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.
Yes, the comic strip in my desk calendar was quite right – considering it was originally created in 2019, that the new year (2020) would be a LOT different from last year.
Exactly one year ago we prayed and gave thanks for coming to the end of a year, which hadn’t been easy financially and welcomed the New Year: 2020. What did I expect? A good year – an even number – representing balance and prosperity (at least in my thoughts and wishes, mind you). But then… Covid-19 happened. The year 2020 became an odd year.
In fast succession cities, states, and countries started shutting down – in Brazil (as everything else) we awoke after Carnival in March to the sad news that tropical and happy Brazil hadn’t been spared from the virus, contrary to what our clownish president J. Bolsonaro (a.k.a. Bozo) mockingly had promised would happen.
Companies, retailers, schools of all sorts were told to shut down and self-isolate. Initially social distancing was successful in some parts of Brazil – in March or April – when social distancing or stay at home campaigns reached the adherence of roughly 60% of the population. But as the days went by, and the virus didn’t seem to be THAT lethal, more and more people started wearing their masks under their chin instead of mouth and nose and getting more relaxed about large gatherings and crowds with people staying at home hovering at around 30%..
Back in January I had gloated that wife and I would never spend a Sabbath without going to church and just the thought sickened me to my stomach. Suddenly, in March churches were closed and now nine months later I feel like questioning myself -“why did I really make a point of going to church?”
Our English Sabbath School class went online and there it has been a source of fellowship and joy in the midst of all the bad news taking place.
All companies where I used to teach at shut their doors – if not to all employees – most certainly to all “nonessential” service providers – such as language teachers. Another hurtful 2020 keyword: “nonessential”. Are the Arts, Music, Education, physical contact not really essential?
My migration to Zoom was rather smooth – only one “Zoom bomb” incident – by the way, whose fault was it when the moronic teacher posted the meeting’s Zoom ID on Twitter – what was I thinking? (or not thinking? LOL) – I hadn’t used it before, but had already taught using FaceTime and Skype; had to learn some of the resources but at the same time I was reminded that “face time” is more important than all the gimmicks and tricks with PowerPoint or any other gaming gadget. Students need to see the teacher’s face more than a slide or special effects. The teacher must be focused on listening instead of looking at the next button to press or feeling turned on by their own image on the screen (chuckles).
Yes, a couple of students dropped out of classes because they didn’t “enjoy” online classes – (mind you, they not even bothered to try) but some new students joined the roster of my excellent learners and I was able to filter out those who need to find themselves before finding a teacher/tutor.
Hopefully I’ll be able to better use digital coursebooks in the coming year, honestly I didn’t come across any that grabbed my attention – I resigned myself to using PDF files of books I already knew. By the way, publishers will hopefully awake to the fact that learners need more than flashy photos with bells and whistles. Interactivity with the coursebook must involve vocabulary, pronunciation, listening, writing with resources to self record and verify accent and pronunciation; correct and explain grammar errors, etc.
Well, … it’s December 31 and what does the future hold? On a personal note, wife, and I and Luther will be moving to a new home in the countryside sometime in the first half of 2021. New place, new house, new people, new things to discover. I think that’s what the new year should invite us to do: Start 2021 with a purpose – to be different (and better) from who you were in 2020. If I can fulfill this resolution the dividends will be immeasurable.
First I would like to define in-company teaching: teaching of a specific course or program inside a company. It can be fully paid for and sponsored by the company itself. In my case, usually one VP or senior director would get in touch with HR and request English languages courses for himself or someone in their team. Then other VPs or directors would start requesting the same benefit and it would become part of a company’s benefit policies.
Other times, the company would allow teaching within its premises but the costs would be paid partly or in full by the students themselves.
Ideally a company would hire a language consultant/language school to assess the language level of the students and set up a language program with frequent evaluations in order to gauge the progress and the return on the investment.
In practical terms, many companies, for different reasons, would start the language teaching program in a more serious way, but gradually they would flex up their controls, and language classes would be considered one more benefit like lunch vouchers, for instance – the company does not want to know how or what the employees use their vouchers for. Are they eating healthily or only eating junk food? Are they selling their vouchers out for cash at a discounted price or passing them on to someone they know?
In order to give students a sense of control, companies would set a time limit. For example, those selected to attend English classes will have, let us say, a 2 year limit for English lessons. After that they would automatically lose their benefit so that another team member could start with classes.
Of course, there have been students who applied themselves and would make progress in their language learning process, I had students who started at intermediate level (B1) and ended up at C1/C2 levels.
But quite often there would be those students who would not take their learning seriously. They wanted the “benefit” but wouldn’t benefit from it. Lots of class cancellations (work-related or not); no commitment to studying outside the classroom; no motivation to have a class but rather a moment to chit chat and shoot the breeze in the midst of their busy schedule.
The material mostly included a business English course book. I personally liked Business Class and Market Leader especially Upper-Intermediate and Advanced programs. Intelligent Business is pathetic with typos in almost every unit. Shoddy quality. In the late 1980s and early 1990s I enjoyed using We Mean Business.
Of course, if the teacher had some business experience – he had lived across an office building, for example (just kidding – sort of) he or she would be a plus in the school’s in-company teaching program.
Now with Covid-19 and the Pandemic, in-company teaching has all, but disappeared, at least physically. None of my corporate clients in IT, Manufacturing, Banking or Law Firms are open to service providers. The requirements and expenses of frequently testing their staff wouldn’t warrant additional costs testing teachers as well. I half-heartedly joke with my now online students that “pigs will be flying wearing masks” before I get access to their companies’ facilities. So, online we stay.
Will it prosper online? Will companies prefer local language schools or schools located anywhere cheaper? Will language progress be effectively assessed? Will employees be allowed to have their lessons during their working hours? Will they be held accountable for their learning and the investment the company has placed on them?
Videos in class are great, right? I mean – if you didn’t plan anything for class – just tell students they’re going to watch a tv series or film and there you go. Ready for your next class. I’m not gonna lie that I’ve seen teachers (including myself) who used a video presentation to breaking up the monotony or the lack of interest the students had, or just to get a respite from having to be the “center” of attention.
You may ask me: center of attention? Teachers aren’t supposed to be that. Agreed. But at the end of the day, your presence there draws attention to yourself.
But, no, Virginia – that might even be a side effect but just killing time should not be the main reason for using videos in class.
Videos are a great way for your students to practice their language skills. Having said that a 3 to 5 minute video will have plenty of material for one or even more classes. So scratch that idea of having your students watch a serialized Dr Zhivago for a few weeks.
The trick(you can use these steps with any short film, commercial, interview or Ted Talk)
First, listen to the story – check their comprehension. Ask them to describe what they see: Who is doing what? What do they look like? What objects do you see in the video? Summarize what they are saying. What is the problem/challenge/idea presented in the video? Ask your students: “Have you, your family, or friends ever experienced the problem? Describe what happened. What do you think might be the causes of the problem? What solutions could a person get on their own? What solutions could people get working together? Would one be better than the other? Why or why not? What was the message?”
There are tons of ways and materials online with full lesson plans and other suggestions, but I hope these pointers will get you started using videos with your learners. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with entertainment, so the videos should be at least minimally interesting to your target audience.
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’.
Wow. A landmark. 30 years of Teaching English and Spanish as foreign languages. And counting. But honestly speaking, English has always taken the lion’s share of my teaching hours.
Out of those years, over 25 have been teaching one on one so I can say a thing or two about changes in language teaching in this segment.
1. Accessibility: when I started teaching cable tv was limited. Students could watch videos of movies in English but subtitled in Portuguese. No radio programs in English…lots of English songs but how could they understand what was being sung? Limited access to lyrics. Now they have all the English speaking world at the touch of a button on their cellphone.
2. Technology – when I started teaching I not even had a cassette player and the school followed their own coursebook without cassettes. If I wanted to play a song I had to take my portable turntable and vinyl record. From cassette – to CDs and we moved up from VHS – to DVD’s and now to streaming and millions of channels on YouTube. Not to mention the hundreds of language learning apps.
3. Pedagogy – teachers were the reference in pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary. If the teacher didn’t know it how could a simple student know that word? From teacher-centered the language courses have moved on to a learner-centered approach (at least in speech). Learners can do way more than what their teachers might tell them to do (well, it doesn’t mean they’ll do it).
4. Resources – from coursebooks and the occasional imported magazine or newspaper now we all have Doctor Google. There are loads of apps for students to practice vocabulary, pronunciation, even using AI for actual conversation. They can record themselves and self evaluate their progress.
5. Creativity – that’s changed but still the same if you get my gist – I mean, we teachers have always had to resort to creativity from role playing to imaginary conversations to using tv commercials recorded on a VHS tape as part of our class material.
Despite all the improvements in pedagogy and technology some things still continue wearily unchanged.
Many students still think that a native teacher is better than a teacher who HAD to learn the language as they are doing now. After all, if the teacher says, “come, come, it’s not that difficult”, they can always argue, “not for you”. Still language schools give priority to a teaching candidate who’s spent 2 years washing dishes or cleaning houses abroad over a local language college graduate.
Many students also think grammar should be taught first even though they hate it… so it must be good like the bitter taste of medicine, right? Still controversies over teaching pronunciation and cultural values of the English speaking countries. Even those who defend the teaching of a global English accept the fact that some parameters must be defined, otherwise the English someone is learning in Indonesia might be incomprehensible to someone learning it in Ecuador.
The future will present even more changes, but some things I’m sure will remain the same: the importance of knowledgeable, committed and caring teachers working along students who have developed or discovered their own motivation.
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.
The latest coursebooks published by the largest international publishers (preferably based in the UK or US)?
Native speakers to teach the language?
One on one teaching? Group teaching?
F2F? or Online?
“What matters most in language education: PEOPLE”
Learning takes place where three factors are interconnected: motivation; cognition; emotion.
Motivation – if learners are not motivated, no matter how many virtual or real somersaults a teacher may do, they won’t get anywhere.
Cognition – Google’s dictionary defines it as “the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.” there must be a transfer of knowledge and understanding between Teacher and learners – actually, this process is a 2-way street – it’s not a passive experience – both learners and teacher will be developing and growing in understanding each other.
Emotion – Teacher and learner must have a positive feeling regarding their relationship. Students should “fall in love” with their teacher – nothing sexual, take it easy. But they must be infected by the teacher’s passion and enthusiasm. If the teacher approaches the subject with a jaded attitude – it will not result in any excitement on the learners’ part.
Rita Pierson once said on a TED Talk: “People don’t learn from people they don’t like.” She went on to say that psychologically wise language teachers will do 3 things:
focus on positivity and growth
nurture their own professional development and well-being.
There you have it… starting point towards developing a healthier relationship between teachers and learners.
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.
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:
equipment – old cellphones, no computer, no access to broadband, prepaid services (which are way more expensive)
Wifi – poor or no wifi access
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?!
lack of confidence – I’m not good with gadgets. I don’t know where to start.
fixed mindset – see some of the excuses above.
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.