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.

____________________________________________________

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.


5 Questions to ask before taking a contract teaching job in the languages or literacy field

April 24, 2014

Too many language and literacy professionals grovel for work. They’ll take teaching, editing or translating jobs that require long hours, lousy pay and poor working conditions because they are afraid that if they don’t they might not get another offer.

Nothing could be further from the truth. When you exude confidence to your school or the organization who is contracting you (e.g. the client), you earn their respect. Here are 5 questions to ask yourself when you are considering a contract job as a language or literacy professional:

Business - Group - team hands

#1: Will I like working with these people?

Let’s face it, people who work in languages and literacy often have a vested interest in the students or clients they serve. It’s not just the learners you want to think about though. How does the management treat its staff? If the Executive Director is a micro-manager and you are a big picture thinker, is that really going to be a good fit for you? If the office staff are miserable because they hate their jobs, are you really going to like working in that environment?

You owe it to yourself to find out what the people are like that you would be working with. If you get that nagging feeling that these folks aren’t “your peeps”, do yourself a favour and walk away. Chances are you’ll be miserable if you take the job. In the kind of work we do, people matter. At least, they should. If people don’t matter, why would you want to work there?

#2: How do the organization’s values align with my own?

This is a big one. You need to be honest with yourself about what matters to you deep down. If you believe that genuine effort, commitment and participation are the most meaningful aspects of learning, then you’d hate working in an organization that bases marks on standardized testing.

I was once raked over the coals by a department head because my final grades didn’t fit  onto a bell curve. My students’ marks were too high. It happened that it was a particularly good group of students.  The department head didn’t care. She wanted a statistically perfect bell curve for the final grades “to maintain the integrity of the department”. (Baloney. The integrity of a language teaching department can never be represented by a bell curve of marks.) I was told in no uncertain terms that the next semester my class record book needed to reflect grades that fit onto a standard bell curve. There was no “next” semester. I choose never to teach for them again.

If an organization’s values are not aligned with your own, you’ll hate the work and you’ll hate yourself for working there. Seek out schools and clients who believe what you believe.

#3: How are the working conditions?

Are you given your own desk or work space or are you required to share? Are the facilities where you work clean and sanitary? Is parking readily available (at a fair price)?

How are the psychological and emotional conditions of the workplace? Is there a culture of oppression? Do the folks who work there constantly feel demoralized, grumpy or stressed out?

I recall one client who didn’t pay their staff particularly well, but the “extras” they offered them included free parking, a catered lunch every Friday and a work environment where laughter filled the hallways during break time and folks enjoyed a genuine sense of camaraderie and friendship. As a result, they had staff who never wanted to leave and a long line of applicants who would give anything to work there.

The working conditions, environment and relationships at a workplace matter.

#4: How are the hours?

It is not uncommon for teaching organizations to fail to pay for the time required for you to prep your classes, grade student work or perform associated administrative duties. But what if they did? That would definitely be worth considering.

Are you required (or implicitly expected) to sit on committees as part of your professional volunteer service to the organization? Are you constantly being asked to help develop (or revise or “refresh”) curricula for no additional pay?

All of these extra tasks add up. Time is a limited resource. Every extra volunteer task you are asked to take on is time you can not spend doing something of our own choosing, such as spending more time with your family, engaging in leisure activities or even taking on more paid work elsewhere.

Your employer (or client, depending on your relationship with you) may not intend to “suck you dry” in terms of your time, but it happens more often than it should. Contract employees want to say, “Yes” because they think it will help position them for a full-time job should one arise. That may be the case… but it may not. Be honest with yourself and ask if all these “extras” you are taking on are really worth it.

 #5: How will this work maximize or help me develop my professional skills?

Would you be doing the “same old, same old”, teaching a subject you’ve taught for 20 years and if you are honest, are kind of bored of?

Conversely, are you being asked to teach courses that you’ve never taught before and the work would require you to put in dozens of hours of development time?

Is the work challenging for you in a way that you find inspiring and engaging? Are you growing as a result of your work? Are you learning new skills that will make you more marketable?

I’ve seen too many adjuncts, sessionals or contractors take any job they’re offered because they are afraid that if they don’t, the sky will fall in and they’ll never get hired again anywhere. You’re not “just a contract teacher”. Schools need you as much as you need them. Finding the right fit is more important to your long-term health and professional growth than taking any old job that might come along.

You are a language (or literacy) professional. And professionals don’t grovel or beg for work.

Treat every opportunity as a two way street. Interview the organization to see if they are a good fit for you. Make sure the work aligns with your areas of expertise and interests. If not, walk away. If you don’t, you could miss a real opportunity that’s just around the corner.

It’s your career. Be in charge of it.

____________________________________________________

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

Share or Tweet this: 5 Questions to ask before taking a contract teaching job in the languages or literacy field http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Ic

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.

_____________________________________________________

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

Share or Tweet this: A new kind of Loyalist: “Public” ESL education takes on a whole new twist in Canada http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Hp

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?

_____________________________________________________

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

Share or Tweet this: Job Posting: Marketing and Recruiting Manager for Prestigious English Language Program http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Fu

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.


Eloquent is the new sexy

October 25, 2013

Glenn Hetrick: Long-hair, tattoos and a literary vocabulary so big you’ll be gob-smacked.

I have noticed a scintillating trend in entertainment lately. From Glenn Hetrick, judge on Syfy Network’s TV show, Face Off, to social critic comedian, Russell Brand, there’s a new kind of sexy hitting the screen: Eloquence.

It is not board-room, corporate speak jargon, but real English. It is the use of verbs more interesting than “get” and “have”. It is sentences replete with subordinate clauses that are artfully woven together. It’s linguistic prowess at its best.

Hetrick critiques the work of make-up artists competing on a reality show. In a YouTube clip that shows Hettrick offering formative evaluations to competitors, Hetrick’s feedback succinct, precise and pithy. The summative feedback he offers at the end of every show is articulate and poignant. Unlike other TV show judges, Hetrick avoids profanity and F-bombs. He cuts straight to the heart of the matter without ever being vulgar.

Brand weaves words like “vitriolic”, “indefatigably”, and “litigious” into his interviews with anti-gay guests on his TV show, all while he mocks the infantile language shown on the placards brought in by his guests. Brand peppers his eloquence with blue collar vernacular such as, “Bloody ‘ell!” and the occasional “ain’t”.

Neither Hetrick nor Brand are Oxford-educated, wear suits or show any signs of being pompous. Instead, they are “men of the people”, with a healthy dose of rebel in them. They are raw, real and compassionate with in-your-face honesty. They go against traditional conventions in terms of their image. Sporting tattoos and long hair, both have an air of being unapologetically subversive. These men exude sexiness because they know who they are and what they stand for.

One thing they stand for is eloquence. Not only do they consistently use proper grammar, they both have the ability to create verbally majestic sentences when they speak. Their language is lyrical and fluid, flowing naturally from one phrase to the next. Their delivery is powerful and compelling. We listen to them and we want to hear more.

I am fascinated by these examples of linguistic elegance. That kind of loquacity takes years to develop. Their language is a cultivated as any Ph.D., but without any hint of being pretentious.

There’s a new kind of sexy on the screen. It is man with a staggeringly large vocabulary — who knows how to wield it.

___________________

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

Share or Tweet this: Eloquent is the new sexy http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Ff

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.


Book launch: Critical Perspectives on International Education

March 19, 2013

Launch party - Critical Perspectives in Education

A few weeks ago I was excited to tell you that the book, Critical Perspectives on International Education had been released. My contribution to the book is a chapter called, “The Administration of English as a Second Language (ESL) Programs: Striking the Balance Between Generating Revenue and Serving Students” (pages 149-162).

Tomorrow is the official launch party for the book. I’d like to invite you to join us to celebrate international education!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

4:00 to 6:00 p.m.

Education Tower, Room 830 (TERA)

University of Calgary

2500 University Dr. N.W., Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Entertainment will be provided by Afo-Danse Troupe

RSVP here: http://fluidsurveys.com/surveys/sarah-khan/book-launch-yvonee-hebert-and-ali-a-abdi/

Critical Perspectives on International Education Sarah Eaton

_________________

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

Share or Tweet this: Book launch: Critical Perspectives on International Education http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Ar

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

_________________

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

Share or Tweet this: Spanish for Dentists: 6 Great (and Free!) Resources http://wp.me/pNAh3-1yE

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.


%d bloggers like this: