Surviving Covid-19: life as a self-employed teacher – Part 3

And now we have reached our 4th month of the pandemic and half-arsed quarantine by a significant portion of the population in Brazil. Now state orders to wear masks in public places punishable with R$ 500 fines (another half-arsed measure that can’t be enforced by the government).

Still surviving, students hanging in there, but the calls by prospective students have dwindled down. WhatsApp is not dinging with new contacts nor the telephone ringing as often as I’d like.

But last week I was contacted by “Argentino” who was referred to me by a couple of friends (“muy amigos“). Argentino wants to prepare for the TOEFL exam because he wants to go to Loma Linda University and he needs to score 80 points to qualify in English. I don’t remember what health branch he wants to study there. Guess I didn’t have time to ask.

TOEFL ITP inscrições em 22/01 a 11/02/2019 – Pós-Graduação em ...
The secret for exams is taking as many mock tests as you can so you get familiar with the structure, language and requirements it presents.

So far so good. The caveat: he doesn’t want to have online classes – remember, we’re in the middle of the pandemic – and he would be willing to wait one more month to be able to visit me in my office. I said I wasn’t sure when face to face classes would resume and he should start with online classes. Argentino moaned and whimpered a little but agreed.

Honestly I don’t like teaching for preparatory tests – seen that, done that, taught that. Tests are a great money-making cottage industry – no question about it… Fees, books, classes…, but they don’t appeal to me. The last student I prepared for TOEFL scored 88 (after having failed before starting classes with me, of course). The secret for exams is taking as many mock tests as you can so you get familiar with the structure, language and requirements it presents. You can most definitely study on your own. But some people need another person pushing and encouraging them. I get it.

Khoá học PRE TOEFL
Exams are a great money-making cottage industry – no question about it… Fees, books, classes…,

So Argentino asked about the price – R$ 900 a month (consisting of four 90-minute classes). There the weirdest part: he proposed the following: he wants to study for 10 months – he would pay R$ 13,500 if he passed – and half that if he failed. Again – payment would be only AFTER the 10 months. He sounded very confident about his proposal and how great a business dealer he was for coming up with that offer.

Actually, I was thrown back by it – why was he willing to pay me much more than I was asking? I told him the total would be R$ 9000 – and we could negotiate a discount if he agreed to pay ALL the amount in advance. Or at least pay 50% now and 25% after 5 months and 25% at the end of the course.

His reply was quite evasive – he ignored my suggestion and told me I didn’t need to give an answer right away. I could sleep on it. Well, 5 seconds later I told him that it was not my way of doing business and honestly, I had NO guarantees he would pay me anything at the end of those 10 months. Again, I still don’t get it. Why should I be punished or penalized if he failed his exam?

His answer was even more curious. He asked me if I could recommend another teacher who might be willing to take him up on that challenge, as he called it. Take a hike, pal.

I’m not sure why I felt so offended by Argentino’s proposal. Did I feel demeaned? Did I think “how dare he tell me how much my work is worth”? Is bargaining for a hired service, such as teaching, wrong? Most certainly I didn’t believe he would pay me anything at the end of the course as well.

So, don’t cry for me, Argentino. Hope you pass the exam.

Good luck,

Mo

A TEACHER’S DREAM (literally)

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Last night as I was sleeping…

“Last night as I was sleeping I had a dream so fair…” – wait a minute, those are the words to a New Jerusalem hymn… but seriously, last night I dreamed that I was a teacher/ coordinator (already promoting myself) at a large language center in São Paulo.

The school was having problems in particular with a student, Joelson (I asked his name in the dream) who had finished the last stage and in order to receive his course completion certificate he would have to take an exam. The problem was that although Joelson had reached an advanced English level he got very nervous with tests and he refused to take the test but he still demanded his certificate. The school director asked me to talk to him and try to convince him to take the test.

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“If life is a punishment, one should wish for an end; if life is a test, one should wish it to be short”

Joelson said: “Every time I take a test I get too nervous and I get everything wrong and fail.” “You’re talking to me, you can see my English is good now, why can’t the school just give me a certificate? I paid all the fees and did all the tasks in and outside of class”. “My teachers can certify that my English is excellent.”

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“Good tests can help teachers determine how their students are performing and identify the areas in which their students need assistance. Like an X-ray, however, tests can diagnose, but they cannot cure”.
Randi Weingarten

Then I went to talk to the headmaster and told him what Joelson had said, and that I agreed with him. I added: “In my 30 plus years teaching experience I’ve never seen a person get a job because they handed in an English Language proficiency certificate – first, they will be interviewed or tested in the language. If they have a paper certificate is immaterial. And I’m talking about both national and multinational corporations. So give him the certificate without him taking the test. It has no legal value anyway”.

I know… each country’s culture and policies will vary, but to get a job in Brazil, employers are more interested in real-life skills from their candidates than their English certificate. Listen, I’m not talking about University degrees.

Of course, international universities require a TOEFL or IELTS certificate to get the process going and sieve through the numbers of applicants but it is well known that many certificate holders were well-groomed at taking tests and evading tricky questions, but when they start their university courses abroad they need to be enrolled in ESL classes (even before the lectures begin).

So my dream is that people may actually learn English in the coming year, not just for a paper certificate, but to be ready to skydive into new adventures in the world.

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Happy Dreams,

Cheers,

Mo

How to study for the TOEFL in 3 “easy steps”

The Test Of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is the most widely respected English-language test in the world, recognized by thousands of colleges, universities and agencies in more than 130 countries, including Australia, Canada, the U.K. and the United States. Wherever you want to study, the TOEFL test can help you get there, that is, it is a pre-requirement for academic entry in most English-speaking countries.

My advice on how to prepare for the test is:

  1. Learn the test –  become familiar with it. get lots of samples online and practice, practice, practice – this is how you will learn about the test’s format, strategy, timing. Experience is king – and it’s true – by studying previous TOEFL tests you’ll be conquering years in weeks or months.
  2. Strategy – go to YouTube and listen to different people who have taken their test.
  3. Skills – the test is not just about grammar – identify your weakest skills and attack them. Usually listening comprehension is poor especially for people not living in an English-speaking country – there are 1000s of radio stations online to practice with in addition to podcasts. Also speaking can be a problem. A simple but effective practice is to get interviews of actors, politicians and read them aloud until you feel comfortable. Many times video interviews also have a transcript or closed caption – use them as tools to develop your intonation and pronunciation.

For more information go to their official website: https://www.ets.org/toefl

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TOEFL OR BUST

How can you measure the level of communication skills a person has? Can they write? Can they read and interpret a text? Can they understand what they’re told to do? Can they express their thoughts in a clear and objective way? Well… that’s a tough task in your mother tongue. Imagine in a second or third language.

I’ve never been much of a supporter of language exams conveying the idea that Language is just one more school subject in which you must have high scores. And it feels like it’s just one more scheme for publishers to milk money off potential victims. toefl guideYou and I know that language is much more than 101 points on TOEFL (out of 120), for example. But the reality is that there is a need for more objective and fast assessment tools for specific purposes; and exams still are the tool du jour to do that.

TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. Today the TOEFL iBT (internet-Based Test) is the most used tool to measure the student’s  ability to use and understand English at the university level in North America. And it evaluates how well they combine their listening, reading, speaking and writing skills to perform academic tasks. TOEFL-test

So… when a former student, Vitoria,  contacted me and asked me for some classes to prepare for the TOEFL I was a little hesitant and tried to come up with excuses not to take her on. I said that I like to teach real-life communication not preparatory tips and schemes to reach a high score in a test; I didn’t have an open slot for a new student; I only teach from home; Etc. But how can a teacher say No to a student? Answer me that if you can.

I took the TOEFL back in 1987/88, not yesterday you could say, a time when no computers were used (yes, Dinosaurs also have feelings) – you would receive a booklet with the questions and an answer sheet and be interviewed by a real teacher. Maybe a little more nerve wrecking than just recording yourself.

As in all exams, the goal is to narrow as much as possible the scoring criteria, so even if you come up with a question such as “What’s the meaning of life” – the examiner will be looking for very specific content.

In Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, summarizing is a highly valued skill and connecting the dots in order to answer what has been asked.

A key point is: Make sure TO ANSWER THE QUESTION.keep-calm-and-pass-the-toefl-2

In the Writing Section the student will be judged based on their development, organization and language use.

In the Speaking Section, the students will be analyzed based on their:

Delivery  – clear, fluid, pronunciation, intonation, pace

Language Use – grammar and vocabulary – apparently raters love some connecting words and phrases such as:

  • because
  • so
  • after that
  • on the other hand (which is a very good phrase and requires attention because many students still say “IN the other hand/way/side”)
  • I want to mention
  • what this means is

Topic Development – fully answered, clearly expressed, connected ideas.

What this means is…

  • don’t speak too quickly
  • time yourself when you practice
  • listen carefully
  • summarize the opinions.

So…  my best piece of advice for my students is: practice, practice, practice. Make the language your constant companion. And shine on.toefl 1

Cheers,

Mo