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