In my last post I talked about the fundamentals of becoming an online teacher without supporting huge investor-fueled teaching platforms or business practices you don’t agree with, don’t understand or simply don’t care about.
Today I want to talk further about how you can establish your own legacy instead of indirectly fueling an impersonal brand that will eventually forget about your efforts.
If you work as a teacher for one of those start-ups and people up in the hierarchy make decisions you don’t have any influence on – if the start-up goes down, all your efforts will go down with it. This is not to say that individuals are less prone to failure than organizations. Failures are a necessary ingredient of learning. But if you work for yourself, free from investor pressure – you can correct the course more easily, get up and try again without anybody breathing down your neck.
1. Writing Articles
One of the best ways to show people what you’re all about (both as teacher and fellow human being) is writing articles on your blog. Not only is this a great way of gaining exposure, it will also help you to reflect how you come across and thus improve your presentation. Nobody wants to read how “passionate, knowledgeable and pretty much perfect” a person is, if he or she can’t embody those traits in action. The first rule of Creative Writing is: Show, Don’t Tell! – In the same way, save your readers the trouble of advertising yourself. Do your thing, be unique – say what you really think, not what people want to hear, and there will be no need to advertise.
2. Creating Materials
During my teaching career I’ve seen a lot of materials. Mountains of exercises, worksheets, etc. So have you, probably. Many socalled professional textbooks are created by academics. This is great, but not always do they have adequate field experience and know what works in a classroom situation, when push comes to shove.
We now live in a time where virtually anybody can create and publish virtually anything. What it means is that maybe for the first time in history publication is not any more reserved for those who have the required amount of power & money in their hands. Instead, everyone who has something to say, can do so – with minimal costs!
A great way to establish yourself as an authority in your field is to create ebooks. Why? Their production is relatively easy. You can include graphics, create stunning layouts and complex structures with free software like Open Office. Then you can offer your work as a download. Note: Although it’s relatively easy to get something up and running within a very short time, quality should always come first. I’ve seen a lot of ebooks which mean well, but simply don’t feel right in terms of colors, design or fonts chosen. And the last thing you want to have is high quality material which is poorly packaged! (It’s just as bad as low-quality content in a deluxe dressing) – My recommendation: Check out how traditional textbooks and exercise sheets are done. Imitate the layout ideas that work well. Ditch the rest. If you’re not sure how to do something particular, Google is your friend. So far, I’ve found the answer to 99,99% of my tech-related questions by running a well-defined search.
Also, there is always the question whether to offer your books as free downloads or premium products. I’d recommend to do both! Especially in the beginning it can be helpful to have a free product to get the action going. Once you have established yourself, it will get a lot easier to offer premium products (and services).
3. Running a Community
One of the more interactive ways of getting people to know you, is to run a group/page on Facebook or a similar service. There are many ways to do this, but Facebook simply lends itself to it because of its ridiculously large user-base.
Two groups that I’d like to mention as examples for doing this are GLOBAL ENGLISH FORUM, created by Pietro Polic and Sylvia’s English Online, run by Sylvia Guinan (who also moderates the GEF). There are of course many more examples but those are two that I’ve been closely observing for a while and that serve perfectly for what I’m trying to explain here. (See also: English Online & Feel free to include a link to your page/group below. UPDATE: Sylvia recommended to check out EnglishBrno, as well, a growing page for self-study learners!)
If you take a look at these examples you will see that their moderators engage the audience on a daily basis or every few days by
- asking questions that prompt the members to express themselves like “What’s your favorite color, food, etc.?”
- asking the users to finish sentence stems like “If I were a millionaire …” (this is a very good way of teaching grammar structure)
- uploading pictures and asking people to describe what they see
Those are only a few of the things that have proven to work very well. Many other ways are possible. It’s really up to you to experiment and see what is most helpful for learners.
A few things to keep in mind:
- Keep most of the content free and accessible to a wide range of people! You can still advertise premium services or products once in a while, but your page should be more than just a stream of classified ads to stand out.
- Don’t be too pedantic when learners make mistakes. Correct comments only when asked for, or when you can do it in an encouraging, non-destructive way! One of the best ways is to create conversations about why certain solutions are better, and very often you will even see students correcting each other in a spirit of mutual support. This creates a strong sense of community!
- If you manage to create a feeling of trust, people will be very active and recommend your page (and the content you post there) to their friends. This way you don’t have to worry about advertising but can continue doing what you do best: creating stimulating content & conversation!
- Doing all of this will take a lot of time and efforts. Since it’s not the only thing you do, you’ll have to find ways of organizing your time to achieve maximum productivity.
By the way, It’s very interesting to see that commercial learning institutions don’t always excel in creating communities. On the contrary, the best groups/pages that I have seen are run by individuals like you and me, not by corporate giants.
On a final note: Of course it’s the best if you can find a strategy that incorporates all of the three points mentioned: Writing articles, creating materials and running a group. Most of the time, though it’s realistic to focus on one of these areas first and expand, later – especially if you still have a day-job to look after. I also started out doing all of this next to a regular teaching position, but sooner than I thought I had to quit in order to commit myself 100% to the legacy left in the wake of my efforts.
If you want to share your experiences with us regarding those practices, feel free to leave a comment. Thanks.