Will-Excell Global TESOL Program
14 NEGATIVE REVIEWS (2009)
..Dan Symes is a pirate. He received a considerable federal grant (in excess of $250,000) to make a business of exploiting people in China. He doesn't pay his employees very well. The hours they work aren't concurrent, unless they're one of his second or third right-hand men. You can expect to work mornings and nights, and he'll probably put a class on your schedule somewhere in between just to make sure you can't do anything on your own time. You will have one day off a week. You can use this time to plan out your classes. You will likely teach 8 to 10 different groups/grades, and so you will need to prepare 8 to 10 lessons per week.
He is a parasite. He receives money for each foreigner/sucker that he manages to reel in, and he doesn't care about treating you well, because if you quit, it just means he can hire new people and gain the aforementioned bonus that comes along with his doing so.
If you're desperate for a job, it's an easy job to get. If you take the time and do the research though, you'll find a job with better pay, better hours, and a lot less bull****.
..I recently discovered the Will-Excel TESOL programme when searching the internet for possible courses to kick-start my ESL career in China. Having read a lot of horror stories I was understandably sceptical about a programme which sounded too good to be true, so after a fairly fruitless search for detailed feedback in the forums (a few first-hand positive experiences thin on detail, and a lot of baseless negative opinions), I emailed them to ask for more information. I was especially interested in the assessment criteria for the certificate, and the locations of their sponsor schools (only a provincial level, because I didn’t want to move too far away from my current home in Liaoning province).
The reply came back quickly (the next day) as did most replies, however there was no attempt to answer my questions, just an attached PDF version of their entire website, and links to their blog, photo albums and video testimonials, and a push to begin the application process. I was a little disappointed with this evasion, and therefore pushed for a face-to-face meeting and asked again about the location of their schools. He agreed to a meeting, but wanted me to apply for the programme first – which was fair enough, but he again evaded answering my question and simply tried to push me towards the self-funded option.
I really wanted to get some answers from them, so before sending in the application, I tried asking questions again, but this time numbering them to as to make each question accountable. This seemed to work better, in that he answered each question, but still in a very evasive way that after reading the answers I was none-the-wiser.
After pushing for more information again, I was sent an extract from their TESOL policy manual which provided a little more insight, but really only raised more questions. I decided to press on with the application so that I could meet them in person and finally get some answers to my questions.
The application process consists of filling out a very basic form, sending scans of your passport and qualifications, and then recording an MP3 of yourself answering some typical interview prompts (a great teacher is…, I’m good because…, etc.). This is a little lazy way of doing things, but I guess fairly efficient in screening applicants.
After completing this process, and indicating both on the form and in previous conversations that I was applying for the November programme, the reply came back suggesting they were considering me for the August programme! The replies all seemed to be copy and paste jobs (like the majority of the previous emails), and also seemed to be ignoring the reason for the application, which was my visit.
After correcting them, I got an offer to join the November programme under the self-funded option, because apparently ALL the sponsored positions had already been filled. A little hard to believe at this early stage…? The offer was pushing me to pay $500 within the next 48 hours, however they said I could defer the payment until after my visit, as long as I visited this week. Then complaining that they had wanted 1 week notice of my visit, (which had already been given!), and they were the ones saying I needed to visit at that time…?
Ok, I thought, let’s just go and find out what the real story is! As they had given me no time to confirm arrangements of the meeting, and as no telephone number is available for Will-Excel, I had to just send an email saying when I was coming and where I had assumed the meeting to take place, and gave my telephone number so that if there was a problem they could contact me!
Fortunately, all went as planned, and I met up with them at one of California Sunshine International Language Centre’s sites. It turns out that Will-Excel use Sunshine’s office space at two of their locations, and have no premises of their own – hence no telephone number. In reality, the Will-Excel partnership consists of a recruiter/teacher employed by Sunshine, and the co-founder/director of foreign affairs at Sunshine.
The information I got during this meeting is as follows:
There are no essays to complete during the course. Each input session is followed by a written multi-choice or single-sentence answer quiz the following day. There are 5 professional development projects, which are each assessed differently. The foreign language journal, teaching observation forms are very subjective, and therefore carry less weight than the materials, curriculum writing, and one-to-one projects. The only other written materials produced by the student during the course are lessons plans. The above constitute 40% of your final diploma grade, or 100% if you decide to only do the certificate and not the 6-month diploma (teaching term). The remaining 60% of the diploma grade is based on regular student and colleague feedback using a rating system coded in excel spreadsheets, which interprets question responses into a percentage score which is averaged across each age group of students taught. All grades use the American GPA system, and you are required to score at least 2.0 to pass the course. The current quoted pass rate of the course is 91%.
The teaching practice is all done individually (not in groups), and consists of 4 60-minute one-to-one sessions with an adult learner, and at least 3 120-minute sessions with children (normally) at Sunshine, accompanied by a teaching assistant, and an evaluator for the first hour of each class. Additional classes may be offered at Sunshine at the rate of 45RMB/hour! Also some opportunities may exist to teach classes at a local university.
Homework consists almost exclusively of lesson plans and grammar exercises.
Pier observation is not a planned part of the course, but the opportunity exists should free time allow.
Limited computer access is provided, although no wireless access is available. You may plug in your own laptop in place of any existing unused computer, but splitting of the signal is not permitted, either at home or at the office.
The self-funded work placement works by Will-Excel sending your resume out to an undisclosed number of schools around China with the hope of at least one offering you a position. They also suggest you try to find a job yourself and will provided assistance in writing resumes and cover letters etc.
The number of participants in each programme varies from 7 to 15, and everyone works individually with a single group. The accommodation is shared by up to 3 people (or couples) during the first month (training period), and becomes private during the working term.
There are no additional fees to pay during the course that relate to course, i.e. course books, stationery, photocopying, internet access are all included, however any social events that you decided to attend will of course be at your own expense.
If you decide to go self-funded, your certificate will be provided as soon as you pay all course fees – this is very flexible in payment terms. If you are sponsored, your diploma is given to you after you complete your 6-month teaching term.
Future employers currently have to email Will-Excel to ask if a certificate/diploma is authentic, although there is a future plan to allow automated online checking.
The Heilongjiang Provincial Education Bureau do NOT authorise anyone to issue certificates to foreigners. This was proven by first personally calling the bureau and asking several depts, none of which have heard of the company, and also with the kind help of high-ranking official in the Liaoning education bureau who confirmed that no company has this authorisation. Will-Excel do NOT have government accreditation for their certificates, and when asked to produce evidence they eventually admitted to not having any written agreement or authorisation from anyone, but could fabricate one given a couple of weeks. The current red Chinese stamp on the certificate is from a Harbin city-level association which authorises English training centres to give certificates to English students. Given that Sunshine is an English training centre, the origin of this stamp doesn’t seem too difficult to guess.
The typical training schedule consists of: input sessions from Tuesday to Friday, including 1 hour of Chinese lessons each day, observation and teaching practice during the evenings and at weekends, and an optional workshop each week for assisting with lesson plans.
During the course of the meeting it also became apparent that in fact the sponsored positions for November had not yet become available, because most of the schools weren’t considering that far in the future. I was told that closer to the time, a sponsored place may become available and I could convert to that option. Also a sponsored position suddenly became available at Sunshine, so I decided to see if they would give a formal offer. A positive reply came back to me that evening, and I arranged to return to their training centre the next day to review the contracts.
Upon reviewing the contracts I became immediately concerned at the 60-day notice period, number of teaching hours per week (22) compared with the very low salary (4000RMB per month=45/RMB per hour!) and that even that amount was difficult to achieve due to the enforced unpaid holidays and the fact that you need to pay all the utility bills yourself. Also having read personal blogs from current/previous employees, they confirmed the effective working hours to be more like 40 per week when considering lesson planning, travel between branches and other duties, with often very awkward hours and only 1 day off per week. Also if you check the recruitment page for Sunshine (on Will-Excel’s main website and many other ESL job listing pages), you’ll see a quoted salary of 5500-7000RMB per month with a $1000 end of contract bonus. Even when you take into consideration the training sponsorship (is this even real when Sunshine is your sponsor school?), the package is obviously taking advantage of new teachers.
The TESOL contract was worrying short, especially compared the self-funded version I had previously been sent. Specifically it had absolutely no information about the number of hours or content of the course offered, not even the categories (input session/teaching practice/etc), said nothing about providing accommodation, food and training materials, and shockingly didn’t even state that you would be awarded a certificate! Having asked for this to be included, and attempting for a second time to start negotiations regarding salary, they took over a week to reply, finally just stating that they would not negotiate at all, and that the missing information was available in policy documents which were only available after I had agreed and paid my deposit! I really don’t understand why they are afraid to include this basic information in the contracts, especially as all this is stated in their marketing material and is included in the self-funded contract. And to my knowledge, policy manuals can be changed at any time without consultation or legal implications, making them worthless contractually speaking.
Even baring all this mind, and against my better judgment, I agreed to proceed on the logic that I’m only risking $200 (compared to $1250 for most TESOL courses), provided that I had a copy of these policy manuals in my possession. They then replied saying that they’d decided to give the position to another applicant and wouldn’t honour the original offer, and that I would need to proceed using the self-funded option.
This effectively answered my concerns and finally convinced me to avoid the programme altogether and seek other options. Although from previous posters the training itself sounds positive, the lack of any endorsement of the actual certificate/diploma itself from anyone means that, if self-funded, you are effectively paying $1500 for an unvalidatable piece of paper that I could just as easily achieve from a pal back home! If sponsored from a school that offers better written conditions, or is even willing to communicate directly with you, is certainly worth considering as a last resort.
In summary, I’m not trying to bad-mouth Will-Excel or Sunshine, as I haven’t actually attended the course or worked at Sunshine, but simply to share my arduous experience in the attempt to find out more about this programme – something which most applicants don’t have the chance to do (because they’re not living in China) – and hope that this can be of help to future candidates for this programme.