Salary Snafu, Amstelveen Antics and Productive Prose

This week at Inkreadable proved to be an interesting time indeed. And I do mean that in the sense of the Chinese curse. I have been with VIPKid for three years have signed my seventh contract and have gotten a raise. For the last year and eight months, I have been receiving my payment into my Dutch bank account. That’s 20 successful payments. All of a sudden in September, my August payment did not hit the account at its usual time of the seventh of the month. I spent last week in a flurry of tickets with the company trying to figure out what was wrong with my payment. They claim that my payment information was incorrect. But how can that be? I received 20 payments successfully into my bank account. TWENTY. Not one, not two, but 20. All of a sudden VIP kid says my banking information is incorrect? As Vizzini from The Princess Bride says  “That is inconceivable”. Or if you prefer, bullshit. Nevertheless, I went in and re-entered my banking details again. And had to spend a weekend full of angst as to whether I would get paid or not. Which didn’t make the Amsterdam detective day that I participated in on Saturday as fun as it could’ve been. As of Monday, the money hadn’t hit my account. You should see the volume of tickets that I sent to VIPKid showing bank statements and payments and banking details. I also made the comment that VIPKid should take care of the transfer fees because it was their mistake in the first place. Three guesses as to whether I will win that battle. But the snafu also puts my plan not to work at Christmas in jeopardy. Because if they don’t pay me I need to pull from savings and that I didn’t want to do.

Amstelveen is proving to be a more difficult commute than I thought. It simply doesn’t make it worth it for me to go out there for less than two or three students. It takes all of an hour and a half to get there and if I’m only staying for an hour, even if they’re paying for my travel it’s a hell of an inconvenience. In the first place, the buses run every half hour. So if you miss one you’re going to be late. What sucks about the situation is that I now have four clients out there for the English center and I can’t manage to get them all in one day. It makes for every chance home life as well because I haven’t seen Jasper as often. There’s no point in him coming to me if I’m not there. In addition, I have had to impose on the hospitality of Jasper’s family. His cousin lives not too far from where I teach and when I have a three-hour break between classes I have been imposing on her. After all, I do not want to hang out for three hours at my boss’s house. What’s that you say? You say the solution is simple? I shouldn’t teach in Amstelveen? You are, dear reader, absolutely right. The problem is, because I’m already there it makes more sense currently to add hours then take them away. I have five lessons with the Japanese couple left, I have five lessons with a dutch client, I am starting lessons with a young man focusing on reading and writing. And I still have two clients in the city walking distance from my house. It is a conundrum to be sure but I hope to have it resolved before I leave in December for the states.

Over at the bookstore, Internet issues continue to keep me busy writing. This week was a combination of both writing new stuff and continuing the story, as well as going back and looking at people’s comments from years ago in DC and editing around them. It ended up being 1000 words total which was a great thing. In addition, the edit was so obvious and simple, but I was wondering why I haven’t done it before now. The answer is that sometimes and sometimes you over at the bookstore, Internet issues continue to keep me busy writing. This week was a combination of both writing new stuff and continuing the story, as well as going back and looking at peoples comments and editing around them. It ended up being 1000 words total which was a great thing. In addition, the edit was so obvious and simple, but I was wondering why I haven’t done it before now. The answer is that sometimes editing isn’t simple and sometimes you can’t write yourself or your characters out of that corner. Just because the editing was successful this week, doesn’t mean the rest of the edits will and man, are there a lot of them. The first complete edit of the manuscript will only happen when it’s finished. And I have no idea when that will be. In the meantime, I plod along trying to fix the things that I can without disrupting too much of the story. All in all, I’m pleased with the productivity of my Thursday night writing. I need to figure out a way to make that possible on a daily level.

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

Relished Return

I quite surprised myself this week at Inkreadable. It’s not in my nature to brood for a very long time. It is in my nature to talk out my issues with whoever wants to listen to them. Sometimes I do it on this blog, and sometimes I do it in person with friends that I feel close to and can trust. I decided, therefore, that I was not going to worry about the upheaval that comes with English language teaching, sometimes. Like the proverbial duck, I’m going to let all the negativity slide off my back and get on with life. I can be quite ruthless when I do that. This past week I did just that.

I pushed the loss of the private student in Amstelveen into the back of my mind and have focused on the student that remains. Last night I picked up a semi private lesson from my “boss”. The semi private is a Japanese couple who tend to take classes once a week and bring their kids with them. She thought that I would be a good fit because maybe I could manage both the kids and the parents at the same time. I don’t think she realizes that I haven’t actually dealt with kids in real life in about six years. At least not in a teaching capacity. The parents have a fairly low level of English. I was agonizing over what to do with them, but I got a very nice handover email from my boss and was able to make a lesson. In addition, I went to visit a friend in town on Saturday and she gave me another idea. Apparently, in her Dutch classes the teacher would make the students pair up and sit back to back and have a telephone conversation in Dutch. As that was what my boss was working on in the last class with the students, I adopted This idea and changed a little bit to focus on their level. It seemed to work very well.

Yesterday also marks the return of my real estate executive dynamic duo. I was extremely happy to see them. But had to make the lesson a bit of a check-in lesson, to see how they want to structure the next 15 hours. One cannot live on boxing, motor yachting, and Formula 1 podcasts alone. So I spent the first half-hour of the lesson redoing a getting to know you session. I find that it’s important to do that with returning students because you don’t want to get into a situation where the student doesn’t like the lesson. You all remember what happened a few weeks ago. Well, I learned from my mistakes and in order not to have someone be unhappy with my lesson I let them help me design it. It was a joyful reunion with these two men as we have quite a bit in common. I also got a chance to hear how they spent their summers. Since they’re friends, as well as colleagues, and like some of the same things they are pretty easy to deal with. I do think I’ll have to devise more speaking activities for them. And I always have to remember that when I leave the room to go to the bathroom, they switch to Dutch. And I’m not sure how to be able to stop that trend beyond yelling “English in class, boys”.

If you haven’t checked out, beta.freerice.com You really should. If you are an English language teacher reading this blog I can’t say enough good things about this site. Another teacher turned me onto it and I’ve been using it with Felix for the last couple of weeks. It is a vocabulary program where you play a game and donate 10 grains of rice to the UN world food program every time you get a word right. I have made it a little difficult for Felix because I make him choose the definition but then I make him analyze the word: part of speech, meaning, and using it in a sentence. In this way we are building his vocabulary and having fun at the same time. I also found vocabulary.com and Dictionary.com which both have different features that are interesting when teaching. On the first website you can actually play listening games with the words. It helps pronunciation. And dictionary.com has a spelling app which could possibly help with writing.

Speaking of writing, the trend of actually writing in the bookstore continues with me being able to get 500 to 1000 words a week. This is exciting stuff. I haven’t been so productive since Nanowrimo. And I mean Nanowrimo 2011. It’s amazing how much I can get done when not distracted by the internet.

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

Wrenching Realization

This week at Inkreadable was fairly quiet. At least, in terms of VIPKid as I had a lot of lessons with TEC. In fact, I only gave VIPKid four hours this week. In the first place, school has started back up in China and so there are less 10 AM bookings to be had. And I think the kids are trying to get back in the swing of the school year and so they’re not going to be booking as readily as they will in about a month. I have made up for my lack of VIPKid time this week, however. My new strategy with managing my schedules after the kerfuffle of last week is to give The English Center and my private students priority in my schedule and then try and schedule VIPKid around them. I am hopeful that it will work better.

Over at The English Center, things have gotten better with a few new clients primarily in Amstelveen, but I also lost a client this week to some group classes. I guess that’s the nature of the job. But what I’m finding out as I go along in this new world tiptoeing around with children and adults, Is it no one is going to look after my interest except me. And as is in the rest of the English language teaching world, the teaching of adults is also very “the customer is king” based. Particularly at the expense of the teacher. I had a student cancel with me on Monday at 11:30 AM and then keep the lesson, and then cancel the lesson on Tuesday at 2 PM when his lesson was at six that day. What I didn’t realize is that while there’s a 48-hour policy to the English Center, there is a 24-hour policy to the teacher. I did not know that as that is not explicitly stated anywhere in my contract (I checked). I thought the 48-hour policy was across the whole company. The English Center decided to honor the original cancellation for the students and so I could not bill the hours. Now that I know that I know how to proceed. I can’t say that I’m not upset about it. I am.  Because I was ready to teach, and feel that the latest of the cancellations should have been honored as that would have been fair to me, but it further demonstrates that sometimes it’s every teacher for themselves and that teachers are considered expendable. And I find that very sad. Hence the title of this post today.

Thankfully I still have my private students, but for now, it’s only Felix.  He is easy as I see him twice a week for an hour, and I can test out different ways to teach concepts before I spring them on anyone else. Janice has not taken a class in a few weeks as she is taking a coding course and will be back when she has finished with it. I find myself missing former students like Katya who I haven’t seen in many many moons. She is one busy little girl. And then there’s my Greek student given to me by Lexis Amsterdam who I haven’t seen in almost a year.

My tech issues continue at the bookstore on Thursday nights, and I have decided to use this as an opportunity to be productive. This week it was 1000 words of text. I’m not sure it was very good text but that’s what editing is for.  I went to Antwerp on Saturday with a friend from the writer’s group. What do you do when you go to Antwerp, you ask? Chocolate, pretty buildings, and shiny rocks, of course. The fourth one on the top row we named “The Fancy Pants Man”, because of his fancy pants his prancing gait, and his attitude. There were so many building from the Beaux-Arts period, below are a sampling. There were also notable examples of the Art Nouveau period jewelry in the DIVA (The diamond museum), but I didn’t know if I could take pictures so I didn’t. Antwerp is definitely worth a second visit if only for more chocolate.

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

TEC Trauma

Every time I post about a bad review on VIPKid (of which there have only been 10, out of 2100), I’m doing so from a place of both frustration and a bit of hurt. On the last one, I found that I wasn’t as affected by the bad view even though VIPKid would not invalidate it. The same is not true of the English Center. Last Monday evening(not yesterday), I taught a woman from France who really was quite advanced, I approached my lesson, as I do with all my lessons, using reading. writing. speaking. and listening as the guides for tasks for the students to do. For instance, in reading, I’ll find an article that is appropriate for the client’s job or interest. In writing, I will do some business email correction and also ask the student to bring in articles of their own. Speaking happens throughout the class but I formulate it to try and practice verb tense for the most part. And listening can be easy when you know the student and what their likes and dislikes are. I used that framework with Monday evening’s student as well. But I think I had an inkling from the beginning that things were not going to go well with the student. She did not engage with me in conversation even though I asked her questions and generally didn’t like the lesson. Even so, she didn’t tell me right then, she sent an email to the company. Long story short, I was taking off for lessons and I got a very well-phrased, but traumatizing email from the English Center about how I had to step up my game. It’s hard not to take things personally. Particularly when the email is phrased “the student thought you were wonderful personally but was very unhappy with the lesson.” In addition, the email put the fear of God into me over the next lesson that I had which was a four hour intensive with a Dutch woman who works at the University of Applied Sciences.

In that case, I needn’t have worried. I still used the same approach, reading, writing speaking, and listening with this student. But this student wanted grammar and so the first lesson was spent reviewing every single tense. As it was necessary for the next few lessons, we spent almost the whole four-hour block doing them. But I have learned my lesson from Monday. I have learned that you need to check in with the student. And so that is what I’m doing from now on. In many ways, it makes it much more interesting but also much harder than VIPKid, where are you follow a curriculum of sorts. With TEC you have to make the lesson yourself and sometimes you don’t really have an idea of what the student wants.

Wednesday was a bit of a packed day for me. I took four hours with the Dutch student we’ll call her Alice, and then went to observe a fellow teacher teaching a group of teenage boys. Which was quickly followed by coffee for about 45 minutes with a fellow VIPKid teacher here in the Netherlands, and then I had to go and teach Janice. The upshot of all that running around was that I was very tired but I gained something from it. I told the other teacher of the situation and what had happened on Monday and she agreed with me that she would’ve been knocked back and it would’ve taken her a couple of days to get over it.

While the bad class was on Monday and I could have possibly written it into the blog post on Tuesday, the bad feedback did not come through until Tuesday evening which is why you guys are just hearing about it now. I also managed to use the incident as a teaching tool in the context of women in power. With Alice, I  showed her a video on Thursday about the COO of Facebook giving a talk about women in positions of power and how few there are in high executive positions in the corporate world. And how we do that to ourselves. This sparked a wonderful discussion about how, all over the world, the Netherlands included, women, are not able to climb the corporate ladder in the same way as men. About the fact that there is no cost to men for children in terms of their jobs. While for women it’s very hard to get back to a job after taking time off to have a kid. I had thought that the Netherlands was more copacetic about that than most other places. It turns out I was wrong.

I lost sleep over the bad review, dear readers. Nobody wants to think that they’re a bad teacher. But as Jasper pointed out and as I came to realize later in my talks with Alice. No one is going to match with everyone. And also I shouldn’t have lost sleep over it because as Alice put it, a man gets a bad review or does something wrong at the office, and he shrugs it off and get on with it. Women internalize and over analyze and process in a way that is a bit self-sabotaging. Instead of saying: “All right I got a bad review” and going on with my life, I have been processing the incident for a week. And probably will continue to do so. The bottom line dear readers. Is that I can change my approach as much as I want to but if I don’t change my internal thinking and the way that I look at myself in the mirror, I won’t be all right in my own mind.

Over at Writers Group on Thursday evening tech issues abounded as I still could not connect to the Internet at the bookshop. As a test, I went into the pub that we have drinks at and couldn’t connect there either. It’s funn.y because over at the teaching location with Alice, I connected to the Internet just fine. I do hate unresolved problems and this too will eat at me for a while. On the bright side,  the lack of Internet forces me to write and I got quite a bit of stuff done.

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

Teaching Tactics

Classroom management is extremely easy when you only have one or two students. If those students are adults, management is dreamlike in its simplicity. In the first place, a couple of students will listen to the teacher and perform tasks easily. There can be a lot of humor involved in the classroom as with my two real estate executives. They are coming back to me in September for a further 15 hours. I guess I’m doing something right with them. A little bit more of a challenge for me is classroom management when it’s more than a few students. I haven’t been in a classroom with 10 students in a while. In fact, the last time I was in a classroom, was when I was doing my CELTA. I am a little bit afraid of trying to manage a classroom, because as funny as adults can be, and as conversational as the class can be, it’s still a classroom and you still need to deal with people. The solution is to watch how other people do it. And that’s what’s in the works for next week.

I am also finding it difficult to manage my schedule still. I have had a couple of unexpected teaching gigs as people are looking for work and need help with interview skills. I have discovered that it’s quite difficult to do interview role-plays via Skype. At least, difficult while you are sitting at a bookstore during Writers Group. That was the situation last Thursday with Janice. I had seen her on Wednesday evening for the Amsterdam language café and she asked me if I could help her with an interview the following day. The challenge is that at the bookstore I cannot connect to their Internet. I haven’t been able to in two weeks. So I’ve had to use my hotspot to actually teach from. While there was no tech issue teaching, I found it very challenging and difficult not to be stressed out by the situation. If it happens again I’m going to have to figure something out.

I also might have a new student, through the language café as well. But as with private teaching, it’s never a guarantee. This was exemplified as well at TEC this week. I was supposed to go to the Hague on the 19th and 20th of the month to teach a four hour intensive along with another teacher. But the student never got back to TEC. Which I find is a shame. I have a few friends in the Hague but I would love to go see. Teaching a four hour intensive until the afternoon would’ve been the perfect excuse to stay in the Hague a little bit and see my friends. But it was not to be. Instead, I will be going to Amestelveen to teach two students.

I am also teaching another French speaker. I love teaching French speakers. It gives me a chance to practice my French but also I can teach them in their language and they seem to appreciate being given the corresponding French for the points I am teaching.

Finally, I did manage to get some writing done before I had to teach Janice on Thursday evening. It wasn’t much. But I am finding that the upside to not having Internet in the Writers Group is that I can get more writing done and it is of a better quality. I once saw a graph on Facebook that was a pie chart showing that 99% of rating was goofing off on Internet and one percent was actually writing. So true, Internet, so true.

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

Calendar Conflicts

I am finding it quite difficult to juggle my three different schedules. I have my VIPKid schedule which tends to be 90% full, 90% of the time. I am noticing that because VIPKid has hired a million and one teachers over the last year and a half that I do see holes in my schedule. Holes that don’t fill. I think it is time for me to start opening up my weekend once again. I just don’t want to have to do that. In addition, I had some really good potentials with the English center for intensive courses in the next couple of weeks but have heard nothing. That leaves me in a bit of a dilemma. Do I open up my VIPKid schedule so that I can fill the slots that are supposed to be the intensive ones for English Center? Or do I leave them closed off and try to go for short notice bookings?

But Houston, we have a problem. I am not a trial teacher. That means that my short notice bookings don’t fill in the same way that people who actually teach trials do. It is rare that my short notice classes fill up. I remember the good all days where short notice did fill up, and most of the time they were major course and not trials. I am conflicted about adding trials again. I hate trials. I hate selling the company. I hate trying to convince the parents to buy lessons. It is not my forte. There are other teachers who have a conversion rate of 60 and 70%. I am not one of those. And as is always the case with a gig economy job, one that is review based, I am hearing mixed bag reviews about trials. Apparently, they have changed so much that they don’t even match the curriculum that is actually taught in the major course curriculum. On the one hand, it might be fun to see what’s new, but on the other hand, it will be annoying to have to apologize to parents. “Sorry, Baobao’s mom. You were expecting something different from the courses? I mean entirely different? Please let VIPKid know your dissatisfaction. But please don’t give me a bad review because of it.” Personally, I think that VIPKid trials shouldn’t be eligible to leave parent feedback, especially if the parents don’t sign up.

Last week on Friday, I saw Felix for the first time in three weeks. His new job is such that he can schedule his lessons a month out. So that’s what we did I am very happy to be able to teach him even though it’s on a reduced schedule. I think we are meeting twice a week. I haven’t seen hide nor hair of Janice since the 22nd and she intimated that she wasn’t sure when she would be able to start lessons up again. There is also no word from my potential new student. Nor is there any word about the gig in the Hague In a couple weeks’ time. So you see, dear readers, hence my scheduling problems. Do I start scheduling VIPKid and book classes or do I leave it alone?

The bright spot to the week was going to Writers Group and actually getting some writing done. Despite having tech issues with my Mac that doesn’t allow me to connect to the Internet at the bookshop, I managed to get about 1000 words and use placeholders for things that I need the Internet for. Like research on Welsh magic. All in all, I’m quite happy with the return to writing.

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

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.