I got really tired of people avoiding the issues in my posts on TEFL International by claiming that the number of posts on that organisation proves (on its own) that I have it in for them. So tired was I, in fact, that I decided the only thing I could do was to write another post about TI to deal once and for all with this ridiculous claim that I write too much about TI. I’m always cautious about using the word ironic after twelve years outside the UK in case I start using it as badly as Alanis Morisette, but in the case of being forced to write another post by people complaining about too many… It may also serve as a useful summary for those who don’t have time to read several hundred comments on the original posts to follow what has become maybe the third most convoluted TEFL soap opera to be played out on the pages of this blog.
The first TI-related TEFLtastic post
I’d never heard of TEFL International or its founder/ CEO Bruce Veldhuisen when I started this blog in June 2007, so in the first 11 months in between attempts at humour and musings on what happens in the classroom and/ or Japan I laid into the ELT publishing industry, TEFL in the UK, pre-experience MAs, some regular posters on Dave’s ESL Café, online TEFL certificates, thoughtless dismissal of PPP, the average Japan-based TEFLer, most authentic-text based classes, teaching technology, CELTA interviews fees (later expanded on and published in EL Gazette), teachers who play hangman in class, Guardian TEFL (a regular victim), Paul Lowe/ Windsor TEFL, schools who paid under the minimum wage in the UK such as Kaplan, and EFL textbooks again (three days before the first post to mention TI).
I have still never had any dealings with or even competed with TI in the real world, but just by being on lots of TEFL blogs and forums in 2007 I was always going to form some kind of an opinion on them, if only due to their heavy presence on Dave’s ESL Café and the many online spats their CEO got into with their (often quite nutty) critics. I first mentioned them in a post on 25 May 2008 about whether it was possible to make any judgements at all based on such online sources, a post to which I gave the deliberately silly title of The TEFLtastic Blacklist of Shame Guardian Watch 3. In the very unlikely event that anyone took that title seriously, they would have got the wrong impression because the post simply said that I got a bad vibe about those three and that I thought I’d read enough to make up my own mind about them. The worst it said about TI specifically was that “someone’s ambition is making them step over the line of what I would call gentlemanly business practices”, mainly meaning in their marketing and how they dealt with critics and former partners such as IATQUO. Although the three I mentioned are not quite on the same level, my main point that I got the impression that their true personalities came out if you got on the wrong side of them seems to have been confirmed by online communication and emails since.
Pairing them up with the (later convicted) fraudster Paul Lowe and the exceedingly dodgy Mark Smith of Smith Schools could possibly give the wrong impression more generally, but as it says in the post the only connection between the three was that the sheer amount of evidence online, especially the words of their own owners, meant that I was fairly confident that I would not want to do business with them. I’ve since come to the conclusion that many TI critics were liars as well as nutty, but all my dealings with TI since have reinforced my initial impression that they are not the kind of people or organisation that an anal lifetime TEFLer like me should think about getting involved with. That of course depends on my personal preferences on the kinds of people and organisations I like to deal with, hence the appearance of those views on my personal weblog.
One day later I was being much less polite in telling a random TEFLer selling an overpriced and inaccurate guide to teaching abroad that she was talking out of her arse, meaning that TI got a brief mention in a post that was top of the page for less than 24 hours.
The first comment on that TEFLtastic Blacklist of Shame Guardian Watch 3, which was about TI, came two days later but I seriously cut it short to get rid of libellous comments, after which I gave the commenter a public ticking off. The next two commenters more joined in the tone of the title of the post and its content with “These people are linked in a conspiracy dating from the Crusades” and “Solid warning with appropriate limits.”
The first comment from TEFL International came from senior member of TI staff Mike Fitzgerald on 13 June 2008, saying I was right about Paul Lowe and his Windsor Schools (because in an amazing coincidence he’d worked for them too) but I was wrong about TI and their CEO/ founder Bruce Veldhuisen. I emailed him straight back asking to interview him so that he could put the record straight. However, at that point Bruce started emailing me (during which I edited the post and explained my reasoning based on his comments) and as he agreed to an interview and it turned into a mammoth task (see below), the interview of Mike unfortunately never happened.
Two thoughtful posts that also gave them a mention
The next time I mentioned TI was on 27 May 2008 in a post saying that despite my personal objections to some of the actions (especially marketing) of them and many other non-CELTA/ non-Trinity courses, in balance having lots of competition around had probably been good for the industry in a post called Have “Alternative” TEFL Courses Been Good for the Industry?
And on 19 June I mused on whether the nuttiness of the critics might have completely thrown me when I was trying to judge TI in a post called Is it Possible to Learn Anything from the TEFLnet?
Interview (Part One)
The interview went up on 25 June 2008 but the comments section turned into such a mess that I thought the only way of Bruce being able to answer the many points made there was with a second interview, and he instantly agreed. I also invited people to email me questions for him. However, I turned down the offer by the most persistent TI critic, the owner of the TEFL Watch site, to interview him too when he complained that this format let Bruce off the hook.
Interview Part Two (in bits, with Interview Part Three in the middle)
The second part went up on 20 July 2008 with a much stricter policy on commenting. Because of the emailed questions the second interview was much too big to put up at one time, though, I split it into parts by topic and so Part Two eventually went up as Parts Two, Four and Five, with Part Three being an update in between.
On 23 July I posted a comment that neatly summarised my thoughts on TI at the time, again based mainly on what Bruce (rather than his critics) wrote: “Perhaps I have been unrealistic. I was hoping I would be able to recommend your organisation because it had a philosophy of continual improvement and occasionally met criticism with changes rather than just justification. Given the claims about the size of your organisation, I was also hoping TI would be a company with the resources and professionalism for you to be able to say ‘I’ll pass that question to the person in charge’ all the time. Both these things not being true is fairly typical of TEFL, and therefore disappointing.”
In a later comment on that interview on 14 October 2008 I wrote “If you believe the comments are libellous, please ask a lawyer to look at them and tell me which parts are libellous under which law (any country’s law is okay) and I will edit or remove just those comments” and I’d already shown my willingness to do exactly that, but in later comments from Bruce on that thread (and all other communication by email and comment) there has never been a specific request to edit or delete a specific post, part of post or comment.
The last comment (by Bruce) on the Interview Part Two post was on 17 November 2008. Part Three went up on the same day. As it had been a while since the last one and there had been yet more online spats in the meantime, it was simply a short update before we got back to the next section of the questions I’d asked in my second interview, which would become Part Four on 17 Jan 2009.
There were no comments on Interview Part Four at all when it went up, but I used that as a space to put links to other TI-related stories I’d come across from my Google Alert on them (one of about 20 TEFL-related ones I have running), the last of which was on 15 July 2010, and the story really kicks off there, after the intervening blog posts…
Interview Part Five, the last part of the big second interview, went up on 14 April 2009, this time without any asking Bruce follow up questions because I really had had enough of the whole thing.
A delicious piece of dodgy marketing
Despite having sworn off ever having to deal with TI-related comments and emails (from both sides) again, on 4 June 2009 Google Alerts sent me a link to an article that I really couldn’t ignore. The article claimed that teaching TEFL was “‘the most exciting employment opportunity of your life’ which is ‘not hard’ and ‘pays well’. Apparently you can ‘forget the commute, over-time …missed lunches… jammed photocopiers and demanding supervisors’. You can, so they say, be ‘your own boss’, ‘starting at the top’, ‘“playing”’ at work’ in ‘a low stress environment’ with ‘supportive colleagues’. You can even, believe it or not, ‘Live longer’ and get ‘physical benefits included… in your… package’” My conclusion at the time was that “I think I really gave the CEO of TEFL International more than a fair hearing, but I cannot see how any organisation that is involved in hogwash like this can have any other aim but money” and the way I see it the onus is still on Bruce and TI to change my mind or prove me wrong on that one if they want more positive coverage on this blog.
All this from just one site?
Just in case anyone thought I was letting TI off the hook because they’d agreed to be interviewed and still not completely confident about my own conclusions on them, in December 2010 I decided to take one of their sites and analyse it in detail as I had recently been doing with a few other organisations.
The resulting piece on just a few pages of one of their many websites went up on 27 December 2010, starting with “I must say that there were quite a few places where I was pleasantly surprised by their honesty, including a very good summary of your prospects (or lack of) as a TEFLer without a degree” but going on to object to things like the downright amazing descriptions of their chief competitors “CELTA Certification…It is a limited certification for persons wishing to teach Further, Adult and Community Education in England.” and “Trinity…The course runs up to a year and is recognized mainly in former Commonwealth countries. Trinity certificates are not considered valid in many countries outside of the United Kingdom and the European Union”, plus “They also describe job searches for TEFLers as a wild goose chase. More like shooting fish in a barrel, I would say”, outdated claims about Dave Hopkins, and SEO bollocks. I summarised the situation as “Of course, a company that can’t be bothered updating and proofreading its website (despite the connection to English teaching), lies about its competitors and is unqualified to offer TEFL courses according to its own criteria doesn’t necessarily provide a bad educational experience. I wonder what you’d think of a university which those things were true for though…” There were no comments from anyone connected with TI on this post until 11 April, after I had given the link to Bruce on this thread:
I let my comments section turn into an a let’s see who can insult Alex more competition
On 8 April 2011, Bruce left the comment “LOL you guys really are kind of jerks, aren’t you!” on the Interview Part Four post, nearly one year after the comment he was replying to (a link to a forum post about TI elsewhere) and about 18 months after the interview had gone up without comment. It then all kicked off again. In the meantime I’d written a piece of TI-associates Unitefl on 16 December 2010 after their owner (or actually technically husband of the owner) lied about his involvement with the company, insulted me and physically threatened me (“I have absolutely nothing to do with UniTEFL.” “Do the TEFL industry a favour and piss off, I can assure you it doesn’t need garbage like you.” “Let’s meet so we can ‘discuss’ in the good old Aussie way” “Your name is on the site, pal! So take the fucking post down, you-piece-of-shit Matt Kay” “you fucked with the wrong bunny, cunt! let’s see how much rep can stand up to?”) elsewhere on my blog and then by email. Although none nearly as bad as Matt Kay, more insults from Bruce at me and/ or other commenters quickly followed such as “I can only imagine how pathetic your life is to make you so bitter and sad.” on 9 April and “I also have an opinion that you are mean-spirited, narrow-minded person…and just generally dislikes people and things that have had more success in life than you have.” and (particularly dripping with contempt for ordinary teachers) “Hope you make rent this month, buddy”. He then did what turned out to be some inaccurate name-dropping with the odd comment “Brian Tomlinson says ‘hi’”
On 11 April on the Interview Part Four post he claimed that “My first problem is I have a professional relationship with Alex–he has my personal Email address. Yet, when he found some errors on my website he just posted about them on this blog and did not even bother to inform me.” which is certainly what I did, but not something he knew about until I posted a link to that blog after he had already called me the names above.
On the thread in question his main objection was to the descriptions of the online course. I would agree that the descriptions were inaccurate and I misinterpreted them, but I could hardly be blamed for that because I copied them straight off the site.
On 12 April I summed up my feelings at that point with “I have had all kinds of dealings with people about the contents of their TEFL course sites recently, and I can state without any danger of contradiction that this was the worst dealt with. Both the content of the site and the way it was dealt with obviously reinforce my impressions of this company and its CEO.” To give some balance, I also pointed out his one “Useful and probably accurate statement, if one we had already dealt with fully in the comments section of the post he is talking about at this point”, referring to his comment that “PS: its legal to work in Thailand without a degree. Just wanted to point out your blatant error–not that you would ever admit it.” (I already had). His “Admin” then joined in the playground insults with “I fear for your students.”
On 13 April I commented that “Bruce has had the site changed. All the people whose sites I have [written about have] done the same, but according to Gavyn on the IATEFL logo post some people flatly refuse to take down offending logos or statements. Those are the TEFL organisations to really avoid, after the very very few that con in the strictest meaning of the word, i.e. just take your money and run. I have never claimed that TEFL International is in either of those two very worst categories. However, there are also a few organisations that have the management structures and emphasis on being a professional educational organisation that would mean you could not imagine such a thing possibly happening. Their bosses also don’t get involved in public slanging matches. As between them they have courses available in about every country where TEFL training happens, I really can see no reason to choose a course by TEFL International or any of the other organisations whose sites I have written about here.”
On 12 April and 13 April new commenters suddenly appeared on a nearly year-old thread, all but one of which did their best to hide their connection to TI despite the fact that they could only have ended up there if they had been told about the thread by TI (or conceivably one of them was told by TI and they told each other). It later came out that “Teacher tom” somehow shared not one but two IP addresses with TI staff (while still denying any connection), and that Another Alex knew Bruce personally. Teachergirl was good enough to say upfront that she was a 2005 TI graduate herself, although I imagine there must have been some kind of connection since for her – of all the thousands of TI grads – to end up on this blog post in April 2011.
If there was a real disagreement behind the insults and hidden connections to TI (rather than just the idea that all criticism of TI was unacceptable than some openly expressed) it was probably that I believed dodgy marketing, online scraps, bullshit on their websites etc showed greater failings of the organisation that meant I would try to avoid it, and others disagreed. On 17 April 2011 I started a series of articles brainstorming ideas for a way of ranking TEFL courses that would be fairer than their marketing and my criticisms. Unfortunately, the usual suspects joined in and added not one useful point to my proposal. A first time commenter said “Look, everyone, Alex is just trying to improve the quality of TEFL training, what is the problem with that?! I’ve read everyone’s comments here and I see that everyone is missing the point of this article entirely, especially Billy, who has something against CELTA, and Teachergirl, who obviously works for or did a course with TEFL International. Please, could everyone just stop the bickering and discuss TEFL Ranking in a mature way without ganging up on Alex or anyone else?”
On 22 April Bruce left a comment on that post asking everyone to stop commenting, and just like that they did. You can come to your own conclusions about the independence of their views from just that, I fear…
One persistent complaint was that I put up the piece on TEFLlife.com without informing Bruce of the bs I had found on the site. Even at that point I didn’t remember which of the possible good reasons it could have been (not wanting the endless pointless comments that inevitably came when he did find it could have been one), but it was probably because of my suspicion that they would just make the absolute minimum number of changes possible and leave the similar crap on all their other sites exactly the same, making the whole process a complete waste of time.
To test that I promised to give them a month and choose another random TEFL International site to examine in the same way, but I never got that far because a more careful look at the exact same site gave me enough for three more blog posts, starting with TEFL International Guaranteed Job Placement – Treat with Caution on 26 May 2011, in which I commented that “I have criticised many organisations for the content of their websites, e.g. all the people who claimed to be accredited by IATEFL (TI was not one). Many of them weren’t very happy about it, but none of them indulged in personal insults or threats, and none of their sites had as much b/s as TEFLlife.com still did after those changes were made. People can make their own conclusions about the organisation from that. As any regular reader would know, I recommend taking the CELTA because you can get better jobs than with any other 4 week cert and Cambridge, for all their many faults (many of which I have written about here), act like a serious educational organisation rather than as a marketing department with a TEFL course attached. However, if you can take a more serious qualification such as an MA with observed teaching practice or a PGCE, that is of course far preferable to any 4 week course.”
The next two were TEFL International and Universities on 1 June 2011 and http://www.TEFLlife.com – Still Full of Rubbish on 6 June 2011, and that was all I managed to get out of that site. I did work on a couple of summaries of what I’ve learnt so far posts at the time, and when someone emailed me much later asking me for my conclusions on TI after all my dealings with them, I polished one of them up and put it up as Cambridge CELTA and TEFL International – A Comparison on 5 July 2012, about a year after the last one. I was also prompted to finish it off by coming across the odd combination of official TEFL International vids with the word “scam” all over them – seemingly a good idea but not really the sort of thing Cambridge ESOL would get themselves involved in, I think we can all agree. The usual suspects followed me from links I gave on threads they had taken part in and 128 pointless comments (many under different names from those they used before) ensued before I reminded them that Bruce had told them to quit.
I first wrote about TEFL International about one year after starting my blog and after slagging off a stack of other organisations. I edited anti-TI comments without any prompting and when two managers from TI responded to that post a while later I instantly edited the post and offered both of them interviews. The interview of their founder and CEO went up over five parts plus hundreds of comments, but left me far from decided one way or the other and was anyway far too long for anyone read. I therefore thought I’d take one site and see how I could judge them from just their own words, something I’ve also done with unrelated courses like TEFL Spain and CMUTEFL. Amazingly, I managed to get four blog posts out of just that one site and it seems from recent comments that there are still clear lies about Cambridge on there. I’ve also given links to dodgy marketing that have popped up in my Google Alerts, plus one summary of what I’d learnt from all that and from a similar analysis of becoming a CELTA provider.
Summary of the summary
In the five years of TEFLtastic’s existence:
One initial post on TEFL International shared with two other schools
Two interviews plus an update, put up in five parts – in all of which Bruce was allowed to justify himself in his own words (two of nearly twenty interviews on this blog)
Analysis of one site in a way I have done with loads of other providers, plus updates that were promised
Links to dodgy marketing in a way I have done with loads of other providers, all based on Google Alerts
One summary of all that
That’s for an organisation that claims to have the world’s second biggest TEFL course and to be the world’s biggest (four week, face to face?) TEFL course provider, and who even their friends would hardly claimed have avoided controversy. You don’t even have to take that factor into account, though because if you exclude the interviews I’ve written just as much about the slightly less controversial (for some reason) i-to-i (who have ignored repeated requests for interviews) and Cambridge.
Other random reasons why the idea I have something particularly against TI (rather than keep coming across crap from them online) is absolutely ridiculous:
No supporter of TEFL International has ever been blocked from commenting on TEFLtastic, and that is despite several people committing the serious crime of posting under several names (again without having been blocked under any of their earlier names).
More anti-TI comments than pro-TI comments have been edited or deleted.
I persuaded IATQUO to remove their link to the TEFL Blacklist page on TEFL International because I believed that what is supposed to be a serious accreditation organisation linking to a dirt digging site was exactly the kind of things I didn’t want in our industry. (Dodgy marketing, inaccurate websites, public slanging matches are other things I think are unlikely to make TEFL more professional and respected).
I offered all TI trainers the chance to improve their visibility and respectability by writing articles and reviews for TEFL.net. (“Let me know if any of your trainers are interested in writing book reviews or articles for us.”). “I am certain that can be arranged!” was Bruce’s reply, though no one even applied to do any such thing.
I have slagged off their direct competitors in Thailand, e.g. “Would standards be raised and everyone be happier if quality providers like ECC and Text and Talk ran the teaching and teacher training industries in Thailand (that’s sarcasm, in case anyone hasn’t noticed)?”, a whole post slagging off the CMU TEFL course, and a suspicious post about SEE TEFL.
The number of clicks on TEFL International-related posts has never been more than a small percentage of a week’s traffic on TEFLtastic, and that’s even when you include the many clicks by commenters slagging me off for said posts. The views of just “Don’t Do the CELTA” is more than all the TEFL International posts combined.
My biggest campaign ever (one that got mentioned during an IATEFL conference) was against people misusing the TESOL and IATEFL logos, and TI has never been guilty of that.
My second biggest campaign (later published in EL Gazette) was against CELTA interview fees
If I wanted to hurt TI I would obviously want to spread the info on my blog as far as I could. I have never forwarded a link to any of my pieces on TI via social media such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or Yahoo groups, nor sent round a similar group email. No one would ever call any of the posts or titles SEO-optimized either.
I also don’t remember linking to any posts on TI on TEFL forums, bar Interview Part One when it first went up on Ajarnforum, and certainly haven’t done so recently.
TI were obviously happy enough with how the interviews had gone, because why else would Mike Fitzgerald have mentioned the chance of paid work with them in an email dated 6 April 2010 – “…As well, Japan or Korea whichever you decide, might have some interesting opportunities or projects you could be interested in writing about — or even getting involved in (We got a lot going on in both countries and can always use experienced talent). For instance, I have a weekly TESOL column in a local Korean paper here, and could get you some free-lance pay for some submissions, as well as other writing work…”. Now, however, apparently interviewing Bruce five times proves that I’m out to get them…
My interview of Karenne of Kalinago Blog fame was even longer than Bruce’s and went up in three parts, but I don’t see anyone claiming I was persecuting her.
I have literally never made a penny from this blog.
I have never had anything to gain from attacking TI, mainly because I haven’t been a teacher trainer since August 2003, about 4 years before I started this blog, and (according to Bruce) they only do teacher training, not actual teaching of English. I was also based in Japan when all this kicked off and only worked in Thailand in 96/97 for Shane, an organisation that never offered teacher training there and was kicked out by the local partners ages ago.
I repeatedly turned down offers of information on TI partner Matt Kay until he decided to insult and physically threaten me on my own blog.
I actually have something to gain from bringing down Cambridge and Trinity and bigging up their chief competitors as my only time as a teacher trainer was for ViaLingua, kind of the TEFL International of its day back then. My work for Cambridge consists of being tutor for one Delta candidate through Bell, a bit of overtime for which I got a grand total of 620 pounds at considerably under my normal teaching hourly rate. I also blogged critically about that experience (as I have repeatedly about the Delta more generally).
I have provided suggestions for how the best non-Cambridge courses could get the respect they (might) deserve such as this.
Several very productive relationships started with people emailing me to complain about a blog post of mine, so the fact that the same situation with TI has not lead to the same result can hardly be my fault.