Tag Archives: teaching online

A room of her own– the guest room office

Just because I have stopped renting the Little House in Sunflower Valley, doesn’t mean I don’t need my own office space. Of course, I’ve had to be adaptable. Or rather, we all have had to adapt.

A few weeks before we moved, my laptop started giving me issues with the Zoom program that my online classes are taught through. I know the moment it happened, since the class prior to the Zoom update was fine and the class immediately after was not. I tried contacting Zoom who said it was either my computer or my internet.

So I decided to order a new computer. I bought a refurbished all-in-one computer at Amazon and I had it a few days later. The problem with Zoom persisted. Plus the computer would randomly turn off. So I shipped the computer back to Amazon.

Instead of buying yet another computer, I ordered a camera and started using my son’s custom built computer for classes. I was still having problems, but now I was sure it was the internet. This issue led to the quest for the internet. Then with the purchase of another battery, making the current number 4 batteries for our solar setup, we made the move to La Yacata. 

The room that was our bedroom prior to the upstairs remodel became the office and guest room. My son’s computer and a desk are in the corner of the room. The huge blue screen that the company I work for requires as the background is suspended from the ceiling. We have a twin bed set up in case of a guest. There is also another smaller desk that holds all La Yacata community paperwork because I am still called on at times to take care of that business. I hung a blanket on the wall to help with the microphone echo. I had my husband move the fan light from upstairs to into this room. The lighting still wasn’t very good for the video I need to teach classes, so I bought a floor lamp as well, which seems to help keep me from looking so washed out. My husband ran the cable from the modem perched in the second-floor window to the office area.   

After all the work, here I am sitting at the upstairs table on my laptop writing instead of the office. It’s just too dark to be in there all the time, although it works wonderfully for my classes since most of them are scheduled after the sun goes down anyhow.

My son and I are sharing his computer. I use it to teach classes, sometimes up to 6 hours a day.  I know he’s a bit frustrated with that. My laptop is over 2 years old and just hasn’t adapted well to the Zoom updates. It still works for everything else I need it for though.

My son’s computer time has also been limited because of our off-grid setup. With just 4 batteries, we aren’t sure of our electric budgeting yet. Yesterday we did two loads of wash and filled the tinaco on the roof using the pump and used some power tools so by the time evening came around, the charge indicator was orange and my son wasn’t permitted any computer time.

In case you missed it, we did two loads of wash yesterday! With the pure sine wave converter, our washer works just dandy. Our other small appliances also work better, the blender, popcorn maker, and fan. So while we still have hopes of a few more batteries, we are delighted with our current creature comforts here in La Yacata.

That hasn’t stopped my husband’s drive for change though. He’s got a few more projects underway.

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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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Juggling all the eggs in one basket

small-poppins

So it’s been just over a month since the beginning of the school year and my schedule has me running around like a chicken with its head cut off. This year, at the school I work at, I’ve had the owners hire a second English teacher to cover the kindergarten classes and first grade. I continue to teach second grade through sixth grade. I thought it would free up my time some so I didn’t feel like I was dying at the end of each day like last year when I taught 2 kindergarten classes and five elementary classes (I combined some of the groups into mammoth groups to accommodate the school day and my availability). However, although I’ve given up some tasks, I have taken up others.

Instead of teaching kindergarten, I designed the curriculum and textbooks that the kindergarten will be using for all 4 levels, maternal, first, second and third grade. That took more than a few hours of my already limited time. I like doing that sort of work, but it doesn’t compare to the joy of teaching the little lovely happy souls ages 2-6.

The curriculum is already in place for first grade, but it’s been challenging to bring the new teacher up to speed. She’s had more experience at teaching kindergarten than elementary and the additional requirements that come with elementary teaching include things like diagnostic tests, parent meetings, grading with numbers rather than excellent, very good, good, regular, deficient and so on and new to her. Plus, the textbook we use comes with video and computer game components and she’s not really tech savvy. I’m glad that she’s open to learning these things, but it means more work for me at the moment.

Then there’s the pay. I’ve been making less money for more work each year I work in the Mexican school system. When I started, I made 85 pesos per hour and had 8 weeks off in the summer. Now I make 70 pesos per hour and have 4 weeks off in the summer. Of course, everything else has gone up in price during that time. Tortillas used to cost 6 pesos per kilo, now they are 13 pesos per kilo. And the peso had devalued to 19 per US dollar what seems like permanently now.

I’m also supposed to get a provisional teaching license from Guanajuato. Because of all these educational reforms, I’ll need to take the official exam too. The thing is, everybody knows the system is rigged. Several teachers I know that took the exam last year and passed, this year took the same exam and didn’t. What’s up with that? The list of requirements SEP requests keeps getting longer and longer and each required document has a price. So is it really worth it when I make $68.75 USD per week?

mototeacher

Then there are my private and Saturday classes. Since I’ve been working online, I decided to only teach private classes on Wednesday and Thursday during the week. I only kept my long-term students. However, lately, students have been canceling left and right. I have 7 classes scheduled for those two days, last week, I only taught 4. The same thing happens on Saturday. I have 4 scheduled for Saturdays, last week I only taught 1. If I were depending on these “regular” classes for my weekly income, we’d surely starve to death. Not to mention I haven’t raised my prices since I started. I still only charge $50 pesos per class, per student, per hour. That’s $2.64 USD per hour.

Camille Online

You might think that my online classes are my salvation. After all, they pay in US dollars. However, I’ve had internet connection issues this month. One day, my internet dropped just for a minute. I was able to return to the class, but my audio wasn’t working. The tech person instructed me to restart my computer, so I did. Only when I did, Windows 10 decided it needed to do updates. My computer was out of commission for over an hour while they installed. Then another day, the internet went out 10 minutes before my scheduled shift, in the entire town. It returned the moment my shift was over. Then, I’m only scheduled for about 10 hours per week, although Labor day weekend vacation requests bumped my schedule up to 15 hours. It’s not enough to live on, dollars or not. Plus, if the internet continues to be so unreliable, I’m pretty sure I’ll get fired.

I haven’t come up with any good solutions yet. I’ve committed to this schedule until December, then I’ll have to reevaluate the value of my time. Suggestions anyone?

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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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