More on the Japanese education system

A while back, I posted a series of articles on the current state (as of 2020) of the Japanese education and school system. Given that I worked in the system for six years, I thought it would be helpful as a consideration to those who wished to go to Japan. Some readers were surprised, some never wanted to talk to me ever again, but I wasn’t too bothered by them. Many people have been brainwashed by NHK or other images of Japan from social media about the beauty of the country, or about how honest and hardworking people are. While they are true to some extent, many people have never heard of the sides of Japan that I wrote about, so many readers were in a state of denial, even calling me a liar.

I am currently reading Novelist as a Vocation by Haruki Murakami, and in this book he dedicated a chapter regarding the schooling system in Japan and how it shaped him as a novelist. Murakami was never hugely popular in Japan (to my knowledge) because he regularly criticises the Japanese society, and on this particular chapter, he tore apart the Japanese education system. Below are excerpts from the essay, and with full conviction I can vouch the accuracy of his statements — again, as someone who have worked in the Japanese school systems. I think these are some paragraphs that would be understood in isolation (i.e. without you reading the entire chapter). However, if you like them, the entire chapter is really good and rather insightful. There were also discussions on bullying and truancy (too long to include here) — issues that are still prominent even today.

There were lots of kids who had better grades on English tests than me, but as far as I could tell, none of them could read a book in English from cover to cover. Yet I could easily plow through an entire book. Then why were my grades in English so mediocre?The conclusion I came to was that the goal of English classes in Japanese high schools was not to get students to use actual, living English. Then what was the goal? There was only one: for students to get high marks on the English section of the college entrance exams. At least for the teachers in the public high school I attended, being able to read books in English or have ordinary conversations with foreigners was beside the point. For them it was far more important for us to memorize as many English vocabulary words as we could, master the past perfect subjunctive, and learn to choose the correct prepositions and articles.

This goes beyond English, or the study of foreign languages. I can’t help thinking that in almost every subject, Japan’s educational system fundamentally fails to consider how to motivate each individual to improve their potential. Even now the system seems intent on going by the book to cram in facts and teach test-taking techniques. And teachers and parents live and die by how many of their students and children get into various universities. It’s all kind of sad.

If you divide people into dog types and cat types, I am most definitely the latter. Order me to go right and you can count on me going left. Sometimes I’ll feel bad about it, but that’s just the way I am. And it’s good to have all kinds of personalities in the world. But in my view, the goal of the Japanese educational system appears to be to create doglike people who will be of use to the community… and even sometimes to create sheeplike people they can lead as a group to a common destination.

Job Hunting in Indonesia (Part 2)

Well, this sucks. I was hoping I would never have to write a second part of this blog post about job hunting in Indonesia, but here we are. Like the last time and even before it, I did not plan to be back in Indonesia at all, but the country I lived/worked in is on fire, and there is a serious shortage of basic human necessities such as food, electricity, fuel and also logic and kindness. It became increasingly dangerous one way or another each day, and I had to escape the situation.

So here I am, back in the situation of which I wrote about. I attended several interviews, some of them just to confirm my suspicion about the first blog post I wrote a while ago. There are a few things you need to know about the culture here and why they are (big) problems in many aspects of our lives — at least the lives of us who value our professionalism and have self-respect. Note that by no means these are uniquely Indonesian; I’m sure many countries live by the same values, but I am really writing this for us in the TEFL/TESOL/Education industries because this is my expertise and this blog is aimed at fellow TEFL/TESOL/Education professionals.

The first thing you need to know is that the Indonesian culture is extremely conformist. Allow me to share some very real everyday examples that you will hear almost every day if you interact with anyone here:

  • An incompetent man explains something to a woman, who is an expert in that area. Because mansplaining like this happens every day, it’s ok to do it. Everyone does it anyway.
  • People comment that you’re fat/skinny/fair-/dark-skinned. It’s body-shaming in nature, but people will just say it’s a conversation starter and it’s not harmful. Everyone is doing it, so it’s not a biggie.
  • Look at that car — it jumped a red light. Well, everyone does it, so it’s ok for me to do it too, right?
  • You are not even called for a job interview (even though you are well-qualified) because you don’t have a white name like “John Smith” or “Mary Parker”. The job is for white people (even if they are under-qualified). You are not white, so you don’t have any complaints that can possibly be valid. All employers do this, so this is normal.
  • You are offered different salary package because of your nationality and skin colour. Everyone does that, so it’s ok to do the same, right?

(In case you didn’t get it, the italicised phrases above are my sarcastic remarks, and of course I think they are not OK).

You see, for most of the problems above, some really discriminatory remarks are very normalised here, because they have been done since World War 2, and everyone continues to do it “because it’s the way it has always been done“, and no one dare to challenge and say these are in fact racist and sexist remarks. The other day I met a dentist friend and she explained to me that during her practicum/placement, she needed to find patients for her to put in the hours. Not only she needed to find a patient; she had to pay the patient so they can get her service. On top of that, she needed to pay a middle-man to find patients for her. Am I the only one who thinks this is crazy? Yes, she was still a student-dentist, but she was putting 4 years’ worth of theoretical studies into practice, and she had to pay the patients and middle-men on top of her tuition fees. (She even had to hide the patients/middle-men part from her parents because her parents already paid for her tuition fees.) So she was really broke at that time — all this so that she can become a dentist and contribute to the nation’s public health. If you think there is nothing wrong with this, please unsubscribe from my blog and read Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics or Kant’s deontological ethics or something. But did she do anything about this? Could she do anything about this? Did the government do anything about this? This perfectly illustrates what I mean by the conformist culture: If it’s not normal, make it normal! Even if it’s ethically wrong.

Anyway, on to my job-seeking experience now.

One international school offered me a £380/month* salary after a brief 30-minute interview. As usual, the school claimed that it is a standard starting salary. I then asked whether they pay expat teachers any differently compared to a local. This is the moment the school principal started being defensive and it became obvious that she is lying. The principal explained that locals and expats are paid the same, and that I should be grateful with that salary because some teachers who have stayed with the school for 10 years get what I am offered. In my mind, I thought, “so why are you proud of it? This is horrible and inhumane.” And this is a common negotiation technique in Indonesia, which is honestly a really bad negotiation technique: “We can offer you £380/month. It’s not very high, but at least it’s not £250 (or insert other lower figures here).” / “It’s not much, but at least you have a job, you’re not unemployed and sleeping on the street.” They are very much relying on putting you on a victim’s mindset. Wait, are we still colonised in 2022? Did I miss the note? Seriously, are we? It feels like we are.

Another negotiation technique they used is that they are pressuring you to sign the contract ASAP: “We need you to start work tomorrow, so you need to make a decision tonight.” Another reason for me to believe that the principal is a (not very practiced) liar, is that I told her I can’t make a decision for at least a week, as I have other job interviews. She told me I was bluffing and she can guarantee that I won’t find an offer nearly as good as hers. I told her, whatever, I am still not signing up for that job tonight. And about a week later, she called directly to my mobile, asking whether I have thought about her offer. And she also raised the salary to £550/month, but no more negotiation after this, she said. I thought, “I did not even negotiate; you’re the one who called me and raised the offer.” Hypothetically, even if she raised the salary to £1,000, I doubt I will accept it. She lied about a number of things every single time we talk, and any self-respecting professionals in their right mind would not want to work with someone like that every single day.

One last notable negotiation techniques many employers use, which infuriates me, is that they are not able to see you for who you are now. It goes like this. They start by telling you how great their school is, and whether your experience and qualification can match their expectations. For that very reason, they can’t give you one of the higher pay bands — they will want to see you perform for 1 or 2 years, and then after that they will consider raising your salary. This one really makes me sick: Clearly they invited me for an interview because of my experience and qualifications, and then I come in for an interview, and then they start telling me about how unworthy I am. The sad part is, I understand where they came from: There are so many dodgy and unreliable individuals in our TEFL/TESOL/Education industry, and they want to be on the cautious side and not trust people right away.

After a little more investigation, I finally realised that nearly all organisations rely on hiring recent graduate with zero experience (therefore zero negotiating power) or foreigners who are really desperate to get a visa. And then they will pay these people as low as possible and overwork them in every way possible. So it makes sense that they are not able to negotiate with me in a logical way — they rarely deal with people with self-respect and critical thinking skills. With the above scenario, I would guess the first thing that came to mind to the school principal when she saw my CV is: “Look, here is someone with foreign teaching qualifications. And bonus — he’s an Indonesian, so we can pay him as low as possible!

Again, conformist culture. Everyone does it, so why can’t I do it too? Does not matter if it is wrong or right, since everyone does it, it’s ok for me to do it too. Well, sorry to break the news, but if this is the way you think, then you are part of the problem, and you are the reason the world is a bad place, and the reason some of these countries never progress.

Stay woke, people. Know your worth and market value. Do not let anyone tell you that you are worthless. If you are reading this blog post until this point, I am sure you are a hard-working professional and seek for ways to improve the world.

*By the way, before you say “£380 is adequate because it’s Indonesia and not the US/UK/EU”, no it is not adequate. Just Google the cost of living in Jakarta and you will find out that it is barely enough for renting a single room.

Continuous Professional Development is in Your Hands

After having taught in Japan for many years, where Continuous Professional Development (CPD) is severely lacking, I was led to believe that CPD for teachers depends on the institution. I believed that being in Japan, there is simply no opportunity for me to develop, since all the teachers around me just did their job and go home — no one would spend a bit of extra effort to contribute to their school/organisation. CPD is not expected, and most managers don’t know how to encourage it. So this means, if I go to the right place/country, I would get the CPD that I need to advance my career progression, right?

(To understand TEFL in Japan a little more, read my 3-part articles: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.)

Well, I am now working at an institution where CPD is strongly encouraged. But what I discovered is that, I do not get spoon-fed with CPD; rather, CPD is more like a buffet, and how much I want to/can take on my plate is really up to me. I am “only” a teacher, but during my interview, (since I have DELTA) I was expected/promised to share some responsibilities with Coordinators and Senior Teachers, and I would have a lot of opportunities for CPD. In reality, again to use the buffet metaphor, no one approached me and say, “Ok Nick, time to learn about mentoring newly-qualified teachers.” It’s more like, “Here is a list of things you can do for your CPD. Choose a few of them that you are interested in. These will be your CPD goals this year.”

CPD does not always come in the form of highly-decorated certificates and awards.

In August, after thinking about the MA degree for a while, I decided to finally apply for a program. The main reasoning was that, if I was to learn something, I might as well get something out of it as a proof, in this case a degree. It makes sense, right? Also, the entire nation is in lockdown anyway. During the term breaks, I could not go anywhere, so why not make the best use of my time at home, for example by studying for a degree? Unfortunately, a week after I submitted my MA application, I decided to withdraw, after I was being told of the amount of workload I have at work.

My manager then introduced me to Action Research (AR). In short, AR is essentially a research project with practical applications to our (me and my colleagues’) teaching. It is all about what is the problem in my classroom now, and how it can be remedied now. It is not at all about peer-reviewed research project with 10 pages of literature review, with results that are applicable only to very few teachers around the world in very specific contexts. What kind of classroom problem, then? For example, some of my secondary students absolutely refuse to do any homework and do any work outside the classroom. Clearly, this is a problem – they are then not maximising their classroom time and English learning as a whole. So, what can I do to make this situation better? This can potentially be my AR project, should I decide to pursue it. Again, how big or small this research project is, is really up to me. How I want to deliver the results, is also up to me. In a way, AR is more formal than casual Googling, but not as formal as a university research report.

Here is a really good article on Action Research.

This is when it occurred to me: CPD is really in my hands. The institution I work at helps (they provide the right environment), but how intense I want to be, is really up to me. In the same way, no one is telling you to attend conferences or learn about mentoring or teacher training – it is all up to you and your career goals.

Some life updates (June 2021)

It has been a while since my last post – I know, I haven’t been a very good blogger! I admire people who never stopped writing blogs in the midst of performing their busy and demanding jobs. So, without getting getting into too much details, these were some things and changes in my life (of course, they can be written as individual posts, if my audience wishes):

  • In February (after having been delayed for nine months), I finally made my way to Sri Lanka to start a new job. I was quarantined for 2 weeks, then I began working for British Council in March.
  • Though I’m a mere “teacher” at the BC, I can honestly say the learning I’ve been through in the last four months has been beyond my expectations – maybe it’s even more than my last 2-3 years in Japan altogether.
  • I am heavily involved in the EDI unit (equality, diversity, inclusiveness). Before I joined BC, I am aware that EDI is one of their core values, and upon joining, I had an induction just for this unit. I had a small suspicion that, like many other organisations, BC only put this up for marketing purpose so they look good in public. Well, I am happy to report that I am wrong – EDI really is in the core of almost everything we do at BC, and I am now a member of the EDI Working Group. We have projects all the time, and in the first month of working at the BC, I was already creating an EDI material for Primary students in which I address gender and sexuality issues. Yes, this was for Primary students, aged 9-11. I don’t know of any other organisations in this industry that is this brave to speak up on issues like these. If you happen to know one, do let me know.
  • I haven’t met any of my students – we are still on online teaching mode. At first, I was a bit reluctant and stressed over things I can’t control (most common issue is Internet connection problem on either my end or the students’), but now honestly I don’t know how to go back teaching F2F. Does this mean I need to wake up earlier? What am I going to eat for lunch every day? It’s all little logistical concerns like these.
  • Sri Lanka has been having one disaster after another since I arrived. Sometimes I feel like I’m a magnet for disasters. Sri Lanka was doing really well in this pandemic last year, before I came here. Now I arrived, everything messed up – we have the highest number of COVID-19 cases ever, and we have been in lockdown for about 6 weeks now. I planned to enjoy the nature and the ocean of Sri Lanka, and guess what happened? A cargo ship exploded off the coast of Negombo (just north of Colombo), releasing billions of plastic pellets and dangerous chemicals. Can things get any worse than this? If there is more disasters to come, tell me in advance, please, that’d be great.

That is all the meaningful updates I have for now. Life’s good, my contract here is for 2 years, whether I will stay longer than that is TBD. I have a lot things I can write about, but I have been far too busy (and stressful sometimes). Feel free to drop a comment if there’s something you’d like me to cover. Here are some drone snaps from my trip to Galle and Unawatuna in April (about 2-hour drive south of Colombo).

Job Hunting in Indonesia (vs Japan), as an Indonesian*

*By Indonesian, I mean Chinese-Indonesian. And what is a Chinese-Indonesian? The easiest way to describe this is, it is like being a black person in the US, with some aspects of discrimination that are worse or sometimes not as bad, but definitely a lot more low-key / passive-aggressive. 

Here is another way to describe it. In American cinemas, if they were set in the military, government offices, secret services, police precincts, even public schools, we can see that there are white Americans (obviously), as well as blacks, Hispanic, Latinos, and Asians in different shades. As long as one has an American citizenship, one is accepted as a member of society. As I understand it, this is fairly similar in Australia, Canada, the UK, EU, and other countries where people commonly emigrate to. 

Now, back in Indonesia. Broadly speaking, Indonesians categorise their citizens into one of the two races: native Indonesians or Chinese-Indonesians. There are hundreds of races within the native Indonesians group, but let’s leave it at this for now. You will never ever see Chinese-Indonesians working in the military or government offices, although we were born here. So, here’s what it feels like to be a Chinese-Indonesian in a nutshell, which no one ever told me (not even my parents), but someone really should have: “Of course you are one of us (Indonesians). But you’re different because of your heritage and background. But you’re one of us because Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (“Unity in Diversity”). But you absolutely can’t work alongside ‘real’ Indonesians as civil servants and get all the government benefits that us, native Indonesians are entitled to. But you Chinese people are good at business, so maybe you can just do business on your own. Also, if you’re successful from your business and become wealthy, we will resent you for it. But don’t worry, you are one of us!

Now, you might be asking me what is so great about being a civil servant and is that what I wanted to do? It’s not, and maybe serving one’s country is not for everyone, but I was trying to illustrate what privilege means, and what it feels like to be treated as a second-class citizen in my own country. Whether the job is good or not that’s another thing; the main issue here is whether there is an opportunity for it or not in the first place. 

The one common thing between being black in the US and Chinese-Indonesian in Indonesia is that they are both ethnic minorities. But the difference is that, the discrimination toward blacks in the US is always sensationalised in the media and as a result, the entire world knows about it. The hate, racism and prejudice that exist toward Chinese-Indonesian is much more low-key, passive-aggressive and less publicised, so no one really understands its existence. We also have the skin colour which, if we were abroad in Australia or the US, we would get yelled, “Go back to your country!” on a semi-regular basis. While a country like the US have celebrated black president and vice president, here in Indonesia we are still stuck over whether my great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents came from China or not.

So, how does this fit into the TEFL job market in Indonesia? Well, first I get the discrimination for being a Chinese-Indonesian (sadly, this discrimination could happen well beyond the government positions), and second as a NNEST. 

“Wanna learn English with white people? Join Wall Street English!” Needless to say, I am f***ing tired of seeing WSE’s aggressive advertisement.

I used to think the discrimination when job hunting in Japan was bad – there was always preference for white NEST everywhere. But later I realised that when they say they want a native speaker, they just mean anyone who isn’t Japanese and Western-educated. When I got back to Indonesia in 2020, I observed the TEFL job market and I was surprised to find the discrimination toward NNEST is even stronger than in Japan – not a little but far stronger. Indonesians are obsessed with white people far too much. You could be from Russia or Hungary, as long as you are white, you have all the privileges that non-whites don’t have access to. I once saw a job ad and told the school: I’m not a native speaker, but I have all the qualifications and experience you need. And you do not need to provide me with housing, visa, flight, health insurance, pension, extra allowance for dependents, etc. I literally just saved the school from spending thousands of dollars, and they never replied to me. In fact, a NEST who has been teaching in Indonesia jumped on my comment and say, “NO, NO, NO! This job is for US, native speakers!” 

Yes, it is bad. Really bad. And yes, that is how insecure these NESTs are.

Indonesia is one of the few countries in the world (as of now) that only issues visas for TEFL teachers who are from inner-English-speaking countries (the US, the UK, Australia, NZ, Canada, South Africa). Although this policy in itself may be acceptable in the 80s, it really is time for this kind of policy to be revised, and revised by people who really understand language teaching and linguistics, not by some policymakers with power who have never learned a foreign language and have zero understanding of the industry. 

One of the biggest negative impacts from this policy (which I am sure happened everywhere else) is that schools use the opportunity to exclusively hire NESTs, and market it as superior to studying with NNESTs, including local teachers like myself. What’s worse, schools often use the native/non-native as an excuse to treat the local teachers really poorly and inhumanely. For the same position, the NEST might get paid 4-5x over NNEST, plus all the benefits like accommodation, return flights each year, health insurance, opportunities for advancement, etc. Look, there is nothing wrong for a school to provide all these benefits to NEST teachers – but they need to provide the same to local/NNEST teachers. This is non-negotiable, period. This is basic humanity that is severely lacking these days. Maybe you have never heard of this issue until now, and that is simply because, why would NESTs point it out? The law is on their side. They get all the benefits. Why rock the boat and scream for equality, which would compromise their position and benefits? 

Stella Maris: “Let’s include all these flags because we’re so international, also, we only want native speakers of English.”

With all the talk about being “international” and all (in language schools as well as international IB schools), this mindset is still very much backward and left behind in the 1980s. Despite these strict policies, there sure are quite a lot of loopholes which rendered the system useless: I have met/had international secondary school teachers who did not even complete an undergraduate degree (a visa requirement), but there they are – hired only because of their nationality and blonde-ness. Even today, I am 95% certain that all language schools and international schools out there (in Indonesia) have at least one such teacher. And I am not sure what made them (international schools especially) brag about being international, when their staffs are made up of NESTs and some local Indonesian teachers.

Every now and then, a relative or friend ask me when will I return to Indonesia for good – as if I have the intention to. Now, after you read this post, what makes you think I want to go back? Sure, coming over for vacation in Bali once in a while is nice, but at this current state, this is definitely not a country I can live in.

You will notice that on this post I called out these schools that (aggressively) advertise native-speakerism as a selling feature – I do not block the school names and their contact details. And I will continue calling out these schools that continue to discriminate NNESTsnothing can stop me. I do wish this post gets shared, and if any of these schools above are not happy with this post or my view, they can send an e-mail to me directly if they wish. If Indonesian government officials notice this post and are willing to have an open-mind, progressive discussion about renewing their visa policy, I would be happy to be a part of the discussion. 

Schoters: Pay extra for skin colour and blondeness; who cares about qualifications anyway? “They said the best way to learn English is with a foreign teacher!” Who’s “they”? Based on what evidence?
Lister: “Hey fellas. Did you know that the most effective way to learn English is with native speakers? Don’t go halfway, just learn from our native speaker tutors.” That’s a really strong claim, Lister. Show me the research you did to market such a claim.
One more from Lister. Apparently I have been teaching Fake English all this time, because I’m not a native speaker.
Novakid: “Online classes with native speakers from the US, UK and South Africa.” …Um, they do know that only 9.6% of entire South Africa speaks English as their native language, right?
Amed Matahari: I think this school don’t know what TESOL means… or English Native Speaker for that matter.

This is what a veteran NEST in Indonesia says, when asked about the current state of TEFL industry in Indonesia (January 2021).

Job Interview Questions: Young Learners

Another day, another post on the Recruitment & Hiring category. Let me know if you find this kind of post helpful!

Today’s post is about interview questions that may pop up when applying for Young Learners (YL) teaching positions. About 90% of all the jobs I’ve applied were YL positions, and I’ve noticed that some of these questions are tailored very specifically for those positions, and they might shock teachers who have never taught YLs before. In addition to the standard behavioural or methodology questions that might come up in general teaching positions (e.g. “How do you handle X type of students?” or “Tell me about your lesson procedure when teaching X”), the following were questions that have been asked to me, which may come up in your next interview for a YL position too.

  1. “Teach me an English song,” or “Sing a song for me,” while the interviewer pretends to be a young learner (and they may specify the age). This kind of question is not so much about how good your singing voice is, but more about your theatrical confidence. This is a valid interview question because you will sing (and dance!) all day every day with YLs. You can’t be a good YL teacher if you are shy and make excuses when answering this question to the interviewer. As for me, I would do something like ABC or 123 (numbers) songs if I was asked to teach a song. If I was simply asked to sing, I would just pick my favourite song that is clearly loved by many students (I sang BINGO in my last interview). I believe any experienced YL teachers would have several albums of classroom English songs in their iTunes library.
  2. “I’m going to say a feeling. You express it with your face.” It’s time to show off your Jim Carrey’s rubber face!
  3. “How do you express ‘I like oranges’ only with gestures?” (substitute ‘orange’ with different fruits/food/drink, since you may be asked for this several times).
  4. The Reading Test: You will be given a short passage, and you will recite it as if you are in front of a class of young learners. You manage the pace, tone, clarity of pronunciation, gesture, facial expression, and everything else.
  5. How do you ensure young learners feel safe (and protected)?” This is a standard child-protection question at an interview with the British Council (even if the teaching centre was only for adults), though it is more than likely asked in a lot of YL interviews. I admit not everyone is naturally good with young children, and a good answer for this question comes from a balance of common sense and knowledge of procedures, both of which come from work experience with YLs. Consider this: Normally any physical contact with YLs are frowned upon, but what if you came to school and your student came running at you and hug you? Would you push them away and say “sorry, I’m not allowed to touch you”? This is the kind of real situations you need to think about. To make things even more complicated, put yourself in the kid’s shoes: Some of them do not see their parents on a regular basis, and the hug s/he gives you is the only physical touch s/he gets in their day. Or s/he might just have had a bad day at school. At the end of the day, I think teaching YLs is the kind of position that requires a pretty high level of emotional intelligence – one must be able to assess a situation quickly and choose the most appropriate response to that given situation.

Bad recruitment practices and job interview questions

I am not and never responsible for the hiring of teachers in any schools, but I have been through enough job interviews and recruitment processes to know what is considered good and bad recruitment practices. 

I have three different scenarios below, which happens a lot in TEFL job market in Japan, though I am sure it happens in the industry anywhere in the world. Again, I am not an expert in recruitment, but from the perspective of someone who has applied to hundreds of jobs, these three scenarios are some of the most inefficient recruitment practices that are in dire need to be redesigned. 

Scenario 1: A job ad that specifies, “Teaching experience is desirable but not required” or “TEFL certificate is optional” or some other non-specific requirements. 

In other words, you do not know who you are competing with, because the school doesn’t even know what they want. Let’s say you are a NNEST, with a CELTA and 3 years teaching experience. Neither of which are required (but advantageous), so you may think you have the edge over an unqualified backpacker NEST. Right? But on the other end of the spectrum you might be competing with a veteran teacher with a DELTA and 2 PhDs – who knows, right? And when the school finally made their decision, they might just hire the unqualified backpacker NEST, because all they really want is a native speaker, who can double as the school’s marketing and social media material, and won’t question the system and curriculum of the school, and willing to be underpaid. But maybe they don’t really want to say it because they want to protect their public image and/or they like wasting everyone’s time. This is based on real-life examples, which frustratingly happens over and over again. 

The school would also say something like they received too many applications, and can only respond to successful applicants. And then they quietly complain about receiving so many applications that don’t meet the essential criteria. But what is the essential criteria? Again, often the school themselves don’t know what they want. If they had specified “at least 500 hours of teaching YL,” or “teaching experience is not required but you must have a CELTA,” then they would narrow down the pool of candidates which would save everyone’s time.

Scenario 2: An interview question along the lines of, “Are you flexible?” 

I applied for a job where it specifies the need for flexibility, due to the actual scheduling of the shifts. So in the interview, the interviewer asked me, “Are you flexible?” 

I said, “Yes. Sure.”

She asked me again, “Really? Promise?” 

This easily tops “the worst job interview questions” list. Her first question was bad enough, but the second just elevated it to a new level of bad. It is as if by answering the two questions the same way, I would reassure them with my answer (…?). Or, it’s almost like all of us (applicants) are in competition of who can say “Yes, I’m flexible” most convincingly (LOL, am I right?). 

The interviewer could have just asked me something like, “Tell me a time at work when the school requires your flexibility. What did you have to do?” and I would be glad to tell them about how I had to work on split shifts, or when I had to sacrifice my Saturdays/Sundays for work. 

This is the same with requesting an applicant to be “friendly” or “approachable” or any other soft-skills that are not directly related to teaching skills. It’s easy to state these things even for people who don’t know what they mean. The interviewer really needs to think of their questions very carefully, if they actually want a quality applicant for their school. Job interview is supposed to be a two-way exchange of information – but sometimes the interviewers don’t understand this, and acting like they have all the leverage. 

Scenario 3: An interviewer who asked, “Can you complete the contract?” on a contract-based job. 

I understand the concept of contractualism. I am fully aware of the reasons employment contracts need to be honoured and completed, and the possible negative repercussions if someone leaves a contract before completing it. 

Here is the problem: Some employers seem to think that, because an employee has signed a piece of paper, they have control over the employee’s life and can bully them and make their life miserable – just because this employee is still under the contract. 

Some interviewers have asked me, “Will you complete your contract?” to which I answered, “Sure. Check with all my previous employers – I never left a job in the middle of a contract.” But as with Scenario 2, they hire who they want to hire. Apparently, my answer doesn’t really matter to them anyway. So why bother asking it in the first place? 

I was looking at this company (that interviewed me) at Glassdoor reviews, and with their very low rating, it is very clear that a lot of employees left this company in the middle of a contract. So their solution is, ask this “Can you complete the contract” question at the interview. Wow, brilliant, that would surely stop people from leaving the company in the middle of a contract, right? Except that they treat employees like numbers, and they will hire any foreigners just to keep the system running and let them keep churning out profits. 

If you are one of these companies and reading this, then here are some things you can do so your teachers will complete their contract, without asking the “Can you complete the contract” question: Reward them. Provide fair compensation, not just the minimum wage, nor wage cuts. Oh, pay their salary ON TIME. Give them support and feedback. Is there a clear career progression? Assist them with basic things like accommodation, transport, health insurance, maternity/paternity leaves, etc. Empower them. Allow them to contribute to the company. 

And then they will complete the contract, without you asking for it. They may even stay for years. It’s not rocket science, it’s just basic humanity. Those are really basic things that upper-management people in corporates have forgotten about because they’re too busy calculating revenues. Do not expect employees to stay if you treat them like robots. Trust me: employees want to avoid negative consequences of leaving contracts halfway, but if you don’t give them any reasons to stay, they won’t. 

Ain’t this the truth?

I “took” a $10 “TEFL course” so you don’t need to.

Just as there are counterfeit Rolex/luxury watches around the world, there are also counterfeit TEFL qualifications, and even CELTA. I heard that in Thailand, you can literally purchase a fake CELTA certificate on the streets, just like you can with fake watches. I have never been to Thailand so I can’t confirm this, but if you have, please feel free to leave a comment and tell me. Earlier this year, I was hired for a new job and the screening was really thorough – I thought because I had the Delta, they would ignore the CELTA and only contact the centre where I did my Delta. But I was wrong, they were adamant on contacting the centre where I did CELTA back in 2013, and I guess now I know why.

Anyway, today’s post is all about this atrocity:

I don’t even know where to begin. This industry is full of employers who want an unqualified gap-year backpacking native English speaker teachers (the blonder, the better), and so maybe those schools–when they see an applicant who actually has a TEFL certificate (and who cares where they’re from?)–that applicant is already better than other gap-year backpackers.

In a lot of TEFL/Teaching Facebook groups, the term native/non-native is still very prevalent. Every day I see job ads that specify “native speakers only,” and likewise, I see a lot of non-native English teachers who clearly stated that they are inferior to native speakers. This is part of the problem – of course employers will happily take this opportunity to pay NNESTs lower than NESTs, and use native language as an excuse to disregard qualifications and experience. I also see that a lot of teachers (both NNEST and NEST) always looking for an easy way in to the TEFL industry, and this is where cheap and even counterfeit TEFL certificates come into the equation.

When this “advertisement” was posted, many people dropped in a comment and warned that it’s a scam. Of course it is, it’s really obvious. But instead of flagging this guy, I started enquiring about this “TEFL certificate” – I have absolutely no need for it but I want to see his strategy for selling this “certificate” and I want to see how low have we gotten in terms of professionalism in the TEFL industry. No need to block out his name; if he’s not happy about it he can come to me. Who knows if it’s even a real Facebook account.

The “TEFL certificate” costs US$10; I sacrificed my lunch money so you don’t have to. Below are the screenshots of conversation I have with him – some things might shock you.

So, there is an exam for the course. And he will take the exam for me. At this stage, I do not even know the name of the institution that offers this “certificate”. And it only takes a day, wow! 

Clearly, this guy who will take the exam for me (if there is even an exam) does not know much about what the course is about. It’s about “teaching.” Ok. That is helpful (not). 

Two days later, I indeed received a certificate in my e-mail, see below. This is what the certificate says: 

TEFL Professional Development Institute presents this:

TEFL Certification of Completion 

To stand as a testament to the skills of (my name)

Certifying the recipient in Teaching English as a Foreign Language 

120 Hour TEFL Certification

Completion of the TEFL Certificate exam shows skills related to:

  • Knowledge of classroom management, learning strategies and international teaching 
  • Understanding of different teaching methods and their application to meet diverse learner needs 
  • Professional knowledge of English grammar and the capability to educate language learners on such concepts in a relatable manner 

The TEFL Certificate was completed with a grade of HIGH DISTINCTION

And the certificate was signed by “Jonathan Rawlings-Clarkson, Director, TEFL Professional Development Institute.”

Again, I did nothing more than paying this Dale dude $10 and all of a sudden I (/anyone) become(s) a teacher. It seems that this “institution” does not even know what TEFL stands for, and I’m 110% this Jonathan Rawlings-Clarkson is not even an actual person. Just put some white guy’s name, and it will look legit, right? No language awareness task, no input sessions, no teaching practices, no assignments, no tutors, no exams, and anyone can be an educator. It’s human nature: Just as there are English learners who want a quick solution for “speaking like a native speaker” (e.g. by watching “English lessons” on YouTube for 5 minutes a day; rejecting NNEST teachers without understanding why; etc [insert any other crazy ideas here]), there are people who want quick solutions to become a teacher — and sure enough, people come up with shady schemes like this one.

Here is another two of those “legit” TEFL certificates. I mean, I’m sure these two below are legit, but why do we keep undercutting each other? Why are corporates so greedy and make quick bucks from education as if it’s fast food? And to employers that accepted these kind of certificates–I hope they are aware that there are differences between $34 and $2,000 certificates from Cambridge or Trinity.

How is this possible? How did we get this low? Will education ever become something more than a low-paying job? Why would clients want to spend their hard-earned money for education, if this is the kind of teacher they’re getting? If taking a teaching qualification seriously and honestly is out of the question for new teachers, why even bother becoming an educator at all? When will there be awards in TEFL industry? Sure, there are awards, but I’m talking about Nobel Prizes-level of award in education. When will people idolise teachers? When will teaching become a respected profession like engineering or medicine? When will teachers not have to worry about not getting classes next month or not getting contract renewal? These things may or may not happen in my lifetime, but hey, one can dream. I’ll wrap up this post with a meme. Even if you don’t understand watches, I think you’ll understand this meme… I’ll let you guess what this has to do with teaching qualifications.

CELTA vs this $10 TEFL certificate

English Teacher/YouTuber

Recently, a friend who is a so-called social media influencer–which I still think is neither a job nor a career–recommended that I should try to start a YouTube channel, and in addition some sort of subscription service, to supplement my income.

A couple of days later, this video shows up, by an English Teacher/YouTuber Canguro English — and it basically sums up the number of reasons why I won’t start a YouTube channel, as it is an entirely different ball game from teaching and actually have very little to do with each other.

In short (and the following are the summary of the video, if you’re too busy to watch the whole video): We live in a world where people say the earth is flat; the moon landing is fake; 5G causes coronavirus; opinions are the same as facts; we can learn English just by listening to 5-minute YouTube videos; we can speak like native English speakers if we have native teachers — and why do people believe them? First, because it’s human nature to choose the easiest way to do/believe things. Second, because it’s the way YouTube is designed–it’s designed to get people’s attention, that’s all.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing but respect for Christian and the channel that he had built. The interview videos between him and some really famous linguists are my absolute favourite, but as he pointed out, that is the problem. Whether he likes it or not, he needs to tailor his contents, and these sometimes include lies, in order to get the viewers’ short attention span, and get likes and subscribers. I’m not talking about Canguro English specifically, but any YouTube channels in general. That’s the reality of this spectator sport called content creation, which as you can see now, has nothing to do with teaching skills at all.

Netiquette in Online Spaces

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the entire world is now learning how to use online learning / meeting platforms, among which Zoom is one of the most popular. 

Online learning itself is not a new idea, and is not an alien concept to me. When I studied for my Delta in 2017, I attended my input sessions via Adobe Connect (synchronous), twice a week, 3 hours each. These days, I both deliver and participate in sessions/webinars with a variety of institutions, and I get to see people from all over the world. 

Because synchronous online learning seems to be a very new concept to many people, often the users still don’t know what would be the acceptable code of conducts in these online meeting spaces. If I were to deliver a session, or even attending as participants, I think the following netiquette will greatly help the smooth running of the session – it’s what we ideally have every time we’re attending a session. 

  • Turn off your CAPS LOCK. Writing with capital letters means you’re SHOUTING. 
  • Log in to the meeting room earlier, say 3-4 minutes earlier. Be friendly. Ask everyone about their day. Ask what everyone is drinking right now. If you meet everyone for the first time, introduce yourself and say what you hope to learn from the session. 
  • Familiarise yourself with the audio settings prior to the session. It’s really frustrating when you talk and nobody can hear you because of some mic input/output setting. Mac computers usually require zero adjustment, it’s ready to go just like your iPhone and iPad. Windows computer has a million settings and you may need Google’s help to figure it out. Another common issue is when the mic itself is old and not working as well anymore, in which case you just need a pair of headset/earphone handy (even the most basic one that comes with your iPhone will do). 
  • Be very conscious with your Mute/Unmute button. In nearly every session I attended, there will be someone who leaves their mic on unmute at all times, and leaving all sorts of background noise to the rest of the participants. Be aware that everyone can hear your dogs barking or your family members chatting in the background. The host can mute you, but it’s nicer if you do it yourself before the host does it for you. 
  • When sharing screen, check that everyone can see your screen – a simple “What do you see now?” or “Can you see this picture now?” will do.
  • Not everyone has fiber-optic internet connection, and maybe your sound arrives 2 seconds late. Give longer pause before you’re repeating yourself – it’s just the way it is with online classroom. This is why online classroom can be more exhausting than face-to-face. A 2-hour lesson in real life can take (much) longer in an online classroom. 
  • As such, it is completely alright if at the beginning you mention you’re having a slow connection. You may need to switch off your video to improve the connection speed. 
  • Turn-taking: Your host should be the one to manage the classroom, and if you were given time to talk (whether in main room or breakout room), be succinct and get to the point. If you don’t know what to say, say so and let others have their turn first. If you are compelled to share an anecdote, do so after the task is completed and if there is remaining time in the breakout room.
  • Likewise, do not stay quiet and only observe for the entire session. You are there to contribute too. 
  • Is it OK to eat/drink during the session? Think of it this way: If you normally wouldn’t do this in a real classroom/meeting room, then you shouldn’t either online. It all depends on the group dynamic. 
  • If you are technologically challenged, or a late-adopter of 21st century gizmos, do not hesitate to ask for help (before the session!) from your family or friend. 
  • If you have a child who has to attend a lesson online for the first time, teach and guide them. You may need to supervise the child closely, and give continuous reassurance. Give them opportunity to form the right habit at the start. 

All the netiquettes above are a good rule of thumb for nearly all kinds of webinar (meeting with colleagues; a classroom with 5-10 students; networking event; etc). Another form of webinar that becomes increasingly common is that which is offered by large institutions, for example Cambridge English, which has a huge number of participants (usually up to 5,000 or even more) from all over the world. With this type of webinar, you do not use audio and video – you only see the presenters’. The chat box is usually moving so quickly you do not even have a chance to read. Sometimes there are genuinely good questions, but most of the time people type in things that are completely irrelevant – and this makes it extremely hard for the moderators to pick up the good questions among the sea of irrelevant comments. I’ll show you what I mean. 

Red means “don’t be this person.”

I completely understand that some people just don’t like replacing face-to-face with online meetings – I’m with you and I hope we all will return to normal soon but in the meantime, I hope this guide somehow helps you make the most of this unique time of our lives.