TOEFL Speaking Scam

Teaching English in Taiwan sure has some special moments.  Most of them are, in one way or another, stupid, ugly, ridiculous, pointless, fraudulent, frustrating and amusing (might as well laugh, eh?).
Here’s the story of a recent sortie…who was bringing up three very lovely girls.  Oh, my nose!

If a foreign student wishes to study abroad in an English speaking university, they must pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), redundantly called the TOEFL test.
In addition to the weed-like sprouting of buxibans and cram schools (English immersion daycare), a healthy little industry has arisen prepping clients to take this test.  High school students whose parents can afford it; university students who recognize the economic value of a degree from a western university; young tech and business sector sorts who see the global market as an opportunity and an MBA from the USA as heavy leverage…it’s a lucrative target market.  And so, classes are sold to and attended by those hopeful, determined and generally quite bright marks.

One company recently got me in the door when they were looking for a substitute to take over the speaking segment of their TOEFL test course.  I probably shouldn’t, you know, NAME them…but they would be BBFD (if you back up one letter each).  Alpha Alpha Echo Charlie.  Pfft.
It was one hour per week.  One hour?  For university level speaking?  Seems short, but there were only four students.  I finished out the remaining weeks.  We covered some topics, they spoke, we discussed alternative tenses, active and passive voice, expanded vocabulary…with only one hour per week no one should expect magic.  So it goes.

And so they notified me that a new class was beginning.  Could I come teach it?  Oh, what the fuck…it’s only an hour a week, but it’s an easy hour with students who have some basics.  No goddamn “Head and shoulder, knees and toes,” n’est pas?
Sure, I’ll come in.

And so I show up.  21 students.
After the first class, I tried to explain to the utterly clueless manager twitbitch that it’s simply impossible to teach university level English speaking to 21 students in one hour.
I even offered her simple math.  Each student speaks for one minute.  That leaves less than two minutes per student for assessment, review, alternative structures, vocabulary, tense correction, diagramming, modelling, repetition…taking notes is right out.  I suggested, at a bare minimum, dividing into two classes – three would be better; extending the class time to two hours…anything to have even a remote chance of giving the clients the thing they were paying for.  I fucking begged them not to make it utterly impossible.

What did I expect?  She argued with me immediately.  Do small group conversation, she suggested.  I tried math again.
Four groups – five in each group.  Fifteen minutes per group.  Three minutes per student.  You can slice and dice it however you want…it’s three minutes per student; fifteen minutes per group; one hour per class…the class is too big, the time is too short.
Nothing doing.  These evil, greedy fuckers want all the cash at the cost of one measly teaching hour per week.
Let’s look at THAT.  These sleazy bastards are charging, bare minimum (and let’s be really fucking generous) $200 a head.  Twenty students, they’re pulling in 4000…and it’s more than that, we can be certain.  They pay me $650.
Splitting the class cuts their take from 83.75% to 67.5% of the take – still the lions share.  The effect on the students:  100% more time and attention.  The effect on me:  One more overworked and poorly paid hour – an hour that prevents me from taking the M-W-F, six hours/week gig on Fuhsing Rd.  So it goes.

And I feel bad for these students.  I guess that’s something – after all these years working for scam artists and fools, I still feel for the poor marks with dreams of studying abroad who got conned with a “Learn TOEFL English in One Hour/Week” pitch.  They’re nice kids, and they still have dreams.  And it pisses me off to watch thieving fuckwits exploit those dreams for a quick and dirty kwai.  So, I show up on Monday evenings and do my level fucking best to give them encouragement and to direct them toward self-learning strategies.  Get on skype.  Find a Filipino chat buddy.  Read.  SPEAK!

Tonight, as I was leaving after class, the manager bitchtwit told me I needed to write a syllabus for the 12 week program.
No, we don’t pay for your time.  That’s class prep.
Look, I said…do want lesson plans or a syllabus?  A syllabus.
Well, then you have to pay me.
No, that’s class prep.
No…telling you what pages to photocopy from the lame ass book you provide is “class prep”.  If you want me to write a course syllabus, you have to pay me for the time it takes.  You realize I come here for ONE HOUR A WEEK, right?
Things reached “Go Fuck Yourself” pretty quickly, even for me (and I’m fast).

And so, now, those 21 students will get a new teacher off the underground network of subs looking to crank up on the hours…someone whose Monday evening is open and will happily do two things:

1.  Accept 650NT dollars for an easy hour with some bright adult students
2.  Tell BBFD they can prep TOEFL speaking for 21 students in one hour per week

Only one of those things presents a moral question.


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