Don’t trust foreign teachers – Some ESL recruitment companies suck

Since I am kind of in the review mood right now, another review that might not be liked by many of my ‘colleagues’.  As you can see I chose the headline: Don’t trust foreign teachers. Being a foreign teacher myself this might sound kind of strange or snooty but there is a good reason for that: A lot of foreign (English or language) teachers simply suck.

However I do not want to hit on them or blame them for taking their chance for an easy living while pretending to teach students (even though this sucks a lot and I hope you will burn in hell. Just saying). I blame the foreign teacher recruiting companies. They are simply focused on their placement numbers and mostly do not give a crap about the background of the teacher or his real abilities.

After making the choice to leave my current college I decided to give it a try and look for jobs as English teacher on ESL (English as Second Language) job boards. After browsing through some interesting sounding job adverts I mostly received positive responses and got into contact with the recruitment agencies. The following examples are just a few of the many unbelievable actions that I came across over the past few weeks.

No degree, no problem

While many agencies state that you need a degree to apply this rule is set aside quite often. ‘If you can’t present a degree at that time, we might find a way around that’. Aha. Great! While I appreciate that TESL (Teaching English as Second Language) certificates are not always required if you can prove a decent teaching background in this area, totally forgetting about degrees is not that much of a help for further students in my opinion. But, as we will see as we proceed further, students are usually the part of the ‘business’ that is thought about less.

No experience, no problem

Well I shouldn’t complain about that. After all I started teaching without any real classroom experience before and everybody needs to start sometime. Having that said I totally appreciate schools that are willing to give young and upcoming teachers a chance. Nevertheless, combined with the before mentioned point this is just a no go. But the reason why I mention this is an email with a recruitment agency that stated the following: ‘If you do not have any experience that is not a problem. You would just have to teach children. That is easy and does not need any experience or professional background’ – are you freaking kidding me?

No dedication, no problem

The next thing that happend to me when talking with recruitment agencies. I filled out my profile stating that I prefer teaching on college or uni level since I simply enjoy teaching older students. I love the immediate response and possibility to talk ‘normal’ with them. Others love teaching young children instead. So everybody does, what he loves the most. Perfect. Ha! You think. One of those agencies sent me job offers for kindergarten and primary schools. When I replied friendly that I am not interested because I do not have any experience in this area and I do prefer teaching older students they replied with ‘you don’t need to have any experience. You will learn it on the job. Please think it over’. When I then replied again and told them that I simply do not like to teach young children (had to put it this way) they again tried to convince me! ‘It’s not hard work and you will get a good salary. Come on. I think you can learn to enjoy it’.

So what they are trying to do is to convince somebody who clearly states that he doesn’t like teaching children to do exactly that. Just think about it. That’s sick! Children! I then replied that I think that everybody, especially young children, deserve dedicated teachers who love what they do and I don’t want to take away a kindergarten teaching spot from someone who might really enjoy it. After that: No response….

No, that wasn’t a ‘one timer’

Unfortunately those practices continued and repeated itself over and over. One agency tried to set up an interview with me (that’s a good thing of course) but I didn’t have time over the week so instead of waiting for me or telling me to get lost (understandable if I couldn’t find the time for an interview) they simply sent me a completely ready to sign contract. Without haven spoken to me once! They simply wanted their placement to be filled and didn’t give a damn about my background, interests, intentions or personality.

As my disappointment rises more and more I’ll close with the following point:

A foreign passport does not equal a good teacher!

I said it before and I say it again: A foreign passport does not make a good teacher. Over here in South East Asia schools up to college level very often don’t care much about a teacher’s background or history, they see the UK or US passport and hare happy to have a ‘native speaker’ among their teachers to show off. Unfortunately a lot of those native speaking teachers are, sorry, idiots. Don’t get me wrong, I also know MANY GREAT teachers! Right now I am talking about the, sadly, high number of freaking worn out, drunk and broke idiots that are hinging out here and who are trying to make an easy living on the the benefits of innocent students. This leads me to the last question at hand:

What abut the ethics? Where are the ethics from recruitment agencies instead of only thinking about their placement bonus? Where are the ethics from schools that are only thinking about showing of with some native speakers instead of thinking about introducing a dedicated teacher to their students and where the heck are the ethics of those ‘teachers’ who put the future of their students on the line?

Luckily it isn’t that easy to get into higher education and a lot of ‘higher class’ schools do check their teachers thoroughly. It would be a good thing if all other school would follow this example and show those ethic less agencies and wannabe teachers the red f.

  • I am a “colleague” (or at least was), and I’m totally with you on this. Having taught ESL to people from five continents, I’m astonished at which of my friends who are completely untrained and inexperienced have gotten jobs “teaching English” in foreign countries. They know nothing about their own language or about teaching–or, specifically, about the nuances of language acquisition. And you’re right that it isn’t just the “teachers” who are at fault. The recruiters really should care enough about their students to find actual qualified instructors. It behooves them to make their program good if they want more customers and return instructors.

  • Don R

    In my opinion you can be a good teacher and still suck at teaching. I like to think I have a good knowledge of English grammar and am decent at teaching it, but the job doesn’t stop there. Perhaps a more important aspect of the job is being an authority figure and disciplining students who misbehave, something I admit I am poor at and honestly want nothing to do with.

    • Great point! Thank you for sharing that. I totally agree on that. That’s one of the reasons why I wouldn’t want to return to college (or highschool) teaching now that I’m at University. It’s just easier to teach ‘adult’ students when it comes to discipline etc. But great point. I saw (myself included) lots of motivated teachers having trouble with exactly that issue.

  • I work for a recruiting agency in China and I have to agree with you. Qualifications, however, aren’t the real issue. It’s dedication. I often see the same school employ driven and experienced teachers as well as people who are just here for the money and cheap liquor. What hurts me is that they are awarded the same.

    However, you cannot say that only schools/recruiters are at fault. Even though some schools have little standards, you owe it to your students and your own personal integrity to teach. Another thing, although many recruiters are in it for the money, not a single person hires teachers directly. If bad teachers are hired, it is the school approved of them.

    Anyway, we do work with many great schools that set high standards and require teaching licenses, not TEFL certificates, but you probably won’t believe me. Just wanted to respond because a lot of people online just categorically denounce recruiters. Not all of us suck:(

  • Pingback: I don't know you, but I hire you. Foreign teacher placement in China gone wrong()

  • Dray Shanghai

    Let’s not forget that the children themselves don’t give two #$!#’s about going to English lessons. Also, having to put up with making every student happy, while they do everything possible to destroy any learning, is all the more reason that this profession should be avoided at all cost. Every year teaching English is a waste, unless you plan on teaching for the rest of your life. You get no fundamentals in any area, which you would think would come with this profession. You are sidelined, kept on for advertising purposes, given a lousy paycheck that can barely afford you to travel back home once a year. I read stories of the perfect lives people used to have 20-30 years ago teaching English abroad, and I feel like that is mythology. So you think foreign teachers are terrible? Make it worth our time, and we will deliver better results. I tought for 4 years, 2 in Poland and 2 in Russia. My salary from start to finish was $750-$1,200 a month. Worthless, and 4 years of my post college career thrown out the window.

  • @Dray: Bit of a different topic since I talked about the recruitment here but I completely agree with you! Many times foreigners are simply used as ‘show off’ object and nobody cares whether or not the kids actually learn. Even worse, if you try to make them learn and dare to fail them if they don’t, you will get into trouble. Been there, done that. “We don’t fail students and actually don’t give bad grades”. WTF. So I completely understand that frustration and don’t let me get started on the salary. It’s a joke and really discouraging.

    Most ‘teachers’ I know who make lots of money are working for private foreign-run high-schools here and don’t really give anything about academic standards.