Observing the behavior of some participants in our Zoom class session – it is worth remembering some good manners:
ATTENTION: Best Practices for Zoom sessions:
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).
Find a quiet place to attend the meeting (barking dogs, meowing cats, cracker Pollies, etc won’t help your session).
Keep the microphone off when not speaking (and remember for the 1,000th time to unmute WHEN YOU ARE SPEAKING.
Keep the camera on WHENEVER POSSIBLE.
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).
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.
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?
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Happy New Year and looking forward to seeing you on the other side.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
TAKEAWAY: If simple and clear instructions and directions were essential in the in-person environment they are crucial now in the remote classroom.
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.
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.
You don’t need to be a genius to know that prejudice exists everywhere you find people gathered together.
The English Language Teaching industry wouldn’t be different. After all, it’s made up of people from all nations and races.
Do teachers (not necessarily language teachers) suffer from prejudice and racism?
Yes, since forever… You don’t need to go far -just watch the trailer of my favorite classic film – To Sir, With Love with Sidney Poitier.
But in this blog I’m not going to be talking about national or linguistic prejudices as in “he’s not a native speaker” or “I don’t like his accent”. The smelly goat in the room is about racism and skin color.
Back in the day (1990s) when I was a partner in a language school in São Paulo, we hired teachers to provide private business lessons at different multinational companies – one pre-requisite was “English native-like fluency” (hey, it was the roaring ’90s, don’t judge me)- no color stipulation.
We had some Brazilian, American, British, Swedish, Nigerian, South African and even a Tasmanian teacher (a loose cannon for sure – some day remind me to talk about him) – most of them were white, mostly in their 20s or early 30s, but not exclusively. I remember Charlotte, who I thought was an old lady back then(now I think she must have been probably in her 50s or early 60s).
I remember in special, Kendra, who was a great teacher, students loved her and not because or despite of the fact she was black. She was an exchange student between her US university and São Paulo University (USP). She was pursuing a degree in linguistics and she took on several classes with us.
We also had a Brit teacher – mixed race and nationality – mother Brazilian, father English – had been born in London and had decided to try his life in Brazil. He was a good teacher, can’t remember his background, but we could see he didn’t want to be a teacher for long. Either he would become a partner or he would jump off ship, which he did.
Never did a student call us saying “I don’t want teacher A, B or C because he or she is black”. NEVER. Sometimes there were misfits due to teaching approach, some of the foreign teachers, the famous backpackers, were not reliable with time and class preparation, etc.
Did our clients get surprised to see a black teacher waiting for them in the room? I’m sure some of them did. Talk about stereotypes – “my English teacher (any gender) is tall, slander, blue-eyed and has perfect teeth”.
Now I know that Brazilian black teachers are few and far between, especially in the self-employed segment. Why? Racism? Lack of economic and education opportunities? A combination of it all?
All I can say is that during my school (Uni) years one of my best friends (and classmates) was black. She had also had more exposure to English than I had at the time and her economic situation was also better than mine, a white boy. Go figure.
Yes, racism exists and we must fight it, but it shows itself quite often in subtle ways, as if hiding behind the skin tone of a person.
We must be aware and mindful of its presence and stand up against it when it rears its ugly face. Racism sucks.
*DISCLAIMER: all the statements here are my own and may not reflect the reality of every single living creature on the face of the earth.