Interview: TEFL program (no exclamation point)

The titles for my previous interviews had exclamation points because I had fun talking to people and getting their advice. Not so much with this one. No exclamation point for you.

My last post talked about dreams getting crushed by Google. This post’ll be about dreams getting crushed by a girl named Rachel. Actually, a lot of it will be about workplace professionalism…

You may remember how I also mentioned that I was going to talk with someone at the Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) program in Denver.

I made the appointment, Google-mapped the location, and set off in my lil’ Corolla.  From what I remembered of the area, I was wondering if they might be located in a strip mall.  Thankfully they were not. Rather, it was two, nice brick buildings with flags in front.

 

Out of courtesy, identifying information blacked to out to protect the company I was not impressed with. Cause of course that's what companies like this are most concerned about: this blogger's opinions.

 

I parked out front, twiddled my thumbs for a few minutes because I was early, then gathered up my pen and notebook and went inside. Stepping across the threshold, I was shocked.

The building exterior may have been nice but the lobby did look straight out of a bad strip mall. I mean really, in a day where not only does everyone have a blog but there are thousands of design blogs and whole cable channels devoted to even the simplest interior decorating, there’s no excuse for a lobby to look like that. I could describe it, but I’d really rather not relive it. I’ll just say colorless, bland, dingy, like a bad school cafeteria.

The two ladies behind the desk looked so bored that I immediately felt sorry for them. I smiled, “Hi, my name is Ally. I have an appointment with Rachel.” They both got up and came to the front counter – seemingly not out of a customer-service-type attitude but a wow-something-is-happening-and-we’re-so-bored-we’ll-jump-to-do-anything attitude. While I waited, someone came in to drop off brochures, and they both got up again.

This company wasn’t supposed to be some podunk, local business. The program’s web site was very impressive. They offer certification courses in twenty international locations! So I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt.  You never know. There are certainly many good companies out there that have disappointing storefronts.

After a few minutes Rachel came out… and she was younger than me. Maybe, like, 24. I’m not saying that there’s a rule requiring a minimum  age for competency, but in my experience most people need to have several years of experience under the belt before they’re any good at selling a company. I expected the company’s “Travel Advisor” to be vivacious and excited about the program, trying to get me excited, too. Instead she sat all the way back in her chair, hands in her lap, and seemed bored with our whole conversation – like she didn’t really believe in their product.

A bit of advice: unless you really do hate your company and honestly think customers would be better off shopping elsewhere (in which case you should quit), try to muster up some enthusiasm. Or even a smile.

 

Fake it if you have to.

 

Why? Bad sales and customer service means a company will ultimately fold and you’ll be unemployed. If you’re not fired first. Smiling will keep a roof over your head.

We went into a meeting room about the size of a parking space and containing only a table, a few chairs, and a blackboard. I think, If I worked in this environment I’d be dull, too. Determined to make the most of taking time off work and paying for a few gallons of gas to attend this meeting, I put on my cheeriest voice and launched in to a few questions. Even if I didn’t end up using this company – which seemed more and more unlikely – maybe I could glean a bit more wisdom and information about TEFL.

I anticipated that her responses to my questions would stimulate my brain and provoke more conversation. Nope. Her answers were short, barely enough to answer my specific question and sometimes not even that. I wanted to prod deeper but had a feeling that she was telling me everything she knew anyway.

One thing I did glean: all EU countries have a similar structure to their visas as the UK. Three month tourist visa, then please go away. Unless you manage to find an employer who wants to pay for a work visa for you. This made me a bit more nervous. There’s probably some of you out there going, “Well, duh. Everyone knows that’s how it works.” Yeah, I’m new to this. I’m still learning.

 

Thank you for visiting. Now please get out.

 

Somewhere in the middle of our conversation Rachel mentioned that she had done TEFL, but in the same tone of voice in which one might say, “Yeah, I’ve shopped at Walgreens.”

Again I wondered why the company picked her for this position.

I had planned on thirty minutes to an hour to meet with Rachel, expecting her to show me shiny brochures and tell me success stories about people who had taken their certification courses. Yet less than seven minutes later I was pushing my chair out (the room so small that it hit the wall behind me), picking up the promo materials she had given me (a folder containing three pieces of paper), shaking her hand, and thanking her for meeting with me.

And I did it all with a smile. See? Faking it isn’t that hard.

With a whole lot of time to kill before I was supposed to meet a friend, I headed to Einstein Bagels for their free wireless. While waiting for my computer to boot up I breathed a deep sigh and dropped my head in my hands. What just happened?

* * * * *

I have an appointment on my calendar next week to observe an independent TEFL class here in town – not from this company. I’m intrigued to see what it’s like.

Also, in a few weeks I’m meeting with a colleague who’s a career counselor and apparently is their office expert on TEFL-esque programs.

But I’m beginning to fear that I may have been duped.

Next post will be about what to do when your dream has been crushed…

 

Another "downer" post requires additional pictures of cute animals.

 

Postscript: I started typing the company name into Google to look at their web site one more time, and Google’s first auto-complete suggestion was “[company] scam”. I clicked a link for a site claiming to be independent with user-submitted reviews for various programs.

Thirteen of the 15 submitted reviews for this company had been submitted within five days of each other… And the reviewers had provided their full first and last names… (Yeah, cause people are still dumb enough to do that on the internet.)

Geez, guys, fake smiles are one thing. Fake reviews are a whole ‘nother ballgame.

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4 Responses to Interview: TEFL program (no exclamation point)

  1. Sheri says:

    Alissa, love your blog! This is my first visit. So sorry you had a bad experience with that [unnamed] company, but I hope you are able to eventually follow your dream. I think you’ll be a great teacher, with your patience and empathy — and your ready smile!!

  2. Pingback: 6 Things To Do when Your Dream’s Been Crushed « The Big "What If…?"

  3. Pingback: Shadowing the English Teachers « The Big "What If…?"

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