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:

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#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.

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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


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.

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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.


10 Tips to Help Your Child Learn to Love Reading

March 22, 2013

iStock-Girl with bookHelping a child to develop his or her love of reading is a gift that will last a lifetime. Here are 10 tips to help you cultivate your child’s love of books and reading.

1. Read together – Rather than plunking your child down in a chair with the hopes that he or she will read on their own while you do other tasks, take the time to read with your child. From start to finish, show your child what it means to choose and read a book and then think about it afterwards.

2. Create special time for reading – Set aside time regularly to read. Make this one-on-one time with your child. Choose a time of day when both you and your child are alert and ready to spend quality time together. During this time, turn off and put away your mobile device. Avoid taking phone calls, responding to e-mails or sending texts during your special reading time. Give your child your full attention and focus on creating a fun and enjoyable experience.

3. Get comfy – Chose a spot that is comfortable with lots of light. Preferably, you want to read in a space that is free of loud or distracting noises, too.

4. Let your child chose the book – Chances are higher that your child will be motivated to read with you if you let him or her pick out the book you will read. If you choose the book, your child’s interest levels may be too low to fully engage him or her.

5. Take turns – You do not have to do all the reading and neither does your child. Take turns and share the reading experience.

6. Change your voice – Change the speed, pitch and tone of your voice to keep the experience exciting for your child. Create different voices for different characters to engage your child’s imagination.

7. Give encouragement – Give your child lots of praise and support as he or she learns to read. Be gentle, kind and encouraging. This helps to create a positive atmosphere where learning and discovery go hand in hand.

8. Offer incentives – For reluctant young readers, incentives can help motivate him or her. For example, one incentive might be that for every book you read together, your child can stay up for an extra 15 minutes that night… but you have to get through the whole book! Choose incentives that don’t involve food, TV or video games to help encourage a healthy lifestyle. Keep the rewards modest and then keep your promise.

9. Ask questions as you read – Ask your child to point to characters in the book or identify items that are a certain color. When your child is ready, ask about letters and words, too.

10. Keep the fun going – After you have finished your book, ask your child about his or her favorite parts of the story or favorite characters. Ask questions that help him or her remember the story. Practice new words together, too.

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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.


5 Easy Christmas Blogging Ideas for Literacy and Language Teachers

December 5, 2012

With Christmas right around the corner, teachers are scrambling to finish up the semester before the holidays. If you are a blogger, you probably do not have much time for your blog at the moment. Here are five easy ideas to keep you blogging through this busy time of year:

1. A guide to Christmas away from home

Do you have students from other countries who are missing their family and friends back home? Write a post with your top suggestions on how to survive the holidays away from home.

2. Local Christmas traditions and events

Many areas have special events such as craft fairs, light displays or free ice skating to celebrate the holidays. Tap into your local community to find out what is going on. Write a post that highlights some free or low-cost options for your students and their families.

3. Christmas crafts for young and old

Believe it or not, doing crafts can be an excellent way to build literacy and language skills. You must read instructions, follow directions and use a step-by-step method to complete a task.

Create a post with links to simple crafts that are appropriate for the ages and language proficiency of the group you teach. A link to a YouTube video is always a great idea.

4. Christmas carols for language learning

Sarah Eaton blog photoAs children we learn Christmas carols without really thinking about the words. What does it mean to “deck the halls with boughs of holly”, anyway? If you live in an area where holly does not grow then you may have never seen real holly.

Write a blog post that de-mystifies some of the language and phrases in common Christmas songs.

5. Multicultural Christmas traditions

When I was a teenager my Mom befriended a lady from El Salvador. That first Christmas we exchanged stories about our different Christmas traditions. Marta told us that setting off fireworks after their turkey dinner was part of their tradition. We had a wonderful conversation as we learned about what the similarities and differences were between our two cultures.

Write a blog post that highlights some of the traditions of your students, friends or family members.

Christmas time is one of the busiest times of the year for many people. Keep your blog posts simple and light during this time of year. Focus on joy and sharing and you’ll continue to enjoy your own blogging through the holiday season.

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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.


5 Tips to make writing easier

October 4, 2012

This past spring I taught a course on Writing Educational Research to a group of Master’s students, most of whom taught English as an Additional Language as their job. I was surprised how many of them loathed writing. One student said that she was reluctant to teach writing in her EAL courses because it felt like forcing a traumatic experience on them.

Over the course of the six-weeks we learned together, we came up with some strategies that they could use for themselves, and also use with their students. Here they are:

1. Write every day. Saying, “I’m going to write my essay on the weekend,” can turn the weekend into a time of torture instead of a time to relax and recharge your batteries. Instead, commit to writing 30 minutes per day. This helps build the writing habit.

2. Choose a time of the day when you feel fresh and creative.  For me, that time is often first thing in the morning. By mid-afternoon I am crashing and after supper my brain seems capable of basic life support only. In the morning is when I feel both creative and clear-headed.

3. Work with a writing partner. Choose someone you get along with and like to work with. Arrange a time to work together to review each other’s writing, make suggestions and do some peer editing. The point of working together is to try to help each other, not to nit pick. Set some ground rules and focus on the positive.

4. Let go. Some students said they hated writing because they couldn’t tolerate being criticized or being asked to revise their writing. They became very emotionally attached to their writing right away. What if the purpose of writing was to share it? And share it in the best form possible? If we start with that idea, then we might become less emotionally tethered to the writing… You can still be proud of your work without having a  Gollum-like attachment to it.

5. Edit and revise. It is said that Mozart never revised his music. He sat down, wrote it and was done. Unfortunately, most of us are not Mozart. I recently submitted the second revision of an article I submitted to a peer-reviewed academic journal. It was “accepted with minor revisions” when I first submitted it. That was almost six months ago. I made the changes the reviewers requested and re-submitted it. Then recently, the editor came back to me with a few more minor changes. He was right in asking me to change a few more things. I had forgotten to add in some citations, which are important in journal articles. I made the changes and sent the manuscript back again. I had been so close to the work, I could no longer see the errors. Working with editors, reviewers and instructors is really a chance to make your writing better.

Writing seems to be very easy for some people and very painful for others. These strategies may help a few reluctant writers and ease their stress so writing does not seem so daunting.

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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.


Social Media in a Family Literacy Program (Slides)

September 25, 2012

I noticed the other day that I never posted the slides from this presentation that I did last year at the annual conference of the Centre for Family Literacy, so I am posting them now. (Better late than never!)

Social media in a family literacy program from Sarah Eaton
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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.

Free webinar: Learning the 21st century way: Making sense of how to use social media for learning

August 16, 2012

Over the past decade social media has changed how individuals connect online and share information and how organizations interact with stakeholders and customers. Did you know that social media is now being incorporated into learning programs from Kindergarten right on up through adult education? Does it really add any value to the learning process?

In this one-hour webinar, I’ll share exactly how I incorporated social media (and in particular, Twitter) into one of my classes. I’ll share what worked, what didn’t and what you can do in your own teaching or training practice to effectively integrate social media ‐ and why you might want to.

By the end of the webinar you will:
• Have a basic understanding of how social media can add value to your learning programs
• Gain insight into how to incorporate social media into a lesson plan
• Get ideas on how to assess activities using social media
• Get ideas on how to incorporate social media into your own learning programs

There will be time for questions at the end of the webinar.

This free webinar is sponsored by Essential Skills Ontario. Here are the details:

Date: Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

Time:

10:00 a.m. Pacific Time (Vancouver, BC)

11:00 a.m. Mountain Time (Calgary, AB)

1:00 p.m.  Eastern Time (Toronto, ON)

2:00 p.m. – Atlantic Time (Halifax, NS)

6:00 p.m. – British Summer Time (London U.K.)

7:00 p.m. – Eastern European Time (Cairo, Egypt)

It’s free for you to join in, but you must register, since there are only 100 spots available.  Click here to register.

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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


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