One day a scorpion was out walking when it came to a river. The scorpion, who couldn’t swim, wanted to cross the river, and saw a frog resting on a stone.
“Hello, frog, can you carry me to the other side ? I can ride on your back.”
The frog refused.
“You are a scorpion. You will sting me.”
“Why would I do that ? We would both die,” asked the scorpion.
The frog thought, then agreed. The scorpion climbed onto the frog’s back.
However, half way across the river, the scorpion stung the frog. The frog, in pain, asked the scorpion,
“Why did you do that ? Now we will both die.”
“I know,” replied the scorpion, “I couldn’t help it because it’s my nature.”
A modern day tale
Classes of students who are undisciplined, disrespectful and physically or verbally abusive.
The centre makes rules. The students start each lesson reciting them.
Rules such as not saying, “No,” to a teacher when asked to do something, not calling a teacher by a disrespectful name, no running, no eating in class.
Yet, forty minutes later, masks are off and half the class are eating, running in the halls, shouting. Students say, “No,” to polite requests, and call teachers disrespectful names.
They have been told if they break these new rules, they will be sent home, and if the offense is repeated, they will be expelled. Still they continue.
Why … because it’s in their nature.
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The employer is responsible for providing a safe working environment for staff.
In the physical workspace, the teacher should not be physically or verbally harmed in any way.
Kicking, hitting, being jumped on etc are unacceptable, and the offender needs to be punished.
In the online workspace, the teacher should not be expected to work with an unreasonable amount of background noise.
TAs and senior staff need to be more proactive in both recognising and addressing these problems.
The situation is clearly very stressful for all involved.
Let’s work together and make classes a fun, happy and, most importantly, appropriate place for learning.
Any student in a noisy environment should have their mic muted.
Any student who interrupts the class on a regular basis will be placed in the Waiting Room. Repetition of the offense will result in the student being barred from the class.
I have happy to report that my centre has taken action, and changes were implemented within a few hours of this posting. My Manager is pretty amazing that way – your help and input can not be overstated. Thank you.
In a previous blog I tried, against my nature, to show a positive side to Zoom teaching. Teachers, TAs, admin staff are kept in employment, albeit with significant pay cuts, while the students are able to practise their English skills … should they choose.
I’m trying to keep this light-hearted, but all anecdotes are true, based on my experiences of Zoom. CUT TO last year, our first period of lockdown.
I can’t turn my light on, I’ve got no power
First up, back in the early days, teachers went to campus and used laptops to hold Zoom classes. The first five or ten minutes were spent waiting for late-comers, asking people to put their cameras on, then to KEEP their cameras on, ditto mics. One character, a teenage boy was sitting in darkness … this was a daytime class and Sai Gon in the day in bright, big time. Said teenager claimed that he had no electricity in his house, therefore could not put on the lights.
Do you sense a ‘however’ coming on ?
However … his laptop was working (sure, maybe it was running on battery). His wifi was working, but, the smoking gun … a slither of bright light from the corner of the room. Yes, said young gentleman had drawn his curtain and was ‘claiming’ he had no power.
Do you sense another ‘however’ coming on ?
However … I had an ace up my sleeve for, off-screen but next to me was my manager. I updated Mr No-Power on this development. A native teenager lying to an English teacher is not so unique. But would he lie to his Vietnamese manager. Damn right he would.
Just the tip of the iceberg. My camera’s not working
The teacher asks, politely requests, a student to put the camera on. This is after the class has seen a slide giving class rules AND a video in Vietnamese explaining what is expected. It is expected that students will put on their cameras. CUT TO a black screen, and yet another (here is where a teacher needs the patient of a whole temple of Buddhas) invitation to turn on the camera. Student claims camera is not working. Unfortunately, student had turned ON the camera and we could all see, in glorious Technicolor, the student, bold as brass (but thick as a brick). The mistake was then realised, and the student could be seen reaching for the lower corner of the laptop, and camera fades to black.
But that’s just one or two rotten apples, right ?
Are you kidding ? I teach IELTS which is the serious subject; a good grade here is a passport to a different country, to study, to live, maybe get exposed to different points of views, philosophies and outlooks. So you would think the students would be really motivated, right ?
Think again, pucko !
I had one IELTS class with about eight or nine students, including professional people and even a doctor. Guess what … despite the rules being reiterated, the Vietnamese-language video, I end up speaking to eight or nine black screens. Every lesson.
Doesn’t your campus kick ass ?
Kiss ass rather than kick ass. They go, half-heartedly through the motions, make rules but lack the balls to enforce them.
The reasons are clear. Firstly, this is not a state school, the students are CUSTOMERS … they generate revenue. It is a business axiom that the customer is always right. A business needs to keep and expand its customer base. My campus wants customers to return, to tell their friends, schoolmates, family members, each and everybody, they produce Disneyesque promotional films of photogenic children saying how they love learning here, and how they love their teachers (ya never see the fat ugly kids with buck teeth do ya).
Oh, man, you must be puttin’ me on ?
I wish ! You can look for yourself on YouTube, though not too soon after eating; there are stomach-churningly nauseating. Furthermore, the punters are locals, they are Vietnamese. I’ve seen some YouTube videos of a South African man explaining a similar situation in China. When push comes to shove, the natives support each other. Always. Teachers are a dime a dozen, they come ‘n’ go, and who can blame them ? Customers are more valued, they will always take precedence over a foreigner (that is how we are designated). Ready for one or two final delicacies ?
But teenagers are famous for their good behaviour
Haha, yeah good one. Just a brief entrance here. I had one class, back at campus, with some teens. I began saying hello to each student. Some would just stare at me, refusing to say a word. Then they initiated a new game; I would call a customer and rather than answer immediately, the teen would say, “Me ?” with terrible over-acting, faux surprise. This carried on with every subsequent teen. Finally, a teen, let’s called her Mary, copied her classmates, to wit:
Me: Mary, what’s number 3, please ?
Mary: Me ?
Cue the Beethoven
Me: Is your name Mary ?
Me: Then answer the question and stop wasting my time.
I went on to explain that I will do everything to help anyone who really wants to learn. However, those who just want to insult me and disturb my lesson … well, let’s Samuel L. explain:
Finally, (though you can guess this one could run and run), another IELTS class. I was given a real motley crew of unmotivated, unanimated, lifeless schlimels (if you don’t know what that means, look it up, I ain’t doing all the work for you). One schliemel was a teenage boy, a poster-boy for gormlessness. He informed me, by chat box, that his mic wasn’t working. Now, IELTS is all about speaking and practising, it ain’t just watching the teacher, it ain’t TV, dig ? You’ve gotta join in or you are wasting your (parents’) money.
Did you strike down upon him with great vengeance and furious anger ?
I farmed out that hit. Stopped the lesson and let everyone see that I was contacting Customer Care who, in turn, phoned gormless schliemel. Lo and behold, the mic miraculously started working. The guy would have been happy to sit and listen for an hour or two without contributing anything. After, he could go away and laugh that he hadn’t done any work.
If the job sucks, why d’you do it ?
Good question. I’ve spoken to many teachers, in various countries, and the answer is generally, ‘What else can I do ? It’s my profession’. And, at the moment, I don’t need to tell you, travel just ain’t as easy as it used to be.
Is there anything good about it ?
No. OK, I’m pulling your leg. A minority of students are sweet, respectful and polite. They really want to learn, and I can see the progress week by week. Occasionally, very occasionally, an adult student can become a friend, while the younger kids provoke avuncular feelings. Very rarely, one gets to meet a Princess. But these, as stated, are the minority.
Part One: “Always look on the bright side of life”
Eric Idle 1979
First, a thank you to a blogger friend in USA, Haoyan Do, who asked me about Zoom classes, and how they differed from the physical classroom or, in plain English, real life. I had already decided to put a positive spin (more neologisms) on the current situation but, in the interests of fairness, I shall also explore the other side of that metaphorical coin in a future blog.
Now, without further ado, the benefits of teaching on Zoom
“If the rain comes, they go and hide their heads …”
The Beatles ‘Rain’ 1966
Not easy to capture a monsoon on a cheap mobile (cellphone) but you can see the grey sky, the clouds and the mournful trees trying to shelter from the storm. So, advantage number 1 …
1: Avoid going out in the rainy season
My IELTS students, not to mention my Top Cats from younger classes, will know the idiom ‘it’s raining cats and dogs,’ and then some ! When it rains here, the heavens open and streets get flooded. I’ve had to wade, knee-high, in swampy rain water to get to my campus. I lost an iPhone in the rain, and nearly get my foot stuck in a pothole in the middle of the main road. Now, I can watch the rain from inside, safe and dry.
Moving on, I haven’t posted many teaching blogs recently, leading to advantage number 2 …
2: No lesson planning
I only have Young Learner classes, students aged from 7 – 11, which are two-hour classes. We work from the set text books, but my manager prepares all the warm up activities, games and vocabulary reviews on ppt slides. I present them and conduct the lesson.
Some students may be rather vocal, and twelve enthusiastic youngsters can be, as we say in London, GBH of the ear’ole, meaning pain from so much noise or excessive talking (GBH stands for grievous bodily harm in English criminal law). Thus, advantage number 3 …
3: MUTE & MUTE ALL buttons
I love these options, the teacher’s friend. A student who is sitting by a blaring TV, a mummy and daddy having a shouting match, someone who wants to disturb the lesson by humming into the mic … just hit the MUTE button … bliss. Furthermore, we have a Waiting Room facility. Any student who is disrespectful or does now meet my standards of behaviour can be kicked out of the class for five minutes. This action can be repeated. I also have the option to permanently remove them from the class (though I have yet to use that feature).
Thay Paul, can you give us an example ?
Can I ? Oh, yeah, in spades ! Just last weekend, I was going through the online class rules, one of which was not to play with the Zoom features, and not to use a Zoom filter background. No sooner said, then one student began playing with Zoom, flashing said background. In my class, that got him a BLACK STAR. Student, typically, denied the accusation, although everyone had seen, and thereafter was in a bad mood, not answering when the TA called and refusing to take part in a game. Therefore, I put the student in the Waiting Room. Upon return, the student began taking part very enthusiastically, even earning stars for good work.
Next advantage is more indirect but ultimately beneficial to us all
Schools closed, traffic greatly reduced leading to less pollution. Naturally people are using more electricity at home, but in many cases, lights, computers and A/C would be on anyway. Additionally, I spend more on electricity but this is offset by not spending money on petrol (gas) or Grabbike (similar to an Uber service).
So there you have it, four benefits although nothing of real pedagogic value. The Zoom classes are a way of providing some level of education during this lockdown period, to make sure students are exposed to English: listening, speaking, reading and writing.
Teachers need to be extra patient and calm, understanding and compassionate. However, we also have a job to do, and I endeavour to make sure all the students have had an opportunity to practice English, leaving the class having learnt something of lasting value.
With heavy heart (and a lighter wage packet) schools in Viet Nam shut down on the 10th May, and will remain closed at least until the end of the month, quite probably longer.
Can you hear the collective moans and groans of despair ?
We now enter our third period of online classes and while some teachers, of infinite sense, said, “No way, Jose !” yours truly signed up for nine two-hour sessions.
I know, tell me about it, or rather DON’T … online teaching, for the Admin staff, for the TAs, for the company and its economic stability, not to mention the lowly teachers is:
Maybe in another blog, probably after we have to returned to ‘normality’ (which is pretty crazy at the best of times), I’ll write down some highlights of the online experience but for now, here’s a coping mechanism.
Instead of being irritated by various phenomenon, turn them into a game. This is something I can try with the more amenable TAs (who fight tooth and nail to avoid working with me … being assigned to my class is seen as the equivalent to being sent to Siberia, and I can’t say I blame them, poor things).
So let’s dive in: here’s how it’s played
During the course of an online class, one is likely to encounter the following:
A shirtless man, Daddy or Grandfather, wandering into the screen
A sibling entering the picture and making faces into the camera
An irate parent, usually the Daddy, sometimes shirtless, shouting, “Hello, hello, hello, hello, hello, hello, hello etc …” into the mic
A ‘student’ constantly changing their screen image, adding filters, wearing computer glasses, despite being told several times to keep a plain background and not play with the settings
A ‘student’ turning off their mic and / or camera after being told to turn on their mic and / or camera
‘Student’ saying, “I don’t know,” to every question
‘Student’ giving a stupid answer to a question. Example from last weekend, when shown a picture of a bat, a moody pre-teenage girl said that it was a swan, and I’m supposed to find that humourous and adorable and acceptable and be patient because [insert pathetic excuse here].
‘Student’, with mic muted, unmutes, makes a loud noise into mic, then mutes.
Lesson interrupted by the sound of a family screaming at each other (referred to as normal conversation in Viet Nam)
When these happen, and they will, oh, man, they will, players get points. Breaks down like this:
Shirtless Man (2 points) // Sibling action (2 points) //
Cam & mic on\off (1 point) // I don’t know (3 points) //
Stupid answer (4 points) // Random noises (2 points) //
Family noise (2 points)
This can be developed for teenagers, and adult classes e.g. ‘students’ saying their cameras aren’t working when we can all see them clearly, (likewise their mic) // refusing to turn on camera and mic despite paying for a speaking class // sitting in the dark and saying that they have no electricity (but wifi, computer, music all seem to work fine // ‘student’ deciding to go to the noisiest place possible for the lesson // ‘student’ thinking that an online lesson is simply TV and that the teacher is here to entertain them for two or three hours etc, etc, etc …
Maybe you, dear reader, have picked up on a certain vibe. Yes, I am lucky to have work, but work like this … is it worth it ?