Who will judge the ESL Judge?

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ESLJudge claims to be a site that 'allows ESL schools and teachers to resolve disputes professionally and fairly', which is a laudable aim.  However, it certainly does not live up to its lofty aims and is unlikely ever to do so.  It was launched far too early, which in itself is probably enough to strangle it at birth. 

The people behind it, and the Whois search only brings up a PO Box in Yarmouth (Canada), are unknown; the Who We Are page is 'coming soon'.  As they are trying to bring arbitration to ESL, their anonymity is a serious problem; anonymous people have no gravitas, yet they expect schools to submit to their arbitration.  Starting in this premature way strikes me as disastrous.

They say that their decisions will be made by a panel of three; a school owner, a manager and a teacher.  Given that many ESL managers are little more than staffroom biscuit monitors, I would like to see some further definition of that role.  It excludes many others who could have relevant and worthwhile knowledge, including academics.  Arbitration itself is not a universally accepted process; as some Asian countries joined the WTO, I had to sit through endless presentations on the subject by post-graduate lawyers coming to study it.  It is also voluntary, which means that all the crooks and cowboys will simply have nothing to do with it. It is also unclear how they would enforce compliance.

Their Approved Schools page is also 'coming soon' and it is not clear whether this approval will have anything to do with their Rate a School page.  If it does, it raises very serious issues as the ratings can be done completely anonymously and have the following categories for their star ratings:

A Gem of A School, A Joy to Work For!
Better than average
About what you can expect not perfect but not bad either
Avoid this school, there are many better
My experience was generally poor

The poor English aside and the fact that schools cannot rate teachers, the categories seem to display a bias that is in favour of teachers, especially the one-track lowest, which ignores many other reasons why a place could be dreadful to work for.  The fifth highest level is still mediocre and there is only one genuinely positive rating; why would any school owner think that the people who set this site up would be impartial?

It will take, according to them, about three weeks normally to reach a decision.  Given that many ESL disputes could be very complex, involving different languages and legal systems, I can't help wondering where they got this number from, especially as they are new and have no records of actual cases or statistics on the site. I have taught in a few countries, but that would not qualify me to be able to give an quick decision involving labour laws of countries I am not familiar with, or even those that I am, and they suggest that an arbitrator will only be clocking in on a very perfunctory basis (five hours a year).  They also have no mention of practical issues such as who will bear the costs of translation, though there is an empty column headed 'Site Sponsored By'.

On the homepage, they say 'Here's to Truth and Justice in the English Teaching world' and this site is more like a toast than a serious step forwards to that goal.

[Update 1st July 2008: The Whois record for esljudge.com now gives an address in Madeira:
Avenida do Infante 50
Funchal, Madeira 9004-521]

Categories: General


Interesting observations and I agree with a lot of what you write above. Personally I am skeptical of how long such a free service can exist without some form of financial input. The 'Site Sponsored by' section is an obvious indication that esljudge hopes to get advertisers to cover the costs, but I wonder who those advertisers will be?! Surely not the very schools that are being judged I hope! That would be a conflict of interest.

Interestingly Dave Sperling himself seems to have come out in support of that site as he has posted a sticky on his discussion forum about the site. At around about the same time he removed the signature function from members posts on the forum thereby putting an end to 'competition' on his forum by way of www.teflwatch.com and www.buxiban.com both of which were featured in the signature lines of a couple of regular posters on that forum.

In regards to your question as to who is behind the esljudge website well a little further digging comes up with the fact that one of Daves biggest advertisers TEFL International has a relationship with the esljudge site. So much for impartiality in the esl world!!!

I didn't know about TEFL International. Do you know exactly what the relationship is with the site? I knew that Dave Sperling had posted on his site supporting it. I don't think this site will get off the ground, but arbitration could be very useful if it were possible to create a genuine dispute resolution body that could pull its weight and act impartially.

I'm still thinking of applying to be one the virtual ESL judges. Do you think I should? I reckon I'd look dead cool in the tights and the wig...

The thought of Sandy MacManus dispensing unbiased advice in tights brings tears to the eyes.

On TEFLtastic, Mike from TEFL International has indeed admitted that financial help for the site has come from them:

"Speaking of ESL Judge, yes, TEFL International has provided financial backing to help set up the site. So what? "



No one will judge ESL Judge because they are indeed funded by TEFL International as are several other sites aimed at slandering me and anyone who dares stand up against the marketing machine at TEFL International.

I don't think they slandered anyone, but anyway it now seems they are no more.

We should be careful in choosing for an ESL school so that we will not fall victims. I've heard of a good English School and I want you to do make a visit. This school is really doing its best to give proper English language education. In fact this schools already has a reputation of being the best school in this part of the country.

Dear all,

I just came across this blog and thought I would offer you the truth with ESL Judge. Here is the story.

It was thought up by a teacher that did not work for TEFL International and who wanted to help teachers resolve employer disputes, as that person had previous poor experiences with employers. He suggested the idea of ESL Judge to Bruce Veldhuisen (TEFL Int'l founder and CEO at the time), as an unbiased way to help resolve teacher and employer disputes.

The idea was an excellent way to try and help teachers having difficulty with their employers by bringing an unbiased third party into the conflict, with experience in the TESOL employment area of the teacher / employer's particular region. The idea was to help resolve the problem with the third unbiased party before more drastic measures, such as litigation, were required by teachers (who often don't have funds for that course of action).

Mr. Veldhuisen also felt it was a good idea, and offered some financial support to help start it up. He wanted TEFL International to remain an anonymous initial financial donator to the cause, because at the time, TEFL International was being unfairly attacked on the Internet by 3-4 individuals with a grudge against the company (those issues were resolved with the individulas themselves, or in a court of law, as should have been).

Although the guy with the idea and program manager of the site wanted to offer TEFL International free advertising on the site, in return for the donation, Mr. Veldhusien felt the site would be unfairly associated with the misleading internet posts about TEFL International, and this wonderful tool to help teachers would not take off. So it was decided ALL financial and logistical donotors would remain anonymous contributors to the site, and their would be no advertising on the site.

This is not strange, as TEFL International often contributed to charitable causes over the five years inThailand that I was with them. I notice on their website at the moment, that they are strong supportors of "Hope for Education" (donating tuition fees to help educate unwed mothers in impovershed areas).

The ESL Judge idea involved the following steps: (1) The program manager would receive a complaint from a teacher about their employer; (2) Th employer would be notified of the complaint buy the program manager, and offered a limited time to provide a repsonse and their side of the conflict; (3) Three external and unbiased regional TESOL experts would be provided both sides of the conflict, and they would give their opinion on the conflict as well as offering solutions to the problem. The idea being to help the teacher resolve the issue, or (as often was the case) provide advice on the steps the teacher needed to take next in resolving the conflict.

The site DID help resolve half a dozen conflicts for teachers in Korea, mainland China and Hong Kong before the program manager decided to no longer manage the site.

In my opinion, it was a great idea and I don't think it is fair to claim it was a bad idea because the financial donor remained anonymous at the time. The donation was a a charitable act, as was the decision to remain anonymous, and the teachers that were helped were very, very grateful and some had their conflicts successfully resolved through this process. There was no profit in this at all, which is also why the resolved cases and the financial and logistical donars were not publicized by the program manager at all.

Michael FitzGerald

The anonymity I was critical of was the people who set up the site anonymously, with no details in Whois, the Who we are pages, etc. I did mention the sponsors, because at the time there was an empty box for sponsors, more as a sign of a lack of financial realism than anything else because there was no mention of how costs would be supported. The idea behind ESL Judge may well have been a good one, though I have some doubts about it getting much take-up in the places where it would be of most use, but I think the way they set out was ham-fisted and bound to go under.

ESL Judge is a good idea in principal, although I do not see many schools brining their problems into the open and onto the internet. Just not good pr. For certain countries the website would work, although the idea in the Middle East I do not think so whatsoever. Advertising to clients, students and parents issues with their teachers is not exactly good business or good for the education in the classroom.

Minor disputes can be resolved quickly and without too much grievance, although the majority of disputes, once in the open agenda are difficult to resolve.

There are many Esl schools and teacher around the world and teachers simply moves schools are into another occupation with resolving a dispute with a school. Disputes are much better kept between a teacher and school and not aired for all to give their opinion.

The judge idea could work in a small amount of cases, although the vast majority of cases is being very optimistic at the least.

I wonder if this will ever work out!

I don't think so- it's an idealistic but unrealistic idea.

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