No manches (You’ve got to be kidding)

 

ceramic pinata

La cantera da muchas vueltas!

 

My recent involvement in La Yacata business has been nearly non-existent especially since I last tried to quit the Mesa Directiva (Community Board of Directors) some time ago. (See Trying to bow out of La Yacata). I still answer questions and attend to people who brave the ferocious Chokis and knock at my door, point them to their lots, issue new certificates when lots change owners, and so on, but not much more.

So I was surprised when a few days ago, SuperPrez called me. However, I missed the call. He then sent me an email. Guess it was pretty important. He told me NOT to sign anything that R2 brought to my door and requested a meeting. In case you don’t remember, R2 is the brother of R1 who resembled Ronald McDonald and wanted to be president of La Yacata. R2 is also a lawyer and former presidente (mayor) of Moroleon and presented our case at court when we were slammed with 3 demandas (lawsuits). (See Demanda 1, Demanda 2, Demanda 3).

Anyway, I met with Super Prez to find out what was going on. It turns out that R2 (otherwise known as Rata (The Rat)) arrived at his office and threatened to sue La Yacata for nonpayment of services rendered. All righty then. When we had the discussion with R2 about payment for his services (see Negotiating for La Yacata) he gave a figure of 15% of the first lawsuit and 10% of lawsuit 2 and lawsuit 3 which gave us a rough amount of 300,000 pesos. However, we never signed anything that agreed to that sum either then or later. This was a verbal estimate on R2’s part, just so we could approximate what we could offer the well-hole driller.

As acting treasurer, I pulled together a list of colonos (community members) who have paid the $250 we requested from them to pay the lawyer’s bill and a list of the receipts I received from Rata when payment was made. Not including SuperPrez’s payments, the association has already paid 75,000 pesos to Rata. There is currently just under 3,000 pesos in the treasury. That 75,000 seems like a big chunk of money to me, especially since Super Prez and I did most of the work and he just handed it in all lawyered up and all.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. Rata’s receipts for this 75,000 were unofficial. He didn’t have copies. He crossed out things and wrote other things right on the receipt, technically making them invalid or at least suspicious. One receipt was on a sheet of torn notebook paper. He did this so as not to declare the income and pay taxes on it. Hmmm.

Another interesting thing is that Chuchi is living in La Yacata. Yep, without water, electricity or sewer, just like the rest of us. Reportedly the reason is he lost his house in a debt payment. If you’ll remember Demanda 2, Chuchi tried to present into evidence the lien on his house in town that he took out to purchase the water rights for La Yacata. However, he had purchased the water rights in his own name, rather than in the name of the association. Furthermore, the person who sold him those rights listed as the lien holder of his house was a friend of SuperPrez and informed him that Chuchi defaulted on the payment and returned the water rights so as not to lose his house.

Chuchi also has several outstanding judgments against him in Ministerial Publico (Public Ministry) for lots that he sold that he did not have the right to sell, in other words, FRAUD.

Now I don’t know if Chuchi lost his house because of those fraudulent sales or the water rights issue or some other shady deal he had going on, but it just goes to prove La cantera da muchas vueltas. (What comes around goes around).

What strikes me as odd is the timing of R2 threating to sue La Yacata. R2’s earnings increased every single time a demanda (lawsuit) landed in our laps. It was in his best interest for these lawsuits to keep coming. He used the same defense for all three–so no additional work on his part. Then there was that comment Chuchi made to Rata “le encargo mio” (Keep my issue in mind) after we received the response to our offer from the pozo guy (See Negotiating La Yacata–The Response) What was that all about?

All of these thoughts, I shared with SuperPrez during our meeting. The approach he’s decided to take is to offer Rata (R2) Chuchi’s house in La Yacata, where Chuchi is currently living. HA! As Chuchi has no documentation giving him rights to that property, SuperPrez is in his legal rights to claim it and sell it (or in this case give it away). If Rata  finds that deal unacceptable, well, we can start talking legal again. We could sue Chuchi for injury and hardship to the community in order to pay Rata a sum he feels is fair. Of course collecting it would be Rata’s problem. Or we could call a press meeting and show how Rata, the former president of Moroleon, is trying to squeeze the poorest of the poor for money. Remember, we have no electricity, no water or sewer. That would be fun!

SuperPrez is to meet with R2 (AKA Rata) sometime next week and lay our cards on the table. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

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Failing at your own business–online teaching–Trial by fire

 

Camille Online

Me, hard at work by Clau Guzes

I waited anxiously over the weekend for my “onboarding” email to arrive. Finally, I received an email welcoming me aboard with the first training module attached. There were 6 training sessions in all and I didn’t have any problems reading and completing the “exams” over the period of two days. Each session took me about 45 minutes. I was compensated for my time.

 

Then a few days later, I received my meet and greet invitation. This was a required group session headed by my new instruction coach but also paid. That’s what I’m talking about!

I also watched ALL the example classes on YouTube to see how things worked. I was a little concerned though that the model teacher incorrectly corrected a student’s use of the word funnier. The teacher said he should use the word funner. FUNNER? Who uses that? Isn’t it more fun? Well, I guess I could do just as well as that guy.

I tried diligently during the week to pick up an extra class before I was officially on the schedule to get some practice in, but there wasn’t anything available. Finally, Friday came with my new schedule. I had 27 hours–WAY more than I was expecting. Furthermore, I was scheduled at all hours of the day and night, including hours when I was supposed to be teaching at the school. I panicked a bit and sent frantic messages to my instruction coach. I only requested changes to the 6 hours that overlapped my other job, figuring I would find a way to work the other ones. It wouldn’t do to be whiny the first week. I also mentioned that the hours I was scheduled were not hours that I had indicated that I would be available. Apparently, someone messed up when doing the scheduling. Those 6 hours were removed from my schedule and I was assured that the next week all my hours would be within the availability schedule I had submitted.

My first class was Sunday night at 11:30 pm. Then I had another one at 2 am. I didn’t think I could risk napping between classes since I was supposed to sign on 10 minutes before the shift to catch the JOIN button. So I didn’t.

I was nervous, to say the least. I really wanted it to go well, but I still felt underprepared, even after all the training sessions. I had to remember to log in, test my audio, allow microphone use for students, check in with them, see if I could resolve technical issues and teach the class. The topics were assigned and each class had multiple activities already set up, so I just had to direct the class and pick and choose the slides I thought would get the most interaction from the students. This took the hassle of planning out of the picture, which considering I plan 6 elementary classes and 3 kindergarten classes a day, was a nice reprieve.

There were 4 students in my first class. One student wanted to only listen in, which was fine. There was one student I never did get a response from, so I assumed she too was just listening in. Juan was from Venezuela and Maria was from Veracruz, Mexico and this was her first class.

I thought it went pretty well. After a bit of hesitation on Maria’s part when she began, both students were fully engaged during the class. The class was 45 minutes. Then I had time enough to do the student feedback before joining another class.

I was also supposed to fill out a self-evaluation form after my first class, which I did. I thought I needed work on the interactive tools and resolving audio problems, which I made my goal for the next class.

In the next class, there were some audio problems. The student, Marco, could hear me but could not use his microphone. It seemed he had a new headset and his computer wasn’t reading the microphone. I tried to help him set it up with the troubleshooting tip sheet I had received at the meet and greet. I probably wasted too much time trying to do that. Finally, I suggested that he type his responses in the chat box and I would go over the material so that he could hear it.

He was also very engaged. It was so nice to have students that were very motivated to learn and use their English. There are days in the elementary school that I just want to pull my hair out. The enthusiasm with these classes was very comparable to the kindergarten classes I teach. It was awesome!

And so and so forth. I had every type of class thrown at me throughout the night. Conversation, group, private, grammar, beginners, intermediates, advanced students. You name it, I had it.

I must have read the topic chart incorrectly because I was constantly surprised at the theme I was given upon entering class. So I pretty much had to wing it, every single class. Talk about teaching on the fly!

In between classes, I checked the google time chronometer obsessively. All classes are scheduled for Eastern Standard Time, and well, I don’t live in Eastern Standard Time so I had to make adjustments and calculations. Even with all that, I still somehow managed to miss a class. Oops.

I also must have had an out of body experience. Somehow I joined a class that I was already teaching. Or at least that’s what it appeared on the screen. I think maybe that was the class I had missed and the monitor jumped in under my name to teach it. Maybe.

I had a class or two where students didn’t show up. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I sat there in the empty virtual classroom and twiddled my virtual thumbs. All righty then. On the other hand, I virtually met people from all around the world, Uraguay, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Mexico, Venezuela, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala, El Salvador and so on. It was amazing!

The night stretched into day. I never did get to bed. I finished my last class at 6 am (7 am EST) then piddled around in my classroom until my first elementary class started at 8:30. I knew that if I went to bed, I’d NEVER get up. I taught all my elementary and kindergarten classes and finished at 1:30. At 2 pm (3 pm EST) there was yet another training class. It was compensated thus so totally worth the effort I made to prop my eyelids open. My final class online was from 3:30 to 4:30 pm (4:30 to 5:30 EST) and then I was free to collapse into my bed. Whew!

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Failing at your own business–online teaching

determined woman

Out of the blue in April, I received a response from an online teaching company that I had applied to in January. Well, HOT DOG! They paid in US dollars which is a whole lot more than more than measly pesos and averaged 10 to 15 USD per hour. Sign me up! 42 emails and 3 months later, I’m about to start.

So what happened? Well, I started with the screening test. It had a variety of grammar, vocabulary, and idiomatic expression questions. No problem. Then there was the voice recording attachment. That took me a little bit to figure out, but I did it. I apparently did well on the test and my voice was acceptable (not too much of an accent) and since I highlighted that I have experience working with Spanish speakers on my resume, I received the official job offer letter and I was invited to fill in the HR paperwork.

The first round of paperwork came with instructions on how to fill it out. I was to sign and return the job offer letter, the confidentiality waiver, the employee handbook, the pre-employment background check release form, and the handbook acknowledgment form. So I did.

It was the second round where I had some issues. The paperwork involved included a direct deposit form, an I-9 form verifying that I was legally allowed to work in the US, employee information sheet, W-4 and the optional payroll card enrollment form. Not one was correct the first time I turned it in. The easiest to fix were the employee information sheet and W-4. The company required a US address, so I gave them one. (See Trade Route Established)

The I-9 should have been a piece a cake. I’m a US citizen, right? Well, I am, but that isn’t good enough. I had to get someone to verify that I was. As I haven’t been in the US in some time, my driver’s license has expired, but my passport was still current. (See Renewing our passports in Mexico). As I would be a remote employee (not in the same state as the company) I would need to go to a notary and have my passport verified as authentic. Easier said than done. The nearest US notary was in San Miguel de Allende and I didn’t have the time nor the money for the trip. So I asked another person who also worked for this company and she said that she had gone to the local presidencia (town hall) and had them stamp the form. So I went and asked and they said no. I had to go to an official notario (notary) and they charged the big bucks. I took my Mexican driver’s license(Getting legal–license to drive), my US passport and my Mexican permanent residency card. (See Residency at last).

The notary requested the company letter requesting the verification to be translated, which I went and did. When I returned, he wrote the official identity verification letter for his files, which I proofed. He signed and stamped the company letter and charged me 1,100 pesos. Yikes!

The notary verification wasn’t enough for the company. A company employee needed to verify the notary verification and the passport. However, as I was still a remote employee, I was told to pick someone to sign the paper for me acting as a company representative. I requested a little more information on this and was told that it could be anyone, as long as I trusted them. Ok. So I had one of the kindergarten teachers sign off on it.

After all this, I scanned and sent the forms along with a copy of my identification to HR. Rejected! It turns out I had never signed my passport in the four years that I had it, so it was not valid. Ooops! I signed it and scanned everything again and sent it all along, again.

Then my direct deposit form was rejected. Apparently, foreign banks are not acceptable. So I would have to apply for the payroll card. So I did. Only I couldn’t figure out how to submit it. The fax number on the application form was incorrect. When I tried to get more information from the website, I was redirected. After repeated emails to the company, they responded that I could email the payroll card application which was nowhere to be found on the application. The company representative was so kind as to include it in her clarification email. So I emailed it. Then I had to wait for confirmation from the payroll card company. Once I got that I emailed it to the online teaching company. The card was sent to my US address. It took 10 days for me to get the card number since my trade partner was on vacation, but finally, I got it. I set up the virtual bank account.

The next step was to resubmit the direct deposit form with the virtual bank account connected to the payroll card. I was to submit it with supporting documentation. Unfortunately, now my printer was giving me fits. It would only print in black and white. Then quit printing altogether. It took two days to get it working again. Then it only printed in blue. Well, it would have to do.

But when I sent my direct deposit form, it was REJECTED. I couldn’t believe it. I sent an email asking what more they needed since I’d submitted every bit of documentation requested. The only thing I could figure was that the bank watermark wasn’t visible because I could only print in blue.

So I begged the school secretary to print it out for me in color. I then rescanned everything and sent it again. ACCEPTED!

Next, I received an email that they urgently needed my state tax form. However, the state that I listed does not have a state withholding requirement, so there was no form to submit. I emailed that information to the company. Jeez! A lesser woman would have given up by now. But not me!

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Failing at your own business–Private ESL classes

mototeacher

An artist’s rendition of me–Teacher on the go!

I’ve written about teaching English before (See Saturday classes) but I thought I’d expand this topic a bit today. Teaching English as a Second Language isn’t easy. It requires an incredible amount of on-the spot invention, an excellent command of English grammar and lots of patience. It also helps if the teacher is able to explain some things in the student’s native language.

I use my moto to travel to most of my private classes. I’ve found that parents like that they can leave their kids at home with a “babysitter” and I’m not stuck babysitting after the class hour is up. I can just leave the kids there. Some adults prefer to have class in their home, others would rather meet at the school saying they have too many distractions at home. In the less formal home environment, there’s also a better chance of tea and crumpets (or fruit and juice) during class.

Cancellations tend to be a problem, though. I count on the money from private classes for our day to day living expenses. When a student cancels, that’s less money for tortillas the next day. I’ve made it my policy if a students is a no-show or cancels 3 times, I offer the time slot to someone else.

To reduce the probability of cancellations, it’s important to keep the classes interesting. With that in mind, I thought I’d share some of my tricks of the trade.

Beginners

Nearly every class I have taught at the adult level has been what I would call beginner level. I have found that even if the student claims to know some English, it’s usually a lot less than they think. There have been a few exceptions, like students who have lived in the U.S. for a lengthy period of time, but they are easy to identify in the first few minutes of class. The text I recommend for adult beginners is Ingles para Latinos (Spanish Edition). Not only is the text in Spanish but it has Spanish-language pronunciation guides for the English vocabulary. I also really like the introductory section in the level 1 book. It addresses the number 1 obstacle to language learning–fear. The text is designed with the idea that the ESL student is already living or planning to live in the US, thus the vocabulary and short grammar lessons are practical rather than theoretical. I’m not as crazy about Ingles Para Latinos Level 2 , but it does go more in depth with English grammar structures.

As any language teacher can tell you, mastering the four components of language fluency is essential to be truly fluent in the language. The four aspects of language domination are reading, writing (which includes grammar), speaking and listening.

Once my students have finished the beginner books, I ask them which component they would like to work on next. Here are my recommendations for texts in each aspect.

Reading

I have found the Chicken Soup for the Soul series to be a good intermediate level reading book. The stories are short, the vocabulary common and the topics are interesting. I have used the Chicken Soup For The Woman’s Soul successfully in a small group setting. The readings worked well as an introduction for speaking topics.

I have also used Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul: Stories of Life, Love and Learning (Chicken Soup for the Soul) in a small group setting for younger students.

Another excellent resource is The Scholastic Read-Aloud Anthology: 35 Short, Riveting Read-Alouds That Build Comprehension, Listening, and Higher-Level Thinking Skills—and Keep Kids on the Edge of Their Seats. The topics are varied and the stories short. There are a few discussion questions at the end of each story that encourage student reactions and further discussion of the topics.

I have also used children’s books with pre-teens. These classes are usually one-on-one with an emphasis on pronunciation and comprehension. The most successful series I’ve used areThe Boxcar ChildrenCaptain Underpants Series and Judy Blume’s Fudge Box Set

Writing

Sometimes a student wishes to work on their grammar skills, usually as preparation for some sort of standardized test. My favorite text to use in these classes is Gramatica De La Lengua Inglesa : A Complete English Grammar Workbook for Spanish Speakers. Again the text is in Spanish and the book concentrates on the most problematic grammar points for Spanish speakers, things that just don’t translate well.

Listening

Listening skills are the hardest to practice in the area where I live. There aren’t many native English speakers in the area. And although I always recommend watching English language movies without subtitles and listening to music to improve auditory understanding, sometimes students want a class to improve their listening comprehension. Learning to Listen: International Version (No.1) is a good choice for those who are preparing for the TOEIC exam. It has actual conversations about everyday sort of activities with a variety of accented English speakers. My second recommendation is Where the Sidewalk Ends: The Poems and Drawings of Shel Silverstein (25th Anniversary Edition Book & CD). I’ve designed a cloze procedure text to accompany the readings. Students find these activities more challenging, but highly entertaining.

Speaking/Idiomatic expressions                                                                                                                          
As I am an American, my accent is American as well. Although that’s not quite as good enough for some people, I do teach American English to those who wish it. Speak English Like an American is an interesting text set up in a sort of telenovela (soap opera) style using common idiomatic American expressions as the drama of Bob and his family unfolds. It’s funny and engaging. There is an audio CD to go with the readings. The idiomatic expressions are defined in Spanish afterwards and there are practice activities for the expressions. I’ve used this text both in small group and individual classes.

American culture is often confusing for the ESL student and thus I also teach an American Customs class using 101 American Customs : Understanding Language and Culture Through Common Practices and 101 American Superstitions : Understanding Language and Culture through Superstitions. The origin of each strange cultural phenomenan is briefly explained in these books and it’s easy to transition to a discussion comparing superstitions and customs between the US and the student’s native country.

Exam Preparation

On occasion I have students search me out for intensive exam preparation.

The most common exam given here is the TOEFL.  This is believed to be the ultimate exam for English Proficiency in Mexico, although that’s not its designed intent. Any TOEFL preparation guide will do, but that one I use is Barron’s Practice Exercises for the Toefl. Most students have difficulty with the grammar section and this book breaks it down into types of errors to look for. It also helps the students become more familiar with the test format, as it is NOT at all like Mexican school exams.

Gaining in popularity is the TOEIC exam.  I had my first experience with this when I completed the preparation course for a student (See Failing at your own business–University courses). It’s more of a business English exam, and the vocabulary used is often new to the average English student. Again, any preparation guide would help, but I use the Barron’s TOEIC Practice Exams . The Learning to Listen: International Version makes a nice complement for this.

The IELTS is the exam used by UNAM admissions and I have had students specifically request a preparation class designed with this exam in mind. The exam is British based, designed for the UK and other subjegated nations, like Australia and New Zealand, so it was a little bit of a learning process for me as well. I ordered the Barron’s IELTS as a guide to teach this class.

I have also been requested as a teacher for the U.S. Citizenship exam. Materials are easily downloadable from USCIS here. In order to be fully prepared for this exam, students must be fluent in English and be able to answer the questions about US history, government and culture. Sometimes this requires quite a bit of explanation on the part of the teacher, but it’s often a fun class to teach. All my students who have taken their exams after our preparation class have passed and gone on to become US citizens. Yeah me!

Children
I also  teach ESL privately to children in addition to my job at the Kinder (See Kindergarten Event) and the Elementary school (See Elementary Event). I like to start with students who can already read in Spanish, so my students tend to at least 5 years old. I have compiled my own books for these classes and hope to soon have them available to download. It depends on when my illustrator, who is a bit of a free spirit, gets her part done. Right now I’ve done books about the alphabet, short vowels, beginning and ending consonant blends, homophones, homographs and homonyms. I’m currently working on books for long vowels and kindergarten activities with a thematic approach.

Recommendations

Here are some recommendations from my treasure trove of teaching materials:

501 English Verbs: Fully Conjugated in All the Tenses in a New Easy-to-Learn Format, Alphabetically Arranged  This is an excellent writing resource for students.

An English/Spanish Dictionary. Not all dictionaries are created equal. The most common dictionary available in my area is the Larousse Pocket Spanish – English / Ingles – Espanol Dictionary however I recommend Vox Compact Spanish and English Dictionary. It’s just more complete, in my opinion. Then there’s that whole American English vs. British English thing.

Oxford Picture Dictionary English-Spanish: Bilingual Dictionary for Spanish speaking teenage and adult students of English . This is a nice way to work with vocabulary organized by themes.

Scholastic Children’s Dictionary This is sort of like a mini-encyclopedia with full-color illustrations rather than a traditional dictionary.

Scholastic Children’s Thesaurus Using the same adjective over and over again gets WAY boring.

Manila folder games. These are great and can be found on any subject, not just language arts. Here’s one set I use. File Folder Games Book Reading & Math: Grade 1

Card Games.  I use these for kids a little bit older instead of the manila folder games.
10 Reading Comprehension Card Games: Easy-to-Play, Reproducible Card and Board Games That Boost Kids’ Reading Skills—and Help Them Succeed on Tests

Puzzles. Melissa and Doug have all sorts of durable wooden puzzles for preschool and up. It makes vocabulary practice dynamic and fun. Here’s one I have.Melissa & Doug Wooden USA Map Puzzle

Even with all these things at my fingertips, there’s no predicting which students will continue and which give up. I have some regular, long-term students, but I also have a high turn-over rate, especially at the end of the school year. I’m not too fussed over that though, because I have a waiting list. As one of the very few native speakers in the area, and having a BS in education to boot, I’m in demand!

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Teach English overseas.

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