Classroom Cracked

I sometimes imagine, dear reader, that teaching must on some level be a little bit like cryptography. Hence this week’s title. In my last post, I was a bit worried about teaching the second of my colleague’s Intermediate Business English classes with TEC. This week’s lesson was equally as quiet as the last week. It seems that the students don’t really engage and discuss as much as I thought they might in an Intermediate Business English class. But maybe it is I who is wrong, I figured that if I gave them enough to do through the class that would keep them busy, and take the spotlight off of me which is always a good thing. Which is what I managed to do with a million and one exercises to complete from the book as well as extra exercises that I gave them from other sources that I have. As a result, I did not lose my cool not even a little, not even at all, in the words of my beloved Dr.  Suess.

Over in VIPKid land rumors are flying as to how much of a shit show it has become. They are apparently laying off 30% of their backroom staff. Teachers have already started complaining that tech-support is lacking, but to my mind, it was always lacking. There really wasn’t anything that tech-support was doing that made any difference at all. At least not to me. Then again, the amount of times that I call the fireman is few because frankly, I could care less if the student shows up or not and I’m perfectly happy to sit with the camera or covered and my microphone muted and wait for them. It doesn’t bother me in the least. Much much more worrisome to my mind is the fact that new teachers from the state of California will not be accepted into VIPKid. Which frankly seems to be a bit of an overreaction on the company’s part. On the bright side, however, that might mean more students for those of us that are already existing teachers whether from California or not. I’m going to have to wait this out.

A couple of weekends ago I went to Scotland and came home very very sick. As a result, teaching has been almost impossible. I don’t think I’ve ever taught with so bad a loss of voice as I did this past week. Thank you, so much, my beloved Edinburgh for sending me home with a gift that keeps on giving.

Because of that, there has been no writing, no Writers Group, and really not much of anything besides vegging out on the couch watching Poledark and other assorted series that are ending. Also, having 23 people over for Thanksgiving dinner did not help my voice situation in the least. I am hopeful that it clears up by Friday in time for leaving for the US. But with my luck, dear reader, I’ll probably just get another cold on the plane.

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

Classroom Chaos

While my classes may be slowing down in advance of my trip to the US, this week at Inkreadable was anything but quiet. In last week’s post, I mentioned that I would be doing a trial lesson with the Conversation Playground later in the afternoon? Well, I did. Once again in Amstelveen and had my first experience in a Dutch primary school. It was interesting, to say the least. We started off the lesson with me introducing myself and having the kids find any word with the letters of the alphabet in English, make a sentence with that word, and shoot a basketball. This allowed Dennis (we’ll call him Dennis) to prep for the rest of the games. It was quite interesting because I had never seen this particular game t wondered how I could adopt them in other aspects of teaching. The second game that was not as successful was using the past tense in English to talk about somewhere the kids had gone, and the future tense of going to to talk about something they would do later that day. And while the kids came up with interesting sentences, I think they got a little bit bored. I think one of the ways that we could have kept them engaged was to make that portion of the game as kinesthetic as the others. The last time we played it was a game called spaghetti wars and we had the kids build a very high spaghetti tower using marshmallows and spaghetti sticks.  For the record, marshmallows are gross, and Dutch marshmallows ae worse than Kraft’s Jet-Puffed ones The tallest tower was 86 cm and the shortest was 21 cm. The day was not without its drama. In a true testament to 12-year-old angst,, one of the girls got pissed off when one of the boys told her “you did nothing so can you at least clean up”, which caused her to storm out of the class shouting “all boys are… (A word I can’t write)!”. Here’s a hint though: it starts with a C and ends with a T but it was the Dutch version. Of course, I did not hear this myself but had to hear it third-party from Dennis. He was justifiably annoyed because she shouted it at the top of her lungs and two teachers heard it, turned around and knew exactly where she’d come from. So Dennis now had to write an email to the headmaster of the school, as well as the parents of the kids involved to make it less of a deal than it already was. Because of course, it reflects badly on the Conversation Playground.

Alas, dear reader, the chaos continued into the evening and this time involved me directly. I substitute a class for TEC that evening on email writing. It started out well enough with me giving some examples of email phrases and an effective way to write an email out to the students, then we proceeded to work through some of the exercises in the intermediate business English book that is published by TEC. Here’s where it gets a little bit complicated. I don’t think I did anything particularly wrong but I felt that my timing was off, that my students were not engaged and were very quiet. In retrospect, I’m not sure how I could’ve engaged the students anymore as it was a writing exercise and they didn’t seem to want to pair up. If it was just a one-off, I would feel a little bit better about saying “screw it”. But as I have to see them tonight as well, I spent a very fraught week trying to figure out how to teach them and get them engaged. I did ask them for feedback and they said they wanted some scenarios that they could write emails for that ha a role play quality role-play. So that’s what I spent some time doing before I left for Edinburgh on Friday. We’ll see how what I’ve come up with works tonight.

There was no writing for me this week as I went to a chocolate fair where I spent a total of 15 minutes trying to look for food, and another 15 minutes looking for chocolate. It was a mob scene, overcrowded and had too many strobe lights. Too much stimulation all around forced my friend tonight to leave quickly and go find someplace quiet to eat. I am hoping that next week will be better Both in terms of writing and in terms of teaching. Next week will mark my last class of this package with my Dutch real estate guys before heading off to the States. And I’m happy to report that they decided to continue with me.

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

Mercury Madness

March has its madness in America, but over here in the Netherlands mercury is going crazy. Remember last week when I posted that my tech issues at the bookstore had been resolved? That’s still fixed. However, my tech issues returned in spades when I realized that Inkreadable’s website and email access were down. It seems that my SSL certificate expired. My host claims that they sent me an email which of course I never received. The SSL certificate cost €80, and as my hosting service frankly sucks, I am now in the market for a new provider. I want someone who will be responsive to my questions and needs in a way that the current host has not been into years. And while it’s true he doesn’t charge me very much, I’m still paying and I’m still a customer. I’ve never been host hunting before. This guy that I have now was recommended by a friend of mine. I should’ve known, however, that there would be problems when I went to Greece and asked about the company, explaining my issues. To my surprise, my friend’s response was “yeah, I’m not working with them anymore”. I should’ve changed services then. But of course, there was no time. And he had been doing my work relatively quickly, as I wasn’t asking for very many things. But now things are changing. I have some very specific things that I would like to do with my website. So now I need more help. I have until 14 January to find a new host. I never believed that mercury in retrograde was a thing. I believe now.

Over in VIPKid land there is some drama that doesn’t really affect me but it’s causing everybody else to go ape shit. Apparently a new law was passed in California that gives independent contractors some of the same rights as employees. As a result, VIPKid has decided that they will no longer hire teachers from California. That’s been an interesting debate to watch on Facebook groups that I belong to that have to do with VIPKid as well as the one that I run myself. I am a bit of a cynic and I’m wondering “when’s the other shoe gonna drop?”. By which I mean I think that this is going to be a trend in America, and eventually, it might affect my work with VIPKid. Thankfully California is years ahead of everybody else so I think I have some time to figure out what I’m doing.

Felix canceled again so it was a relatively quiet weekend. Over at the English center, I am winding up with all of my students and have my last two lessons with my Dutch guys before I leave for the states. In fact, our last lesson is the Tuesday before I leave. I am hoping that they will continue with me once I am back in the Netherlands. They are very complimentary about how I give the lessons and I hope to continue with them as well. They do keep me on my toes. I am also subbing for another English Center teacher taking his Intermediate business English this evening and the following Tuesday as well. I’ll have more about that in a subsequent post. I am generally a little nervous about group classes as you know. But I do think it’s a case of once I get in there it will be fine.

Not sure if you remember dear reader, but this afternoon I am off to go play with kids in the context of English. I will probably write something about that in next Tuesday’s post as well.

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

Tech Triumphant and a Dell Dilemma

If I was a religious person, dear readers, I’d think that a higher power was looking out for me. It’s either that Or two other possibilities. It could be that Mercury is in retrograde and tech doesn’t work for me when that astrological phenomenon happens, or I have a demon on my shoulder and the Devil’s been plaguing me lo these many months. But, my dears, I’m not a religious sort of person so it can’t possibly be a higher power looking out for me. Unless that higher power is my friend Raffaele. On Thursday at the writers’ Group, he finally fixed my tech issue. I was able to write, (or not write) at the bookstore with Internet. It seems that the DNS IP addresses were blocking the signal for Wi-Fi. It took him all of two minutes to figure out and fix. And all he had to do was erase the IP addresses. That still doesn’t solve the small problem of my phone connecting to Wi-Fi in the store and then 10 minutes later having the WiFi fall out. However, this is minor in comparison to the issue of not having Wi-Fi for 6 months. It was truly wonderful being able to write and look stuff up at the same time. It almost makes me not want to give up my Mac, bad USB port and all. But don’t worry, I said almost. Which leads me to the next part of the title. I have pretty much decided, dear reader, on an XPS laptop from Dell. But the problem has become being spoiled for choice in terms of features. Like Jasper, I do not do well with choice, at least not in tech. I have spent the last two months vacillating between the incomprehensible interface of Dell US and Dell Netherlands to see whether I should buy the computer here or wait until Christmas and buy it in the States. Dilemma number one is that I’m not sure that the international warranty applies in the Netherlands or the US. Let me explain. On the US site, when you click on the four-year international warranty plus accidental damage, it is unclear whether accidental damage is included in the price. On the Netherlands side, it looks like it is included. And then when you click certain features other features become unavailable and you have to change them. Did I mention, dear readers, that I am not a tech person? It’s too many things to wade through and consider. Accordingly, I’m going to have Jasper take a look at them. I do not want a repeat of my apple experience and having a nonworking computer that I cannot teach from because I didn’t get the features that I want and the warrantees that I need. And as ever, dear readers, any assistance is appreciated. If you leave me a comment that would be wonderful.

Things are winding up with my clients at the English Center I had the last class with a client last Friday, and this evening will mark the last class for another. I still have my real estate students until 2 December and then, of course, I leave for the States. I put all of this on the calendar, I am not sure however that the English Center reads the calendar well. Because they want to keep giving me students, which is not a problem, but then I have to give them to other people and I don’t like to do that. Not because I’m competitive but because I like to finish what I start. Felix was a no-show this week again but at least he gave me five days’ notice. Accordingly, I opened up all the slots for VIPKid and taught for three hours. The situation at VIPKid is getting ridiculous, however. I am seeing more and more 25-hour cancellations and the slots are not filling back up with other students. I keep telling my colleagues in our slack channel that it’s because 90,000 teachers and 700,000 students cannot possibly a full schedule make. There are too many holes. On balance, I am not loving working Sundays so accordingly, I looked at the upcoming winter and spring class schedule for the English Center and put my hat in the ring for all of them. I’m going to have to schedule my travels to the US around them. If I get one. I’m also going to have to inform the English Center that I put my hat in the ring because they may not look at the calendar in time.

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

Go, Go Gadget Games

Perhaps, dear readers, I’m dating myself with the title of this week’s post,  and all of you can tell just how old I am. But, maybe, just maybe, we are about the same because I think most of you have children. So you understand the reference, and if you don’t, there is always Google. It’s an appropriate title however because that’s exactly what I did on two different occasions this past week. Played games, not solved a mystery incompetently.

We will start as ever, with TEC. My real estate boys were at half strength this week as one of them had a meeting. His partner in crime attended the class as normal but brought his son with him as it was a study day for the schools. When I was a kid I loved teacher professional days because of course, it meant that I could stay home from school. I am not so enamored of them now as I am the teacher and have to actually attend. What do you do when you have a 40-year-old and a nine-year-old in the class with you? Yep, you guessed it. You play games. Accordingly, we played Taboo. Which proved interesting because of course, I brought the upper intermediate cards and not the intermediate ones. So I had to adapt. Instead of playing taboo we just played,  guess the word. Where there were no rules you just had to figure out how to say the word without using the word itself. There were no other restrictions. Still, it was a little bit more complicated for my nine-year-old then for his father. But the nine-year-old showed promise in other areas. In the middle of the game, I gave a little bit of a grammar lesson with articles. Articles are a lot easier in English than in other languages and yet they still cause problems. In English with an article, it is spelling based and has rules. InDutch there are a few rules, but De and het and when do use them are quite troublesome for me still. The kid, will call him Evan, picked up articles and what I was trying to accomplish quite quickly while it took dad a few minutes. It wasn’t so much the articles that were a problem, but the exceptions for the dad. Evan understood that sometimes H and U function as either a vowel in the case of H, or a consonant in the case of U when it it sounds like  Y. It took dad a little bit longer to grasp. But what I learned from the lesson is that games are a good fail safe When unexpected situations come up. Accordingly the weekend was spent filing away games that could be used across a variety of different ages.

I also scored a rather big win at TEC last week. I was able to convince my returning student at Amsterlvween to increase his sessions from once every two weeks to once a week for a total of 18 hours. I also convinced him to switch his day to Monday so that I can combine it with my Japanese couple, thereby allowing me to be in Amstelveen once every week. But I have a dilemma with that as well. I have one more lesson in the package with my couple, and while I would like to continue with them, it doesn’t make sense right now. After the last lesson if they sign for another package of four, it doesn’t make sense to start until I come back from the US. Even I think that is a very long time to wait. In essence, they’ll be waiting most of November and all of December. It breaks down like this: I could do November 11, but my client can’t do the 18th, and I am in Scotland on the 22nd through 25 November, I could do a lesson on the 25th as I get in mid-day but do I really want to? The answer to that is a fairly vehement no, If not the very vehement hell no. In any case, I think I need to talk to the powers that be because I could conceivably give them a lesson on 2 December and that would leave one less in the package when I come back in January. It’s a dilemma to be sure because I need to work. I also have my last two lessons with my philosophical student who loves deep conversations in English. To that end, my last two lessons with him will be about philosophy itself. We will see how it plays out as I try to combine vocabulary I am teaching him, with a philosophical idea I have found on a Ted Talk, and various grammar issues.

The potential from last week’s post, turned into a bit of an experiment as I went to a social evening with adults I didn’t know to do an evening of English conversation in the context of games on Wednesday night. This was hosted by the owner of the conversation playground and I learned a couple of things about myself during the course of the evening. One: numbers are important. If you have a meet up that involves teaching exact numbers become extremely important in the context of group size. I started getting pissed off that the meetup organizers asked us to RSVP and we weren’t allowed to bring guests but our guest had to RSVP for themselves, As happened with me and my friend who is also an English teacher looking for other work. I thought it was intrusive and a bit of a turn off. And it turns out I was a bit clairvoyant as well. You see, dear readers, the inevitable meet up snafu happens. More people showed up then RSVPed and it made the numbers a little bit difficult. Two: I learned that 22 people is too big for class. It is difficult and unmanageable as was proven by the evening. There was no clear organization into groups, we just moved around and randomly were stopped, like we would when [laying freeze tag and then divided into groups where we were standing. On balance, as a technique for separating quickly it worked well. But I prefer a more structured approach and that was a good thing to learn about oneself. Also, we played a game called Articulate!. Otherwise known as the British version of taboo. They also modify the game like I do but still, it proved very difficult for certain speakers in the group. Still a fun time was had by all.

In private client world, I was able to give a business card at the Games  evening, and perhaps gain a client. You’ll see though that has been largely hit or miss. Felix and I continue our two hour weekly lessons and on balance I think I really like the longer lesson once a week. Since the day finishes at one I am able to do something interesting on Sunday. And this Sunday I went to the Hermitage Amsterdam to look at shiny rocks with my travel partner in crime. It was a lovely visit and if you’re ever in the neighborhood I highly recommend. Also if you need a room that is in central Amsterdam hit me up, I am happy to host.

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

Playground Possible

The plot around Amstelveen, dear readers, continues. You all know that I’ve been going pretty regularly to be Amsterdam language café English night for about six months. I go there primarily because I like the people and because I could possibly get myself some students as has happened. Janice was one of those. At the last one, I met a man who believes in English language learning through the use of play and games. his organizations called The Conversation Playground. What he does is go into primary schools in the Amsterdam area and set up after school classes for English language where the focus is simply on playing word games. We met for coffee last Wednesday. It was a productive meeting. We were able to share ideas and the upshot is that he wants me to join his team. I am kind of looking forward to being in a classroom with children. The bonus is that the money is a little bit better than TEC. And, dear readers, you guessed it, he is based in Amstelveen.

Over at the English Center, I was able to convince my Dutch student to sign up for 18 hours of lessons with me starting in February and instead of every two weeks like he wanted, he agreed to my suggestion of once a week for an hour. So I figure since I’m going to be here anyway a lot I’m going to keep my Japanese students and see if I can consolidate the two into Monday nights. It would be great if I could keep my real estate guys on Monday afternoons and then I can take Mondays off from VIPKid. Speaking of, I have added Sundays into my schedule again. While I am not loving the extra three hours, I might as well turn Sunday into a regular workday as I have Felix from 11 to 1. Therefore I have opened up 8 to 11 to VIP kid. That still gives me some semblance of a Sunday because I end at one and can do other things.

Despite an upgrade to macOS Catalina, My issues at the bookshop continue and I still cannot get online. I am not sure what the problem is but it’s been four months that I can’t use the Internet. This is becoming ridiculous. This on top of my issues with my Mac is causing me quite a bit of concern. I guess I just need a new computer. It turns out that I also need a new phone. The battery life on my iPhone 6 has gone down to almost 0. I can be off power for about an hour using my iPhone as a radio and then it goes to 0%. Even I know that that’s probably a little bit too fast of a drain. I think I’m going to take the opportunity and get out of Apple completely. So, dear readers, any suggestions for a new phone that is not Apple, I appreciate it. Ideally, I would like to spend less than €500. And really somewhere far south of €500 because I think that kind of money is ridiculous for a phone.

But as ever, the tech issues that I experienced were great for my writing. I was able to get quite a bit of writing and editing done on Thursday. Though I really do wish that I could type a little faster. It makes 500 words seem like an accomplishment when you only type about 36 words a minute. And I for one get distracted by other people typing really fast around me. I need to learn how to turn the sound of other people typing quickly into either white noise, or inspirational sound so that I can actually get to their level. At my age, however, I’m not so sure that it’s possible. The fingers don’t work as quickly.

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

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.