Surviving Covid-19: life as a self-employed teacher – Part 1

“2020 looks like it will be a great year” – or so I thought back on January 01 – unaware that the world would grind to a halt and be turned upside down.

New year, new students signing up on the professional level and 25th year wedding anniversary celebration scheduled for April with a lovely reception scheduled to take place by a lake shore with over 1 year bookings and preparations.

Well, … Covid-19 happened.

Right after Carnival (of course, nothing should get in the way of the beer, drugs and sex event) we learned that the virus was here brought by a traveler returning from Italy – or so that’s how it was officially labeled. Today, June 01, there are half a million Brazilians infected with the coronavirus, and 30,000 Covid-19 related deaths.

Covidzilla’s attack brought great devastation to the world’s society and economy.

In early March we found out they were starting to restrict access to some office buildings – including where I used to teach some of my business students.

March 16 – I told wife, “I’ve just cancelled my classes for the day – let us go take a walk on the beach before it’s too late”. Lovely. A sunny Monday on the beach.

The following day we knew quarantine was coming and since March 17 we’ve been in Quarantine. No malls, no schools, no churches, no coffee shops, no restaurants, no museums, no parks – even if totally in the open air – that reminded me of last year’s closures of many parks in the city of São Paulo because of yellow fever mosquitoes. Confusing information:

Don’t wear masks. Wear masks. Don’t drive. Drive. Stay indoors. Go outdoors. Hydroxychloriquine. No hydroxychloroquine.

One constant was the advice to stay home and leave it only if you’re part of the “essential workers” in-crowd. Of course, education and entertainment are not part of that crowd. But that’s fodder for another blog post.

Well, everybody thinks I’m doing fine financially because I’ve migrated my f2f classes to online.

Easy there with your assumptions. I already had a few students having classes exclusively online but 80% of them were face to face students.

When I told them of the “temporary” migration, some 70% agreed and started having classes right away, or at least were willing to try the online classes.

Is teaching online similar or different from face to face lessons? Yes! Of course the body language is different, the physical energy is missing but on the other hand the same content can be used both ways – different approaches at times, but… with the same goals.

However, 30% of my clients said they were not interested in having online classes. The lessons wouldn’t be the same, so they said. One elderly learner said she wouldn’t know how to connect with Zoom and was not willing to try to learn. Another student – a highly respected economist at an International Bank – said he doesn’t like that “sort of class” – without even trying – and he would rather wait for the end of the quarantine.

Another Student had a 30% cut in her pay, so in order to keep her on I agreed to a 50% cut. Another was so stressed dealing with her work that she decided to take some time off since she wouldn’t find any time to have lessons (in normal times she already didn’t have time – always feeling tired and stressed). Student A still had 2 classes that he had paid in advance so he made sure to have those lessons online and then, Hasta la vista, baby. Take care of yourself.

I’m used to losing students who have a family emergency or lose their jobs – that happens, life throws you lemons while you’re not even looking… but I still felt a little hurt when the students who claimed they loved my classes were so quick to drop me off at the first corner.

But, thank God I still kept some of my students- the well hasn’t dried up totally. Yet. (Touch wood). But my income has been down by 30% so far this year. Tightening belt ? yes.

Concern

All my life I’ve gotten students by word of mouth and observation. By that I mean every time I walked into a company, people were watching me. They saw that X, or Z were having classes with a private teacher and they would ask for references and my phone/email contact.

Now, I am clueless about how to get students online. Yes, I’m visible on Twitter and Instagram and YouTube – but I can’t compete with teachers charging peanuts for the “same” class I charge premium. Of course my students know I’m an excellent and knowledgeable teacher, highly qualified and experienced both in Brazil and abroad. But how will I convey that online? One way to do that is by specializing in a segment or segments -beyond “business English” – such as Exam preparation, writing etc.

Great food for thought.

Cheers,

Mo

Online Language Teaching

We are living in unprecedented times … April 2020 – we are going through a virus pandemic that no one (doctors, scientists, politicians, business leaders) cannot guarantee what the world will look like in one month’s time, let alone in one year’s time. At times my imagination travels as if there is a green, noxious miasma outside ready to grab anyone who ventures out.ArtStation - Wandering Above The Sea Of Fog, Etienne Lamoureux

Schools have been suspended, offices and malls closed. People told to stay home and safe. Actually, “Stay Safe” has become the most popular leave-taking expression of the year in English – forget about  “goodbye”,  “farewell”, “see you later”, or even “take care”.

We must stay home and be  distant socially, but not socially isolated – we can communicate with our loved ones online, on the phone, shouting from the window (if they live next door  or in the apartment block across the street).

Teachers worldwide have been told to stay home and start teaching their lessons online – some record their video sessions, others go live using Zoom, Skype or their institution’s choice, while others still have to do both.

But from the get-go, the problems started to arise – of schools and education authorities are not interested in how the teacher will do it… They just MUST do it.

Some frequent problems: 

  1. equipment – old cellphones, no computer, no access to broadband, prepaid services (which are way more expensive)
  2. Wifi – poor or no wifi access
  3. digital skills – many teachers may use their mobile phones for passive consumption of social media, WhatsApp and make the odd phone call. But to upload their lesson plan?!
  4. lack of confidence – I’m not good with gadgets. I don’t know where to start.
  5. fixed mindset – see some of the excuses above.
  6. complexity – come on… some teachers can’t adjust the clocks on their microwave ovens – do you think they’re gonna be willing to learn something new?

That leads me to a quote I read last week – don’t remember the author (too lazy to try to find out) but still true: “teachers don’t like to learn”. 

What’s the solution? No magic bullets but, as teachers we must develop more tolerance for ambiguity, and willingness to learn.

Grow in self-awareness, self-management, and problem-solving.

Our online classes will not likely be ready to be shown on national educational TV programming but they will make the difference to our students.

Keep calm and grow, baby, grow.KEEP CALM AND GROW BABY GROW Poster | liv_sta | Keep Calm-o-Matic

Happy online teaching.

Cheers,

Mo

 

Online Classes and Coronavirus

Here we are, March 2020 – Only 3 months into the year. Back on January 01 I said to myself: “2020, what a beautiful number. This year promises to bring optimism, economic recovery in Brazil (we have been limping since the recession started in 2016), new ideas, 25 years of Wedding Anniversaries, etc”.

Now it seems that most of the world has been brought down to their knees by a virus. It started in China, but quickly spread to other countries until it was officially labeled a “pandemic” by the WHO. Now Italy is shut down. Many countries are considering to follow suit while all others are encouraging telecommuting and online learning.

Companies and workers will be trying to follow those recommendations, even though many working parents would rather leave home for the peace of their offices. Online classes for younger people – how would they work? would they be pre-recorded or live sessions? A blend of both? Who would make sure that learners are following with their studies? How different would be the learning environment without its social aspect? Would video chats replace face to face interaction?

There seem to be more questions than answers before this new normal sets in… will a “quarantine” take place whenever a new virus appears?

I have been teaching online for years, initially because I traveled a lot accompanying my wife on her business trips and it was wonderful to enjoy such flexibility, to be able to continue classes initially by phone (we are talking here mid- to late 1990s) and then via video chat. FaceTime (it doesn’t usually work very well), Skype and Zoom (my favorite platform) allow my students to prepare for the upcoming classes by practicing listening, vocabulary, grammar exercises (talk about the flipped class concept) and it doesn’t require much technology, you don’t need special VR goggles and sound effects. Even if you have a piece of paper or a mini whiteboard, that will be enough for you to interact with your student. Duration of the lessons varies according to student needs and cash availability (hey, it matters), so it can range from 30-minute to 90-minute sessions.

online
You can teach online using simple resources and low technology (pants are optional) 

What could ensure a better flow of the classes? Preparation (by both teacher and learner). It’s a class – not a free chat session (which incidentally may occur) but a structured session with warm-up, review, speaking time, listening time, objectives, etc will yield better results.

Now I’m considering developing a language learning app for Brazilians – including pre-recorded videos with a teacher (me, who else?) and drills on grammar, vocabulary, social skills, etc. Initially it would be a general English app and later expand to a Business English context.

At the end of the day, crises must not be the end of the world. Let us think up of new possibilities. Any suggestions or recommendations?

Happy online teaching.

Cheers,

Mo img_4775teacher 3

Teaching in the 21st Century – Part 1

Quite often when we think about anything related to the 21st Century, including teaching, we think of the use of technology, gadgets and the internet. We feel we must have Smart boards, tablets, online classes, video sharing, social media, and the list goes on and on. But what every teacher must remember is that his main working material consists of brains inside living organisms labeled as learners, students or pupils.

I’ve just finished studying a book published back in 1997 but with ideas still relevant today for every language teaching professional: Psychology for the Language Teacher (CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS) by Marion Williams and Robert L. Burden.

Professional Development: Psychology for Language Teachers

Undoubtedly some advances and finds have taken place in psychology and the human science of teaching and pedagogy over the past 20 plus years, but some things never change and must be remembered, reviewed and implemented. Sooner or later we will stop referencing to “21st century” and just say ” Teaching”.

The book presented 10 key points on Language Teaching, this first part of my post will work on the first three items:

1. There’s a difference between learning and education.

Learning: the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study, or by being taught.

these children experienced difficulties in learning”

Education: the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university.

“a new system of public education”

A quick look at these first definitions present a great distinction between both processes, which intersect in many areas … both involve receiving knowledge or instruction, but a key distinction is that learning involves the development of skills through experience.

Joi Ito beautifully summed it up: “Education is what people do to you. Learning is what you do for yourself

Here it is graphically represented:

Now that we have the distinction we can move to the second point.

2. Learners learn WHAT is meaningful to them.

I can try ad nauseam to inculcate in my students the state capitals of the US, the beautiful wording of the Declaration of Independence, the Scottish Calvinist values, etc… but they will not profit from that if they don’t see a purpose or meaning in that. I always ask my students at the beginning of their course about their goals, current activities, hobbies and dreams so that the lessons may be geared towards intrinsic motivation resulting in effective learning. I’m not saying that students
who live in the favelas in Rio should only be taught vocabulary about getting water from a well or snorting glue… (yes, yes, it’s just an example, don’t get up in arms about it) They must learn based on their reality and context but also from that point the teacher can and must build a path where learners will be introduced to a better way and a broader world.

3. Learners learn IN WAYS that are meaningful to them.

I love reading but if my student is interested in speaking “only” I must adapt the course so that any reading they do is impregnated with the spoken language – it can be an interview, a novel rich in dialogue, even part of a play … as long it’s language relevant and appropriate to their level. If they like movies, or sports, let them search and learn about what interests them. Here again Language is a tool not an end unto itself.

Writing is really important for learners to process and review their language acquisition but instead of asking them to write a 500-600 word essay (unless they’re preparing for an exam where such activity is required), why not have them write a business related email? Or even a text message including abbreviations, emojis and shortcuts?

Please, bear in mind that my students are adults who have already gone through their academic process and now need English or Spanish mostly for employment purposes and career advancement opportunities. Actual Fluency in English will be a plus for any CV or Résumé in a non-English speaking nation. The point is that it must be true not just wishful thinking; hence the person’s awareness that they are no longer “students”, but “learners”

Cheers. Happy learning.

Mo

Can anyone learn a language online?

Can anyone learn a foreign language online and free? Yes, you can!

“Wait a minute”, you might say … are you telling me I can learn any language online? For real? Yes, you can.

But …. of course, there had to be a BUT! The internet is full of free pages to learn a foreign language, but not all are reliable, either because they don’t offer a program structured to your level, or because the method presented doesn’t suit your learning personality. Moreover, online learning is not the ideal medium for everyone, let alone those who are not disciplined and organised.

As a teacher, of course I stand for classes with a teacher. That’s the best choice. But not always the feasible one.

How can you learn at home?

Firstly, find a way of motivating and organising yourself. Tell others what you’re doin; that should keep your accountable, at least initially. Secondly, set up a list of resources for your learning process.

1. Reading:

Google up easy reading texts in your target language. Read a paragraph of a news story. A fairy tale. A piece of the transcript of an interview of a politician, artist, footballer or any other you might fancy and find interesting. Check the pronunciation, the vocabulary.

2. Watching

YouTube has tons of videos in your target language, not necessarily about learning the language. But clips of news or documentaries are great starting points.

 

3. Listening 

Focus on listening to news and documentaries that have a clearer speech.  Podcasts are a great source of listening material that you can download and listen to anywhere, anytime.

 

4. Speaking

This requires some courage. Dare to speak. Skype provides a language exchange forum for you to connect with people around the world. 353E9122-4E78-498C-A9B5-720CF4C30F01

You see? As I told you before, free online language learning is posssible but no magical solution. You’ll have to apply yourself to it regularly, especially if your goal is to learn “fast”.

Cheers,

Mo

 

 

Why Teach Pronunciation ? (Or not?)

Quite often teachers of English as a Foreign Language find themselves between a rock and a hard place concerning teaching pronunciation. If they’re native speakers they hesitate in constantly correcting their students fearing they’ll pass an overbearing image and many times thinking … “well… I can understand them … whatever”. If the teacher is a nonnative speaker of English they might feel insecure about their own pronunciation or even worse… they might not be aware of the proper pronunciation of specific sounds in English which are different from their mother tongue. 60984E2A-14DC-40E6-A3B4-002A9032AABF.jpeg

So… why bother teaching pronunciation?

Students want and need to speak clearly.

Their phonological awareness has an impact on all areas of their language learning besides speaking: reading, writing, vocabulary, etc

But what’s the right pronunciation? What’s a standard accent? British RP? Only 3% of Brits actually speak it. American Midwestern? What about Mississippi or Alabama? How about global English?

That’s why it’s important to know why your students are learning English.

The teacher must then focus on speech comprehension rather  on the student’s accent being good, bad or proper.

How to do it? Teaching pronunciation works best a little during every lesson instead of once a week or whatever frequency students have. C7047EE5-CB8D-4F9B-A70F-BE4A4AA74861.jpeg

“The teacher must”, as Richard Cauldwell  wrote, ‘focus on:

the greenhouse: isolated words.

the garden: mixing and growing words together, linking words.

The jungle: where everything is mixed”

The best way will be to integrate pronunciation with other skills and lots of repetition (practice).

In conclusion, our insecurity about the way we speak can be managed by raising our awareness and practicing to the student’s heart’s content.

Cheers,

Mo

N.B – Many thanks to Laura Patsko with her great YouTube videos on the subject of pronunciation – https://youtu.be/yyga6vIAroE

English Language Education in Brazil – An Outlook part 2

According to the Brazilian Association of Franchising (ABF) between 2% and 4% of Brazilians (in a total population of around 220 million) speak English at some level.

At any given time, it is estimated that roughly 1 million people are studying English in Brazil concentrated in the State of São Paulo, followed by the Southeast Region and South Region.

CNA, a traditional franchiser of language schools claims to have around 420,000 students a year in Brazil.  But 40% of English language students drop out of their courses within 6 months.

It is a promising market. But … :

Why is there such a high evasion rate? Why are there so many people who don’t study English?

The leading answer is that “English is not for me”. Followed by “Spanish is easier.”

We have a culture of immediacy. Combined with poor performance.

Why do students quit? Most common reasons:

1. No money

2. No time

(However, it may be argued that there is a “save face” attitude. What the students might be  actually saying is: what you’re offering actually isn’t worth what I thought it was)

How do students prefer to study languages?

The overwhelming majority of language students (72%) prefer having classes in groups, attending the lessons in a school.

Again, statistics may vary but, it is estimated that 6% within a universe of 40 million Brazilians (200,000) prefer to have private lessons with a private tutor.

5% are enrolled in language teaching programs sponsored by NGOs or religious organisations, such as the English Sabbath School class which teaches the bible in English. You may check their work on Facebook – www.facebook.com/BelievesUnasp 

Distance learning, also known as e-learning or online learning (EAD in Portuguese)  is a promising segment (still in its infancy at 9%) but there are no reliable figures on the number of students studying English via Skype, FaceTime or using international language platforms or apps such as Global English, Duolingo and iTalki.

IMG_1305
25% of Brazilians prefer to study alone. 75% prefer to study in groups.

Worth remembering that the industrial /digital  logic does not yield great results in the Education segment (even if called Industry) – we’re still human beings who learn at different paces and manners.

What does the future of Education look like?

The trend is to use an adaptive learning process with a hybrid use of different resources and technologies, combining both physical and digital presences. IMG_1314

The Education professionals, aka teachers, must seek the continuous development of their soft skills: interpersonal (people) skills. These are much harder to define and evaluate. While hard skills are job-specific, most prospective clients and students are looking for soft skills in their teachers, coaches or tutors. Soft skills include communication skillslistening skills, and empathy, among others.

Also we as language professionals must continue to work towards the development of solid knowledge, posture of dialogue and authority set by example.

Happy teaching and towards a bright future.

Cheers,

Mo img_7260

 

 

 

Give and take – the little practiced art of “practicing language”

That’s a common complaint by language teachers everywhere: after a weekend, long weekend, and heaven forbid, after 20 days of vacation, students return rusty and despondent. Allow 2 to 3 weeks for students to get up to speed, depending on their language class frequency, which in my case, most students have classes only once a week.

So… they return to class, I’m talking about adult students, but the same applies to children, with their ears and tongues hardened by lack of exercise in the target language, even if they’ve done their “assigned homework.”

Bear in mind that our brains also need some rest, and that’s ok. But language-wise, I’m not talking about reviewing grammar rules and prepositions or phrasal verbs, which can bore both teachers and students to death. I’m talkingincorporating language to their routine via give and take.

TAKERS:

When learning a language we must be receptors – take Language from different sources. Listen to a podcast, or internet radio, watch a movie or TVs series, read all sorts of texts, etc. Take in as much language as you can…  but, you must also become a  giver.

GIVERS:

Start producing the language. Be a transmitter of English or any other language you are learning. How? By trying to speak that language even if to yourself. Another great way to transition from a simple receptor into a transmitter is by taking small pieces of text – books, newspapers, magazines or online, and reading them aloud. Nowadays, there are many text to audio resources which you may use to check your pronunciation. Otherwise just listening to your own voice and working on the sounds you produce will work wonders in your language process.

Happy learning,

Cheers,

Mo

Hey Siri: using technology in language teaching

We have amazing computers disguised as phones and it’s time for the teacher and students to feel smarter than their phones. You can use Siri or other voice assistant apps to practice and even learn a language.

If you have an iPhone, Siri can be your language practice partner. To ask Siri a IMG_9387question, you have to pronounce the English words correctly in order to get an answer, so you get a chance to work on your speaking skills. Through Siri’s answers, you’ll hear proper or standard pronunciation and learn the right ways to respond to certain questions.

You can ask Siri:

what’s the weather today?

How’s traffic now?

Set an alarm / Set a timer 

Send an email to … / call …

You can also have some fun with Siri’s pre-loaded messages such as

When is the world going to end?

will you marry me?

can you teach English?

I’m fed up.

Just dictating a word if Siri gets your pronunciation correctly.

You can also say:

Spell “charge”

show me images of a “porcupine”

Although technology is extremely helpful when you’re learning English, real-world, human interaction also matters, but no question Siri can have more of a say in your language adventure.

Cheers,

Mo

🐌Snail Technology in Textbooks

I guess the question “does technology belong in the classroom?” has been amply discussed and satisfactorily answered with a resounding YES! (kept some reservations). Both teachers and students have already grasped the idea that they can use technology as a learning tool. Not just the cool new thing.IMG_9271.JPG

So why have publishers been so resistant and slow to adopting e-textbooks? Yesterday a student of mine called my attention again to the outdated status of English coursebooks – which in my humble opinion are the most advanced in terms of volume of sales and global reach. Eduardo has finished his New Headway Elementary 15th edition (just kidding) and is ready to start the Pre-intermediate level. So I volunteered to buy him the book because as a teacher I get a 10% discount from the book distributor here in Brazil, SBS. Well, the coursebook and workbook (16th edition) come with CDs for the student’s home study. Fine. But the first thing Eduardo said was: “Teacher, today’s computer notebooks not even include a Cd drive. Why can’t I just access it online or at least use a memory stick?”

An e-textbook is weightless, has multiple functionalities, can be read anytime, anywhere, allows for interactivity, can bring enhanced tools in audio, video, sound effects, games, quizzes, tests, etc. IMG_9270

So why are e-textbooks so unappealing?

First, the cost. Secondly the quality of the content must be improved. Another huge downside is compatibility. The same e-textbook would have to work perfectly well across a broad range of devices and operating systems. Let’s not forget the DRM – Digital Rights Management which tries to combat piracy.

The publishers allege that there still is an enormous digital divide in the world  – broadband and wifi may be restricted or simply nonexistent in many places. Or the power supply may be simply  unreliable and sporadic to keep the electronic devices charged. Software updates also can compromise functionality. Also, an ebook requires at least a computer. The same way that in the past language learners had to use a record/cassette/cd player to take advantage of the resources accompanying their textbooks.

Another contributor to the digital divide is that there are still teachers and students (especially those over 30) who lack the expertise on how to use the technology present in e-textbooks.

I would love to see giant publishers like Oxford University Press, Macmillan, Pearson and others to start introducing e-textbooks at a fair price and high quality which would undoubtedly be great incentives for teachers and students to adopt them.

Don’t hold your breath.

Cheers,

Mo