Working with Less

So if you’re out there doing your research about working from home, especially as an English teacher, you might notice the same trend I do: over-freaking-complicating what’s physically needed to do this job. If you watch online videos about teaching online you’ll see crazy class set ups and hundreds of props. you don’t need that! It’s mostly about YOU.

Some teachers are out here making videos showing their classroom or office set-up, showing off impressive collections of props and a wide range of technology. One teacher I saw a set-up video from even had her classroom in a very nicely finished shed, with electricity and internet wired from the house to this separate space. Now it was a really nice space – she had a little kitchenette and space for guests to use it as a guest house. I could totally see myself absolutely loving a space like that, and I was definitely a little jealous.

She had whole drawer sets full of this type of toy or prop, and that type of flash card. She even had a filing cabinet with the printed out lesson plan for every lesson she’d ever taught. It made it easy for her to know what she’d need and quickly prep when she got booked for those lessons again.

Honestly – kudos to her because she’s killin’ it.

But as I watched it occurred to me that if I had watched hers and videos like hers before applying to be an online teacher I would of thought I couldn’t do this – I don’t have that kind of space. As someone in search of employment I didn’t have the money to create anything like that or buy all those props. I would of figured this career was for someone else.

Now, there are others out there making videos that show just how do-able it is. I’ve also seen “here’s my space” videos from teachers who are literally making their classroom in a closet. Hang a backdrop, tweek the lighting and BOOM! International classroom in the basement closet.

So there’s definitely a spectrum.

The Truth: These Videos come from Experienced Teachers

That’s not a bad thing but it’s definitely something you’ve gotta remember when you watch these. You might be just considering your application or preparing for an interview when you go down the rabbit hole of videos about classroom and space set ups, prop organization and more. It can be super intimidating because it seems like you would never be able to compete with the kind of resources and collections that are literally at the fingertips of these teachers.

Fear not – they didn’t go to target and buy it all in one haul. They built those collections while they built their careers and you will too.

When I got hired I went to chapters and bought one lavender coloured bunny from the kids section. I like things that are soft, and cute so it was kind of a treat for me too. I never really got over my affection for plush toys. I call her Flora.

I keep her by my desk with a hedgehog that Ben gave me one year for our anniversary because he knows about my affection of plush toys.

There’s also a Panda toy that mom got me one year when Telus sold them to raise money for a wildlife organization.

I have more but I don’t use them as much. I don’t need a different toy for every class and any given class doesn’t need more than 2 or 3 toys, if that, because they aren’t really what class is about.

I use a hand drawn set of music notes to show when it’s time to sing.

But most of the time for anything else I just use my hands or demonstrate on the platform. For example if I want my students to circle things, I circle them. If I want them to read, I underline.

I also keep whiteboards near me because sometimes it helps to draw the letters and do little reading games with them. Really anything else I use is a common desk item like a book, pen, or sometimes I use coloured markers to show colours and practice the names. Lamp, keyboard, ipad… nothing extraordinary. No super collection of reward systems. I cheer my kids on and then get back to the lesson. No bucket of action figures.

Honestly, you know what my students love? When I cheer and dance in my chair like a FOOL. It’s interesting, funny , and it clearly communicates to them that they did well and their teacher is happy. THAT’s what matters.

When the teacher is happy, so are the students!

So here I am, making just as much a career of it as the woman who built a separate classroom in her back yard.

I kind of get it though

I kind of get why these teachers create such elaborate set ups and why they show off just how elaborate they are. We as a society have a habit of seeing validity in complication. The more intricate the system, the harder it is for us to understand the more valid we consider the person who is understanding and doing the work. Think of scientific careers like doctors and astrophysicists, or the scholarly such as lawyers whose job it is to navigate systems that are so large and complex most of us need help using them.  Consider the validity we give these career choices over say, writer or even a traditional teacher. While we acknowledge that writing and teaching are respectable careers we tend to underestimate the difficulty of careers we understand and see as uncomplicated.

So sometimes there’s an urge to sort of demonstrate the validity of our career choices by making our careers fit a more complicated, difficult narrative.

“Look how I’ve organized the reward systems and over here are the lesson plans…” translates in to “Look how much equipment and paperwork is required.”

“See how I’ve arranged this space to optimize the light and….” turns in to “There’s more to this… This is where I work hard to support my family.”

I feel this temptation too. I want people to join me in this career because it’s been rewarding and I really, genuinely enjoy it. But it’s also tempting to put up barriers and push people to see that this isn’t a hobby or a passing phase. It’s work, the same as any other job in so many ways.

Ultimately, it takes balance.

It’s a career like any other. It demands a set of skills that, if you have, you’ll excel and without, you’ll struggle. It can mean long hours, waking up early and going to bed late. Sometimes it will be awesome and some days you’ll hate it.

What you don’t have to worry about to start out is having an elaborate set up.

So I’m here to say to you – you who may be considering or just starting on this path – don’t be intimidated by the veterans. Settle in to a little corner you’re comfortable in. Wear a covering, plain shirt. Bring a cup of tea and a smile. You can be great at this.

Sincerely, Carmen in Canada

When I write about working from home I caution my  readers not to romanticize the reality – I give up stability, normal working hours (although I am slowly building towards normal hours, more on that another time.), and many of the perks of a “regular job”. I always acknowledge that I’ve traded these things for the convenience of staying at home and pursuing a flexible career.

Let’s talk a bit about what I get in return for my trade.

Who I work For and What I Do

I work for three different companies.

Company one, the company I’ve been with for the longest, is a Chinese company focused on educating Chinese children. It offers one to one classes and they have designed the curriculum. Students book me at the time they prefer and I try to make the process of learning English fun and interesting with games and lots of smiles, virtual high fives and rewards.

Company two I am new too. It offers one to one classes as well as group classes with as many as six students. This company focuses on adults, however, and they take student from all over the world. In a class I might have a few people from Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, or Germany! These classes are also focused on teaching the art of conversation by supplying students with useful sentences, natural back and forth examples and pronunciation guidance. They will have already studied the basics like vocabulary and grammar on their own – I’m just there to help bring it all together.

Company three is the leas formal. There is no powerpoint or directed class goal. Really it’s skype built in to a web platform where the minutes spent on a call can be easily tracked. This offers a one to one video connection and the goal is unstructured conversation practice. Think of it this way – someone in a foreign country has spent a lot of energy learning English but doesn’t know if they can take what they know in theory to the real world with effective conversations in English. This company is their way to connect with native English speakers, practice, have interesting conversations and get some advice along the way.

Why I Love my Job(s) – Seriously!

What all of this means is that I spend my day talking to people around the world, literally. They tell me about their homes, the culture and the politics, their travels and their experience with travelling.  They tell me what they do for work, why they like it and what makes it difficult. I learn about and sometimes meet their families.

Secretly, I think I learn so much more than I teach.

I am so lucky to genuinely smile throughout my time working.  Even in hour 12 I am still smiling my face off listening to a 6 year old describe their day at school.

I could work less. Twelve hour days, even if they only happen once or twice a week, are undeniably overkill. Nobody is forcing me to open my availability and allow that many bookings. But its so hard to resist when I know I will more than likely enjoy all 12 of those hours!

I mean, the paycheques don’t hurt either.

My Work Identity: Meet Teacher Carmen

Don’t we all have that person we are at work? That personality we fold up and tuck away in an office drawer when we’re done for the day? I sure do.

She likes tea – and need a  lot of it. But she’ll drink diet coke if there’s no time to make tea. She is obsessed with her planner and anything organizational.

She’s got a bit of a sticky not problem/addiction, and she’s not seeking help.

Sometimes her pets make guest appearances in class.

Her favourite students are the ones that laugh with her or tell her about different cultures.

The practice platform does not require me to send formal feedback to the people I meet but the other two are more formal education platforms so my students always receive feedback. That is how my teacher identity got her name – from my introduction:

Hello, my name is Carmen and I live in Canada.

… to my sign-off:

Sincerely, Carmen in Canada.

 

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