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Ready for My Close-Up: Better Online Meetings

I confess, I am not “camera-ready” and I completely understand why many of my students prefer blocking their video feed during regular online sessions. However, in general, seeing the other person does make life online less tedious and more social. And these tips may also make things a bit more tolerable.
Prologue: Before You Begin
1. Have all attendee’s phone numbers available.

2. Have your smartphone or iPad available. Text, phone or FaceTime can be a quick backup if the internet disconnects.

3. Share a GoogleDocs file with all attendees. Not only will these notes document the session, but everyone can view them separate from Zoom if the Zoom video resolution is not high enough or if the internet disconnects.

4. Before booking your Zoom online meeting, check that all attendees have the proper technology and internet bandwidth during the session. If several people in the house are also making online video calls, and Netflix streaming, and playing computer games, well…chaos ensues.
A Clean, Well-Lighted and Quiet Place
1. Find a quiet place with no distractions, preferably with a door to shut out other household noises. Barking dogs, screaming siblings, parents washing the dishes or vacuuming the house are quite loud, even from across a large room.
2. Avoid eating and moving excessively when on a video call. If you must, do so with the mute button on. The microphone amplifies noises next to it such as shuffling papers, clicking pens and clinking coffee cups.
3. Keep your background tidy. Remember, we can see everything right behind you. Find a room with a simple background, like a blank wall or uncluttered bookcase instead of your unmade bed or posters with scantily-clad women. Consider draping a light colored sheet over your background if needed. Or switch up your digital backgrounds using the Zoom settings.
Can You Hear Me?
1. Use a good quality headset with a microphone, like iPhone ear buds. Do not rely on the internal laptop or computer mic as these are often poor quality and sensitive to changes in distance. If you wear a mic, you don’t have to worry that your audio will drop off every time you lean back in your chair. Nothing makes an online meeting more tiresome than poor audio quality.
2. Learn how to quickly mute and unmute yourself. Post a note (out of camera view) to remind yourself to mute or unmute. In Zoom, The Push to Talk feature allows you to mute the meeting while holding down the space bar which allows you to quickly unmute and talk. Remember, if you forget to mute yourself, everyone else can hear you drinking, chewing or yelling.

Ready for My Close-Up

1. Arrange the laptop or computer camera at eye level. A low camera angle is the most unflattering. No one wants to see a close-up of your nasal cavities or the inside of your mouth.

2. Look directly into the camera pin-hole lens and not into your screen where the other attendees are displayed. By looking directly into the camera, you will make eye contact with everyone else.
3. Check your hair and clothes in a mirror prior to an online meeting, especially for professional settings. Wear dark, solid color tops and avoid narrow stripes, busy patterns and neon colors. Wearing appropriate pants are suggested. If you forget to wear pants, remember not to stand up in front of the camera (unless this is part of your business model).
4. Check your online video conference appearance by Zooming a friend to make sure your camera angle, lighting and background are fine. This is especially important for professional meetings. You don’t want weird fluorescent lighting or a lamp pole jutting from the top of your head to ruin your on-camera moment.

650 words

2 min clip Singing in the Rain.


35 sec video, Norma Desmond, finale of Sunset Boulevard. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIcC8YJrevQ

The Rich are Different

Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. F.Scott Fitzgerald “The Rich Boy” (1926)

Yes, they have more money. Ernest Hemingway

After the recent college admissions scandal, perhaps Hemingway would have cynically added, “And they cheat, even when they don’t have to.”

On March 12, 2019, the Department of Justice filed criminal charges against 50 people including 33 parents who had fraudulently lied and bribed their children’s way into selective colleges. Operation Varsity Blues revealed a college admissions system so crazy and competitive that these extremely wealthy and well-connected parents, including the actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, felt compelled to cheat, even when they didn’t have to.

William “Rick” Singer, the mastermind behind the scheme, bragged about his services bribing college coaches and test proctors who would guarantee admission through “the side door.” Apparently, regular folks use the “front door” of submitting actual grades, scores and extracurriculars, while the very wealthy can use “the back door” gaining admission for mediocre candidates by making large donations and pulling strings. The poster boy for “back door” admits is Jared Kushner who secured his slot after his father’s $2.5 million donation to Harvard. The “Z-list,” as it is known at Harvard, is a practice widespread at all prestigious schools allowing the children of alumni, large donors and the well-connected to be favored over all other applicants.

However, even the Z-list wasn’t enough for these parents. Instead, they preferred outright cheating, paying millions to guarantee acceptance by faking athletic profiles and submitting fraudulent test scores. Singer’s “side door” scheme went undetected for nearly a decade, from 2011 to 2019, although it may have started even earlier. Over that time, Singer collected more than $25 million from his clients to pay off psychologists, athletic coaches and test proctors.

Although the Z-list and “the back door” illustrate the inherent unfairness of college admissions, at least with that system, the quid pro quo is not illegal. Kushner never submitted a false profile pretending he was a world-class sailor; never doctored his transcript nor paid someone for his mediocre SAT scores. He never pretended to be world-class at anything except wealthy. And arguably, the Kushner wealth, funneled into campus buildings and endowed chairs, could be enjoyed by other Harvard students. Most of the bribes Singer arranged only benefitted the direct recipients.

So what can be learned from these ultra-wealthy parents behaving badly? That these parents, despite all the advantages that their wealth and status have already granted them and their offspring, still feel it is necessary to cheat. That they feel entitled to cheat and are willing to pay millions for the privilege.

Rather than spend their money to give their children the opportunities to learn at the best schools, from the best teachers, tutors and coaches, these parents decided their kids were too dumb, lazy or incompetent to be entrusted with such matters as their very own futures. In several cases, it appears the students didn’t even know their parents were cheating for them. Transcripts from taped conversations show some parents insisting their children not find out their test scores and applications were falsified by Singer.

For these parents, the back door wasn’t good enough; caught up in their own hubris, they wanted even more. Donating a building or two may reveal their children are mediocre, like Jared Kushner. No, to escape any doubt their kids are the very best and worthy of Stanford or USC, they decided to circumvent the system entirely by cheating their kids’ way to the top. By doing so, they have harmed everyone who played by the rules including their own unsuspecting children.

Most ironic of all is the harm these parents have inflicted upon their kids. Yes, the rich are different from you and me. Wealth, Fitzgerald writes in “The Rich Boy” “does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful.”

By cheating on behalf of their children, these parents who thought that money could buy everything, may have stolen from their offspring the most valuable thing of all–the feeling of accomplishment derived from trying your best and working hard toward a goal, even if that goal is not guaranteed. These Varsity Blues parents—CEOs, professors, doctors, famous actors—appear to exemplify how hard work and effort lead to career success, yet they did not pass on these values to their very own children. Perhaps they thought they were saving them the trouble of working hard for their achievements. Perhaps by eliminating all obstacles from the path to success, these parents believed they “loved” their children.

Instead, these wealthy cheaters have made their children soft rather than hard; made them ignorant rather than educated; made them ridiculed rather than admired. What type of parental love is that?

Actual parental love consists of allowing your children to try and fail, of providing the opportunities, but not rigging the outcomes. How else can children become capable adults and responsible citizens who will continue to contribute to society once their parents are gone?

Yes, the rich are different. Money does matter and what Operation Varsity Blues shows is that college admissions is far from an equal playing field. However, parents who are fortunate enough to afford the best private schools, tutors, coaches and expensive sports like sailing, crew and fencing know that they must let their children try, work hard and possibly fail. If you can afford the best for your children, you must ask them to do their best. That is the most valuable inheritance of all.







See the Film! Why Students Must See the Film Version of Plays

As a tutoring professional for over ten years in Silicon Valley, an area that prides itself on high quality education, I am still shocked that most English teachers whether at private or public schools do NOT screen films based on plays that students read and study in class. In January 2017, I posted the blog Five Movies Based on Shakespeare That You Didn’t Know Were Based on Shakespeare to partially address this issue.

By not screening films based on plays, teachers ignore a valuable tool to enhance student understanding, engagement and retention. Students need to see a play performed. Plays are not meant to be analyzed purely as text as this will kill any of the artistic merit and enjoyment to be gained from seeing a performance. This is akin to reading music on a page and never hearing the orchestra play the piece.

Unfortunately, the majority of English teachers commit professional malpractice by either not bothering to screen films of a play or screening only select scenes. One teacher goes so far as to refuse to screen films; I often see this teacher’s students because they do not understand the play well enough to write a decent analysis. My first recommendation is that they see the film.

In the best of all possible worlds, all English teachers would screen the film version of the play BEFORE students read it. Screening the film during class time instead of assigning it as homework would guarantee students actually see the play performed as it should be. Plays are not static text, but living art. Besides, most students would prefer to see a film during class than sit through a boring lecture or Socratic seminar.

By seeing the film before reading the play, students will better understand the plot, emotion, mood and tone. Some teachers wait until after students have read the text to screen the film and although this is better than no film at all, students should still see the play first. Most students have no idea of the diction, body language or costumes, especially for Shakespeare, and a performance will help them later conjure up the mental images needed to appreciate, analyze and interpret the text for an essay.

Here is a partial list of plays that local schools have taught. I am sad to say that the majority of my students did NOT see the entire play in class either before or after they had read it. Make sure your student does see the film. Make it a family movie night. Not the most fun movie night compared to seeing the latest Avengers’ blockbuster, but it will make writing essays about the play easier.

Antigone, As You Like It, Cyrano de Bergerac, Fences, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, MacBeth, Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Oedipus Rex, Othello, Phedre, The Tempest, A Raisin in the Sun, and Romeo and Juliet.