Category Archives: Teaching

Failing at your own business–College Essay Reviewer

Internet connection being what it is in Mexico, I thought I’d try and expand my employment tentacles and applied for a job reviewing college essays. I had mixed feelings when I heard back from the company.  While it would be great that I wouldn’t have to keep on eye on my signal bar or panic when the electricity flickered off like when I was teaching live classes, I didn’t really want to work more hours.

With a sigh, I reviewed the writing sample and sent copies of my diploma and university transcripts, demonstrating my more than adequate qualifications.  I wasn’t surprised that I got the job.

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Although the pay rate was $13 USD per hour, I could only request payment for 30-minute increments which meant I would need to review 2 papers per hour.  Initially, I tried to note each and every error so each essay was taking me well over an hour, sometimes 2. I learned quickly to only accept essays 4 pages or less, which sped things up a bit.  I could also preview the essay before accepting, allowing me to avoid the worst of the lot but I had the thought “you graduated from high school?” on more than one occasion while rolling my eyes at yet another misused word.

found it

Most of the errors were in citations.  It’s been more years than I care to admit since my last professional paper, so I had to do quite a bit of review of MLA and APA standards.  This research was useful while I was converting my ebook A to Z Reasons Why La Yacata is the Best Place to Be in Any Disaster to paperback though.

I diligently cranked out at least one hour of work per day throughout the first weeks of December.  Then suddenly, the well went dry. Christmas vacation you know–no essays due. I submitted my timesheet and found I had made $68.21 payable through PayPal.  That was about what I had been making for 2 weeks at the elementary school.

more papers

In January, essays started piling up again, but I was done with all that.  I toyed with the idea of doing live essay grading or Spanish tutoring on my days off from online teaching, but then I’d be back in the same boat worried about the internet.  So while it’s good to know that I have another income option, I’ll just let it be for now.

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Teaching Kids Online

 

Camille OnlineMost of you already know that I became a virtual teacher sometime last year in preparation for my transition away from private and elementary classes. (See Transition Year) While the pay was so much better being in US dollars, the hours were random.  Sometimes I had 15 hours of classes, sometimes 9. That being the case, the final transition wouldn’t have been possible had not the company I work for expanded their reach to include children ages 7-14. (See Online Teaching)

I wasn’t part of the pilot program, but when the request went out in mid-June for teachers to switch platforms, I submitted my application and soon enough I was one of the first official teacher group for the junior English component.  

The setup is a bit different from the adult classes in that it uses Zoom rather than Adobe Connect.  Zoom is a bit easier to manage with drawing and writing options for all participants (both student and teacher).  There were some technical bugs to work out, however.  When enrollment reached a certain point, Zoom did some crazy stuff.  It would kick the teachers out of classroom saying they were already signed in somewhere else.  My theory is that some of the newest teachers didn’t have their own Zoom accounts yet and ended up signing in under another teacher’s name.  I took matters into my own hands and created my own free Zoom account so that when the unceremonious ousting occurred, I could sign in to my own account and teach the class without issue.

Class length for the juniors is 25 minutes and one-on-one (student/teacher).  Private classes at the adult level are 20 minutes and group classes are 45 minutes.  I believe 25 minutes is just right.  That gives the teachers 5 minutes before the start of the next class to send feedback, recommend advancement or repetition, and set up for the next class.

As the program was launched before all the classroom levels were completed, all students go through the same classes no matter their initial English level.  That is supposed to change soon though and students will be slotted into levels just like the adults.

Most of the students are from Colombia with a handful of students from Peru, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, and Mexico.  Typically students take their classes after they arrive home from school and on weekends, which means that’s my availability as well so I get the maximum number of hours permitted.  

Most of the students are delighted to be in class and we have a good time progressing through the lessons.  On the other hand, there are the reluctant learners.  They fall into two categories, those that are sullen in class and those that have parents feeding them the answers, so basically are not learning a thing.  The poopy students usually loosen up after I acknowledge their lack of enthusiasm for the class and make faces at them.  

The parents are another story altogether.  I’ve tried addressing the student, who denies anyone is giving them the answers even though I can hear it myself.  I’ve also tried addressing the parent, who denies giving the answers.  Frustrated I brought the topic up in the company group chat and requested a letter be sent out reminding parents that their interference is impeding their child’s learning.  We’ll see if that happens.

Another more recent issue is the hiring of a Latin crew of English teachers.  Reading the teacher feedbacks (Student taked his time.  Him and his father were disappointed.) makes me doubt the wiseness of hiring non-native English speakers to teach English.  It’s not that I think the company should hire U.S. citizens only because there are definitely some positions that are more suited to Spanish speakers.  For instance, sales, technical support and responding to student’s questions about grammar or course issues are certainly better done in the student’s native language.  However, as this is an online English course, parents pay the big bucks to have native English speakers teach their children.  If they wanted Spanish speaking English teachers, well, they already have that at the schools in their area.

So, I’m working 3 evenings a week and all day Saturday and Sunday.  It’s the first time in years that I actually have a “weekend” even though it is in the middle of the week.  I’ve been enjoying the days off, the teaching experience and the better income.  All is not smooth sailing, however.  Last month something happened with Telmex (the only internet provider in my town) and there was no internet for hours, right in the middle of my shift. (See Internet service back after 3-hour outage)

Then I was worried that the recent hurricanes and earthquakes might cause connection issues, but that didn’t happen, at least to me.  Quite a number of teachers were affected though.  So it’s a bit nerve-wracking being so dependant on such an unreliable service.  Well, I guess I’ll ride this wave as far as it will take me.

Meanwhile, I bought the tile for the entire second floor of the house with my earnings.

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Transition year

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If you recall, a few months ago, I outlined my busy work schedule (Juggling all the eggs in one basket) and wondered if really these things were worth the effort I was putting into them.  I decided shortly thereafter that they were not.  Thus began the transition year.

The first to go was my Saturday classes. (See Saturday classes)  Some days I had been pulling in a whopping $600 pesos, but more often, I had a single class.  $50 for a 6 hour day was not profitable.  So when my student finished the book we were working with, I told his mother that I was going to take a break from teaching on Saturdays.  She and her 8-year-old son were disappointed, but I consoled them that I may start up again in the Spring.  The uncle, who had been my student but gave his hour to the nephew, sent me an email demanding to know why I wasn’t going to teach English anymore.  I explained that I was still teaching English, just not on Saturday mornings.  I had too many other obligations and I needed more time to do things like laundry and shopping.  He wasn’t happy.  Oh well.  Can’t please everyone.

I still taught online Saturday afternoons, but I wanted to transition to my new place in Sunflower Valley (See A Room of Her Own).  It took over a month, but I finally was able to make the little house my base of operations rather than the school.  Having a kitchen made the afternoons easier.  There’s a little store across the street, so whipping up a light meal for a hungry teenager boy was more manageable.

Then I started dropping my afternoon private classes one by one.  The first to go was in mid-November.  We finished our book and that was that.  She begged and pleaded that I not abandon her.  I told her that I’d start teaching in the spring but that if she really wanted classes, she’d have to come to my little place in Sunflower Valley.  She said she would. We would see.  That freed up 2 hours a week.

Then in December, right before Las Posadas, I dropped the other 3.  All of them said that yes, it would be a good idea that I took a break, but that they didn’t want to lose their classes.  Maybe I could drop everyone else, and just teach them?  When I said that I really was planning an extended break, like maybe until Semana Santa, their eyes went wide and said, well, they’d be waiting here for me to return and give them classes again. That freed up 2 afternoons per week.

I didn’t start teaching afternoon classes after Semana Santa. Instead, I began going through my things at the school, readying it for my final transition.  I reviewed the supplementary books I had made for each grade level for errors and changes.  I also checked that there were assessments and exams and grade sheets for each unit of all 6 levels.  I would be leaving the entire system in place for whoever takes my place.

Finally, in July, I told the owners that for health reasons I would not be returning the following school year.  It’s not that I hated my job at the school.  After all, I had designed the entire ESL program myself.  I was getting some results, not as much as I would have liked, but some.  I had my own classroom, which is a rare perk in the schools around here.  Yet, at $65 USD per week, it was not in my best interest to continue. The health problem wasn’t invented.  I’m really working myself to death at this rate.  

I interviewed and recommended 2 teachers, one for first, second and third grade, and the other for fourth, fifth and sixth grade.  Yep, two teachers were needed to replace me.  I agreed to do a training session with them in August before everyone returns to classes.

The owner asked if I would consider staying and teaching at least 2 groups or at least the phonics classes since the main focus is pronunciation there.  Nothing doing.  I would, however, make a book for the sixth-grade group for the new teacher to use.  And if I got around to it, make a recording for the phonics books.

My first schedule with my newest online job came out the week after we finished classes.  Twenty-six hours paid in US dollars.  So provided I have a full schedule each week (and with online work nothing is a given) I’ll nearly triple my income for half the work and less than half the time.  

Hasta la vista baby!

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A room of her own–the quest

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So it’s been a few months now that I’ve been working at my online teaching job. I’ve been using the school computer room, which has both internet and electricity. However, with school events coming up, it’s become clear that I need to find a room of my own.

My first line of defense was to contact Super Prez. His family owns several buildings and sure enough, there was a room for rent behind one of their holistic stores. His wife stopped me on the road one afternoon to tell me to go and see Super Prez’s sister at the other holistic store for details. So I did. Only the sister didn’t know too much about it. She told me to go and ask la encargada (the woman in charge) who lived in one of the other rooms.

So I went, but she wasn’t in yet. I left my phone number but she didn’t call the next day. So I tried again the next evening. Much to my son’s surprise, his chemistry teacher answered the door. She also lived in one of the rooms and told me that the woman in charge would be there shortly. So we waited and she arrived.

She obviously didn’t want to show me the room although she had been told about me. I explained that I wasn’t looking to live there, but to work. She wanted to know what hours I would work and didn’t seem happy with the 10 pm answer I gave. (I’m actually only working until 9 pm most evenings, but really is that any of her business?) She continued to have the just stepped in dog doo-doo look on her face, but agreed to show me the room. The four rooms for rent shared a common patio and the bathroom. I wasn’t happy with that. I thought at least the room would have a bathroom. The woman in charge didn’t seem to like the look of my son. I don’t know what she thought he’d do, peek in windows or leave the toilet seat up?

She seemed relieved when I didn’t bother to ask the cost and thanked her for her time. The room itself was ok, but without a separate bathroom and with her continued hostility, I didn’t think either my son or I would be comfortable there.

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Then one of my co-workers mentioned that there was a room/office for rent right across from her and next to the same holistic store that I had visited to talk to SuperPrez’s sister. Sure enough, there was.

The sign said that no children or pets were allowed. No problem there. My son is hardly a child anymore. And the rent would be adjusted according to the amount of space one would be using. Seemed ok, but then I remembered that it’s half a block from the center of town. It would seem ideal except for the part where the bandas (musical groups) play until the early morning hours and I need quiet for my online classes. You would think a half block would be more than enough however as we can hear the bandas quite clearly all the way to La Yacata—well, the volume would be horrid that close.

So then we drove past a place with a sign out front that seemed lovely. I oohed and awwed about it until my son said it looked like that old lady movie I liked to watch. Then I nearly peed myself laughing. The old lady movie he referred to was The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and yep, it looked much like that from what we could see from the front gate.

So I screwed up my courage and rang the bell. An old lady with purplish-red hair eventually made it to the front door. I asked about the apartment for rent and she said the only one available was 3 bedrooms. I didn’t bother to ask the price–downtown, three bedrooms, in a hacienda type building meant out of my budget. Sigh.

So then the other English teacher at my school said that the house across from her was for rent. She took it upon herself to get the number and call for information and set up an appointment for me to see it. I was beside myself with excitement.

The teacher vouched for my character, otherwise I probably wouldn’t even have gotten the appointment.  It’s quite a feat to find a place to rent in our area.  Quite stressful actually.

The owner lived in Yuriria and couldn’t make the first appointment time. I was downcast. I had to wait another 24 hours to see it and yes indeedy, it needed work. My son didn’t go with me to the appointment. He had teenage things to do. It was painted this horrible green–literally every inch of the wall, some of the floor, the doors and even part of the curtains.  The ceiling had holes in it, the toliet leaked, the boiler looked like it had blown up, and some of the electric sockets smoked when you plugged it in.

Despite all that, I rented it. It was the same price as the first room where I would have had to share a bathroom with 4 other women. Calling it a house is a bit of a stretch as it is a little bigger than a bread box, but I don’t need too much space.

I was determined to make it work!

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