachers and over 100 language schools I can say that I’ve witnessed some bad behaviour from both parties but actually the worst and most reckless behaviour has come from the language schools. Unfortunately there are a lot of stories I can recount but it would run to pages. Some common examples are schools disregarding the safety and well-being of students and teachers, and schools not paying their teachers. Twice I known of schools that knowing they were going bankrupt ran up debts of £10,000s with small companies, knowing they would never pay it back.

    While ESL forums are not perfect I can fully understand why teachers would go on these forums and rant about schools because I believe in many cases they would have a legitimate reason to do so!

    Having said all that I would say around 80% of the schools I have worked with have been professional and shown a high degree of care and respect to both their teachers and students. Being that generally only the more well-funded and conscientious schools want to invest in teacher recruitment services though this figure is probably far from representative of the industry as a whole.

    I think the bottom line for teachers is to do as much research as possible before accepting an offer of employment and try to get recommendations from fellow teachers if possible.

    Jon Duckett

  4. Patrick

    Great article, and I am inclined to agree that ESL forums are generally full of people with an axe to grind.

    If I may ask a question? How is ESL life in Vietnam these days?

    Posters on Dave’s ESL Cafe paint a very bleak picture….yet people I speak to who are working in Hanoi at the moment say it’s great. I’m heading to Hanoi in September to do CELTA and subsequently find a job…regardless of the job situation. 🙂

    Any information is much appreciated.

    Patrick

  5. Thea Broma

    Mr. Goudge, a Managing Director, should perhaps don an Invisibility Cloak, and spend some time in various ESL/EFL teaching situations … a long time. I would love to respond in detail to his essay; however, space constraints and format prevent me from making the necessary point-by-point analysis of his claims. Suffice it to say that he has demonstrated here one of the greatest problems and failings of ESL/EFL programs: teachers often do not deeply “listen” to their students, and management, either too-long removed from or never actively engaged in, tuns a deaf ear to the issues raised by the instructors. Are all instructors equal? No. Is the profit and business competition model ascendant in the field? You bet! This is a growth industry, and everyone wants on the bandwagon. Look at the number of programs – they’re popping up like mushrooms after a rain. And to fill the needs of those schools, there are all sorts of one-month, or online quickie programs that provide “training” and provide certificates. Actual training for teachers in this field is anything but quickie. There are brokers who visit countries outside of the US to find students for US ESL schools; they are, in reality, a lot like bounty hunters. School directors “play the spread” often by only hiring instructors just enough fewer hours that the limit that would trigger payment of benefits. This does not mean that the instructor does not teach a full-time class load. Or, the director may, to the extent possible, hire teachers with one-month certificates or those with less than professional qualifications, because they can get away with paying them less. It is not uncommon among directors who have grown up in the US or other English speaking countries, not to be able to speak a second language, often directors who have spent a good bit of time teaching abroad. Teaching a student a second language (in many cases the student’s 3rd or more), without having a clue as to how this all works because they have never sat in that seat themselves, is folly. Add to that a raft of unexamined attitudes about “foreigners,” and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Add to that a directorate that is so far removed from the classroom as to effectively never have been in one, and, well, there’s your disaster. Some teachers just complain. They bought into the “join the Navy and see the world” advertising offered by most non-academic and online ESL Certificate programs. Their certificate has not enabled them to travel in leisure and get rich. They have to deal with foreign people in foreign countries, or with foreign people in their ESL classrooms. They vent. There are those who love it, and just suck it up in the face of tone-deaf directorates, and find a way to teach their students what they came for, the English language, and have great fun and success doing it. There are many in the middle who are frustrated, losing focus, and need to vent. In my experience, there are many schools and programs that wrap themselves in the patriot flag of “ESL Institute” or “academic English program, ” etc., but are money-making propositions with curriculum and instructors’ salaries a necessary evil to be dealt with by a firm, tight hand. The level of training, understanding, and “keeping up with linguistic research in the field” are almost unheard of; it is reminiscent, in fact, of a Dorothy Parker quote: “This book was written without fear … and without research.” Mr. Goudge has, surely without intending to, provided an outline of the typical tone-deaf, teflon administrator. Should he listen to all on the discussion boards equally? Of course not! But neither should he kill the messengers bearing the message that there is much in his “management style,” approach, and, perhaps, remoteness from and unfamiliarity with the classroom, and its students and teachers that likely needs substantial overhaul. He needs to quit whining about the writing on the wall, and either step up and get current with the best in the field of ESL, including linguistic and second language research, teaching in the e-world, flipped classrooms, and why running a real ESL program is the only way students will receive fair value for what they are charged. My academic training is in linguistics, I have an MA TESOL from an academic, largely research linguistics program, I have learned as an adult to speak 2 languages, and I am currently studying another, non-western language because it helps me understand the problems my students are having with English. I teach ESOL, and currently, Developmental English to both international and domestic students. I can say from my experiences in the DE classes with international students that the ESL programs from which they came did the students no favors, but lightened their, their families’, or their governments’ pockets considerably for the privilege. Realizing a profit from a well-run business is an excellent and empowering thing; however, making money without providing a demonstrable product … that’s a vampire sucking the last drops of green blood out of the unfortunate customer. Mr. Goudge, get with a program and see what it is actually like to work for a director who is out of touch, and unwilling or unable to do anything to get the touch in working order.

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