A TALE OF TWO STUDENTS

I’ve been a teacher for nearly 30 years so if there’s anything I can tell you with some authority is this: Every student is different.

Yes, some of the mistakes will be the same, some of the old jokes too, but regarding personality and traits of character they will be as different as the colors of the rainbow.

One thing we always are reminded of as teachers as to have empathy for our students. And we learn to respect and love them as our students. Unfortunately quite often it is a one way street with some of them.

Now, let me tell you about two students in particular – let’s call them Gilberto and Manuel (not their real names).

Gilberto is a very hard working student and has been with me for some years climbing from B1 to C1 level and in the process developing his skills and confidence in using English as a foreign language. He tries to do all his homework and despite the fact he has classes only once a week (60 minutes) his progress is quite visible. We’ve covered two advanced business books: Market Leader – (a quite good book but it got dated quickly) and Intelligent Business – (not a very intelligent book, by the way, really poorly edited including even some typos).

Gilberto sees the teacher as a simple provider of input without any relevant feelings. I must be available to reschedule his cancelled classes. He refuses to pay for the times he goes on vacation or for any missed class. Every payment he makes it sound as if he would be doing me a favor. Mind you, he likes me – otherwise he would have stopped years ago – but I’m simply a language source to him. Gilberto expects the teacher to be flexible and change class day and time on a whim, sometimes morning, other times afternoon or evening.

[An update] But he also showed professional politeness and empathy – he needed a 5 day grace period to pay for his classes and he first asked me earlier in the month if it would be ok, and if I had any objections to let him know and he’d find another way to pay on time. Of course, I agreed to the 5 day delay.

education online student boy using computer course virtual 2658780 Vector  Art at Vecteezy
The teacher is more than just a source of information

Manuel has also been with me for some years – highly committed and focused – rarely did his homework though, with the exception of some texts for translation. We’ve never used a course book – he’s C1 – he likes to read – so he is often reading all sorts of business, science and philosophy books. Manuel also sees the teacher as a provider of input but this past week he showed he sees me as a professional who can be given appreciation through a day off or some additional pay. He has a problem of “forgetting” to pay me (every month) but to offset that he always pays an additional amount (some R$ 50 extra to cover for any inconveniences caused by the payment delay). On the other hand, Manuel apologizes when he can’t make it to his scheduled class and if I have no other available time he understands and moves on.

[An update] But regarding payment, Manuel never pays on time and always “forgets” it… sometimes he pays over 1 month late … and every time I bring it up he says “Oh I will pay you right after our class tonight” – and it never happens. To be fair, he usually throws in an additional R$ 50 for the delay… but that’s not the agreement.

DISTANCE LEARNING CLIP ART in 2021 | Distance learning, Gym games for kids,  Teacher cartoon
When pricked teachers also bleed

Now paraphrasing what Shakespeare so skillfully wrote in the Merchant of Venice -“If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”. – (Act III, scene I).” Yes, teachers and students need a real and respectful relationship even if separated by a screen.

Happy teachings,

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

Ignorance is NOT bliss

Quite often when we learn about something negative and upsetting, we tend to say: “Oh boy… at least I didn’t know that before. Ignorance is bliss.” I agree with Stephen Fry who asked: “If ignorance is bliss, why aren’t there more happy people in the world?”

Ignorance Quotes
Even John Lennon agreed that ignorance is not bliss

But it ain’t so… . Ignorance is rather dangerous and embarrassing. Just the fact that you didn’t know you had been fired, or your wife was cheating on you, or you had cancer … that didn’t solve your problem. Now you know it and can start looking for another job, for divorce papers (and STD tests), and for cancer treatment.

Yesterday I came across a tweet by Cecilia Nobre where she vented her frustration for not getting offered an English teaching position due to the sheer fact she is Brazilian – therefore not an English Native speaker. To add insult to injury the ignorant teacher (an oxymoron?) said they were sure she had great qualifications but they were not enough to offset a geographical item: she had not been born in an English speaking nation. Talk about total ignorance! Ok… that teacher will allege it’s their students’ demand… but shouldn’t that be an opportunity to enlighten the students?!

How can we fight ignorance? Socrates in broad terms listed 3 weapons:

Dedication.

Patience.

Willingness to accept occasional defeat.

Recently I came across this list (https://thepavlovictoday.com/five-steps-preventing-ignorance-told-socrates/) on Ignorance and overcoming it that I would like to share with you:

  1. Ignorance is inevitable. No matter how much you know … there are millions of things you still don’t know. And that’s ok.
  2. Continuous learning is key – there’s always more to learn – be active in searching for new learning opportunities.
  3. Educate rather than criticize – that’s a hard one – we tend to criticize someone as an idiot or worse if they don’t know what we know … rather, share with them what you know.
  4. Respect the humble underdog – if the person didn’t know something how can you blame them? You were there once.
  5. You don’t always know what is best for others. Absolutely true. Ever so often someone will tell me that I don’t know what they’re going through and I not even know them to assess their needs. And that’s true. Be humble and accept we are all at different stages of our growth.
  6. Identify where your knowledge is lacking. Be humble to admit you don’t know much about physiology, for example, or Greek art, or whatever. You don’t need to know everything about everything. Actually it’s impossible to know everything. Leave it to God … he alone can handle omniscience.

At the end of the day, we are called to be humble and accept that some people will never be willing to learn but most others will be open to growth. In that case Knowledge IS a blessing.

Knowledge is a blessing 📘📙📒 - YouTube

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

The 10 eTeaching Commandments

We tend to like lists so I decided to present my adapted commandments (from https://www.shiftelearning.com/blog/bid/297719/The-Ten-eLearning-Commandments-Infographic) from what I’ve been learning as an online/remote teacher of English as a Foreign Language. Until 3 years ago, my wife and I used to travel a lot (she on business and I as a great travel companion) so I got used early on to teaching online using especially FaceTime – let’s say 5 or 6 years ago. Now with the pandemic, of course, both teacher and learners lost their choice of face to face or online classes. Of course, choice is still out there. One student moved from face to face to telephone-only classes. A few others decided that to pay for online classes would be a waste of time and money – like paying for a virtual sandwich – you can see it, even see its creation step by step, but not taste it, chuckles) – and they had Netflix and YouTube. Dump the teacher.

These commandments are nothing new but still relevant and mean to remind my students and I of what we are doing, the benefits of following them and the risks of breaking a single one of them.

See the source image

Commandment #1: Thou Shalt NOT Put the Learner On a Pedestal

Now, that doesn’t mean learners are not important – without them – you cannot teach, right?

Ensure that your learner feels in control and well-oriented. The learner has to know what, why, and where learning is taking place.

So this is commandment #1. Make sure the learner experience is put first and foremost, but remember they’re paying you to be a teacher not their pal or confidant. For that they’d have to pay much, much more.

Commandment #2:  Thou shalt not multitask

Thou shalt not multitask. Modern technology makes it easy to do many things at once, but that doesn’t always mean you should. If you’re communicating with others, focus on them, and them alone. Minimize the other tabs on your screen, silence your phone, and never eat or go to the bathroom during a call (unless it’s an emergency). Being on mute or having your camera turned off is not an excuse. You can wait. If you’re desperate or the meeting is running long, ask for a 5-minute break.

Commandment #3: Thou Shalt Plan, Plan, and be ready to throw the plan out of the window

Behind every successful man there is a woman, or so the saying goes. And behind every successful eLearning project, is a well-devised and detailed plan.

Beautiful idea but in practical terms the learner is not interested in whatever time and plans you have. It is THEIR agenda. Have your plan but rest assured that more often than not you won’t be able to implement it.

Commandment #4: Thou Shalt Respect Thy Learner and Thy Teacher

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Don’t know what it means to me” – Aretha Franklin

Ms. Franklin was right. Relationships require respect.

You’ve got to respect your learner’s intelligence and respond to their needs. Make sure you understand their background, how they like to learn, and what style of learning appeals to them. If you hit the wrong tone, your learners may feel demeaned and even insulted.

Commandment #5: Thou Shalt Not Rely Only On Technology

Yes, you read it right. You’re working with another human being. Focus on their needs not the equipment and tricks.

In today’s multi-screen world, it’s easy to think of learning in different platforms, with desktops, tablets, and smartphones each with different compatibilities and operating systems. Elearning has to change. It has to be responsive, multi-format, and look good on whatever device it’s used on.

Commandment #6: Thou Shalt Use an Agenda

When hosting or participating in a meeting, respect the attendees’ time and other obligations as much as possible.

eLearning is a practice of restraint and balance. Remember to use useful design, not decoration, and give breathing room. Just like in photography, negative space can sometimes make all the difference; there’s no need to fill every little space.

Commandment #7: Thou Shalt Focus on Competence, Not Grades

Competency-based learning lets learners move through a course at their own pace. This is a more valuable approach; the focus isn’t on completing a training program within a specific time, it’s about doing it slow, and doing it right. Competency-based training doesn’t randomly “dump” tons of knowledge on the learner, it lets the learner choose. They know when to move on, and when they’ve absorbed the material. This makes learning more effective than the “dump and run” model and the learner feels more satisfied and leaves no gaps in their skill set.

Commandment #8: Thou Shalt Show, Not Tell.

We’ve all been there. Bored in a presentation or taking an eLearning course. Checking the time every few seconds, wondering when it’s going to end.

Why do we feel this way? Usually because eLearning is designed as just conveying information, just telling. Just being spoken at.

This is one of the least effective ways to share information. If you want your audience to remember your content, you need to show, not tell. This means you should tell more stories in your course, give examples, create scenarios, you have to give the audience something they can relate to, and help them find connections between the learning content and their roles.

In a nutshell, this is how to do it: less exposition, more action. You’ll see how your learners react in a completely different way.

Commandment #9: Thou Shalt Be Respectful of Time   

eLearning has to be more sociable, but Never assume you are anyone’s highest priority. Be flexible when possible but always remember that TIME IS MONEY. When you’re remote, you must be intentional about keeping a time frame.

Commandment #10: Thou Shalt Plan for Sprints, Not marathons.

I know, this sounds counter-intuitive. But hear me out. Nowadays, learners struggle with information overload. We have stuff coming at us from mobile phones, email, the web, and good ol’ fashioned verbal communication.

Learners have too much going on already – if you bombard them with information they’re going to tune out quickly. They might retain scraps, a key word here and there, or they might retain nothing. Don’t risk it. Organize your content into small, bite-sized ‘sprints’.

REMOTE LEARNING – not for everyone

Remote Learning had been growing over the past 5 years or so in availability and stories abounded about its benefits, advantages and advances. Still, going online for regular school courses or university programs was seen with a dose skepticism and even frowned upon. The feeling was that remote learning was inferior to face to face interactions.

Then, coronavirus happened. The pandemic shut down schools, universities, colleges, churches, offices, shops, bars and restaurants. On a global scale. I had never thought something like that could happen. Other pandemics in the past – even more deadly and devastating – were more localized never shutting down an entire country – let alone dozens of countries simultaneously.

Overnight, remote learning became, not simply a more flexible and cheaper alternative, but the only alternative to millions of students from kindergarten to PhD courses.

Suddenly, teachers and students found themselves scrambling for computers, cameras, wifi connections, and all the fluctuation on signals, computer crashes, small cellphone screens, wifi signals getting unstable depending on the time of day due to congestion, etc.

I had already been teaching online for a few years, FaceTime was simple and reasonably stable – back in 2016 when we were living in Newmarket-on-Fegus in Ireland all my classes were via FaceTime – there were limited resources but the “novelty” also appealed to some students.

Some students manage to be late every single time

2020 is the Year of Zoom – or Microsoft Teams, BlueJeans, Google Meet FaceTime or whatever video sharing video conferencing platform you or your company may choose.

Zoom's competitor, Google Meet will be available for free | LABS ...
All sorts of video communication services became part of our vocabulary

Classes work relatively well one on one – less so when you have larger groups (haven’t enjoyed breakout room experience) I prefer a webinar format when dealing with larger groups.

This week I enrolled in a 15-hour long journalistic podcasting course at a respected higher education institute here in São Paulo. The course had, as everything else, migrated from f2f classes to online classes and I thought it would be a nice experience. Please note the the registration fee and course price were not reduced.

Well … making a long story short, the 5-day sessions lasted only one day for me.

On the first day I was feeling a little awkward about videoconferencing etiquette in a group that I’m not controlling (control freak, who me?) but when I joined the group, there were 3 people having a friendly video chit chat – I didn’t know they were the instructors – I said “good evening” – waited for a few seconds, realized they knew each other as colleagues/friends and decided to close my mike and camera since they had not directed any attention to me. Yes, Virginia, I’m an introvert either f2f or behind a camera. Then I realized that all the other students were also with their cameras and microphones shut.

Skype releases free group calling, check out the full article at ...
What is the videoconferencing etiquette when joining the group?

The course was supposed to start at 7pm and it would be live. Of course, it started at 7:15pm because the instructors thought they had better wait for some eventual “tardy” student (honestly I wasn’t expecting you could manage to be late for a video class – Pollyanna me – one of the students joined the group 1 hour later – no excuses given).

What I thought weird was that only the 3 instructors kept their video and mikes on, all of us were supposed to keep our videos and mikes off due to the instability of the Microsoft Teams software, so they said.

We were 24 people in total.

Now my best part – the 3-hour session with no participation just listening to the instructors alternating on the podcasting industry features and trends – and they were fast and furious in their presentations – with me typing some comments or questions in an attempt to keep focused – but it was exhausting. Endless! After 2 hours they proposed a 5 minute break.

Their biggest mistake was to treat their online session as if it were face to face.

Those 3 hours were gruesome – and I decided that the course, due to its format and time (I’m not a night owl, most definitely) was not for me – and I dropped off – fortunately I’ll be reimbursed 50% of what I had paid.

Can you imagine what it is like to be a public school teacher with 30 or 40 students who should “allegedly” be connecting for their lessons?

Without any training and/or resources?

The chaos in education – brought upon us not exclusively by the pandemic – but made even more desperate in Brazil will bear fruit many years in the future of a whole generation.

Challenging times we’re living in.

Cheers,

Mo