Zoom Classes: You cut my hours, you slash my wages and you give me these ?

27th July 2021

Teacher suspended after appearing topless during Zoom video lesson | Nestia
Google Images. A teacher was reported suspended after appearing shirtless on Zoom

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

Beethoven as a Child and His Father's Alcoholism - MagellanTV

Me: Is your name Mary ?

Mary: Yes.

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:

GIF jules winnfield and i will strike down upon thee with great vengeance  and furious anger ezekiel 25 17 - animated GIF on GIFER - by Grilace

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.

“What a piece of work is man ?” What indeed

These situations are hardly isolated.

I saw an interesting site that highlighted some deplorable behaviour by participants. Read the full page here: https://skierscribbler.com/9307/news/inappropriate-behavior-in-zooms/

A new set of guidelines, according to the article, has been set following recent misbehaviors:


Camera’s must be on during online classes, students that fail to comply with this rule may be marked absent (unless there are extenuating circumstances).


In all zoom calls there is now a mandatory waiting room.


Students are no longer allowed to change their names.

Backgrounds must be one of the default zoom backgrounds or a solid color.


If students have a profile photo, it has to be of themselves.


In some classes, chat restrictions have also been implemented.

The teachers are all taking a massive financial hit to keep these lessons going. ‘T’is a pity the customers display contempt and disrespect. C’est la vie.

Love and Chaos Part 2(C) The Knock On The Door

24th November 2020

Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge awoke from a dream with the words of Kubla Khan flowing, demanding to be transcribed and he immediately collected his ink and paper, no less his thoughts, which were racing through those ancient, mythical, mysterious lands.

His hand, desperate to record those indescribably, wondrous images, not knowing where they would lead him, his mind, knowing he mustn’t a moment waste, compelled him to write, write, write …

And then the wretched Man from Purlock.

A matter of pressing business, must be attended to, forthwith. Coleridge tried to dissuade him, entreating him to return at a later time, but requests and pleas wouldn’t move this persistent Man from Purlock. He decreed that Pleasure Domes, stately or otherwise, could wait, they would still be there after satisfactory conclusion of matter at hand, which must be gone into with the greatest care.

Still The Poet attempted swift conclusion of conversation, but unlike the distorted, other-world time of the vision, the minutes now dragged heavy-weighted, Xanadu receding, shapes blurring, demands to be left in peace to regain the inspiration holding no truck with this intractable Man from Purlock.

And when finally The Poet could return to his desk and thoughts, try as he might, no further impression was vouchsafed him. The poem remained unfinished.

DGA Quarterly Magazine | Winter 2006 | Shot to Remember - Amadeus
From the film ‘Amadeus’ by Milos Foreman 1984

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart increasingly felt unable to trust a soul. His genius which had promised so much, had proved to be a curse, a Faustian pact that was rapidly drawing to its inevitable, diabolical finale.

He had hoped the spirituality of his music would elevate him and his audience. Instead he was rooted amongst worldly pettiness, of insidious jealousy and bitter hatred. Far from reaching the Parthenon of the gods, he would sink as surely as his Don Giovanni.

There was no doubt that there was a conspiracy against him. Would he meet his end by swift blade, or slow poison, left to die like a dog.

Just as he was obsessing over such thoughts, he was startled by a heavy pounding of his door. Opening, he was confronted by a tall, dark, masked man who held out the commission.

Mozart was to write a Requiem.

Not only would he die, they would humiliate him, make him know exactly what fate had in store. And in such a fitting way, make him compose music for his own death.

For there was no question. Death had paid him a visit and Mozart knew it wouldn’t be long before they were to meet again.

Ludwig van Beethoven, it is said, was starting work on his fifth symphony, when his landlady knocked on his door, one, two three, four, which gave him the immortal opening that heralded the piece and which, many years later, was broadcast over occupied Europe, four notes that proclaimed that the Allies were on their way, the darkness was over.

It was Fate, knocking on the door …

BEETHOVEN: THE KNOCK OF FATE | Looking for Things To Do? Kuala Lumpur's  best Events Calendar | KL100

Seahorse Productions: ‘Shadow Sonata’ 2014

8th June 2020

‘Shadow Sonata’ was my first film shot in London since the early 1990s, and how things have changed. I started with a Bell & Howell 8mm cine camera, splicing film by hand and playing back on a projector; now I was working on a pocket digital camera and cutting on computer.

The title is a reference to the short story collection ‘Shadows of a Sound’ by the Korean writer Hwang Sun-woo, an author mentioned in the Korean film ‘My Sassy Girl,’ and the book plays a key part in the film. The influence of Asia and Asian culture should be discernible throughout.

Hwang Sun-won Whois
Hwang Sun-woo
Shadows of a Sound by Hwang Sun-won (1990, Hardcover) for sale ...
The short story collection

‘Shadow Sonata’ is a non-linear story of a man living in London, obsessed by an old love affair, while dreaming his way out of his depression. The topography of London helps the viewer place the action in the past, the present, and what could be the future, or pure imagination.

The Man starts by meeting his blonde girlfriend by an old museum in Walthamstow, north-east London. From the sunny exterior we move to the inside of his small London bedsit, decorated with Asian posters, and full of books by Asian writers.

Walthamstow Village - Wikipedia
Old Walthamstow

He walks around London, alone, the city appearing grey, cold, emotionless. He keeps seeing a beautiful Asian lady and feels very attracted to her … if only he could meet her.

I shot this film over two days on my Samsung W200, a camera that cost me around 80 UKP. It lasted until 2017 when it just died on me but anyway, mobile phones now have better cameras (I currently use an iPhone 6s).

Samsung W200 Full HD Waterproof Pocket Camcorder: Amazon.co.uk ...

Furthermore, I was very lucky with the weather; I had bright sun for the flashback sequence and dull wet grey rain for the present.

The was for the old love affair was played on an instrument I encountered in Sweden, a nyckleharpa:

Nyckelangelo

The dream or future sequence uses ‘Oriental’ from Granados’ ‘Spanish Dances’, while the melancholic ending is a late String Quartet by Beethoven. These small scale pieces fascinate me, especially considering they followed the epic 9th Symphony … but that is possibly a theme for another blog or film.

As always, thanks so much to the actors who gave their time for free:

Mr Martin O’Shea, Ms Michelene P. Heine, Mr Stephen Grey, Mr Alex Loveridge, Ms Angie and introducing Ms Emily Yue.

And now

LIGHTS

CAMERAS

ACTION !

The link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_e3DOCT36o

Young Learners, Level 5: Sounds of the rain forest.

5th June for 6th June 2020

Here’s a quick blog for a class I’m covering tomorrow. As a warm up and review, I’ll play this music as the students enter the class: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fHWhebFt_r0

Long-term fate of tropical forests may not be as dire as believed ...
A tropical rain forest

Next up, a great video (under five minutes) about the rain forest, in English but with captions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMdD6TTDZ_g

The video has a lot of new words, so I will pause the clip and board new words. Following the video, I’ll ask these questions. Being a large class, the students can work in teams, maybe each team having the name of an animal (that should be fun for Team Monkey).

Which big cat has spots, which has stripes ? Why do they have patterns ?

What is the name of the line that goes around the middle of the Earth ?

Rain forests has two things … what ?

What fruit can you find ?

What animals live at the top of trees ?

Is Vietnam in the tropics ?

BONUS POINTS:

Why are rain forests important ?

Colombia creates the world's largest tropical rainforest national ...

They absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen

They are home to lots of different wildlife

They produce water and rainfall for the planet

Moving on rapidly – Adverbs

Give me a sentence for these photos:

Pin by Jill Czarnowski on Big Cats | Jaguar animal, Animals ...

EXAMPLE:

The jaguar runs quickly // The jaguar with black spots, runs very quickly

House panel tackles bill vs late-night karaoke, loud sound systems
Karaoke
Lunch atop a Skyscraper - Wikipedia
Life in the slow lane: three amazing sloth records | Guinness ...
A sloth
Respect is the Watchword: 'Orange is the New Black,' Season Two ...
Reading in a library ssshhhhhhh …
One of Buster Keaton's most dangerous stunts | Imágenes bellas, Fotos
Buster Keaton doesn’t stand in a very safe place

How do I follow that !

The remainder of the lesson is given over to reading, the theme being a music recital, so I can lead in by asking who play an instrument (then explaining that my long nails on my left hand are for playing guitar, not for scaring students).

For the quiet book-work section, I’ll play the glorious Ludwig van: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Tr0otuiQuU

Adult Class, Level 3: If I make them learn, it’ll be a miracle !

22nd April 2019

Cutting it a bit fine, as this lesson begins in just over four hours. I’ve substituted this class before and, being diplomatic, they need a non-standard teaching method. Just going through the course book, expecting students to do the assigned work – to talk together in English, to practice and produce – is for the birds ! It ain’t gonna happen, brother !

What we have here is a class of teenagers … yeah … an adult class comprised solely of teenagers … to answer Bob Geldof, that is WHY I don’t like Mondays.

The answer … simply to be crazier than the students. It has the element of surprise.

Last time, after preparing thirty minutes of activities and getting no response, I sat next to the students and MADE them speak to me. I asked one boy (yes, he was still in school uniform) a question and it was a deer caught in the headlights – “He’s asking me a question … in English … and expects me to answer ?”

So, without further ado, tonight’s lesson plan which involves First conditional, future clauses, reading and speaking. On the surface, I’m dead in the water – however, I have some tricks up my sleeve ….

First activity will be something I learnt from my time with a theatre group (never more than five people but that constitutes a ‘group’). I’ll draw a red dot on the floor and get all the class to stand around it (yes, I know getting the class up from their chairs will probably take up most of the lesson). The exercise is to focus all of our energy at the spot. We start be pointing our right hand at it for eight seconds, then changing to our left hand, our right leg followed by our left. This is repeated for four seconds, two seconds and finally one second. I think it’s a fair bet that none of the students have started a lesson in that manner before.

Next, I shall invoke the help of my friend Dali. I shall make the students say his name, elongating it as long as possible, while twirling my (imaginary) moustache. Then I shall show them his photo and an example of his work:

I will try to elicit, to get feedback, from the class. Last week, I covered this class and I did a lesson about personality adjectives. How would they describe Dali, just from his picture, and what do they think about his art ? I will guide them towards the subject, the colours, the background. Hopefully, it will be inspiring to at least some of the students.

Now, grammar time, First Conditional.

If I have 10 million VND, I will buy a Honda motorbike.

Conditional + subject + verb …… (comma) sub + will + verb …

First conditional uses present tense ( have) and will do something. It is used when something is very possible. In Vietnam, 10 million VND is not an impossible amount for a basic motorbike.

HOWEVER, If I had 100 million VND (not so likely) I would buy ….

To test comprehension, I’ll board some incorrect sentences and see if the students can change them:

If you’ll learn English you are get a good job

My mum will hit me unless I does get good grades

She won’t going to bed until he came home

If you buy an Apple X, you would be happy

After you leave the class, you would be terribly sad.

Finally, in this rather short post, some pre-teaching for the reading section.

The words are:

prodigies

controversy

determined

forbidden

outstanding

excelled

rebelled

took up

resent

How could they apply them to the following pictures:

Both Mozart and Beethoven were incredibly gifted children. Mozart’s first composition was written when he was just five years old.

President Trump plans to build a wall between USA and Mexico. Not everyone thinks this a good idea, while some totally approve of it. It has made many people very angry.

Now, how about this sign I saw in Indonesia (Yes – this is genuine, hand on heart) ?

How would they describe this young lady:

And finally, what do they students understand by this picture ?

So, we shall see how my little rebels deal with the lesson. If all else fails, I can make then sit through some REAL music:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egMWlD3fLJ8

Now, that’s a chopper !