Friday, May 14, 2010

What Now: Staying on top of your game

Times are tough and tense. And teachers are going to need to stay on top of their game.  Every sector has its ups and downs.  It's just what we decide to do during those downs is what counts. 

This time last year I was in tears - with exhaustion.  In the taxi, on the way to what should have been a relaxing weekend,  the tear ducts burst open.  I came to the realization that I had pushed myself too far physically and mentally and had to cut back.  Little did I know that the job of cutting back would be done for me.  Fellow teachers who were in the same boat last year (bawling from burnout) are, this year, wondering how they are going to make ends meet until September.  Companies are opting out of language teaching (at least face to face), clients are stalling on payments, and schools are suspending hours. This leaves the teacher looking at her nails wondering which one to bite first.  

With that said, there are still things teachers can do to stay on top of their game.  Below, I've provided a list of actions one can take, in order of cost.  I'd like to stress that it's now we need to look at the cost of our professional development as an investment.  What, among the not-so-free items on this list, will pay for themselves in 1 month, 5 months, 1 year, 2 years, 5 years?  Ask yourself that as you browse and consider each suggestion thoroughly. 
  • Join Twitter - great for networking with other teachers around the world.  Be the first to know about anything and everything ELT related.  Sure it takes time to touch base, but now you've got it.
  • Join the SEETA Online Community (South Eastern Europe Teachers Association). They run free online webinars with the stars and more of ELT.  
  • Join the TESOL France Jobs List.   It's free and you receive the latest job ads for France (and a few abroad too).
  • Join IATEFL Email Discussion Lists.  It's free to join, and you can stay up to date with the latest buzz in the ELT sectors that you enjoy the most.  My faves are the BESIG (Business English Special Interest Group)  LAM SIG (Leadership and Management SIG), and Testing and Assessment (TEASIG) discussion lists.  
€  Join TESOL France.  For the same price as a learner's dictionary, you can attend all of their events for an entire year.  Unlimited networking opportunities, workshops,  conferences, Teaching Times magazine and you can meet ELT experts face to face. 

€  Write articles for newsletters, journals, online forms, etc. Even if you think everybody's heard it all before, write it anyway.  Get your name out there. It will also speed up your typing skills (which is a huge time-is-money eater, in the end)  The key € here is time, not cash. 

€€  Attend (better yet, speak at!) international conferences.  The cost will include the registration fee (e.g. 60-100€), travel (60-200€) and accommodation (depends).  But believe me, it's totally worth it.  As an independent, you can even charge this as a business expense (within reason and provided you include proof of attendance along with your receipts) And quickly, like now, get over your fear of speaking in front of your colleagues. You speak in public as a profession every day for Pete's sake! 

 €€€   Do an MA. Nothing boosts your credentials like a good, solid MA in TEFL.  The good news is there are quite a few distance and semi-distance programs you can look into.  Google it.  Today! 

€€€  Move to where the work is.  This may not be an option for many, but I know a few who are considering it.  In the 1970s, France was the promised land for English teachers.  Work was a plenty.  Well the wrath of the grapes has arrived and finding ELT work is getting harder and harder.  But don't move until you are sure you 1) have the experience and credentials worthy of the place you're going to and 2) have a solid, trustworthy contract under your arm.  

In brief:  don't burn your bridges.  Au contraire.  Diversify diversify diversify.