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 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.


A new kind of Loyalist: “Public” ESL education takes on a whole new twist in Canada

February 18, 2014

For more than a decade I have been fascinated by the links between English as a Second Language (ESL) programs and business. Public school boards, private schools and post-secondary institutions use ESL programs to generate revenue for their organizations. This topic fascinated me so much, I wrote my Ph.D. research on it.

In education, we don’t call the money generated by fee-paying ESL students “profit”. That word is pretty much a profanity in the social sectors. But essentially, that’s what it is. The revenue generated from ESL programs comes in to institutions mostly as unrestricted money. That means that the organization can direct the funds wherever they see fit. They can’t dole it out to shareholders, because there are none… but they can use it for salaries, renovations, perks or whatever they want.

I’ve never thought that was a particularly bad thing — providing that students get a quality educational experience and institutions don’t make promises they can’t keep.

Private ESL schools have often been regarded as shady or disreputable, precisely because they generate profit. They can use that profit however they want.

In Canada, it’s really getting interesting. A company called Loyalist Group Ltd. has created a public company that buys up ESL and college prep schools. They own schools in Vancouver, Toronto and Victoria. Unlike other, private schools, this business is public. That means that they trade on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX). The average joe can buy stocks in the company — and share in the profits.

A few days ago, Loyalist Group Ltd. was named to the TSX Venture 50. That’s a list of some of Canada’s strongest and most promising public companies. It’s a major coup for an educational company to be named to this list. And Loyalist has done it for the second year in a row. 

What we call “public education” is paid for through our tax dollars. We trust the government to administer those dollars in a wise and honest way.

Interestingly, one of the findings of my Ph.D. research was that when it comes to ESL programs in public education and universities — at least in Canada — there’s often a reporting loophole. Public educational institutions never have to explicitly disclose how much revenue they generate specifically from their ESL programs, what their enrolments (essentially their “sales”) are, or how well they do from one year to the next. That information is kept tightly under wraps and never disclosed publicly. I tried in vain to get revenue reporting results from numerous ESL programs during my Ph.D. research. Doors quietly closed and conversations ended. Ultimately, I had to re-design my entire study so I considered factors other than revenue. Getting my hands on financial data was impossible. Why? Because ESL programs at public institutions are under no obligation to report their financial information to anyone.  ESL programs fall through the reporting cracks, while generating millions (or even tens of millions) for public institutions…

Public education companies, on the other hand, could never get away with that. They’ll report their earnings and spread their success among their shareholders. If they’re not successful, they’ll fail. Success in education is based on outcomes and results. 

But there’s a new form of “public” education on the block and it is not to be ignored. Educational companies that are publicly traded on the stock market are drastically different from private companies. Public companies are obliged to share financial information with shareholders and investors. The accountability to the people who choose to put their dollars into the company is significant. Shareholders can ask questions — and demand answers. If their students are not happy or successful, they’ll leave. Sales will drop and they’ll close their doors. Their very existence depends on their students’ success.

Private educational companies never have to disclose details of their operations or finances. That should make us skeptical.

But public companies put it all out there for anyone to look at, scrutinize and ultimately judge. That’s a good thing. When it comes to ESL, it’s more transparent than what we see in public institutions. The very nature of accountability and reporting in education in Canada is changing… It’s strange, but true that when it comes to ESL, publicly traded companies like Loyalist Group Ltd may turn out to be more transparent, more accountable and more responsive to questioning from outsiders than some “public” institutions.

If you’re an ethical investor who values education, keep your eye on Loyalist Group Ltd. They may be the first of their kind in Canada, but they probably won’t be the only one… at least not for long.

Disclosure: Do I own shares in Loyalist Group Ltd.? Just a few. And I’ll be buying more soon.

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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.


Job Posting: Marketing and Recruiting Manager for Prestigious English Language Program

October 29, 2013

When I wrote the first edition of 101 Ways to Market Your Language Program in 2002 one of the language program directors I interviewed for the book expressed disgust at the very idea of the book, saying that the idea of integrating marketing into educational administration was “blasphemous”.

That was at a time when language program managers had no training, no resources and no budgets for marketing. Many of them still don’t.

Since then I have kept my focus on marketing of language programs of all kinds as part of my career. From heritage language programs to TESL to modern world languages, they all have a place in our classrooms, our communities and yes, even the business world. I created www.marketyourlanguageprogram.com where I offer almost all the resources that I have created over the years for free.

In 2009 I wrote my doctoral thesis on marketing of ESL programs at post-secondary institutions. My supervisor liked that I had an innovative topic in an area that had yet to be researched by anyone (anywhere), but warned me that it might not get me a job. (As it turned out, things have worked out just fine.)

Recently, Georgetown University posted a job for

Manager, Marketing for Recruitment.

You can check out the job description here. The position involves recruiting qualified American English teaching professionals for the English Language Fellow and Specialist Programs. The programs, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, send American teachers around the world to teach English. The jobs are affiliated with and supported by local embassies. What a cool program.

It’s not super clear, but just so it’s forever captured as a graphic, here’s a screen shot of the job posting:

Marketing Manager job posting

Marketing Manager job posting

Slowly, enlightened organizations are beginning to see that marketing our language programs is neither blasphemous nor futile, but rather necessary if we want to endorse, promote and share the importance of learning languages on a global scale. Marketing is serious business. It is unlike any other facet of educational administration or language program management. If we want to get serious about not only saving our language programs, but elevating their importance, we’ve got to go beyond putting up posters in the hallways of our schools to advertise the newest language class, and instead take a professional and strategic approach to recruitment, complete with market research, using metrics to track results and understanding how to demonstrate the concrete impact of language learning to funders, stakeholders and others in our communities.

When prestigious institutions like Georgetown University start creating positions called “Manager, Marketing and Recruitment”  for their language programs (and it’s supported by the U.S. Department of State) other schools are sure to follow.

Does your institution have a marketing manager for its language programs?

If not, what are you waiting for?

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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.


Spanish for Dentists: 6 Great (and Free!) Resources

February 13, 2013

Teeth - smile - smallI unexpectedly had to go to the dentist this week when a filling broke in half and part of it fell out. During my visit, my dentist was telling me about her plans to take her entire team to Guatemala next year to do some pro bono work in poor communities there.

She asked me if I had any resources on Spanish for dentists. I set off on a bit of a quest. Here are six wonderful, free online resources that I found to help English-speaking dentists and dental hygienists learn the basics so they can communicate with Spanish-speaking patients:

  1. English to Spanish Phrase Guide for Dentists – http://www.deltadentalins.com/dentists/guidance/english-spanish-phrase-guide.html
  2. PracticingSpanish.Com – Spanish for Dentists – http://www.practicingspanish.com/dental-exam.html
  3. Spanish for the Dental Office  – https://www.aetnadental.com/AD/ihtAD/r.WSIHW000/st.35410/t.706081.html
  4.  Spanish Words and Phrases for Dentists – http://www.artofteeth.com/files/Spanish_for_Dentists.pdf
  5. Spanish Guide of Dental Terminology – http://lrc.wfu.edu/community_interpreting/extras/editeddental.pdf
  6. English-Spanish Dictionary of Health Related Terms – http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/dept/spanish/engspdict.pdf

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If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or leave a comment. Thanks!

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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.


The Administration of English as a Second Language (ESL) Programs: Striking the Balance Between Generating Revenue and Serving Students

December 30, 2012

Critical Perspectives on International Education Sarah EatonI am squealing with joy to share this news with you. Four years ago, Dr. Yvonne Hébert, a professor of Education at the University of Calgary invited me to submit a chapter for a book she was co-editing with her colleague, Dr. Ali Abdi.

I submitted a chapter that focused on the difficulties managers of ESL / EFL programs face when it comes to the pressures they face to generate revenue for their institutions and focussing on students’ learning.

You would think that an administrator’s first priority should be to serve students. Morally and ethically that may be true. In terms of practicalities, the reality can be quite different. Many program administrators face great pressure to “put bums in seats”. This chapter addresses some of those difficulties.

“The Administration of English as a Second Language (ESL) Programs in Higher Education: Striking the Balance Between Generating Revenue and Serving Students” (pages 149-162) is my contribution to the new book called Critical Perspectives on International Education that has just been published by Sense publishers in Rotterdam.

The book is now available in paperback and hardcover:

ISBN Paperback: 9789460919046 ($ 49.00)
ISBN Hardcover: 9789460919053 ($ 99.00)

It may also become available as an e-book in 2013.

There has been so little published about the difficulties that English language program leaders face in terms of the moral, ethical and business decisions they must make every day in their administrative roles. More conversations and dialogue need to happen to help managers and directors make wise decisions.

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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.


German sign language – Resources and tips

August 29, 2012

Did you know that not all countries in the world share a universal sign language? Today’s post is in honour of my friend, Meike Thomesen, who is the Assistant Principal at Bowcroft Elementary, Calgary’s only German bilingual school. Meike just came back from an intensive training program for in-service German teachers. The course was held in Germany. Part of their training involved PD to teach the German language to children by complementing the spoken language with sign language. What a super idea!

If you teach German, here are some resources to help you learn about German sign language:

DGS Korpus – A corpus of German sign language texts. This is a long-term project of the Academy of Sciences in Hamburg for documenting and researching the German Sign Language (DGS).

Basic German sign language – You Tube video with English sub-titles

German Sign Language Numbers – YouTube video

AlphaDictionary – A very cool, multilingual sign language resource site

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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.


Marketing your language or literacy program: 10 webinars recorded

May 31, 2012

This week we wrapped up our 10-week webinar series on how to market your literacy or language program. Nine of the ten programs featured ideas from  101 Ways to Market Your Language Program. The 10th and final webinar focused on social media, including:

  • Brief overview of social media marketing for non-profit and educational programs
  • Building your social media capacity to market your programs more effectively.
  • Do’s and dont’s of social media marketing.

Here is the tenth webinar recording for you. There are links to the other nine programs below.

If you like these webinars and find them helpful, please share them with others, leave a comment or “like” the video on YouTube.  Thanks to everyone who joined us.

Related post and recordings of past programs:

101 Ways to Market Your Language Program (10 Free webinars) http://wp.me/pNAh3-1j6

#1 Webinar recording: Marketing strategy and planning

#2 Webinar recording: Setting marketing goals and budgets

#3 Webinar recording: Writing effective marketing copy

#4 Webinar recording: Developing written marketing materials

#5 Webinar recording: Identifying what makes you unique

#6 Webinar recording: Speciality tips for programs at large institutions

#7 Webinar recording: The power of your connections

#8 Webinar recording: Relationship marketing

#9 Webinar recording: Effective marketing follow-up

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Share or Tweet this post:  Marketing your language or literacy program: 10 webinars recorded http://wp.me/pNAh3-1qC

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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