Salary Sorted and Calendar Clustercluck

What can I say about the last week at Inkreadable, but that it was more high stress than I have experience in a while. You all remember that I hadn’t been paid by last weeks post, at least not by VIPKid. This week TEC paid me on time and I didn’t have to remind them which was great. VIPKid did eventually pay me, But of course, not in time for me to update last week’s post. The payment came in in the evening on Tuesday.

In terms of my private clients, I have seen none of them this week. I am not sure that I am going to see Janice at all anymore. She has dropped off the face of the Earth and I am not sure whether she is going to come back. That seems to be the way my life goes, however. For every one person that is interested in English lessons, there are three more that have things that have come up. That includes my beloved Felix. Felix and I are on a Break, but it is a temporary break. I am actually fitting in Felix around being in Amstelveen. And on his side, he had a doctors appointment that would take him out of commission through the weekend, so we decided to scrap both lessons last week.

But my cancellation clustercluck was not due to Felix, and my scheduling issues alone. I also had three cancellations with TEC. Two of which I was paid for and one of which I was not as they canceled in time. It’s the second cancellation that boggles the mind for me. The first cancellation was because the client was sick and told me about it on the morning of the lesson. The second cancellation was for Tuesday and that was canceled because the client wanted a teacher with a British accent. For a course that emphasized writing. Yep, you heard me right. She wanted a British teacher for learning how to write business emails even though she wanted to learn American spelling. Because dear reader I know exactly what you’re going to say. “Maybe she wanted to learn how to spell words using British English. Nope, this excuse does not fly with me. As the so-called “British spelling” is nothing more than a linguist’s wish many many moons ago to make the English language look like Greek. I’m looking at you endeavour, labour and colour. And lastly, the third cancellation was an on-time cancellation that I now need to reschedule. And while I understand that these things do happen on occasion, I seem to be losing many clients for permanent lately. I just cannot catch a break.

I hope that all of this regulates quickly because to say that I am annoyed is an understatement. In other news, I took a break from writing my novel to write a blog post about living as an expat in Amsterdam. I offered to write this article, not realizing that 1500 words is quite a lot of words to talk about Internet speeds, accommodation costs, how easy it is to meet people, and the like. But, while I didn’t finish it gives me a project for the weekend.

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

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.

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.

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.