…LIKE PARSNIPS?

Wikipedia will tell you that a parsnip is a “root vegetable closely related to carrot and parsley, all belonging to the flowering plant family Apiaceae. And well seasoned they might go well in a vegetable soup.

PARSNIPS are more than just vegetables

But what are PARSNIPS in the classroom?

PARSNIPS might just be the most ridiculous acronym you’ve ever come across but it actually stands for politics, alcohol, religion, sex, narcotics, -isms, and pork.

These refer to the so-called taboo topics in the EFL classroom. For decades these topics have been avoided in the EFL classroom. Not even that. They are “unmentionables”. Publishers won’t even mention their names as some news reporters and commentators did with Trump while he was in the White House. And he WAS a big parsnip.

Trump as a character was a parsnip for some

You will never find a coursebook that even infers such a subject. This is because they may cause offense to sensitive students or they may not feel comfortable speaking about them. As a result of this belief, coursebook publishers generally won’t include any material related to these topics in their coursebooks, even though they make up a fair amount of our daily language.

In Brazil we traditionally considered taboo subjects in the classroom: politics, sports and religion.

I must confess that the first time I learned about this tasteless “vegetable” was during a seminar for language teachers back in São Paulo – some 10 plus years ago. Then a light came on: So true! None of the coursebooks I had ever used included those topics. Usually natural disasters, health and fitness, recycling, and Michael Jackson (yes, I still use some older books), even war (if it’s dating back to World War I, of course) may be more palatable (even though global warming and climate change can cause varying doses of anxiety). If you think about the juicy conversations and debates you have with your friends and family, and the stories you are likely to see on the news or in newspapers, they probably all revolve around a topic that has been deemed unacceptable for the EFL classroom. Never mind the fact that our students are probably having those same conversations outside the classroom in their own language!

Should we be talking about PARSNIPS in the EFL classroom?

The tide may be slowly changing -Pearson Longman published a book series called NorthStar using authentic texts and audio recordings from NPR programs with some subjects covering parsnips such as alcohol and drug addiction. And that was Unit 1. But by Unit 5 it was talking about something more inane as Feng Shui … but that’s a starting point. The book would even mention Sarajevo and the war in Europe still in our living memory (despite an even grander scale in Ukraine at the moment I’m writing this blog). Longman started with great current authentic materials with the series Consider the Issues, Face the Issues, and Raise the Issues

Sample of the contents page of Northstar Advanced 3rd Edition (c) 2009 by Pearson Longman

Now, I know that students don’t have a thick skin, it’s more like an eggshell so as a teacher we must tread with care and avoid bringing up topics that could be upsetting to our students or even make them uncomfortable. It is important that our learners feel safe and comfortable during the lessons or else they won’t participate in the activities or engage with the language. Asking them to speak about a topic they are not happy to do is a sure way to make them drop out of the course. But we also believe that you know your students and you can make a good decision regarding what is off-limits in the classroom based on that knowledge.

So, instead of using a blanket strategy for all coursebooks, why not raise awareness and empower teachers and students on the subjects they want to use in the language classroom? In this day and age when more and more language teaching programs are incorporated as CLIL content why still resort to this form of self-censorship?

Cheers,

Mo

(1) Source: https://www.theteflacademy.com/blog/2018/06/parsnips-in-the-efl-classroom/#:~:text=What%20are%20PARSNIPS%3F,topics%20in%20the%20EFL%20classroom.

Rules Refresher for Zoom Meetings

Observing the behavior of some participants in our Zoom class session – it is worth remembering some good manners:

ATTENTION:
Best Practices for Zoom sessions:

  1. Punctuality (some students connect 1, 2, or 10 mins after the sessions started. No, no, no! Be connected to the meeting a few minutes BEFORE it starts).
  2. Find a quiet place to attend the meeting (barking dogs, meowing cats, cracker Pollies, etc won’t help your session).
  3. Keep the microphone off when not speaking (and remember for the 1,000th time to unmute WHEN YOU ARE SPEAKING.
  4. Keep the camera on WHENEVER POSSIBLE.
  5. Turn off the camera if you’re doing something that might distract others (some stay the entire session reading something else on their cell phone. No, Virginia, I don’t admire your multitasking skills. Stop it).
  6. Show interest in the meeting so that it becomes more interesting (avoid lying on the bed or sofa during the meeting, although it can be more informal session, no one needs to see that stain in your sheet)

That’s it… so online meetings will be less boring and more productive.

Cheers,

Moacir Sena

Breaking the Silence: stop the abuse of teachers

Before you say that you don’t get the title or that it’s wrong, (we are usually quick to point out what we perceive as mistakes), let me tell you that the title is correct.

Yes, you must have experienced a case of a teacher who hated your guts and tried to get you (at least that’s how you felt), but in this case let me share with you my own experience.

Being thrown into 10 classrooms with 30 to 50 students with ages ranging from 5-16 years old without any experience or training and support at 22 – is that a sort of abuse?

How about when you would turn your back to the class to write on the blackboard and some smart ass student (they always think they’re unique) would throw paper balls, or pieces of chalk or the eraser at you? Is that a form of abuse? Is it the teacher’s fault? After all, everyone knows you can’t give your back to the class even for a second?

That was in the beginning of my teaching career, and convinced me I couldn’t work with children. But even when I was teaching top executives years later, at times a student here and there would start with that locker-room banter – some men find it empowering to call each other a fag, a fairy, Uranian, a pansy, or whatever. They consider it a harmless joke.

And at first, when a student came up with crude talk like that I’d just “laugh it off” and move on… when push comes to shove he was the paying party and what could a little name-calling do to me? Until I realized that no one has the right to be verbally abusive. Willingly or not, they label you, they place you in a corner and show their superiority over you. Finally, I learned that I had put an end to that. Either by threatening them with stopping the lessons – they should look for another teacher immediately or by actually walking out of the room.

Now bear in mind that both men and women can be abusive – men in a more direct way, while women can use subtle strategies to manipulate and abuse as well.

I’d say those few bad sheep learned their lesson, despite the occasional slip back into their olden ways.

Here are some proactive measures to take:

  • Explain acceptable and non-acceptable classroom behavior.
  • Choose (pick) your battles.
  • Be open to student feedback.
  • Avoid lag times between lessons when students become restless.
  • Model positive behavior, especially tolerance toward adversity.
  • Reward student success rather than pointing out underachievement.

A Teacher’s Secret Shame:

“As a teacher, you’re supposed to do more than just teach. Every education textbook, every teacher-training course you sat through stressed the link between an orderly classroom and student achievement. “Manage your students and learning will happen“.

It’s this admonition that holds you back from reporting student abusers. What teacher wants to be tagged (as) an incompetent educator unable to control the behavior of kids more than half (their) age?

Whichever course of action you follow to stem the tide of abuse, reach out to your principal, school psychologist, even a union representative. Teacher victimization is a serious matter that you don’t have to handle alone.” source: https://study.com/blog/what-you-can-do-as-a-teacher-who-is-bullied-by-your-students.html

Verbal Abuse can be a secret shame that teachers have to find ways to heal

Cheers,

Mo

LOOKING BACK

This week, a friend of mine, who happens to be a psychologist, asked us if we were that sort of people who made resolutions for the new year. Naturally she said that was fine but the best would be to review the past year and be grateful for all things done or left undone. The new year will bring its own challenges and rewards.

Following her advice let me share with you a little of what my year was like: Of course the sensation is that 2020 hasn’t ended and it will continue with its miseries well into 2022 – but even in the midst of a global pandemic we were able to move house – from a noisy and polluted apartment in the very heart of a metropolis to the clean air of the country – just 130 km away from the city of São Paulo but it feels like its 1,300km away.

The adaptation has been smooth and wonderful… from the very first day we got used to the country – of course, Luther, the cat, took two days to adapt but now he loves his expanded territory. Some drawbacks with a mouse showing up in the laundry area, a snake in the patio and a few frogs in the garden … but all part of nature, right?

Black cat plays with live mouse (short) - YouTube
Apartment cat turns into barn cat in 3 months

The pandemic allowed us to move since I’m working online but it also brought the challenges of companies cutting down expenses and “streamlining” their language teaching benefits offered to their staff. I lost important corporate clients to Covid (they’re still alive, thank goodness – it was economics not viral) but they decided to cut costs and adopt online platforms for employees to self-study instead of using flesh and blood teachers like moi (the future will tell their mistake).

Man Holding A Card With A Text Students Wanted Stock Photo, Picture And  Royalty Free Image. Image 70503076.

My income drop was significant – around 40% of my monthly income suddenly disappeared – while expenses increased because of the new home and maintenance costs of the old apartment. We thought we’d be able to sell it within 6 months but that didn’t happen. Now in 2022 we will try to rent it… great location and size – 3 bedrooms near the financial district of São Paulo – hopefully we will be able to rent it to nice people.

Slowly in June and July I started to get new students to fill the gaps left by the corporate ones … still a long ways to go… but hopefully we will get there.

I still value life quality, more than ever, so I don’t want to be teaching back-to-back classes for 6-8 hours a day. Unhealthy at so many levels.

On the academic level I tried to cut my class times from 60 to 45 minutes – thought they would be more productive – however, at the end of the day, students are paying for 45 minutes of lesson but enjoying 15 minutes more of free English time. Back to the drawing board.

Drawing board - Wikipedia
Back to the drawing board: trial and error

I loved to see my students who stayed on developing and blooming in their confidence when using English – their listening, reading, speaking have improved significantly. Mind you, their writing is not what it should be – partly my fault, because I didn’t push them hard enough to write essays and other sorts of texts. But even so, one of them writes beautiful academic articles (can I call them beautiful?). Writing is also the least favorite activity among my learners. My chest was stuffed with pride when my student got band 7 on IELTS having studied less than 3 weeks for the exam.

Will 2014 be the year you pass your IELTS? |

On another professional level, as a remote interpreter – I attended a very good course this year at Associação Alumni to learn more about the new world of remote interpreting, the resources, techniques and gadgets – while also networking with the teachers and classmates – remotely, of course. I am a pretty reserved person so networking is a challenge for me – but one must try. Looking forward to developing a more relevant profile as a remote English, Spanish and Portuguese interpreter in 2022.

ODP-Video Remote Interpreting Tips

Yes, 2021 was a tough cookie to chew (almost as hard as the Christmas cookies my flower baked, please don’t tell her), but it had its many surprises, even with me in December becoming a choir conductor – bear in mind I had never done that before and my musical education is limited to say the least. But that’s life… full of surprises – some pleasant , others not, but always contributing to growth.

My debut as a choir conductor

Happy New Year and looking forward to seeing you on the other side.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mo-sena-teacher-interpreter-edited.jpg

Cheers

Mo

Motivation: Mission Impossible?

As teachers we have to daily fight for our own motivation, not only financial but professional and intellectual as well. What is it that makes you get out of bed and teach for a few or many hours a day? In person or online? Unpaid hours spent preparing for lessons, searching for ideas, developing PowerPoint presentations… and all that for what?

Motivation Illustrations and Clipart. 217,217 Motivation royalty free  illustrations, drawings and graphics available to search from thousands of  vector EPS clip art providers.

Even highly motivated students at the beginning of the program see their motivation wane as the weeks pass. The excitement of the new, the hope for quicky proficiency, etc, all take their toll on every student.

A few learners keep their torch burning, do their homework, study on their own, use their language tools in different situations, etc… but most of them still wait for the teacher to revolutionize their language skills.

The Longman Learners’ Dictionary defines motivation as eagerness and willingness to do something without needing to be told or forced to do it

How can I as a teacher get my students to take charge of their own learning process?

First, let us think how fast we can motivate or demotivate someone:

While motivation requires a connection that can take minutes, hours or days to build and consolidate, you can destroy a learner’s motivation in a fraction of a second with just one word. Yes, you read it right, the most demotivating speech can be just one word.

How then can I motivate them?

  1. Promote communication. Learning is a process. Input and output.
  2. Allow space for creativity and connection which will enable engagement.
  3. Build a healthy relationship with the students. As a teacher you don’t need to be their pal but empathy can go a long way in getting them started.

Don’t get me wrong. There will be good days and bad days … hopefully the good ones will far outnumber the bad ones. How? As we develop a culture of learning, provide tools for their growth and continue to encourage them in their progress.

Cheers and carry on.

Mo

FREELANCER’S LIFE

I have been freelancing as a teacher, a translator and an interpreter for nearly 30 years, so I can tell you a thing or two about my career choice. In this post we will focus on freelance teaching.

CAN I BE A FREELANCE TEACHER? - The TEFL Academy Blog

If you want Security it will be found , relatively speaking, while working for a company where they are supposed to provide you with training, the tools for your trade and “super benefits” such as paid holidays and weekends.

No, Virginia, as a freelancer you get paid for the hours you have worked, period. Or when a translator for the number of words you have translated.

What advantages do we have as freelancing teachers?

Benefits for Tutors | how does tutoring help the tutors | is tutoring  beneficial

Most people will say: “You’re soooo lucky… you have no boss. You can choose the times and days you’re gonna work; how much you charge for your work; and you can pick and choose the students you’re going to be working with.” Truth? Myth? Maybe?

  1. The answer is … that depends. Let me explain: you’re free to choose the times and days you want to work in, yes, but you still depend on having students willing to be filling those hours. For example, during the pandemic most of my morning students, correction, ALL of my morning students decided to have classes in the evening. Since they were working from home they could stay in bed until 5 minutes before work started… lol … I don’t know… but since I’m a son of the dawn (I feel most productive in the morning), need I say more? So now I have only 3 students in the morning, the rest of them are in the afternoon and evening.
  2. Can I set my prices /fees? Yes, to some extent – some prospective students will try to bargain, others will just say it’s way out of their budget (that’s understandable – even though some would try to bargain even if offered free classes). When setting a price I have to take into consideration:

My professional skills AND experience

Market rate averages compatible to what I will be providing to my clients

Something they don’t teach you in teachers’ school is that when setting your fees you must remember you won’t have any paid time off, any expenses such as computer, internet services, etc. will have to come out of your own pocket.

A real advantage when freelancing? Schools will pay you 30% or less of what they charge their students. When freelancing you keep 100% to yourself (before taxes, of course).

3. Now… regarding choosing students – actually THE STUDENTS will be choosing YOU. Of course, your market niche will define certain professional profiles, age groups (no kids, please) and even a certain economic and social status. As a rule of thumb, people in the lower brackets of society can’t afford private dental care, let alone, private tutoring. Yes, Virginia, we can talk about 50% or 100% scholarships, but that would be an issue for another post.

Yes, as a freelancer I can choose the materials I’ll be using, but students will have priority on what to cover in their classes, e.g., preparing for a meeting, revising a PPT presentation, reviewing and revising the professional portfolio, practicing for interviews, etc.

Online teaching courses and resources | British Council

At the end of the day, the freelance teacher will be free as long as he or she provides the service the client wants to receive.

Cheers,

Mo

Teaching Online, Revisited

After 18 months teaching exclusively online what pieces of advice, if any, would I have to share with my fellow language teachers? Here are some of the things I already knew and needed to put into practice and others I had to learn the hard way:

  1. Equipment is key – a decent notebook or computer with a good camera and microphone. My older computer had a lousy camera – six months into the pandemic with a grainy image I had to upgrade it. Add to the equipment the necessary microphone and headset (preferably with a cord to avoid interference and power surges). Also a ring light helps your professional image. Initially I thought it was just one extra unnecessary fluffy item, … but after my sweetheart gave me one, I can’t imagine going online without proper lighting. A second screen also helps a lot. Bear in mind, I didn’t say top of the line equipment – decent quality is good enough. No need to break the bank for the top brands.
  2. Camera positioning – try to show yourself from the shoulders up, prop up the notebook with one or two dictionaries (they’re the perfect size), a box, or a proper laptop stand but the right height will make the difference on how you will be seen. Since we’re talking about cameras – remember to look into the camera – don’t focus on the screen – the camera will give you eye contact with your audience.
  3. Dress properly – no top hat and tuxedo are necessary but sleeveless shirts are a ‘no-no’ for men (and women in some cultures). No need to hide your tattoos, if any, but keep a clean look … very few people can get away with a disheveled appearance and you probably are not one of them. Heard many times of people connecting wearing their pajama bottoms or none (chuckles) but my advice is: put on some pants, please. Getting dressed will help you feel like you’re doing something other than eating cereal for dinner in bed.
  4. Check your internet connection – Wifi is ok if the only option available (but preferably connect through your cable – more stable connection). Check your camera, microphone and headset before the session begins. I use Zoom for 95% of my sessions and occasionally it automatically changes my default settings for microphone and headset. Lovely, huh? More than once I’ve found myself without voice or hearing. So… once again… check it BEFORE the session starts.
  5. Prepare and Improvise – have your lesson and presentation ready, but be aware that things may change, remember that “student-centered lessons” are not just a cliché.
  6. Be careful when you share your screen – close all tabs and apps you don’t think your students would like to see or know about. TMI is still applicable online. That will make you look and sound more professional. Hey, I’m human, too. Sometimes I forget to close my tabs on the browser and there’s Twitter, and Facebook, and YouTube open – nothing wrong with that – but none of my students’ business. Do I need to say anything about porn tabs?
Teaching online can be a rewarding experience or a nightmare depending much on how you prepare for it.

Teaching online can be a rewarding experience or a nightmare depending much on how you prepare for it.

Happy teaching.

Cheers,

Mo

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

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.

VIRTUAL TEACHING TIPS

Most of us have been teaching exclusively online for over a year by now and it’s always good to review and refresh our personal approach when teaching on a virtual platform:

Positioning: Try to position yourself in the center of the screen, unless you’re showing a “whiteboard” or some other image. Keep the camera at your eye level so that students won’t be looking up your nostrils or down your balding spots 😉 . Remember to maintain eye contact – don’t be looking at your own image or your students’, rather, look into the camera (usually that little dot on top of your screen).

Look into the camera when speaking not at the screen
  • Appearance: make sure you’re dressed professionally – I’m not telling you to wear a tuxedo or a dress fit for a night at the opera. Just keep it neat and as wrinkle free as possible. Remember students can’t smell you but they do expect to see you. Pants are optional as long as you’re not planning to stand up. Should I wear a shirt or t-shirt? In my in-person classes I mostly wore shirts (and a jacket in colder weather) and on casual Fridays a polo shirt. Since the beginning of the pandemic I’ve gone down a notch by mostly wearing T-shirts , but trying to avoid brand logos and indiscreet messages on them. I know I’m going on a limb, but count on your common sense and anything with F*** would be deemed inappropriate. Of course check your teeth – nobody likes the embarrassment of seeing “a deer in the garden” or something else stuck in one’s teeth.
When You Have Food In Your Teeth But No One Says Anything - YouTube
When You Have Food In Your Teeth But No One Says Anything
dishevelled hair - Brandingby Pixels
You’re not expected to look like Brad Pitt post-Covid19 but check your hair before and overall appearance before switching on your camera.
  • Background: Choose something neutral – a white wall or whiteboard would be perfect. A bookcase is fine but the simpler the better – a tv monitor switched on behind you could be very distracting, for example, as well as your pet(s) and toddlers. they’re lovely once or twice but they’re not included in your agreement pack with your students. Keep them away whenever possible.
Self-Adhesive Magnetic Permanent Whiteboard Wall – Myndflo.com
Keep your background neutral as much as possible
  • Timing and Pacing: Some studies have showed that group response rates can be up to 20% lower online than in person, especially in a group setting. Remember that your voice is important but students’ talk time must be higher than yours. Don’t go lecturing when your students could be using that time to practice THEIR communication skills. Keep track of your class activities and always have one or two activities up your sleeve in case you go over all tasks and there are still 10 mins left. But that’s quite unusual. Usually it’s too much for such a little time. I have a student who has two 45-minute classes per week – and I always go overtime with her… that’s not good business sense or academically and I have to cut back on the activities and focus on key points. Remember that sometimes students (or yourself) might be having connection issues. Don’t lose your temper and be accommodating to the situation as it presents itself.

Reflect on your courses from the first session on a regular basis, make sure you’re delivering content that is useful and attractive to your students while keeping them satisfied. After all they’re your customers.

Cheers,

Mo

Teaching online is easy but requires preparation and equipment