I responded to an online advertisement by SEE TEFL Chiang Mai, Thailand in making inquiries about its ‘TEFL program’ and the ‘job guarantee’ it gave. I told John Quinn, the director, that I was a non-native English speaker without a university degree and asked if the course was worth doing given the oversupply of native English-speaking tourists in Thailand with a TEFL certificate. We had over twenty email correspondences on the prospects of doing the course and his ‘job guarantee’. He appeared very professional and convincing in his emails and his responses were within 12 hours. Among other claims, this is what he told me before I paid and enrolled for the program -
‘A degree isn’t an eligibility requirement for our 4-week program; however, a degree is normally needed to obtain a non-immigrant B (Business) visa and work permit. A non-immigrant B visa and work permit is normally required to work legally as a teacher in Thailand.’
‘There are legal loopholes some formal schools used to work around this. For example, classifying the teacher as a classroom assistant. In addition, agencies are often non-formal schools, so they can provide non-immigrant B visas and work permits for teachers without degrees; they then subcontract their teachers to formal schools. Non-formal schools, such as language schools, are less strict regarding degrees as their supporting paperwork isn't processed through the Teacher Council of Thailand (TCT).’
‘We are also a language school and employ around 40 teachers at our school; we also subcontract teachers to other schools in Chiang Mai and several other Northern Thai towns. I estimate around 10 of these teachers don't have degrees, but we obtained non-immigrant B visas and work permits for all of them. These jobs, when available, are open to our SEE TEFL graduates. We currently have 3 vacancies.’
‘We've been training teachers and working with schools since 2006. Schools and agents over those years contact us when they are looking for teachers. We have a network of schools that rely on us for their teachers, schools that forward their job descriptions when looking for teachers and agencies that contact us when they need teachers. There's no other side; it's just a network that has developed over time organically.’
Upon receiving these assurances from him, enrolled for the 168 hours Ofqual Level 5 TEFL course for its Oct-Nov 2022 intake. During the first two weeks of the course, everyone at the school seemed friendly and everything seemed alright but in the third week onwards, familiarity bred contempt. Some of the crew working for EFL Learning Center managed by his wife, were less courteous and the friction was normally over the usage of the photocopy machine which brought them and the trainees at loggerheads. The new staffs were polite, but the older ones were obnoxious. My gut feeling about the school was not good, and neither were the vibes.
The TEFL trainees were young Americans, British and one was Canadian and they stuck to their tribe. They were backpackers traveling in Thailand looking for an English teaching job to pay off their travel expenses. There were many red flags about this school.
The name SEE TEFL appeared only on cloth banners and an inconspicuous small wall sign inside. There were no signboards outside the school.
The receipts issued for payment of TEFL fees were not from SEE TEFL but bore the name ‘Effective Foreign Languages Chiang Mai (Lanna) School’,
Both the director and his wife had multiple website for their programs.
The school had two businesses under one roof. The director managed SEE TEFL,, the other was EFL Learning Center, belonging to his wife. Emanating from EFL Learning Center are two phantom schools - Effective Foreign Languages Chiang Mai (Lanna) School and Effective Thai. They were just signboard names. The joke of the day written behind SEE TEFL’s certificate is - ‘SEE’s TEFL curriculum is a part of Effective Foreign Languages Chiang Mai (Lanna) School run by DSS International Language Services Co., Ltd’.
During my 26-day stint at SEE TEFL, I noticed all classroom partitions on the second floor belonging to EFL Learning Center were empty. The cleaner went in daily to wipe off the dust from the tables. The only classroom that was occupied was the one on the first floor next to his wife’s office. I used to see an old British man giving private tuition in the evenings to not more than three students on weekdays and during weekends, there were some students. But what were those unoccupied rooms upstairs for? Were they there to deceive the authorities that EFL Language Center was a bustling language school?
I perceived a sense of fear and insecurity at SEE TEFL and EFL Learning Center. There were CCTV cameras located everywhere. We were told that there is an ‘IT Support staff’ whom we could approach if we encountered technical issues in printing but the IT Support staff, when I approached him for assistance, gave me the impression that he was hired for something else and kept returning to his desk. All that he did for 8 hours a day was to keep a vigilant eye on the website as if anticipating a cyber attack. the director too, was never at his office downstairs but always upstairs either doing the same or sleeping.
The TEFL course at SEE TEFL, Chiang Mai was horseplay. The ‘program content’ stated behind the TEFL certificate is no more than an exaggeration of what actually took place during the training. The school bought time with 8 hours of Thai lessons and one day was wasted going to temples and museums in the name of ‘Thai Cultural Awareness’. The director's reasons were for us to ‘experience what is it like to acquire a second language’, a phenomenon linguists refer to as L1 Interference but I was of the opinion that he did this for two reasons. First, to cross-sell the Thai language course of its phantom school Effective Thai which hardly had more than one student.
The 120 hours TEFL program covered only one productive skill i.e., teaching 6 target languages on grammar. The ‘grammar and teaching inputs’ were all connected to the 6 TPs and there was nothing much on teaching theory apart from two pieces of paper and one piece of paper on classroom management. Photos of whiteboard plans for all 6 TPs were taken and sent to us via Group WhatsApp and completed lesson plans for all 6 TPs were sent to us via email. We just had to replicate, make minor alterations, and produced them to the ‘assessors’ during the Observed Teaching Practices making it look as if it was ours. The 6 TPs at Thai public schools never taught learners receptive skills but only one productive skill - grammar.
On the third week of the course, questions and answers to the ‘Grammar Test’ were given for us to memorize and regurgitated during the test on the fourth week. On the day of the test, the trainees submitted their test papers within 10 minutes and walked out of the classroom. As I went through the training, I was disgusted by the fact that both SEE TEFL and its TEFL course were ‘endorsed’ and ‘recognized’ by both TQUK and Ofqual.
Upon completion of the course, on the second last day, I assumed that participants received different levels of support. This was SEE TEFL’s ‘job guarantee’ - an open secret. I received a cold shoulder and was ignored for reasons best known to them.
Two months after the course, I went to SEE TEFL to collect my TQUK certificate which had just arrived. A lady at the reception telephoned someone upstairs informing my arrival. From her countenance, I sensed that something was not right. She hung down the phone and went behind to call the lead trainer, who refused to give the certificates without my filling a feedback form for their ISO certification. Like everything else about SEE TEFL, the feedback form was a dodgy piece of photocopied paper, its alignment slanted and the prints were so blurred that I could hardly read. One could tell that it was no more but a rough piece of paper used to harvest favorable reviews to be published online.
It has been over five (5) months since I ‘graduated’ from SEE TEFL, Chiang Mai. I sent my second updated resume over three weeks ago to SEE TEFL and EFL Learning Center. Unlike prior to enrolling for the course, where email responses were within 12 hours, I received no response from the director. Three days later, I called him to ask if he had received my email and the attached resume. He told me that he did but does ‘not handle the employment part’ and that ‘the girls at the reception normally do that and not to send him any emails about employment’. The following day, I received an email from EFL Learning Center. It had no salutations, it was unsigned, and had only one sentence - ‘Thank you for your email.’ It was obvious to me that the person who had sent me that email wished to remain anonymous for reasons best known to her.
I wrote to the University of York recently making inquiries on the prestigious Trinity CertTESOL. The Associate Lecturer in English Language Teacher Training from the Department of Language and Linguistic Science responded to my queries by saying -
‘In truth, I don't know what you mean by "the TEFL" (i.e. who organises and runs this course). However, I do recognise the CELTA as the Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults, as accredited by the University of Cambridge.’
If you are a native English speaker (NES) with a university degree looking for a ‘piece of paper’ to teach English in Thailand to pay off your travel expenses, you may do your TEFL course here because you will not need to depend upon SEE TEFL or EFL Learning Center to find you employment in Thailand. But if you are a non-native English speaker (NNES) with or without a degree looking for a job in Thailand, they may or may not assist you in finding employment and you will have to take the risk of putting your money in their hands. Their ‘job guarantee’ is a trump card and an attempt to lure and entice the unwary to enroll in their TEFL program.