Tag Archives: Teaching English

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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Learning and Teaching Summer Course–Year 3

summer course image 1

For the third year in a row, I was asked to participate in the summer course. This time, not only would I be the English teacher but the organizer. I started looking for teachers in mid-May. As SEP had reduced the summer vacation period and added extra teacher work days, many teachers were less than enthusiastic about committing themselves for the entire summer. As a result, scheduling was a nightmare.

seed name

Then, the popularity of the course swelled our numbers. We ended up having 2 groups of 25 students, although it would have been better had they been divided into 3 groups. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough teachers available to do that. We offered art, music, crafts, English, P.E. and computer classes. The large number of students per group meant that they had to share computers. After the first 2 days, I split the groups even further. I had 10 or so students doing an activity in the adjoining classroom while the rest were using the computers. As each student finished the activity, he or she would take over a computer and send the user to complete the activity. This meant that I was at the school the entire day.

sunflower snack

As the owners of the school had begun construction on the vacant lot, we were not able to use it for planting this year. That seriously impacted my proposed classes. We still did the indoor planting and activities, but it wasn’t nearly as intensive and hands-on as I would have liked. I also added some plant-related crafts and at least once a week we had a “cooking” activity. For instance, one week we planted sunflower seeds in toilet paper tubes, then did some paper ball sunflowers, then construction paper and seed sunflowers, then peanut butter, raisin and celery snacks. When the sunflowers sprouted, we planted them along the edges of the soccer field. Unfortunately, the school gardener thought they were weeds and mowed them down.

planting

I wanted each student to be able to take home a plant at the end of the course again but wasn’t able to find any terracotta pots in the area. I ended having them paint Styrofoam containers instead. I know, not environmentally friendly, but I was desperate. The kids had a good time and rarely missed a day, so all in all, it was a success. Yet I would have liked to have done more.

painting pots

The stress of making sure the teachers arrived on time, supervising during lunch and recess, assuring that the teachers had the materials that they needed for class and the occasional discipline problem or injury was tremendous. Plus, I was also teaching at least 4 of my own private English classes daily in addition to the summer course classes. By August, I was exhausted. I’ve decided to rethink my participation this summer now that my son will be too old to attend.

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Failing at your own business (or not) –Saturday School

small poppins

Featured as a Creative Problem Solver at Inspired Livelihood.

Somewhere between my last teaching position and my current teaching position, I found myself unemployed. Not just unemployed, but destitute. My husband and I had separated and I rented an apartment in town for my son and myself. A decided benefit to the situation was that we now had 24-hour access to electricity, which our home in the Middle of Nowhere, Mexico was without. The downside being that now I had to pay for it. And being unemployed, I wasn’t sure what to do.

Taking advantage of the electricity, I made some English language games. I soon had requests from moms and teachers for Spanish and bible games too. But these occasional sales weren’t enough to get the bills paid.

So, I approached the owners of the school where I had hoped to work but wasn’t because the school hadn’t opened that year. I asked if they would consider allowing me to use the school on Saturdays for English classes. Generously, they said that would be fine and wouldn’t even hear of me paying them rent for the use. I went one step further in my grandiose plan and asked an art teacher if she would be interested in giving art classes on Saturdays as well. Then we started with the publicity. The school had a Facebook page and we uploaded our class offerings there. Then we went about town and posted announcements on the telephone poles and in front of schools. We also went to each of our students, present and past, and gave them the information.

So it began. I can’t say it was an instant success. We each started with 3 classes with two or three students in each class. Some days there were cancellations and we were discouraged. The art teacher began to miss classes and her students stopped coming. But I kept at it. Most Saturdays I earned a whopping $75 (which is less than $6 USD) pesos. Other days I earned upwards to $600 (about $50 USD) pesos, but those days were few and far between.

I taught whatever was asked of me. I taught classes for TOEFL exam preparation, classes for the U.S. citizenship exam, regularization classes for failing students, conversation classes for those planning on heading norte (to the U.S.), listening, reading, and grammar classes from beginner to advanced levels, kindergarten classes, adult classes and classes for every age in between. I even taught a few beginning piano classes.

mototeacher

It’s been 2 years since I began the Saturday classes and I now have classes scheduled from 8 am to 5:30 pm nearly every Saturday. I look forward to cancellations for a little down time in my day. Some of my Saturday classes have converted into weekday classes, so I now teach 2-4 classes in the afternoons Monday thru Friday. I also have an ESL teaching position from 9:20 am until 2:30 pm at the school that finally did open.

Some students have disappeared but have sent friends, relatives or classmates to me in their stead. Others have just disappeared. I’ve learned to be more selective with the classes I teach and the students I take on. I’ve actually had to say no to new students several times this year. I give preference to students that have been with me since the beginning when setting up my schedule and when cancellations occur. I have a waiting list for both the afternoon classes and Saturday classes, but the students that I have currently are not in a hurry to give up their places, for which I am incredibly grateful.

I love that I don’t teach the same old thing over and over again. Each class is more or less individual, sometimes with 2 or 3 students, and I am able to concentrate on what would be most beneficial for the student or students. The process of inventing such individualized classes has been challenging but rewarding. I enjoy seeing my students’ progress and watching them master tricky language skills. I am who they recommend when an English expertise is needed. Although I won’t ever become wealthy teaching on such a small scale, I have become rich in experience and it does get the bills paid.

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Learning and Teaching Year 5

foami teacher

The school divided at the end of the school year. I choose to follow one of the owners although the other owner offered me a general position, nothing concrete mind you, just if I would be interested I should come and see her. She was relocating to an area outside of town, which would require quite a stretch of main road driving on my part. After the death of my mother-in-law in a moto accident, I didn’t feel safe enough to drive myself such a distance on open roads, so really didn’t consider the job offer seriously. Besides, she worked all year to discredit my teaching, so I could expect more of the same if I went to work for her.

But then there was a quandary. The other owner was still waiting for the permit from SEP (Secretary of Education) to open the school and come August we had no students to teach, although the permit arrived days before the beginning of the school year. I had attempted to organize a summer school program with English, music, computers and cooking classes, but with the drama of the two owners, parents didn’t want to be seen as supporting one or the other and did not send their children.

So I was out a job for the school year. I had a few other offers from different schools, but there was always something that just didn’t quite fit. One was too far and I wasn’t sure that my now aging moto could go the distance. One was owned by persons that I had worked for before and would not work for again, no matter what the pay. One was only part-time, the cost for travel and time and the amount of pay didn’t make it worth the effort. So this school year, I started out at home with my son in the day and teaching private classes when he went to school in the afternoons.

But again, when people learned that I was available during the day for classes, my days started to fill up. I don’t teach classes every morning, but I do have classes every day except Sunday. Each day’s schedule is different and I have to organize my bag and my thoughts to keep up. I love my calendar planner! I’d be lost without it.

I asked the school owner, who now had a building but no students if I could use the building on Saturdays. She has let me the building rent-free and I have begun trying to recruit other teachers who might want some extra income, to offer classes on Saturdays. It hasn’t been wildly successful, either with the teachers or students, but I haven’t given up yet. Most of the teachers tell me to let them know if there are students and then they will come in. They don’t understand that this is a self-marketing type of position, not a school. Yes, the owner helps with some advertising since we use her logo on our flyers and newspaper ads, but I have to go out and find my students, tell them what I offer and convince them to come to the school on Saturdays when they could be laying about watching TV. Quite a challenge I assure you.

I also have branched out and added piano to my list of courses. I don’t have a formal degree in music, however, I studied piano more than 10 years, so feel confident enough to teach the basics.

I have also continued to better the language games I have developed over the years, so much so that I hope this next year to have a set of games that I can offer to teachers and schools and earn a bit on the side.

I also tried to organize a Christmas Activity program for students over the 3-week break, but again, it was not to be. Parents didn’t want to take the time to bring their kids or pay the $50 pesos per day or just didn’t hear about it as we had very limited budget for marketing. Students didn’t want to be bothered and preferred the boob tube to whatever we might have to offer. Half of the teachers were of the attitude that I should let them know when there was a group and did very little to try and get students. It’s hard to fight cultural apathy even with my enthusiasm for teaching. But I keep on plugging in the hopes of something wonderful down the line.

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See Also: Learning and Teaching Year 1, Learning and Teaching Year 2, Learning and Teaching Year 3, Learning and Teaching Year 4, Learning and Teaching Year 5, and Authentic Teaching and Learning and me

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