SAYING GOODBYE

Letting Go | Hoffman Institute
Letting go is bittersweet

The act of saying goodbye has bittersweet notes. There’s always the excitement, the glad anticipation of a new student starting and that strange feeling when it’s time for you to say goodbye to a student.

Teachers and students traditionally say goodbye at the end of the term. That’s expected and part of the program. In the case of the relationship between private teacher and student the situation is rather different. The duration of a language coaching program has no pre-fixed termination date and it quite often flourishes and goes on for years. It’s like a therapy process (it sure feels that way). It’s an amazing feeling to observe how students grow in the process. But all good things must come to an end.

Saying Goodbye to a Client. – Florida CAM Courses
A bittersweet feeling

This week I’m saying goodbye to two long-time students. Student A is leaving because the bank he works for has acquired an “automated platform” for English learning where staff may do exercises and in case of questions consult with an online “teacher”. NO NEED FOR REGULAR CLASSES WITH ANOTHER HUMAN. Student A had been having classes for over 3 years and was successfully developing his listening skills. But it was slower than he would have expected or wanted – it took him all this time to go through level A2 – next semester he would be starting his B1 level. His progress would have been faster had he been fully committed to the program – but at times, no homework, no practice and having classes only 1 hour a week – will take its toll. Very optimistically after 140 hours he finished his pre-intermediate level. Not bad. Of course, he still has a long way ahead, he still mispronounces “son” and soon” , for example and thinks when I ask him “Who won the game?” He replies that Juan was not there. LOL.

The second student to leave is Student R. Initially she hated English, she was B1 and was terrified about the prospect of speaking in English and considered herself unable to understand anything. Having 1-hour classes only once a week -but as they like to say, better one hour than nothing – slowly I started to introduce audio files with English conversations, reading aloud helped her overcome the speaking barrier, role playing also had a positive impact. Student R started to attend meetings without suffering from anxious stomach pains and could increasingly state her points and understand what her colleagues and clients would be saying. With some information gaps, of course. We persistently worked her listening skills with lots of fill-in-the-gap activities, which really helped her immensely. In her case, she is leaving because she has been let go by her firm and now she needs to cut expenses.

In July two new students will be starting their programs with me but the feeling of ” it’s out of my hands circumstances” still bugs me. I always require a 30-day minimum notice for the suspension of classes which protects both me and the student from unpleasant situations and that allows me to wrap up that student’s program, provide some feedback and advice.

Do You Know the Chautauqua Salute? – Isabella Alden
Waving them goodbye with a white handkerchief

I wish them all the luck and all the best in their pursuits. Despite that nagging feeling of “I wish I could have helped them more” I also know that I am growing in my resolution to learn from their experiences and incorporate them into my own teaching career.

Cheers,

Mo

TEACHERS WANTED! Must they be Native?!

I’ve been a teacher of English and Spanish for over 25 years and I’ve never let the fact of my nationality or birthplace affect my professional performance. Never believed that anyone could be a teacher – it’s way more than skills, it’s a calling. Born in Brazil,, born at home because I wanted to be close to momma (lol), my mother tongue is Portuguese with a Paulista accent and proud of that. As anyone should be proud of their heritage.

Proud of being Brazilian!
Proud to be a Brazilian teacher

My first contact with English was at school when I was 11 years old and as English was replacing French and Latin as the foreign languages taught at public schools I was fortunate enough to have an amazing teacher (whose name I’ve forgotten, I think it was Maria Cecilia, but not sure) who gave us a great basic structure of the English language in the 9 months she taught us. We’d copy her texts from the blackboard, we would repeat what she said, we would try to memorize verbs and their conjugation. No visual or audio resources. Remember it was a public school in Piqueri, a low income middle class neighborhood in São Paulo, Brazil. Yes, some of my classmates had parents who were doctors, lawyers, teachers and housewives. Some had money – even a telephone and a car. Not my family’s case either way). Others came from the shacks in the “Buraco Quente (Hot Hole)” favela near our school (that already in the early 70s).

Public schools used to be aggregators bringing together people from all social classes, even shantytowns.

Yes, Still today I don’t know every single word of the English language or I may mispronounce some words. So do native speakers.

Teaching a foreign or second language is more than just your mommy singing lullabies to you in that language when you were born.

It takes hard work, constant studying, and passion for the subject matter.

I’m not saying native speakers cannot be great language teachers, but it’s undeniable that a teacher who also went through the process of learning that language can not only empathize but also provide strategies for their students.

Of course many people who don’t know better still think that a language teacher is not a professional but a person born in a place where English, French, German is spoken, period. Wanna learn Portuguese? Don’t look for a professional teacher, get a Brazilian or Portuguese national to teach you. If you get your lessons for free or almost free, even better. Yes, Virginia I’m being sarcastic.

The market wants the market gets

The list above from LinkedIn shows the priority that many language schools have – they not even bother to say “native-like” teacher – why? Because that’s what their clients are demanding. It’s a reality, not a myth, Virginia. Certifications, professional history or experience are often not necessary. And let’s not get started in cases that I witnessed when the school would pay MORE for the native teacher than the local indigenous educators.

teachers wanted – Harmony Science Academy – Carrollton
Teachers wanted… must be native speakers?

I’ve seen cases that students asked for that “tall, blue-eyed man to be their teacher because he looked native. “But hey, he’s Swedish not from an English speaking country“. Students would say: “close enough!

Also I’ve witnessed cases when a Black British person would be turned down as a teacher because he didn’t have the “qualifications” – I think you get my gist.

Prejudice is alive and well in different manifestations of the human heart and it’s no surprise it is so present in a humanistic career as language teaching.

Patient prejudice toward nurses - American Nurse
Prejudice is alive and well

What can be done?

The British Council, yes, the British Council well known for their neutrality, right? published the following back in 2014:

“If you start questioning these practices (preferring native teachers), you are likely to hear one or all of the following excuses:

1. Students prefer NESTs
2. Students need NESTs to learn ‘good’ English
3. Students need NESTs to understand ‘the culture’
4. NESTs are better for public relations

They go on: ” So why does this obsession with ‘nativeness’ refuse to go away? Because for years the English language teaching (ELT) industry told students that only NESTs could teach them ‘good’ English, that NESTs were the panacea for all their language ills. But let’s be blunt and have the courage to acknowledge that the industry encouraged a falsehood which many of us chose to turn a blind eye to while others assumed they could do nothing. I feel this needs to change”.

“The good news is that positive changes are already taking place. TESOL France has issued a public letter condemning the discrimination of NNESTs. Some of the most renowned ELT professionals such as Jeremy Harmer and Scott Thornbury, as well as organisations such as the British Council Teaching English team have already expressed their strong support for the TEFL Equity Advocates  campaign I started, which fights for equal professional opportunities for native and non–native teachers.”

And I make theirs my words: “And you can help bring about the change too in numerous ways that were outlined here. So stand up, speak out and join the movement.

(Source: https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/native-english-speaking-teachers-always-right-choice)

Cheers,

Mo

My almost teaching experience

We know that things have been tough for many people all through the pandemic. As we like to say – “we’re not in the same boat but all in the same choppy waters”. I also lost some students when I moved to online classes and I’ve been trying to find new approaches to obtaining new students in the midst of so much competition.

Celebrities we're all in the same boat | Celebrities Complaining About  Quarantine | Know Your Meme
Definitely we’re not all in the same boat

So when I saw a want ad on LinkedIn for independent business private teachers sponsored by YZ* (not their real name)- a very well known and respected organization based in Switzerland, I thought: why not? Let’s go for it. I have know-how, know-why and 25 years of experience teaching business students.

Online Business English solutions and instructional tools for businesses -  American English Academy
Business English in ESL/EFL

I applied for the position, did the tests, sent the presentation video and followed all the steps required.

One or two weeks later I was contacted for an interview which was quickly scheduled – we had a great chat, we built rapport, I was told they urgently needed a business teacher for the Latin America region and it was defined that I would be starting soon, the payment fee was settled and a contract signed.

I followed the online tutorials (too much emphasis on the recording of presence, tasks and evaluations, but ok… an organization must have concrete ways of measuring a student’s commitment and a teacher’s performance).

After watching all the tutorials I had a few questions – such as:

  1. what do I do next? (silly, right?)
  2. How and when will I be assigned my students? (duh)

I contacted my “EF agent” and got an automated reply that her email was no longer active. I assumed she had left the organization.

Ok, I tried to contact the ones responsible for the private teaching program but the only responses were automated emails telling me I had to schedule a meeting. Finally I managed to schedule a meeting 3 weeks later – Ok, here’s my fault, I wasn’t feeling very well on the day of the scheduled meeting (after such a long wait) and I had gone to the doctor completely missing the time for the meeting. I tried to reschedule, no such luck.

Now I’ve seen a couple of times the same want ad in recent weeks, that is, they have moved on without giving me any opportunity to get started. Talk about a disappointment in a respected language teaching company. What makes me sad is that I do believe we could mutually benefit from my work and their network.

Lessons learned? Don’t count your eggs before they’re hatched and don’t judge a company by its general reputation. Gotta know it better.

Cheers,

Mo

REMOTE LEARNING IS EASIER?

This year ( 15 months, 7 days, 9 hours and 46 minutes into the covid-19 pandemic – yes, I refuse to capitalize you) I went back to the classroom (remotely, how else?). I needed to brush up my conference interpreting skills in this brave new world (no pun intended) of remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI – as it is professionally abbreviated by those in the know).

I knew that Zoom and other video conferencing services had an add-on feature that would/might allow for simultaneous interpreting, but now I’ve discovered that there are whole sets of platforms operating along with them. In other words, the challenge to the interpreter has risen from just knowing the vocab and terminology and having mind agility to listening in one language and blurting out in a second or third language to becoming an IT and Sound engineer – more than doubling our checklist before even uttering the first sound.

Today’s Simultaneous Interpreter is expected to know way more than 2 languages

I’ll write later about interpreting – now the focus is on remote learning.

Again the very respected interpreting and translation institution, Alumni, like make other educational structures, just transferred the onsite sessions to the online environment – same teachers, same methods, same length of sessions, same coffee breaks. Any changes necessary?

The flipped classroom format is ubiquitous – the school will send you an email with your assignments and agenda for the forthcoming class and woe is you if you don’t go over them carefully. Fine.

But they take some things for granted. In yesterday’s session, our very good trainer said – “Ok – during the interpreting practice remember to record your voices”.

Ok. Questions in my mind: “Did he tell us which app to use? how should we proceed?” It’s not intuitive.

I asked a boothmate and she told me she was using the Windows recorder. Ah ok.

Instructor: “After today’s session send me your recorded audio”.

My brain: “how? email? WhatsApp? a web platform? I don’t have his number or email address. Did I miss his instructions again?”

These are just simple examples for us teachers. We can’t just assume our students know what to do on their own (you know the old saying, right? “When you assume you make an ass of you and me”). Whatever happened to show and tell? Show me how you do it and then tell me to do it.

Pin on LOLZ
Assumptions must be kept in check

TAKEAWAY: If simple and clear instructions and directions were essential in the in-person environment they are crucial now in the remote classroom.