Each year thousands of Westerners, who are eager to teach English abroad, enroll in either TEFL, TESOL or CELTA certification courses. Each of these certificates along with a bachelor’s degree will potentially qualify someone to teach English as a second language. However, some individuals are unfortunately duped out of their money by fraudulent companies that take advantage of a highly unregulated and cowboy like industry. Unfortunately, there is nothing they can do about it due to a lack of oversight. On top of that, there are hundreds of teachers and students that are conned out of thousands of dollars each year by companies operating within the ESL industry.
One of these fraudulent companies goes by the name of the TEFL Institute, which has been operating since the 1990’s and is owned by a man named TiRon Gibbs. While the TEFL Institute, an institute that provides TEFL certificates to would be teachers, has operated legitimately at times in the past, it has become a bona-fide fraudulent company during the last two years. There is an endless list of grievances by former unpaid teachers and students who spent hundreds of dollars for a course only to never receive a certificate of completion and later find out that the course was never accredited in the first place. The TEFL Institute, a Chicago based company, operates all over the world and uses clever marketing, a professional looking webpage and promotions to currently sign up students for illegitimate online courses in parts of Europe, South America and Asia in addition to North America.
Alessandra Santiago and Marlei Zeminsky each lost over a $1000 after enrolling in a TEFL Institute course. Zeminsky says she registered for a course in January of 2013 after returning to the United States from Mexico. Her plan was to teach English in Mexico and possibly in other parts of Latin America as well. She heard about the course from an ill-advised friend who had seen an advertisement for it on the internet. “While I was home, a coworker mentioned that he was going to teach English abroad and told me about TEFL Institute and talked about how good it was although he didn’t actually take the course. I was definitely ignorant to the TEFL world. I looked into the website and it looked very legit,” said Zeminsky.
She decided to take the course in San Jose, Costa Rica. However, she and her boyfriend became suspicious when the school insisted that they leave their hostel in move into a highly priced room in a shared apartment. “The TEFL homestay people harassed us about staying there. That it was necessary that we live closer. They tried to get us to agree without telling us the price. Then finally when we agreed they said it would be $900 for one shared room for one month. Insane!” Zeminsky said that the course itself was good and the teacher was qualified. However, she simply never received her teaching certificate in the mail. “When we graduated, they told us the TEFL Institute hadn’t sent the certificates and planned to send them to our home addresses. They never arrived. I guess there were a lot of things wrong, but I didn’t want to believe it. I really liked my classmates, teachers, and the course. It’s so unfortunate that they just couldn’t shell out a certificate.” Zeminsky says she called and emailed the TEFL Institute nearly fifty times without a response.
Alessandra Santiago enrolled in an online course offered by the TEFL Institute in her home country of Brazil in January. Santiago, who is an English teacher in Brazil, signed up for the online course after seeing a promotion offering a 50 percent discount. Santiago says she originally took the course to expand her knowledge and learn new teaching methods. However, she soon became interested in teaching abroad after interacting online with her classmates. “In the beginning I wasn`t interested in teaching abroad. However, after going through the texts, the situations and everything that I have read during the online course, especially the reports from my fellow classmates, the will of teaching abroad grew on me. I was really looking forward to having this certificate and teach somewhere where I could improve my french as well.”
More than halfway through the course, she became wary of the company after being unable to contact anyone in the office regarding job placement opportunities. Nevertheless, she completed the assignments, but became increasingly alarmed when it became apparent that she and her classmates would not be receiving a certificate. Santiago says that she and her classmates contacted the school hundreds of times, but were unable to reach anyone. She says the issue is not about money, but rather the fact that she was planning on using the certificate to teach somewhere abroad. “At the moment, I am really lost. All my plans really fell apart when I heard that the certificate had no validation. I really don’t know how to proceed from now on. I don’t really care about the money. Of course I would love to get it back, but what really matters to me is how to get an international certification that would help me find a job abroad.”
The ESL industry is often a buyer beware situation. This is not to say that there are not quality schools and institutes out there that operate honestly. However, there are a good deal of teacher certification schools like the TEFL Institute along with hundreds of schools that take advantage of students and teachers each year in the ESL Industry. Social media is one mechanism to make students and teachers aware of such institutes. Individuals should be particularly cautious of companies like the TEFL Institute.