Thursday, October 05, 2006

Freelance Work

About a year ago, I quit the full-time job that I had held for 12 years so I could stay home and deal with a variety of health problems. I remained at that job far longer than I should have because, for the most part, I liked the work and I loved my boss. When I left, I made it clear that it had nothing to do with the company itself and everything to do with me.

Because of the good relationship I have with them, I occasionally do freelance work for them. It's unpredicatable and sporadic but adds a small amount to my monthly part-time income. It also gives me a way to have contact with my former boss and still feel like a part of the company. I'm not sure why I value that in any way. Perhaps all the years where the former president kept telling us we were like a family finally brain-washed me into thinking that's what we were. Or, perhaps it has more to do with having done a fairly sizable body of work with them in the form of writing textbooks and classroom materials such that I feel there is a legacy there which I have some need to tether myself to.

Anyway, there are two types of freelance work that I do. One is correcting correspondence lessons when the teacher in charge is absent for one reason or another for an extended period of time. This is somewhat uncommon though I did get a fair amount of this type of work last year when the teacher was tossed in jail for 3 weeks after getting into a fight at a soccer game. The other work I do, and I do it fairly regularly, is evaluation of student level by telephone. In fact, I've got 4 hours of that work this week.

These evaluations are 10-minute telephone calls where I ask a set list of questions about the student personally and his or her job. I enter scores based on ability in 5 categories (accuracy, listening, vocabulary, pronunciation, and overall competence). The scores are used to assign a level based on my former company's proprietary scoring system and then the students are divided into groups based on their levels in preparation for in-company English training.

Of course, the purpose of the evaluations is sometimes an "in theory" situation because the students are divided into classes before the tests are done. I have to wonder how the salesmen manage to convince the company that this is worthwhile in such cases but I guess that part of it is for pre- and post-training evaluation. At times, I end up doing two tests months apart and the scores are compared to see whether or not a student got better after taking a sequence of in-company lessons.

One off-shoot of doing this type of work is that you develop pretty impeccable phone manners and get good at carrying on phone conversations with people who have difficulty communicating.

As an aside, I'll note that the data is entered into a Filemaker Pro database. The original database was created in Windows '98 on a PC. However, I can't open the file on my Windows XP PC with any version of Filemaker Pro but I can open it on the Mac under OS X. This sort of situation has actually been fairly common in my experience. Back when I was still using floppies, Windows floppies often could be read on the Mac when they wouldn't work on a PC. It used to amuse me greatly that a Windows to Windows transfer wouldn't work (between two identical machines running the same flavor of Windows) but the Mac DOS-formatted floppy disks always worked in any PC. I'm not sure why Macs are more flexible in this regard but they have pretty much been this way since OS 9.


Roy said...

Interesting. Recently, I learned the hard way that I'm not good at phone interviews and need practice (in English)

The phone is probably a better way to evaluate "language" ability because the interviewee doesn't have the context (body language etc) to help comprehend the interviewer.

Shari said...

I shudder to think how I must have spoken on the phone before my previous job. I'm sure my manner was pretty rough at first.

You make a good point that using the phone is a good way to evaluate ability because they have no body language. And, boy howdy, do the students know it! They complained about how hard it was when they couldn't see the teacher's face. The truth is that, teachers who have been here for a long time often cue the students a great deal to assist them in understanding or in how to reply. The teachers don't even realize they do it. In a business situation (and these students studied English for business), such cues would not be there. Additionally, since being on the phone is a part of business, it helped prep them for using the phone with people overseas.