Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Learning how to market yourself should be part of every EFL teacher training course

Sandwich board: Even the most passionate and
enthusiastic teacher has to be able to earn a crust.
(Image: Boston Street Characters, 1859
via Wikimedia Commons)

Every year an increasing number of newly-qualified English teachers enter the profession, many of whom will be heading abroad to find work. The training courses they have done – CELTA, Trinity College, etc – will have equipped them with a basic knowledge of how to survive in the EFL classroom; how to field those tricky questions about the Present Perfect; and also given them an insight into key teaching areas such as classroom management, preparing materials and maybe a taster of some linguistic and educational theories. Clutching their shiny new certificates this cohort of newbies will mainly be applying for teaching jobs in language schools and possibly with companies. A lot of teachers will also want to teach private students and find work on a freelance basis.

While the training courses they have taken provide a good foundation on which to build their career as teachers in terms of the language and teaching, how many of these bright-eyed hopefuls will have the business skills and resources to really thrive in their new profession? The answer, sadly, is not many. Of course, people who already have a business background and have decided to branch out into teaching (either as a form of escape from the corporate world or maybe because of a life-event, such as retirement or moving to another country for personal reasons) will be able to apply their knowledge to their career. Others will pick up ideas and tips along the way – and, generally, learn the hard way (often by realising that if they continue to work as an employee for a school they have virtually no chance of earning a decent salary without a Stakhanovite workload of contact hours).

As a freelance business English teacher who has learnt the hard way rather than coming from a business background, I am in a good position to see the problem clearly. I have termed this the “missing middle” – basically, a vacuum of know-how and strategy that teachers find themselves facing when they try to branch out on their own. Some people just rely on word of mouth and building up their clientele locally via their ex-students and contacts; others try their hand at social media to find people willing to pay to them to teach; and a small minority will actually decide that it’s much more profitable not to teach at all, but rather to set up a school and focus on developing the business side while others take care of the teaching.

The truth is that most teachers are generally ill-equipped to build up a business based on freelance teaching. Luckily, there is a now an eco-system of online resources, blogs and websites where teachers can network and share ideas. But even here, finding the information and contacts you need requires a lot of dedication and input from the individual teacher.

Wouldn’t it be useful if every teacher entering the profession had at least a basic grounding in how to sell their language and teaching skills? I am not suggesting that every freelance English teacher needs to do an MBA in order to make a living. I just think it would be really helpful if at the end of their training course there was a module / component on how to take all this fantastic knowledge and the teaching techniques you have acquired and plug them into a system or structure that can help you earn a decent living.

This mini-crash course in marketing yourself could include:

·         Understanding how the EFL market is structured
·         Different types of trader (e.g. self-employed sole trader, partnership, limited company)
·         How to find an accountant and sort out your tax status, contributions, pension, etc
·         An introduction to Google, SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), copywriting
·         Using social media to promote yourself and your business
·         Networking, LinkedIn and membership of professional organisations
·         Information on how to specialise and find more lucrative sectors (e.g. Business English)
·         Other information and ideas relating to the specific market you want to work in

I have also floated the idea of a publically-owned brand that freelancers could use to promote themselves as a profession; as well as being involved in the production of high-quality EFL materials distributed under a Creative Commons licence (using the freelancers’ brand).

I would be very interested to hear the opinions of other freelance EFL teachers regarding this suggestion. And I would be very much like to hear what people involved in teacher training think as well – especially Cambridge, Trinity College, the British Council, FE, IATEFL, BESIG and other organisations based in countries other than the UK.

Have your say here by leaving a comment. You can also air your opinions on the Global Business English Network on LinkedIn.

Note: I have developed some of these ideas further on my English Revolution! blog ("Justice and luxury spa holidays for freelance English teachers... NOW!")