I sometimes picture myself in a “real-job” interview setting. “Outside of your professional qualifications as an English teacher, what other skills do you possess that will make your contribution to this place more sizeable than other applicants’?” Ah, here’s the question I’ve been anticipating, and I’ve got just the right answer: “I am an excellent administrator. For the last four years I have been teaching online in at least 3 time zones simultaneously. At times I would be separated from my students not only by 8-12 hours, but by one calendar day. Some students would ask me, ‘Is it still today in your part of the world?’ Surprisingly, none of them ever missed a class because their teacher forgot about the time difference or the time zone change.”
But would I ever find myself in a “real-job” interview setting again? And what kind of a real job” will utilize or even have a need in an ESL teacher who knows about blogging, installing widgets, organizing webinars, creating video tutorials, developing html codes, assessing sales funnels, building up email marketing campaigns, adjusting to time zones and daylight savings time changes, and running a language tutoring business? I would not presume that such a job does not exist, but how quickly does one stumble upon one in a medium-size town at the time of global recession?
Actually, at one time I did have such a “real job” teaching English at a small, private college in Ukraine. After seven years of my rather successful career the job ceased to exist, and a number of otherwise well settled teachers, myself included, found themselves looking for a job again. Seven years is a long enough time to develop your teaching style and begin spreading your roots in a specific geographic location, in a traditional brick-and-mortar school. However, the situation forced me to think outside of the box and assume a rather different role in life. Four years ago I became an English Teacherpreneur by creating my own online platform and offering language training services to students all over the former Soviet Union.
A number of English teachers today are facing redundancies and are being laid off due to the changes in funding and programs. The option of working from home by teaching English online to students all over the world, having a flexible schedule and being “your own boss” is becoming increasingly inviting, especially when countered to limited traditional classroom activities, set schedules with unending paperwork and mandatory faculty meetings. However, not everyone who sets out into the world of teacherpreneurship can make it. From my own experience and from interacting with other English teacherpreneurs I am going to propose a list of 5 vital skills that are absolutely necessary to cultivate before venturing into a virtual classroom.
- Find and Develop your ELT Niche. We have all heard about “finding and developing one’s niche,” and when it comes to teacherpreneurship, this becomes crucial. Such business vocabulary may puzzle those who seem to be far away from the world of entrepreneurship, so I will rephrase it. Find one or two things about teaching English that make you lose track of time. Are there some aspects of teaching/learning the language that will make you forget about money, food, and sleep? Once you have figured out what they are, focus on them and develop them further. Know what that passion is and cultivate it. Example. Let’s say you enjoy pronunciation and accent training. You can spend hours listening to foreigners speak English and analyzing their speech like Professor Higgins from “Pygmalion.” What do you notice about their speech? Do you feel like you can help them by explaining how exactly one is supposed to pronounce words and intonate sentences? Then start doing research, reading on the subject and watching all there is on Youtube on the subject. Most likely you will find something that is less commonly discussed, but is still quite vital. Then begin using your expertise to develop these missing topics. Start by blogging (see below), then add short podcasts (download a simple audacity program and open a podomatic account to upload your programs) and maybe even record videos. Try to keep your materials short and concise, but yet bring out something that is not out there so you can grow your own readership or viewership. After a few months you can begin compiling these excerpts into longer and more detailed chunks of information, along with worksheets and other assignment. These you can use to design your own course, first a free one, then a paid one (udemy is a great platform to host them).
- Blog and Read Other Blogs.The best way to develop your passion is to learn from the people who share it with you. Find a couple of good blogs and discussion groups on Linkedin (not too many) and spend time reading up on the subject and contributing your expertise in the forums, whenever an opportunity presents itself. Ask questions and write answers in your own blog. Designing a personal blog for an e-educator is the same as having a teacher’s office at a traditional school. Write about something that is of interest to you, and you will find a number of readers following and later even quoting you.
- Learn about E-Learning. Anyone attempting to teach online will at some point wonder about the differences of teaching through skype vs. through a paid webinar platform. As you navigate through the endless options you will become more familiar with the google suite, online forum platforms, web-conferencing, and other essential e-learning tools. Among endless web-tools find the ones that will best serve the needs of your online classroom and your niche. Collecting general knowledge of web-tools may be pretty frustrating and labor-intensive. Look for something that will profit you and your online classroom.
- Market Yourself Consistently. In an ideal world of teacherpreneurship we may have no competition and a steady flow of clients any time of the year regardless of our involvement. Such an ideal world may even be possible after about 30 years of consistent marketing (just a hypothesis as I haven’t made it to my 30th presumptuous to conclude that after a couple of years of marketing your niche, the students will flock to you based on your past merits. Consistency in marketing is vital. How can you do it practically? Be consistent in blogging, making your Youtube videos, contributing to online community forums, and producing new materials. Create your group of followers on social networks and interact with them! They will give you lots of new ideas for the future.
- Invest in Your Future. A few months ago I interviewed a teacher who wanted to start teaching online. Since English was not her mother tongue, she expressed the need for more professional business anniversary yet). So it may be a bit development and advanced language training before she even attempted to teach. I asked her how much time and money she was willing to commit to this cause. She answered that she did not have enough time or money to pursue this goal. We may have great ambitions, but what do we sacrifice to achieve them? The yields are always proportionate to the investment we make. Let us ask ourselves how much time and money do we invest daily, weekly, monthly and yearly into our personal professional development? Challenge yourself with this question and start small. You do not have to attend the most expensive conference, but you can sign up for free subscription of your choice and find time daily or weekly to read those newsletters and blog entries.
Becoming an online ESL Teacherpreneur may not be everyone’s calling, but just because it takes longer than a few months to develop your niche and build up your clientele, the attempt should not be deemed a failure. Stay focused on the goal; remain hard-working, ambitious, positive, and flexible. Start small and grow what you have. Do not hurry to build a huge orchard if you only have the time to plant and take care of one tree. Then you will enjoy the fruit, which will definitely come, in its time.
Elena Mutonono has always had a passion for providing excellent and cutting-edge English Language Training to Russian-speaking students in the former Soviet Union. Driven by this goal, she started an online platform for teachers and learners of English in 2010 (www.eto-onlinenglish.com). In the four years of its existence Mrs. Mutonono and her team of 4 teachers has provided language training services to over 100 students and 30 English language teachers from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Latvia. In addition to running Eto-OnlinEnglish platform, Elena blogs, records podcasts and videos, designs online courses, and trains English teachers. In her free time she reads classical and contemporary novels, memoirs and non-fiction, enjoys sipping on her favorite mocha, goes biking with her husband and son, watches BBC crime investigation and mystery series, and entertains friends at her home. She lives in Louisiana, USA.
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