ITI – April 2020: Part One

A new month has arrived and following from the fallout of the last few days of March, and it was time to continue my teaching on ITI. Thankfully, most of my classes were conversation practice, so I didn’t have to do too much preparation for it, other than asking the student what they want to talk about.

Most of the students in the first week were my regular students, and I always look forward to seeing them. However, I had a few potential students book trial lessons with me, and I felt nothing but dread. Some of the potential students I had last month were awful, and I was hoping that I would have to deal with the same thing again, or worse. It’s the first of April, and it’s April Fools Day, so I wasn’t feeling too optimistic.

My first lesson of the day was with a Chinese lady. Before the class, she booked a trial lesson with me on ITI’s classroom platform, even though I state clearly on my profile that I do not use it and all my teaching takes place on either Skype or WeChat. I sent her a message asking her for her WeChat ID, which she gave to me, and I also asked her to complete a placement test so I could see what her English level is. She messaged me saying her English level is B1, but she didn’t give me a breakdown of her scores. I thought “Urgh, every student says they’re B1/Intermediate level. I’ll be the judge of that.” I replied, saying thank you and see you soon.

My lesson was scheduled for 13:00hrs, but she asked if we could start earlier. I said no because I was still getting ready (I was not going to start a class when I’ve only just got out of the shower). She kept pushing saying that we can finish early, and I said no, the lesson is booked for 13:00hrs and it will start then. She backed off. An hour later, I was about to start the class on WeChat via my laptop, but the student couldn’t see or hear me. I changed to my mobile, and I said that my camera wasn’t working (insert Pinocchio emoji here) and if she would be okay with doing an audio call. She said yes. During the class, I asked her a range of questions and assessed her conversation skill. I found she struggled with some of the questions I was asking, so I tried to ask her again, but more simply or find an easier question to ask. I got to the point where I was going to ask her why she’s taking English lessons and what does she want from them. Like most students, she wanted conversation practice. I then asked her about the placement test I sent her. I asked her if she had a breakdown of the scores and she said no, I asked her why, and she said that she’s a lazy student. Yes. She really did just say that. If you’re a lazy student, why do you have online lessons? On that note, she told me she’s a PhD student. How the hell can you be doing a PHD and be a lazy student?

I decided I had heard enough, so I then discussed the lesson and where we can go going forwards. I felt sick because I knew she wasn’t going to like what I was going to say. I told her that I think she needs more than conversation practice, and I think she should have structured lessons with a professional teacher as well as have a conversation lesson with them. She started questioning me, asking me why I won’t give her lessons. I explained once again, and she started shouting at me. I couldn’t make out some of what she said because of how loud she was, and then she said, “Are you saying my English isn’t good enough?” This irked me a bit, so I said, “It’s not about your English not being good enough. I’m delivering a service to students, and I am trying to manage expectations, and I don’t think I can offer you, conversation classes, at this moment in time. I’m just telling you what my opinion is, you don’t have to agree with it.” She continued to shout at me, so I tuned out and hung up on her. I huffed and puffed out of frustration. I then got a notification, and it was a voice clip from her. Oh, shit. Did she notice that I hung up on her? Was she going to shout at me again? All these thoughts were running through my head. I listened to the audio clip, she said sorry and blamed the connection for the call ending. No bitch, I hung up on you because you were shouting at me. I think she knew what had really happened. It was done, all over, and I was relieved.

I then spent the next half hour hoping and praying that she won’t complete the lesson on ITI and go away. She didn’t. She completed the lesson, and she also left feedback. She said she liked my class and that I recommended her a professional teacher (which is true, I did). She then said she thinks I’m a good teacher and (in broken English) responsible for her studies. Err, I don’t think so, love. I just told you I’m not giving you conversation classes. I am not responsible for your studies at all. Go away. I wanted to leave her feedback, but her feedback content is set as private so no future teachers can see it, and I also was worried she would see it and try to contact me again. I blocked her both on ITI and WeChat. Girl, bye.

That was one hell of a way to start April Fools Day. Are all my lessons going to be like this today? I had a mix of potential and regular students, so hopefully, it won’t be too bad. I had a half hour break before my second class, so I tried to wind down as much as I could because I didn’t want to take it out on them. That half-hour flew by, and I saw my next student who had become a regular. When she asked me how I was, I said I was fine, but I wanted to cancel today. I told her what happened with the student and she said not to think like that and think tomorrow will be a new day. She was right. I don’t remember what we talked about, but it was a good class, and I left it in a better mood than I was before it. I had a 45-minute lunch break which I made the most of because, after that break, I had back to back lessons. After the break, I had a potential student, and I was back into dread mode. What was this student going to be like? Is she going to go as crazy as the last potential student? I had the class.

The lady was nice, but her English wasn’t great, and there were numerous misinterpretations, and I wasn’t sure she would be able to cope during my conversation lessons. I had to give her the dreaded news that I think she needs to do more work on her English level. I used a classic phrase of mine, “I think you need more practice with your English, and you have structured lessons with a professional teacher as well as have one conversation practice with them.” She looked disappointed by my comments, but I told her that I was being honest and trying to “manage expectations” (another classic phrase of mine). She then said okay, and we ended the class. Another moment where I thought, “Please don’t complete the class.” She did, but she didn’t leave feedback. Phew.

The first week of April was over, and now it’s time to start the second week. I had the “potential student” dread because my first lesson was with one, and I had no idea what to expect. It was with a Vietnamese woman. My first lesson wasn’t until 1:30 PM, and she called me twice at 1 PM. I told her that our class doesn’t start for another half hour and I sent her a print screen to show the time. I was irked for a moment because I had a similar situation where a student wanted a class with me half hour before the originally scheduled class. That was not going to happen. I hadn’t even had my lunch. Once I had my lunch, I called the student, and our class started. I asked her all kinds of questions. She was interesting because she travelled to Mauritius from Vietnam via Georgia, and she told me about her experience in Georgia (this was after about three attempts to ask her what it was like). I then asked her the final question, “What do you want from English lessons online?” She asked me to repeat the question, so I said it more simply. I looked at my notes and went to find her scores on the placement test. I forgot to give her the link to do the test, so I had no breakdown of what her level of English is, and I just had to go by what I observed in the lesson. I said to her that I think she needs more practice with her English and that she may need to have structured lessons along with conversation practice.

She didn’t say anything, she just stared at me, and suddenly I heard a man shout “Hello SET, Nice to meet you.” I looked up and thought, “What the hell is going on? Where did he come from? Was he sat in the room the whole lesson? What the fuck?” He appeared on screen and asked me to say what I said again so he could translate for his wife, so I proceeded to repeat what I said. He sat there and just stared at me. Not once did he look at his wife, nor did he start translating what I was saying. Once I finished, he started asking me questions asking me why I won’t offer lessons with his wife and said he chose me because I said I had a teaching qualification on my profile. I told him I do have a teaching qualification, but I am a newly qualified teacher, and I think she needs more than conversation practice. He got more confrontational, and of course, that got my back up, so I told him that I’m being honest, I’m trying to manage expectations, and if he doesn’t agree with my opinion, that’s up to him. I ended the call and went out for a walk around the block to blow off some steam before my next class. I was in no mood to deal with any crazy folk and wanted to cancel the week, and it was only Monday.

The next few hours were fine as I had two regular students, along with hour-long breaks, and time flew by. My last lesson of the day was with a potential student from Azerbaijan, and while I had some feeling of dread, I was in a good mood. She was lovely, and her English was good. I told her I’m happy to give her conversation lessons in the future and we bonded over our English teaching because she’s studying to become an English teacher and me, a newly qualified English teacher. She booked a package with me not long after our trial lesson. The rest of the week was mostly quiet as I had regular students booked in, but I had a trial lesson with a Spanish lady in the evening. She was a nice lady, but her spoken English wasn’t the best, and she kept asking me “How do you say ….. in English?” in Spanish. I have no knowledge of Spanish despite learning it on and off for years, and I didn’t know what she was asking me, which meant there were some awkward silences. At the end of the class, I told her that I don’t think I can offer her conversation lessons and recommended she has conversation lessons with a Spanish teacher who teaches English. I thought if she had English lessons with them and she asked them a question in Spanish, they would understand her and answer her in English. She said she strongly disagrees with me and she wants to have lessons with a native speaker. I told her that if she wants to have lessons with a native speaker, she needs to find one who speaks Spanish because I didn’t feel comfortable being asked questions in a language that I don’t understand and I didn’t believe it would be a productive lesson. She didn’t say anything after that. She only thanked me for the lesson. Some of you may question my logic on the Spanish teacher teaching English thing, but would you want to be teaching a student whose asking you questions in their native tongue and you don’t understand what they’re saying?

The end of the week had arrived, and it did not end well. I had a 90-minute class with a Korean guy where we watch a TV show and then talk about it and answer his questions (e.g. What does “owe a ton” mean?) I was dreading this class because I didn’t know how productive it would be. He told me the name of the TV show and episode and sent a list of all the phrases and words he wasn’t sure of. I planned to watch it and write down explanations for the phrases left on the list, but I was tired and wanted to go to bed. The next morning, I woke up feeling really ill. I felt like I had just woken up from a general anaesthetic. I did everything I could to perk myself up, but those attempts were not to be successful. About halfway through the lesson, I had an episode. About a decade ago, I was diagnosed with epilepsy, and while I have been seizure-free (loss of consciousness type) for a few years, I was still experiencing small ones. I was terrified, and I remember getting upset once it ended so I probably scared the poor guy. He asked me if I was okay, and I said yes. I told him I need to write this in my diary and asked him to tell me what happened and what he saw. Once I did that, I thanked him, apologised for what happened. We carried on with the class, and once we finished, I thanked him for his understanding and to take care. I burst out crying because my worst fear had happened. After this episode, I felt drained and needed to sleep, so I had to message the next student to say I can’t come to today’s class, and if we can reschedule. She was a regular student, and she was okay with the reschedule.

I also made the mistake of going on my student list on ITI and stalking them, seeing what they’re up to. Whenever I’ve had a bad student or one that I didn’t get a good vibe from, and I see that they’ve had lessons elsewhere, I’m happy about it. If it’s a student that I’ve bonded with, and I’ve seen them have lessons with other teachers, it hurts a bit. I saw that a Russian guy I grew to really like had lessons elsewhere. How did I know that? They left him feedback. I felt quite hurt by this because I thought we got on great, and he left me good feedback after each lesson. I remember he always booked a package after the current one had finished, but he didn’t. I had all kinds of thoughts run through my head like “I’m a bad teacher.”, “Did the student dislike me?” “Did I say or do something to upset them?”

Now that week is done, it was the weekend, and I was not going to do any kind of teaching admin and just relax on the sofa and binge-watch films or shows.

Lessons learned:

  • Know your limits and stop trying to be a workaholic.
  • Try not to slag off bad students to your other students by saying you want to cancel the day.
  • Don’t take it personally if students don’t come back for lessons with you.
  • Continue to see the funny side of students behaving badly.

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