5 Myths about being an independent language or literacy professional (and secrets of the trade you need to know)

June 18, 2014

Sometimes when I talk with contract language teachers, sessionals, adjuncts, freelance writers, editors and others who dedicate themselves to the language and literacy profession, I’ve learned that there are some myths about the profession that we need to debunk. Here are a few of them:

Myth #1 – The work is about the language

You absolutely need to understand the mechanics of language and the foundations of effective learning to succeed as an independent language professional, the real work is about the people you work with. Helping others to learn, grow and develop as human beings is at the heart of what we do. If you think the job is about being “the spelling police” or a “grammar guru”, you’ve missed the point.

Myth #2 – Being a professional means someone else does the admin work

Language teachers love being in the classroom, but that’s only part of the job. Submitting grades, writing reports and tending to administrative duties comes with the territory. In today’s world, being a professional means paying as much attention to the quality of your administrative work as you do to your teaching. Program and institutional staff are not your personal secretaries. They are professionals in their own right and deserve to be treated as such.

Myth #3 – Being an independent professional means you have no boss

Sometimes people say to me, “You are so lucky!  You have no boss!” Nothing could be further from the truth. You get a minimum of one new boss with every contract you take one. Sometimes you have more than one person you report to. If you’re very lucky, those people will like each other and see eye to eye. If they don’t, you are the one who will get pulled in different directions. Learning to figure out, understand and navigate the reporting requirements of each job is likely to require an immense amount of energy. You invest time and effort at the beginning of every new job. But make no mistake, you will always report to someone, even if it’s not always clear who it is. The trick is to clarify who you report to and understand that your job implicitly involves making that person’s life easier in whatever way you reasonably can.

Myth #4 – The last day of the contract is the end of the job

In many contract situations, there is follow up work to be done after the contract end date. This work is often administrative. Some examples include written reports, expense claims and grade submission. Even though your contract may have officially ended on a particular date, the obligations and expectations of the job may extend past that. Be amenable to reasonable wrap-up duties and ensure you comply with deadlines set by your employer or client. This is important to preserve your positive relationships as you are wrapping up your work. Remember that the end date of a contract may signify the end of a particular job, but your relationships and reputation can outlive any contract.

Myth #5 – It is important to leave with a letter of reference

This is a partial myth. Getting letters of reference can be important, but they can also be formulaic and written according to a template. What’s more important than getting with a generic letter of reference on the last day of the job, is leaving the job with a reputation for excellence and sincere relationships that can last a lifetime. Recommendations that matter are likely to happen over the phone or during informal personal conversations that are more honest and open than a templated letter ever could be. The reality is that we’ll never know about most of the conversations that happen between our prospective employers and our previous employers who are more than likely connected in some collegial way we were never even aware of. Real recommendations don’t come from generic letter we tuck into our portfolios. They come from informal conversations that “never happened”.

There are more myths about the profession that need busting, but these are a few of the most common ones that I see over and over again, especially from folks who are new to the world of working independently either as contractors, freelancers or consultants. The most important thing to remember is that we are only as good as our last contract, our last course or our last project. Our love of language or dedication to literacy is what we do. The reputations we build along the way is how we do it. We need to pay as much attention to the how as we do to the what.

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If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Share or Tweet this: 5 Myths about being an independent language or literacy professional (and secrets of the trade you need to know) http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Io

If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


3 Reasons you’ll find me on Facebook when I’ve called in sick

December 9, 2013

Recently I received an e-mail from a co-worker that basically said, “Sorry you missed the meeting because you were not feeling well. I see from your Facebook page that you were not too sick to be using social media.”

While the Internet is rife with news articles and cases about people who post photos of themselves partying after having called in sick, there is a counter-side to this argument that employers, colleagues and others might take into consideration:

Status updates can be scheduled.

Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people use services such as Hootsuite and TweetDeck to pre-schedule status updates, Tweets and so forth. Often the update will be posted with a note such as “via Hootsuite”. The savvy reader will look to see if an update was posted using an automated service.

Earlier this year, I found myself in hospital for a few days, suddenly and without warning. All the while, my Facebook status and Tweets were auto-updating. No one but a few family members and close friends knew I was hooked up to an IV line in a Calgary hospital.

Social media is a mindless activity.

When I’m home sick (legitimately), I sleep, watch TV and yes, I sometimes go to my computer. In today’s digital world, that seems pretty normal, no? You’ll notice that reading wasn’t even on that list. Why? Because for me, social media takes less mental energy than reading a book. That is probably because the kind of books I read tend to have a hefty dose of educational leadership or management theory in them. Reading means I have to turn my brain on. Social media lets me unplug my brain for a while. Clicking “Like” can hardly be correlated to reading (much less writing) a strategic plan, in terms of intellectual activity.

Engaging in social media activities certainly takes less concentration and mental acuity than doing my work. My professional activity usually means my brain is in overdrive, solving problems and processing complex information, including academic, policy and research materials. Saying, “Thanks for the ReTweet” does not.

Social media helps us to feel connected.

Much of my work is online. I teach using e-learning technologies. I consult virtually. I conduct research mostly online. I can go for a week without seeing anyone outside my home.

Let’s face it, when you are sick and feeling miserable, loneliness and feelings of isolation can set in more quickly than most of us would like to admit. Signing in to Facebook or Twitter allows you to connect virtually with friends, family and others you care about — and who care about you. Loneliness subsides and feelings of being disconnected from the outside world diminish. You might even see something that makes you laugh.

Not all employees or colleagues who engage in online activities while taking a sick day are fraudulent, lazy or lying. There is a phenomenon in human resources known as “absence management” that aims to measure and track absenteeism. In some organizations, monitoring employees’ social media channels is increasingly being seen as a valid and reliable manner of assessing genuine illness. Personally, I think it’s hogwash; that is, if the person’s job involves them needing to use critical thinking skills, problem-solving abilities or higher levels of cognition. (Wait, isn’t that most jobs in the 21st century?)

When I work, I go full tilt. I usually have three or more projects on the go at any given time, working with clients in at least two different cites and possibly different countries. I’m consulting, teaching, researching, strategizing, writing or speaking. But when I get sick, I pretty much hit a full stop. I hate downtime and even more, I hate not being there for my students or clients.

There will always be employees who try to abuse the goodwill of their employers, but as we move more and more into the digital world, we still need to put caring for one another as human beings first.

When you see some one online engaging in social media activities when they have called in sick, take a deep breath before assuming they are simply skipping out of work, shirking their commitments or otherwise “crying wolf”. You might even offer a supportive comment, ask if there is anything they need or just say hello and let them know that you are thinking about them.

Consider this: Being hooked up to an IV doesn’t prevent you from hitting the “Like” button on your iPad.

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If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Share or Tweet this: 3 Reasons you’ll find me on Facebook when I’ve called in sick http://wp.me/pNAh3-1FX

If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


Have yourself a financially stress-free Christmas

December 2, 2013

Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year. I have fond memories of mince pies, decorating the tree and home-made gifts. Every year, my Mum would start in the summer to plan and create our gifts. She could knit, crochet, sew and do just about every other kind of craft. She didn’t have sewing machine, but she had a full set of knitting needles, a collection she took years to build.

609-Knitting-on-the-trainBack in those days, yarn was not nearly so spendy as it is today. Making sweaters, mittens and gloves was inexpensive and so, it was one of the only ways she could afford to put gifts under the tree. I remember her sending me off to bed as early as possible to give herself more time to work on creating our Christmas presents by hand.

I am ashamed to say that I was sometimes disappointed that I did not receive the gift I wanted. I remember being devastated that I was the only girl in my class who did not receive a Cabbage Patch Kid one year. When I reflect on this, I am ashamed that I pined for these products so selfishly and felt so empty and worthless when I did not receive them.

All this made Mum terribly anxious. Without fail, she would buy a few small things and put them under the tree, but every year the trendiest gifts got more and more expensive and always seemed to be just out of her financial reach. Whatever the most fashionable gift of the year was, the prices always inched up so that a single mom of the working-poor could never have those gifts within reach. Pride and dignity prevailed at all times of the year and accepting hand-outs from friends or charity groups was out of the question. Sleep deprivation was a small price to pay to ensure there was something under the tree on Christmas morning.

As I look back, I can not remember any of the consumer products that I received as Christmas gifts, but I remember every single handmade gift she made me. The effort and love she put into those gifts are what have left me with warm and special memories. She died at Christmas time and my tolerance for consumerism has waned every year since. What I wouldn’t do for one of her hand-made sweaters today!

Here are seven things I have learned about Christmas gifts:

  1.  The amount of money spent on a gift is not equal or proportionate to the amount of love in the giver’s heart.
  2. Store-bought gifts take less time than hand-made gifts.
  3. A gesture of kindness, a hand-written card or sincere forgiveness for something that went wrong in the past, are better gifts than anything money can buy.
  4. When the giving comes from your heart, it is more likely to be cherished in the long run.
  5. The best gifts are those that leave us with warm memories.
  6. Spending time to build, create or prepare a gift is often more valuable than spending cash to buy one.
  7. Thoughtfulness and intentionality count. Thinking of what the recipient would deeply enjoy takes effort and a deep focus on the person on the receiving end. Think twice before buying gourmet coffee for the person who does not care for caffeinated beverages.

If you are going to buy gifts this year, here’s a way to lead by example when to comes to putting the spirit of Christmas ahead of the spending:

Set a budget

One of the basics of financial literacy is budgeting. Decide how much you can spend on gifts. Then, figure out who you want to buy gifts for. Allocate a maximum amount of money for each person. Remember to factor in taxes and if you are buying online, remember the shipping costs, too. The amount you spend on all of your recipients combined can not exceed your total.

Gail Vaz-Oxlade has an excellent online worksheet to help you plan your holiday spending: http://www.gailvazoxlade.com/resources/holiday_spending_plan.html

Buy local

Look at where the product is made. If it’s made in your country, or better yet, your province or state, it is more likely that it was made under fair working conditions. Why not support your own local economy?

Support independent businesses and solo-preneurs

Farmers markets, craft fairs and independently owned shops and businesses are just a few of the placed you can find locally-made products.

I was recently told that 70% of all small businesses in Canada are service-based businesses. How about a gift certificate for a house-cleaning or a massage? There are plenty of options for a gift that allows the recipient to feel pampered without adding more to the landfill.

Remember that Christmas is not about how much money you spend on others, but offering letting the love in your heart shine towards those whom you hold dearest to your soul. A gift can come in many forms, but best are those that leave you with warm memories to hold on to long after the gift itself has gone from your life.

For those of us who work in the literacy field and are advocates of literacy, it is up to us to lead by example when it comes to responsible spending during the holidays. So have yourself a financially literate Christmas and focus on sharing laughter and love this holiday season.

Related posts:

 5 Festive ways to say Happy Holidays! to your favorite teacher http://wp.me/pNAh3-151

 Top 10 affordable and unique Christmas gift ideas for teachers http://wp.me/pNAh3-1xD

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If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Share or Tweet this: Have yourself a financially stress-free Christmas http://wp.me/pNAh3-1FL

If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


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