Amstelveen Anxiety

It seems, dear readers, that I am to stay in Amstelveen for the foreseeable future. Remember when I said that my niche was older men? It also seems that the only work to be had is with people in Amstelveen. My purchaser client wants to continue lessons after I come back from the US after Christmas. I also have a feeling that the Japanese couple who are a very low-level A1 will also continue with me. I’m going to have to see if I can see them on the same day. If I can get my client who wraps up with me in November to renew maybe I can do three clients on one day and not disrupt my VIPKid schedule so much. The anxiety comes from the fact that there really isn’t any other choice at the moment. It seems that TEC is suffering from too many teachers and not enough students.

Speaking of VIPKid, in addition to the issues with our schedules changing for the worse with the loss of five hours a week or seven hours a week if you work every day of class time, it seems that the worldwide expansion of VIPKid that they have been telling us about for the last year and a half or so was a bit of a scam. Yes, they are opening their market to the rest of the world. But no, current teachers do not get to access those markets and keep their current students in China. Students are being recruited on a country basis and not on a company basis. I find this a little bit ridiculous. Especially given that a lot of teachers are seeing a drop in bookings that can be quite significant. That coupled with the new Chinese regulations is going to cause some significant holes in everybody’s schedules. It would’ve been really nice to be able to count on a new different market. Not only would VIPKid have kept the teachers that they already have, but it would’ve given us all a chance to expand into these other markets. If you want to expand into the current Korean market, for example, you need to get rid of your Chinese students. It’s an either-or situation. And I think that’s horrible. What is even more of a challenge at VIPKid is that they now have 90,000 teachers and 700,000 students. That means just over 7 students a teacher, and that does not a full schedule make. And sure, I have heard all of the other teachers with their “That doesn’t account for parents booking multiple  slots” or “There are other factors involved and we are #blessed.” But I am a cynic and they ain’t seeing the holes that I am. And. I. Used. To. Be. Fully. Booked. And I am talking about 80 classes a week.

Felix and I start a two hour Sunday weekly program this week. I am kind of playing with the idea of opening up slots on Sunday to VIPKid but I am on the fence because it really isn’t that much time. The only way to do it is if I wake up really early on Sunday morning and teach until Felix gets here. So for instance,  teaching from 8 o’clock to 11 AM and then teaching Felix until one. I am not sure that I want to wake up that early on Sunday as I do need one day to sleep in.

Still, this is my dilemma and I will attack it with the ruthlessness that I usually attack most of my problems. By which I mean I’ll figure it out at the last minute. Over in the writing world, I gave up my Thursday this week to meet up with a friend who lives in the Hague. It was really nice to catch up with my friend and his son who decided that he was going to make a fort out of pillows at the restaurant we were at which was amusing. Still, I feel guilty for not being at the Writers Group as I don’t like to give up on my writing quite so easily. But there is always next week and I have updated my MacBook to another software version so let’s see if I’m able to actually log into the Internet at the bookshop this coming week.

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

Calendar Crazy

This week at Inkreadable was fairly quiet. I was able to devote three days to VIPKid and the rest to various students and my self-care regimens. which of course I will not bore you with, as they aren’t really relevant to this blog. But needless to say, everything was quite nice and easy and without stress. Until Friday, that is. Why you ask? Sit back, relax, and give me a second while I open a bottle of single malt.

Right, where was I? Oh, yes. Friday. I had kept my calendar clear of most of the teaching until Friday. TEC maintains a WhatsApp group for teachers to know about incoming students and potential clients. There was a flurry of new students and intensives (four-hour classes) through the week and I was waiting until Friday to find out whether I would be placed on any of them. It turned out that I would be placed on most of them in some capacity. Either I would share the teaching with one teacher or multiple teachers. It also transpired that I couldn’t open VIPKid bookings because I wasn’t sure about my schedule. That was OK until Friday. On Friday, I was all scheduled for TEC and could begin to look at VIPKid and what I could do for them. It happened that all of my TEC classes were too close together to be able to make it viable for me to open any classes for VIPKid any day but Thursday. And now, dear readers, the plot thickens.

I misread my schedule. On two different fronts. In the first place, I misread Thursday as Friday and so opened up VIPKid slots on Friday the 30th that I shouldn’t have. So I had to cancel them. That’s three more cancellations for this contract. And it’s only August. I now have just over a month until my contract renews in September and I’m now doubly worried that I won’t get a raise. In addition, I haven’t been working as much for VIPKid and so my raise potential is in jeopardy because of that as well.

Things in TEC land we’re not particularly copacetic either. While on a Skype call, at 5:45 in the evening on Friday, I realized that I had been an even bigger mistake. On 30 August I double booked myself in a way that would be impossible. I booked an 11 to 12:30 PM class in Amstelveen, And then to top it all off I agreed to teach from 12:30 to 2:30 in the city center. My meltdown during the Skype call was epic. I literally started hyperventilating over the phone. Luckily, the person that I was with understood and was able to talk me off the ledge. But it was terrible. What followed was a flurry of very agitated thinking out loud, phone calls, and mad dash typing of emails to figure out if I could change the lesson in Amstelveen from 11 o’clock in the morning to 9:30 in the morning. Thankfully my student was able to do it. But I was not able to find out about whether the location would be available until almost 11 pm on Friday evening. It is the house of the owners of TEC and I was unsure whether they would allow me to teach at 9:30 in the morning since I wasn’t sure what was considered too early. To say that it was a fraught Friday would be the greatest of understatements. Luckily I was on my own on Friday evening and could calm down before I saw Jasper. I was secretly thankful that he decided to stay home on Friday evening and then I didn’t have to cook or do anything more challenging than to use my microwave.

Having decided to try and figure out my calendar issues, I downloaded Google Calendar to see if that might help me juggle all three of my schedules. Well, all four if you consider my personal schedule as well. I will tell you that it didn’t really help on Friday night as I wasn’t able to see the cluster fuck that was 30 August. The jury is still out on that. I will, of course, keep you posted.

Writers Group this week was not a particularly productive experience for me. In addition to worrying about my schedule for VIPKid, TEC, and my students, my tech issues at the bookshop continue and I am not able to connect to the Internet there. As a result, I had to use my hotspot. Which I don’t like doing because that’s for emergencies. And the bookstore is not usually an emergency. But it turns out that I had a class on Friday that needed sorting out and I needed the Internet for that. I tell you it’s been a week. I don’t think I want to repeat it.

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

Teacher Troubled

It’s been a fairly quiet week at Inkreadable. While I still have a lot of teaching commitments they are slowly winding down in advance of my trip to Greece from the 11th to 21 July. I will attempt to write a blog post about some of the things that I experience in Greece while I am there. But for now, it is still Amsterdam and there are still two more posts till then.  We start, as ever, in the suburbs of Amsterdam where Carlton is the main reason for this week’s post title. He continued with his mantra of “I do not want to finish with you, miss. I love doing homework with you, miss.” And of course, there’s my jaded knee jerk reaction of ‘Yeah, as if, kid.” This causes me quite a bit of conflict as I have a really hard time justifying going out to him every Tuesday evening. By the time I calculate preparation hours, commuting hours, and actual teaching time, this client ends up being just short of a minimum wage job here in the Netherlands. Which means about eight euros an hour. It doesn’t really make it worth it for me. Given that the negotiations with his mom were so fraught when we first started in January, I am going to raise my rate about 30%, but am not at all confident that I will be able to get it. They had already talked me down from my standard rate, claiming that it was not worth it for a child to charge my habitual rate. Which is very strange. Because I remember my parents doing everything they could to help me overcome the various learning disabilities that I had as a child. But that is in the future nearer to the end of the summer than now and we will revisit it in a subsequent post, dear readers. back to Tuesday’s lesson. We spent an hour on dictation with Carlton focusing on his listening skills, as well as his spelling skills. In particular, he struggles with capitalization, spacing, and punctuation. The last two are particularly difficult for him. He mostly remembers putting a capital letter at the beginning of a sentence, but really struggles to write spacing correctly. That is, he put spaces in between the letters of words, but not spaces between the words themselves. As a result, when he writes it looks like one long string of letters. Making it very difficult to read. My solution for this was to write out a sentence correctly and have him copy it is exactly as he could. I told his mom that he was still struggling with this and recommended that they have him practice that with a family member as well. She was receptive to the suggestion and we’ll see if he improves in this goal later tonight.

Felix and I got back into the swing of things with his lessons. And shocker of shockers, I discovered through various textbooks that I have as a result of both the English Center and my own purchases, that we have done every single solitary bit of English grammar at least once. So now it becomes a race to see what other things that I can teach him in the context of reading, writing, speaking, and listening. On Wednesday, we went over the difference between present continuous and present simple. Felix still struggles with adding an S at the end of the third person plural. In addition, when telling a story, he has a tendency to say “he said me” and not  ‘he said to me’ or “he told me” so we worked on that as well. I think the model of going through the books that I have and doing a bit more listening skills exercises might be good at this point for Felix. As well as to get him Writing a bit on his own. I’m a little bit troubled here as well because he is still at a B1 level. Part of the problem is that I think he speaks only to his boyfriend in English. And I don’t think he is by any means fluent. I have tried to get him to go to the English language café but have been thus far and successful. I think it would be very good for him, to get practice with more native speakers in the room than me. And there are a few of us at these cafés. I’ll keep trying and see what happens.

Over at the English Center, I wound up with two of my clients, but still have remaining lessons with my real estate executives, my shared student who is moving to Canada, and I got a third student who will continue with me when I come back from Greece. I’m leaving from the 11th to 21 July and will have two lessons with him on Wednesday evenings after I get back. I do hope to get more bookings from them while I am in Greece that I can accept.

The past couple of weeks I cut down my VIPKid classes fairly significantly. Where I was doing 30 hours a week from the beginning of the year, which was already cut down from the 36-40 that I used to work, I am now doing about 18 hours. I must say that I am loving the change but not loving the guilt that I feel whenever a parent asks me for a priority booking. I decided that my last day teaching would be 5 July which is next Friday. I am going to focus only on my own and The English Center clients that I have from the sixth until the 11th. In fact, I did this on purpose scheduling many different things on those days that would make it impossible to teach for VIPKid. I hope that continues So that VIPKid is relegated, as you know, to a side job and not my main bread and butter.

On the writing front, by which I mean my own writing, I haven’t been doing too much of that. It has been unbearably hot in Amsterdam over the last couple of Thursdays and the bookstore where we meet has no air-conditioning. As we are on the third floor that makes for an impossible writing situation and so we’ve been foregoing writing for Hemingway evenings instead. Which is just a fancy way of saying we go down to the local pub and drink instead.  And talk writing. Also my writing has become more difficult because my computer is on the fritz still. Things are getting worse with the Mac and it takes two or three times to use my shift key to make a capital letter. In my research, I’ve decided to forgo the best laptop in the world, which is a Huawei Matebook. At least for now. That company is having so much trouble that I am not sure that they’re going to be around with their laptops much longer. So I’ve decided to look at Dell again. I’d have them previously in my academic and work life and found that they were good. They also have some very small very thin ones and that’s what I want. Plus they’re a lot cheaper than the Huawei. But the research into a new computer continues as it’s not a rush. Although my eyes are feeling the difference between my Mac and my refurbished HP which I teach from. It’s like night and day. And I mean that literally. The crispness of the Mac Is so much better than the struggle that I have even trying to see my students in the classroom from the HP. Actually, I think there is a rush to get a new computer. I can almost feel my eyes going worse and worse as a result of how I’m teaching now.

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.

A Glimmer of Hope

It took almost a year after my mom died for me to start writing again. I was still attending the Washington Creative Writers Club, but I wasn’t reading my own work for critique. I was an active commentator, but working on my novel would take an energy that I didn’t have.  As for Inkreadable Kids, with my mom’s death, I didn’t have the wherewithal or the emotional capacity for teaching. Teaching is difficult enough when the subjects are Math, English, and the like. Trying to convince kids to love writing as much as I did? That ambition died as well. I could barely sustain the dog and pony show that is front of house food retail management. Plus dealing with the financial consequences of my mom’s death took over that first year and a bit.

In the fall of 2015, I came to Amsterdam. One of the benefits of going to WIS and having 45 people in your graduating class is that it was very easy to keep in contact with your classmates. Some of us formed bonds that endure to this day. I had friends from WIS in Amsterdam and had been coming to the city for a number of years. That year, as always, I stayed with my friend Jasper. We have a complicated history, Jasper and I. His sister Anneke was in my grade and we were best friends from the 7th to 9th grade. He was in the grade below us. When Jasper and I first met, he broke my glasses. Thankfully, things went uphill from there. WIS had combined the 6th and 7th-grade beginner French classes into one, and the three of us were in the same class. I can rather smugly say that I still have my French skill, but Jasper claims not to. I’m not sure about Anneke. I’ll have to ask her.

In 1993 I left Washington and went to Boston University. I majored in Physics and stuck with the program for two years before I was able to admit that as much as I love the sciences, they didn’t love me back. Anneke and I remained friends though we weren’t in as much contact as she had moved to the Netherlands. Jasper and I became extremely close during my first year of university, and I would see him when I came home. We would continue this practice the next year when he too left for the Netherlands as his parents lived, and still live, in DC.

It was Jasper that I went to in 2014 after being with my sister.  I spent a week wandering the city while Jasper worked. It was here that I finally started to reconnect with my writing in various cafes around the city. A few words at a time but it was enough. I was starting to see light at the end of the tunnel that was my grief. It would be another year before I was ready to think about my own future and what I wanted to do with myself.

I knew that food retail wasn’t what I wanted to do, and, even though my family owned the company I worked for, there wasn’t room to grow. Also, I had decided that I wanted to move back to Scotland, and started thinking about the ways in which I could do that.  It would be a year before I could make any moves at all, and I didn’t know then that current events would conspire to work against me.

Summer 2015 brought many changes to my family. My sister Alex got married at the beginning of September. We all went to Greece for the wedding, including my sister Taty. Bringing her to Greece had long been a dream of both my parents. I was really happy that Taty finally got to see Greece, as I had carried around a lot of unacknowledged guilt that I got to go on trips with my family but that Taty didn’t. Taty is handicapped, though I prefer to use the term handicapable. Taty had never been to Europe so this was a real treat. After Greece, I went as was becoming habitual for me, to Amsterdam to see Jasper. It was to be a life-changing trip. On the edge of your laptop? Good. That’s up next.

That’s it for this Inkreadable Installment. As always, stay tuned. There is more to the story.