Familiar Flipside

Whenever Jasper goes away on a business trip, his goodbye is always “see you on the flipside”. I am pretty sure that he knows what it means because he’s got all sorts of random things stuck in his head. I, however, had to look it up. It is a musical catchphrase used by DJs in radio to mean “see you later”, and comes from the backside or the B-side of a record.

As you might imagine my flipside has to do with Carlton. Or rather, his flipside. Last Tuesday I walked into his house to an attentive, quiet child. Remember my dictation dilemma? It turned out that it wasn’t a dilemma at all. The dictation that I gave was perfect. We were able to spend an hour entirely on dictation, and while it wasn’t a perfect performance, it was damn near. I am not sure, but maybe Carlton had had a stern talking to (or meds). Near the end of the lesson, he proclaimed, “This is the best lesson I’ve ever had with you. A little flustered, I responded “Thank you. But what makes it so good?” His response was surprising. “It’s a quiet lesson and you’re not being strict. I looked at Carlton in disbelief. “Carlton”, said I, “I’m only strict when you don’t do what I ask you to or you goof off”. The only glitch in the lesson was when I asked him a question and his response was “none of your beeswax”. I am old enough to remember using that phrase which teachers myself and know that is it is extremely disrespectful. So kind patient teacher Tina went away and firm teacher came back. To my surprise, Carlton was contrite and apologized. To my further surprise, he was upset that we are now down to our last three lessons. And proclaimed that he didn’t want to stop learning. This puts me in a bit of a pickle. As you might imagine, I am conflicted enough. On the one hand, I like Carlton even when he’s being cheeky, but on the other hand, it’s five hours of my time where I could be doing something slightly more lucrative and not sitting on a tram for two hours every Tuesday evening.

Felix is also back from home and we spent a wonderful hour and a half lesson on Thursday last week going over tenses, watching some videos, and hearing all about his trip home. Our greeting to each other was exuberant in the way it only a person who is Latino, Mediterranean, or North African/Middle Eastern can appreciate. It was a wonderful class. For the first time, I actually used my technology in the classroom. It was an interesting experience because I am not so conversant with using tech for the adult learner.   That’s not to say that I am a Luddite, But usually, I have my students do exercises on a particular thing. If you haven’t found it, check out Englishcentral.com. It is a website with videos and lessons, mainly for adults, but has levels and tests and all kinds of exercises. It is fabulous. The best thing about it is that it has a pronunciation tool where you speak lines and see how correct your pronunciation is. There’s something wrong with the algorithm as even I as a native speaker of English, rarely got 100%.

Over at the English center, things are winding down with various students. My two real estate executives came to class on Monday of last week, as did my high school student who is moving to Britain to study film. It was her last lesson and I was sorry to see her go but we promised to stay in contact. My Spanish student had to cancel last week but I saw him last night for our last lessons. I let him dictate what the lesson would be, and so we spent the last lesson on contractions and pronunciation review.

This past week on Friday I had my first four-hour intensive for the English Center. I  thought that it would be very difficult but it passed very quickly. We talked about collocations, did a bit of grammar, writing correction, and talked about how to improve presentations in English.  I didn’t feel tired at all, which was fortunate. Because straight from that class, I went for drinks with English Center coworkers. I met some really interesting new people and connected with many of them. Including a woman who is from the States, and works for SayABC, a VIPKid subsidiary company. It was interesting to hear her perspective on online teaching because I had forgotten why I got into it in the first place. As I told her, the honeymoon has been over for me for about two years, and I’m trying to head to an amicable sort of separation. It was, of course, half in jest, but I now want VIPKid to become the side job that I use to make a bit of extra money on the weekends if I want to, to be able to do nice things.

That’s all she wrote for this Inkreadable installment. But stay tuned. As always, there is more to come.

Teacher Trapped and a Dictation Dilemma

Today, dear readers marks the start of a fairly difficult time for me. In the first place, it is my mom’s birthday and I always feel a little bit sad and quite nostalgic. I am not, however, allowed to wallow too much and missing my mom, because it also happens to be Jasper’s birthday. As it is a Tuesday, we will not celebrate together today as I am at Carlton’s. Last Tuesday, marked a “first time” for me with him. It was the first time I had seen him act like a spoiled brat in front of his mother. She actually made him cry. Apparently, he gets very upset because his Dutch colleagues are already out of school, well he has to be in school until 15 July. As that coincides with my last lesson with him, I think we are both counting down the days. While it wasn’t a complete turnaround from the previous week, he did quite well on the stuff that I had him working on. One of the most difficult things that I’m facing with this family however, Is Carlton’s mother’s insistence that dictation should be the at forefront of our lessons. I’m just not sure how to make dictation fun, nor am I able to fill an hour of lessons with dictation. It feels physically impossible. How do I keep his attention on dictation, when it’s hard enough keeping his attention when we have multiple tasks in the hour? My mantra has become “only four more lessons, only four more lessons”. But those four lessons are sure to be difficult as the only thing that Carlton now lacks is dictation. So there you have it. That’s my dictation dilemma.

The first part of my title also has to do with Carlton because I have felt trapped in the contract with him since January. I’ve decided that it’s not worth it for me to continue with them, but I am struggling as to how to convey that to his parents without offending. After all, I don’t want them to go around their various schools bitching about me to other parents. Nothing stays with you more than a bad review. And I should know. In 3 1/2 years with VIPKid I’ve had 10 less than four Apple reviews, 21 four Apple reviews, and the rest have been five Apple reviews. That is out of a total of almost 2000. So when I hear VIPKid teachers get upset, I both feel their pain but also get annoyed. Whoever said that any publicity is good publicity, might (and I use might loosely), have had something in the advertising world. But in the teaching world, I think he was an idiot.

This week has been doubly difficult because I have Jasper’s parents with me and my house has never felt so small. It has been very difficult teaching even though it has only been for three days. And it’s not that I can’t do my job, I’ve been doing it just fine but I have noticed that it is a bit more difficult. Thankfully it’s only temporary and I go back to my regular house to myself and schedule next week. But the feeling of being trapped extends to that because I need to be on even after the camera is turned off and VIPKid is done.

The saving grace has been my adult students through the English Center. I’ve been having so much fun teaching English but also learning from my students. In fact, last Thursday was the first time that I didn’t teach for VIPKid but only taught exclusively for the English center. Shocker of shockers, I was even able to meet a friend for coffee in between my classes on Thursday afternoon. It was blissful. I am crossing my fingers that I get more of that.

Absolutely no writing was done this week as I didn’t even attend the Writers group. Hopefully, I will go back to them on the 20th and be able to be productive.

That’s all she wrote for this Inkreadable installment. But stay tuned. As always, there is more to come.

Teacher Temper

After last week’s relative quiet, life at Inkreadable roared to supersonic speed. In the first place, Carlton was back on my schedule. I had thought that being In Egypt with his parents would have made him a little bit more amenable to working with me. My thought was that I would get him to talk about what he did while there in the Simple Past as that is what they are working on at school. Boy, was I wrong. I came into the lesson fully prepared to coax him into writing descriptively about the trip using verbs that I have found online. I printed out these verbs and had him pick eight past tense verbs. His response when I asked him to write about Egypt using those verbs was “I literally did nothing for a week. I didn’t see anything, I didn’t go anywhere, I didn’t do anything”. I am quite skeptical of that answer, but as his mom was not there I wasn’t able to get the proof that I needed that he wasn’t lying. So quick thinker that I am, I had him make sentences using the verb’s instead, That took over half the lesson. I added the dimension that the sentences had to be using all the personal pronouns not just “I”. Because Carlton in his seven-year-old wisdom, only likes using “I” as though no other personal pronoun exists. So the point was to try and get him to write sentences using all the pronouns. I did manage to do that but that’s where teacher temper comes in. He was so disrespectful that I was shocked. This was a whole new level. This wasn’t a kid being cheeky but cute. This was a spoiled brat who was rude. Basically, his attitude was “you’re not really a teacher And I don’t have to listen to you.” When asked if he treated his teacher in school like this, his response was “no but she’s a real teacher”. So my response to that was “if you feel that way then go and tell your mom that you want to stop lessons and we can stop. But for the hour that I am with you, I expect you to sit still, and do your work.” I did wish that his parents were there to hear the disrespect and able to discipline him right away. I did tell his sister what was going on and she said she would tell her parents. But it really made me angry and I don’t really enjoy having to be like that. I don’t like tattling to parents but I wasn’t about to let him get away with the behavior either.

Janice made a return to my schedule and I will say that I found it very refreshing to be able to teach her. We had the first session via Skype and I had forgotten how difficult it is to teach on that platform. You really can only have conversation classes. Zoom is a far better platform for teaching online. They have a whiteboard, You can also draw on the screen, and they have a remote control feature where you can give your student access so that they can click on stuff and be interactive. The problem with Zoom is that only forty minuted of use is free. Anything more you need to pay for. If Janice and I continue online then maybe I will consider buying a subscription. She made a nice replacement for Felix who is still away in Algeria.

My temper was extremely frayed as well because all of my tech deciding not to work all at once. First, the backup computer mouse function went away for a good hour and I couldn’t restart it. It turns out I had pressed down on the trackpad and activated something weird. Other pieces of tech not related to teaching also decided to act up causing me to have to run around to get everything fixed. Which wasted precious time that I could’ve used lesson planning. I never believed that Mercury being in retrograde caused tech to fail. I always thought it was hippy trippy nonsense. I believe it now.

Jasper’s parents Are staying with me. They arrived on Friday and are staying here until the 17th. So there will be lots of stuff to do with them, but in the middle, I have to sandwich my lesson planning because of my tech issues. It promises to be both fun and stressful. Jasper has been sick for about 2 1/2 weeks and that has been difficult for both of us. Because he’s been primarily staying with me. I’m not sure how much entertaining I can actually do.

My temper continued to fray at the Writers Group. We did not meet on 30 May because it is Ascension Day and that is celebrated here. By which I mean it’s a nationwide holiday. When we met this past Thursday we were mostly returning Writers with one or two new people. My bete noire, we’ll call him  Milton, was there and drove me crazy the entire time. I swear, he is somewhere on the spectrum. In addition one of the two new writers was the personality type that I really don’t like. The “I know everything better than you do, and I am going to prove it at the top of my lungs type”. Needless to say, not much writing was done.

I will say that I have been enjoying my English Center clients quite a lot. I have a 17-year-old who wants to move to Britain to study film and a 14-year-old that I’m coaching who is moving to Canada and needs help with her English. She also lives in the neighborhood and so we get to talk about the types of things that she likes to do. At least that was Thursday’s lesson. I also see her later today and will probably do more with verbs. I am planning a game for her called rather random, in which you have to answer and ask “would you rather” questions. I have an adult who is an energy trader and that has proven quite interesting. My Spanish student who wants accent reduction had been sick for two lessons was back on my schedule on Friday, as well as a young man who is trying to prepare for an English exam. It was a busy week, but fulfilling in a way that VIPKid hasn’t been. I mean, the kids are still cute and fun, but the lessons are mind-numbingly boring.

That’s all she wrote for this Inkreadable installment. But stay tuned. As always, there is more to come.