Charming Chania

I wasn’t sure, dear readers, if I was going to be able to find much to say on vacation. But of course, there’s always something to say about a beautiful town. I’m not sure if any of you have been to Crete, but those of you who have will know what I’m talking about. After five days hanging out with my twin sister, we were able to do a bit of our own wandering about. I really do like Chania. It is one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful, towns in Crete. A friend of mine who visited a couple of weeks ago would agree. She has fallen in love with the city.

While, I don’t think that I could work here within the system, as things are a little bit chaotic and disorganized, I do think that I could retire here. It is much less expensive than Amsterdam, certainly. My only concern is that I would be bored with nine or ten months of sun and heat, just as I am bored with nine or ten months of gray, rainy, cold weather in Amsterdam. To be fair, however, I am not a hot weather person. I don’t mind the heat, but I don’t like heat where the only thing you can do is lay around on the beach like a sloth. I find that very tiring.

So I figured out a compromise, I will come to Crete from January until the end of June, stay in Amsterdam from mid-June to mid-September, and then back to Crete for the rest of the year. Of course, that won’t be for a while yet. The question of my sister remains unsolved. Since I will have to take care of her at some point, always in the back of my mind looms the idea that I will have to go back to the United States. Which I don’t particularly want to do.

Anyways, back to Chania. I will attach pictures to this post for the first time ever. I’m not sure that I’ll be able to do it it’ll be an interesting technical conundrum. I do hope that it’s easy. Chania has been around forever. It has been occupied by many cultures including the Phoenicians, the Turks, and Moors. My brother-in-law has a restaurant here called “SALIS”. The name comes from an African man who moved here in the late part of the 19th century with his parents. In the Great Exchange, when Turks born in Crete and Cretans born the Ottoman Empire were sent back to their “homelands” he stayed in Chania. He was a porter, by trade and ferried people back-and-forth from the big ships just outside the harbor to the town. The story goes that he had a very good heart and would provide marriage settlements for the girls in town could not afford them. Thereby ensuring their future. The western woman looking through the lens of western culture that I am now, tends to be enraged by the practice of marriage settlement and the selling of young women. Because that’s what it is. But the writer in me is fascinated by the idea of how people got together and how they made marriage and life work. Were they all unhappy? Or was the love to be found in a situation where you probably didn’t know your spouse before the wedding at all. Maybe you met them I handful of times under the supervision of a broker or family members. I didn’t really ask my grandmother how she married my grandfather, nor have I asked my aunt their experiences, As I know for a fact those were two very painful experiences. Salis is still known and talked about by people in Chania today.

Our hotel, pictured below, which is the old British consulate back when the island was an independent country for about 14 years. The inside kind of reminds me of my grandmother’s living room, but that seems to work as modern furnishings wouldn’t work.

It’s not a very good picture but through the trees, you can see the house of the first Prime Minister of Greece. Eleftherios Venizelos is the true creator of modern Greece and the one who is responsible for the Cretan union with Greece.

The best part of walking into town from the hotel is the view. The street that we walked down is named after Venizelos. In DC, otherwise known to me as “home home”, Massachusetts Avenue is the avenue where all the embassies are. Venizelou is that street for Chania. The former Austro-Hungarian embassy, as well as many other palatial buildings,  are on that walk. It’s on the water so there is a constant breeze. Alas, it wasn’t possible to get a shot of them to show you.

The first picture shows my favorite view of the old town, and the second picture is the Venetian lighthouse. It is possible to go and walk to the lighthouse, but I have never done because I am a chicken and the walkway is the size of a ruler. I do not really relish falling into the water.

Our trip back to Amsterdam was uneventful, and we both quickly got back into the drudgery, I mean swing, of work and everyday life in Amsterdam. We came back loaded with many delicacies, including olives, cheese, carob rusks, and dried nectarines, which I love. My sister has opened a shop with her art and had the grand opening on Friday. Needless to say, we brought back a bunch of her ceramics.  Check out her amazing stuff on Instagram.

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

Carlton Closure and Scheduling Stupidity

Greetings from warm, sunny Crete, lovely people. This past week at Inkreadable was full of running around, cancellations, and other scheduling stupidities. Remember when I said last week that I wasn’t going to ever teach at 5:30 in the morning in the Netherlands? Well, an itchy trigger finger made a liar out of me. I was accepting bookings for Tuesday 23 July and accidentally excepted a priority booking request at, Yep, you guessed it, 5:30 in the morning. I am conflicted about what to do. In the first place, I don’t necessarily want to wake up that early. But I also don’t want a second cancellation on my record. My options are twofold: I can wake up, teach, and then go back to bed. Or I can wake up, teach, and then go to the gym. Part of me thinks the punishment of waking up and teaching might be worth it. I like the student, she is a regular, and she’s a higher level. So it makes it a lot easier.

Over in the suburbs of Amsterdam, 2 July proved to be difficult for Carlton as he was ill. But his mom would rather put me and all of my other students at risk rather than take a €40 hit. While he wasn’t so sick that he was coughing or feverish, he was droopy and unresponsive. Once again, his head was mostly on the table. I think I may have mentioned that they overpaid me in June. It turns out it was for the July 2 lesson. She let me know at midnight on July 9 that Carlton was going on vacation and was not going to have a final lesson. She also said that we could discuss dates for the next year. I told her that I would have to charge for the missed lesson and she got a bit irate. So I said that all of the schools that I taught for, gave a 48-hour policy and so my own policy of 24 hours was quite generous. I also said that if she wasn’t willing to pay for the missed lessons, then I would not be able to continue. I wished her all the best, as she did with me, And thus ended the Carlton conundrum. Cute kid is a cute kid, but business is business. Either I will find other work or I will try to increase my availability for The English Center.

Speaking of English Center, I wrapped up my two real estate executives and was overjoyed that they want to book me for another 10 1 1/2 hour lessons starting in September. I still have to finish up with my Italian student, who was a no-show to our lesson last Wednesday. He tried his best, but traffic jammed him up, Pun intended. He was trying to get to me for the first half-hour of the lesson. It was annoying that it was a wasted trip to the location in Amstelveen. But I still got paid so that’s OK. When I come back I have two more lessons with him. On 24 July I have my first ever professional development seminar offered by The English Center. I’ve also got a student starting on August1 4th for an intensive course. I am co-teaching that one with a colleague. But because I have the first three days, I am also a lead teacher. It’s not a position I’ve ever been and I’m looking forward to it.

Lastly, Felix and I met on Monday before I left, but he canceled the Wednesday class. Which was OK for me because I needed to do other things. Also, he adhered to policy. This time. Janice and I continue with Skype lessons but I hope to see her in person once her house is sorted out.

That’s all she wrote for this Inkreadable installment. I’m off to sit on the beach. But stay tuned.  As always, there is more to come.

VIPKid (and Everyone Else) Vacation

From tomorrow, I will officially be on vacation. From everyone. By that I mean, from Felix, Carlton, Janice, And, of course, VIPKid. Although my vacation from VIPKid actually started last Friday. It taught me something: people don’t read. From the moment I put myself on vacation, as one can do in their schedules on VIPKid’s website, parents have been asking me for priority booking l. I have even informed them via feedback that I am leaving. Still, they book me. I don’t know whether to be happy that they love me so much, or whether to be chagrined that they don’t read. Also, I’m noticing that I’m having some very weird timeslots being asked for. For instance, I have one student who consistently asks me for 5:30 in the morning my time. I did that in the States for a month last year. I refuse to do it this year. I will never work at 5:30 in the morning here in the Netherlands. I think it’s simply too much.

Once again last week, on Tuesday, Carlton’s mother let me know that he was sick and would not be having class. I told her that was OK but that I would have to charge her for the lesson as that is my policy. Her response was to come back and say that we would then have a lesson. This put me once again in the position of having to get to a lesson where my student is sick, putting me and potentially my other students at risk of also getting sick. I decided that if I was going to go teach a sick kid I would go and teach him at 6:30 and not at the 5:30 time that I was used to going to teach him. I thought perhaps that that would allow him to potentially get a bit better on his own. Alas, it was not to be. He was a sulky child for the first 20 minutes of the lesson. Head on the table, really tired, not really engaging. I find that when parents don’t want to take the hit for tutors who have a policy like mine ultimately results in a subpar lesson with their kid. I also got paid for Carlton’s June sessions. His parents put me in a bit of a pickle, however, because they overpaid me. I checked my invoice and I did give them a correct invoice with the right amount. They paid me for an extra hour. I’m not ungrateful, truly. But I report a certain amount to the Dutch tax office and if the bank deposit and the invoice do not match, that might be a problem for me. I think I’m going to have to ask my accountant what to do about that.

I really would love to know how The English Center maintains its policy of a 48-hour cancellation and otherwise, the lesson is charged. And I know for a fact that they charge their customers much more than I do mine. Someday when I get up the courage I’m going to have to ask about that. Speaking of English Center, I wrapped up my lessons with three of my clients and there are two clients that remain. One is a semi-private lesson that finishes up tomorrow. And the other one is a private lesson with an Italian client who is looking to improve his business English as he works for an American company. He is a sales rep for the Italian market and so does most of his work in Italian on the phone, but hast to him put his notes on the calls in English as the company is American. I foresee that this is what we are going to be working on over the next three lessons one tonight and two once I come back from Greece.

Janice and I have been having Skype lessons as she has been quite busy with the house move and other various things that eat up her time so that she cannot come to the Starbucks at Amsterdam’s Central Station to meet in person. Skype is working surprisingly well with her as we tend to make them conversation lessons. We are friendly enough that we find things to talk about all the time. When we have in-person lessons I actually do grammar. It’s not as fun.

By far the highlight of my week had to do with Felix. He got a job. He is going to be a French/English speaking customer service representative for Nike here in Amsterdam. I was so proud of him because we had prepped so hard in general for jobs but we also prepped extra hard last Tuesday before his interview. He did so well that they hired him on Wednesday. He sent me a text after our lesson to let me know. At some point, we’re going to have to go out and celebrate.

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

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.