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).
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.
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.
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.
After 1 year of the Covid-19 Pandemic with companies and individuals cutting down on their expenses and labeling “language learning” as non-essential, I feel that my network of prospective students has been shrinking. New potential students don’t know me and are more focused on price than experience and great qualifications. And there is no shame in saying I need help to find new students.
Nothing better than counting on the support of an international organization with students and teachers from all over the world with expertise in student prospecting. I am sure we can both benefit from this synergy.
Part of their vetting is based on an online grammar test and writing test. Here’s my writing test:
Recount an endeavor, personal or work-related, that was unsuccessful. Provide as many details as possible. If you were to do things over, what would you do differently to ensure the success of the endeavor? *
The following will be assessed: grammar, vocabulary, and sentence construction/organization.
I have always felt that learners and teacher are partners, collaborators in the exquisite adventure of learning. The teacher will create opportunities for learners to grow and, in the case of learning a second or foreign language, to improve their listening, speaking, reading and writing skills. To learn to be comfortable in their own skin with their acquired language.
One side cannot be held responsible for everything. The student must show interest, commitment, dedicate time, money and effort towards their goal. Likewise, the teacher must be fully interested in their students’ progress.
A few years ago I had a student who was often cancelling her classes, never did any homework or any reading/writing assignments and she came up to me asking why she couldn’t feel she was making any progress.
I looked at her, took a deep breath, and said that her progress depended on her commitment and effort. She needed to, at least, try to do some of her homework and make an extra effort to show up in class.
She got furious, fuming through her eyes and nose, and said my job was to teach her. That’s why she was paying me for. I said apologetically that maybe I didn’t have the right profile for her. I expect my students to be committed.
She stormed out of the room and told her assistant that from then on I was banned from her company. Weeks later she contacted me and apologized for her attitude, she said she was going through rough personal times and my comments had been the last straw.
That just confirmed my purpose to have students as my partners and if the partnership is suffering I cannot sugarcoat it. Only that way, shall we have cooperation and growth.
You must have already heard it many times: “There are no stupid questions” – and I always add: “Only stupid people”. Joking apart, the idea is that questions can help you come up with answers that you’ve never considered before, and those never before considered answers have the potential to transform you and your business.
The focus of today’s post is found in Aaron Nelson’s podcast series (unfortunately now ended)- The Freelance ESL Teacher Podcast – Episode 15 (2018) (https://www.listennotes.com/podcasts/the-freelance-esl/episode-15-questions-youve-0OebVTgHC4U/) some powerful questions to ask yourself as you get your freelance teaching business started or developed – or to help you grow it well in 2021 and beyond! My gratitude to Aaron who provided these great questions to help me be more mindful of my business growth:
Sometimes the best questions are ones you never knew you should be asking! Aaron came up with 4 questions that have really helped him which were found in a fantastic book that he had just finished reading called: Do It! Marketing: 77 Instant-Action Ideas to Boost Sales, Maximize Profits, and Crush Your Competitionby David Newman (Here’s a link to the book: https://tinyurl.com/4chkr57k )
Question 1: What’s Your Model of Business – or How do you want your business to look in the future?
I am keeping it a a ‘solopreneur’ .- That’s been my idea over the past 25 years. Before that I wanted a language school but I hated the administrative side of the business. I’m only interested in building my business to the point of keeping my schedule alone full and guarantee a reasonable income.
Question 2: How will I make money? Active Income: Selling services, classes, expertise: short (1 month); medium(1-3 months); long term (3 months – a year or more.); projects. Passive Income: e-books, course materials that you create, development of an language learning app? How will I sell my services?
Question 3: How will I deliver my services? Face to face classes? Online classes? Both? Workshops? In my own location? Location of my client? Will I focus on a country, city, neighborhood? Well, I guess that the Pandemic has answered this question. All classes are online – how long? God only knows.
Question 4: Who is my ideal student? Vital – It’s so important to know who you do your best work with. The wrong students in your business, and not because they are bad people, but because you don’t remain in your strengths’ zone when you serve them – it will make your work seem harder, will drain you, and can run the risk of retarding your business’ growth! Fill your business with your IDEAL students. Do you know who they are?
My ideal students are adults, professional, business oriented people, who won’t be a drain on my energy. Let me tell you, I’ve already had some students that were toxic to my professional persona and I had to terminate their contract to save my sanity. Of course, ideal is what is desirable not always attainable. Quite honestly, i am taking any paying students willing to learn.
A fellow teacher, Ms. Teresa Thompson, based in Lincoln, Nebraska sent me this email last week:
“Just got through hearing about Brazil again on National Public Radio (hope it’s not too large a file–can send the link instead, if you want -https://www.npr.org/2021/03/18/978832056/brazil-covid-19-cases-climb-as-deaths-overwhelm-hospitals-and-funeral-services ). Here’s what we are saying about your country...you guys are a global threat! It’s your turn to lead the world in this pandemic. Not exactly an honor though, I’m afraid. Please take precautions seriously and by all means, don’t turn down any vaccines!“
Here’s my reply to Teresa Thompson’s email:
“Thank you Teresa for your concern. Yes, the situation down here is cause for concern especially around the poor areas of the large urban centers.”
“Many pastors in our union and local conferences have already died or are in the ICU – the grim reaper is taking also younger people – contrary to last year – now the number of deaths of the elderly is down by 25% while the numbers of deaths of people between 20 and 50 has increased by 65% .”
“All we can do is stay home as much as possible, keep clean hands and wear a mask when outdoors. “
“I still notice a strong international bias against Brazil because of our moronic president – and I mean it – he still insists that COVID is just the flu, people who die is because they were already sick and would die anyway, he preaches that masks are filthy, useless and make people sick from wearing them. No wonder many Brazilians now blame him for the nearly 300k deaths and call him a genocider.”
“And also the nation is divided – at least 30% of the population blindly believes what president Bolsonaro says (I’m calling him now Bolsominion 😜) – and so many people keep on walking around without masks and saying that a lockdown would be devastating to the Brazilian economy – a few deaths wouldn’t be as bad. 🤦🏻♂️ And going to group protests on streets to defend the president. “
“To add salt to the wound, state and municipal governments opposing the president started bickering among themselves and not following a coordinated movement to raise awareness of the population … approving mini lockdowns and labeling some COVID treatment hospitals as “catastrophe hospitals” and changing directives about what should companies and citizens do during this time.
Let me give you an example: One day the state orders: No food takeaway. Only through delivery or drive-thru. The next day: Takeaways are allowed. The next day: No takeaways. Are we entitled to feel a little lost and confused?! “
“The picture ain’t pretty in our sad tropics but hope still shines. “
“Stay well. Stay safe and Happy Sabbath. “
Teresa replied with the following:
“Thanks for the first hand reporting there. Sounds like you not only had mixed messaging about the virus, like we had with ex-President Trump. Sounds like all your messaging has been bad!”
“Wonder if that variant is responsible for the increased deaths in younger people. Now that’s something I bet they are concerned about–or should be!“
“I’m actually concerned that now that I’m vaccinated, my daughter’s family won’t be quite as cautious. I’ve worried all along about them getting sick too. There’s just no rhyme or reason involved in this covid (sic).”
“But it’s sad that something that should be uniting the world, is actually dividing it so much. I keep praying that God will have mercy on all of us….no matter how we mess up and disappoint Him.”
Hope this message gives you, dear reader, a glimpse of the situation in Brazil.
I remember when I was a wee kid in a state school in a corner of this giant metropolis called São Paulo, I would be daydreaming in class about the time the bell would ring and I would rush back home so I could watch some of my favorite TV shows. I don’t recall a time a teacher used some visual resources in class other than the illustration in a book (sometimes, which would totally grab my attention).
At church they were more “sophisticated”. From an early age, our Sabbath School teachers would use flannel board bible stories that would transport us to bible times and I had a red-letter day every time I was allowed to touch the figures and place them on the board. How many stories did I learn and understand thanks to those illustrations.
Today I know that Visual Literacy helps learners to follow a story and predict what’s going to happen, activates their memory and their vocabulary, as well. Many times, visual resources were used simply as entertainment or a distraction to keep us children quiet.
Church also introduced me to the first slide projector – with colorful pictures illustrating prophecy or projecting the words to a new hymn, at a time when television was still black and white (we got our first color tv in 1978 – that was so memorable that I remember the year).
Only in college after 1983 was I introduced to the amazing overhead projector and the ability to write and highlight texts on the screen.
In the 1980s VCRs became more popular and pretty soon we started using some video lessons in the language classroom – those videos were especially prepared for the class as companions to their coursebooks (nothing much has changed today – maybe some time in the future I’ll talk about the video courses available for the ESL/EFL market).
If you knew somebody living in an English-speaking country maybe you could ask them to mail you one or two VHS tapes with the recordings of some tv shows and commercials and explore them to your heart’s content. (In my case, only in the early 90s did I come across some VHS tapes that somebody from the school where I was teaching had recorded when traveling to the US).
But videos were still seen as just a “break” from the lesson. When the teacher wheeled in a TV set and VCR the students knew they would have some “down time”. At best, the video was seen as a glorified listening activity or simply as a decorative resource giving a break to both teacher and students.
Today, however, we know we can use videos and images in a much more purposeful way. Here’s an example of a talk at the Global Teacher’s Festival on Visual Literacy and the many different approaches we can have:
Most teachers will agree that video use in the ESL/EFL classroom brings many benefits:
it exposes students to authentic materials
it provides more motivation and interest
it gives learners the opportunity to read as well as listen to messages simultaneously
But there are also disadvantages in using videos in the classroom:
video technology might be scarce or you might have connection problems
it may be boring if overused
it may encourage passivity on both teachers and learners (“the other day an adult learner said: why don’t you give me songs to listen to and fill in the gaps?” My answer – “do you need ME to give you a song to listen and get the words? Have you ever heard of MTV? Can’t you google it up on your own?”)
The appeal of visual media continues to make videos and pictures an amazing educational tool with a high potential impact when properly used. They are now more accessible and less cumbersome to use. Let us take advantage of them in our lessons.
This past weekend, Thiago, an English learner messaged me asking: “What’s right to say: “That’s he singing” or “That’s him singing”
And he added a compliment😋: “Hello, you know you are the wisest one to answer to me this question Which of this two sentences are right? Is right?”
My first inclination was to answer: “Well, firstly, let us learn the difference between THIS and THESE”. LOL… but, actually I sent him the following answer:
“[It is + nominative pronoun/subject pronoun] is generally regarded nowadays as hyperformal, and its use, even in written English, tends to be restricted to cases where the pronoun is followed by a relative clause, as in:
It is I who am to blame.
contrasting with informal
(*)It’s me that’s to blame.
You are unlikely to be criticized by anybody – except the most ardent, dyed-in-the-wool purist – for saying, or even writing, “It’s me” rather than “It’s I”. Indeed the juxtaposition of inherently informal contraction it’s with formal ‘I’ would even strike most speakers as rather ludicrous! – so stick with “that’s him” 🤪
Thiago replied: “I said this and a girl from US told me it’s not correct”🤔
Moacir Sena: “And … who cares? – do you know everything about the Portuguese language just because you’re Brazilian ?! Native speakers mostly never know how their language functions – they just use it 😋 – I’m never a stickler for details …” Thiago: Hahahaha. So I also wasn’t wrong?🤔
Again I was tempted to correct him say: “Wasn’t I wrong?!” but let it pass.
Moacir Sena: Wrong is such a strong word. 🤔There is no Academy of the English Language to dictate what’s right or wrong and if there were such an institution people would disregard it – so in language matters better focus on:
Usage: what do people use or say?
Clarity: can others understand what I’m saying?
Taste: do I like it?
Register: it depends on the place, time and public to receive the message. Thiago replied: “Interesting. Wise words. I (sic) gonna say as they say. Even if it is grammarly (sic) weird hahaha.”
My advice to Thiago: Read, my friend. Read a lot. Read good books and articles from good magazines and serious newspapers. Observe the way the phrases are written and flow. Watch lectures and good documentaries where you will have a clear exposure to the language. And keep on learning.
Since March 2020 most of us have been thrown into the digital world of online classes – no matter if we were ready or not. Some of us were already teaching using FaceTime, or Skype for example – I usually used online classes when traveling accompanying my sweetheart on her business trips. But all of us had ALL our classes moved to the online environment overnight. And that was good, considering that the option to online classes would be no classes at all and consequent unemployment.
We started watching tutorials on how to share screens, take notes, set up students in virtual classrooms, play videos and other audio practices while “the plane was up in the air” as the cliché accurately portrays it.
During this year I’ve learned some things about dealing with online classes and trying to control /avoid the so-called Zoom Fatigue.
We’ve all already felt the effects on us of extended spells of online classes – headaches, tiredness, red eyes, backache, tired legs, etc. Here I outline 5 ways to combat Zoom fatigue:
Don’t multitask during the sessions – I know it’s tempting to google up something, check Whatsapp, etc while something else is happening, but it will take a toll on your mind.
Alternate speaker view and gallery view.
Turn your video off sometimes (when showing a video, for example).
Take breaks. Yes… I know we do a great job making students feel they are the only “special” ones – but actually we have more than one student and back-to-back classes will cause you stress – if necessary end your class 2-3 minutes earlier and start the next class 2-3 minutes later (punctuality will suffer but your body and mind will thank you for that; and your students too – a teacher who’s feeling well will be conducive to the wellbeing of their students).
Make sure your “class” space feels different than your “relaxing” space. Get up and go to the bathroom, get a cup of herbal tea (coffee is not the best option but if it helps you who am I to deny you this comfort drink), drink water (keep yourself hydrated). Look out the window. If possible, relax somewhere else.
Of course, there will be days you will get more tired than others but by following these simple tips you may prevent burnout.
As a teacher of English and Spanish as Second or Foreign Languages for nearly 30 years one thing that will make students get highly motivated and pay attention to every word you say is when they have to undergo a job interview process. Some will break out in a cold sweat or start crying in the bathroom. What advice would I give them?
I don’t know if you will get the job but you will most certainly have had the chance to network and build your own confidence towards the next job interview.
Racism in Brazil shows its ugly face in some subtle ways – white people like me many times don’t even realize it. I grew up in a white family but at least one of my grandmothers was brown skinned (fruit of white and indigenous relations, I’m told) but she passed when I was seven and I don’t remember her very much. A cousin of mine married a black man back in the 60s and the family despite the initial shock welcomed them (to the best of my knowledge) and they had 3 children – with their own families today. My older brother sometimes would say that black people were lazy or something to that effect, but even he had a very close black friend (who also criticized black people – but that’s another whole story). My wife is light skinned but her father was black and her mother Italian – her siblings are darker than she is – so where does one’s race begin and another’s start? What color is one’s soul?
But talking to one of my students this morning I was made to think about my own experiences as a teacher regarding racism.
My niche market has been for the past 30 years in the business and corporate world, coaching and teaching executives and helping them to brush up their language skills and presentation skills, for example.
In all these years I can’t recall a time I taught a black person, not because of their color, but because of their absence in the corporate world I circulated in. I never had a chance to teach them.
When I had a language consultancy office back in the 90s we hired teachers and translators and 90% of them were white – it’s true but we did have an English black teacher (born in London to Brazilian parents). We also hired two Nigerian teachers and I can’t recall having problems with them due to racism from clients. Sometimes there would be academic or punctuality problems but nothing related to their race, methinks. (Or was the clients’ racism disguised in comments like ” they don’t have a clear accent”, “they’re usually late”, etc).
Now, black or white is a just a matter of skin pigmentation, but the fact that they are not selected to higher positions besides cleaning offices and being the kitchen help is quite disturbing. … Coming to think of it, even the waiters and waitresses working for the boards of directors at different companies and banks tended to be light skinned.
I’m told that in some countries just the fact that a person has one black ancestor (one drop of “black blood”) already makes them black, no matter their skin color. In Brazil that’s not so. Thanks to the miscegenation of races in our country you can find at least “50 shades” of blackness or “negritude”. One can be light-skinned with white facial features and straight hair and their sibling may be darker with curly hair and both although coming from the same social, economic, and educational background, may have had entirely different experiences with racism.
On a brighter note, people know that money is color blind and Brazilians have been discovering that dark-skinned fellow men and women can also spend money in services and goods.
But we still are far from Martin Luther King Jr’s dream when he declared: “let us judge one another on the content of our character rather than the color of our skin” .
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.
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’.