Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I Touched a Piece of Heaven in 2011

A popular New Year's saying is: "Let us not drink to the past, but to the future."  In this post, I'd like to make an exception.  I'd like to recognize the people and the organizations that brought me a great deal of personal joy and professional satisfaction in 2011.

The TESOL France Conference
I wouldn't be able to keep my sanity as a teacher and as a freelancer without my PLN (Professional Learning Network).  I mentioned it in a previous post that isolation is a teacher's worst enemy.  The individuals I've met through Twitter have provided me with classroom ideas, professional advice and contestant laughs. 

A wave of friends and colleagues arrived in Paris on November 4-6 2011 for the TESOL France Conference I organized.  I'd like to thank the following individuals who contributed to the conference's success. Your words of kindness and support resulted in a marathon of happy tears running down my face.

The Best Team of 2011
The TESOL France Conference team: Debbie West, Ros Wright, Gillian Evans, Eric Halvorsen, Laurence Whiteside and Jane Ryder who made ELT magic from scratch. It is a genuine pleasure to work with you all.

The Best Moment of 2011
Vicky Loras, Mike Harrison, Shelly Terrell Arjana Blazic, James Taylor, Dale Coulter, Ceri Jones, Sandy Millin, Shiv Rajendran, Stephen W. Henneberry and Paul Maglione for your thorough Conference Reports and fantastic contributions to the online ELT community.  I hope that others will read your posts and realize that this conference is an event not to be missed!

Willy Cardoso, Brad Patterson, Divya Brochier and Marisa Constantinides for continuing the conference conversations months after the event was over. Marisa, the #ELTCHAT videos are still a pleasure to watch.

And an extra emotional thank you goes out to Matt Ledding, who telepathically understood what drives me to organize TESOL France Conferences.  It really is, as he puts it: in order to shine a light on talents so that we see them and focus on growing and pass that growth on to others.

Working for eduPad 
Best Experience of 2011
I've mentioned to a few colleagues that I didn't have a summer vacation this year.  Instead, I worked for the educational app company, eduPad.  I admit it was the hardest I've ever worked in my entire existence, but I am grateful to the CEO,  Jérôme Serre, and his business partner, Daniel Jasmin, for their faith and encouragement as I hired and managed authors and editors, oversaw mountains of educational content, and formed professional links with educators who put their passion for teaching into the development of eduPad's applications.  

Over the course of three months I juggled busy class schedules and five time zones and worked with highly competent teachers and editors who included a homeschool parent, a physical education expert, scientists, historians, mathematicians, an Iraq War veteran, an SAT author, the incredibly creative Phil Wade, and the inspirational Lisa Dabbs who's insight was instrumental in ensuring the apps met US educational standards.

The Best Students of 2011
The Students at the Management Institute of Paris
Teaching at MIP was one of the most challenging, yet fulfilling, experiences I've ever had.  We all invested enormous amounts of time and energy in the students' development. It wasn't easy because some students had severe learning and behavioral difficulties. It was at MIP I learned the art of "tough love".

I'll never forget the Director of Languages' phone call when he informed me that MIP would be merging with another school in a different part of France. The Paris site was closing permanently. Suddenly, you are slapped with the question, "Was all that energy worth it?"

The process of relocating the students was painful and complicated.  We had to go from training the students for their futures as businessmen and women to counseling them on their transfer to other establishments. As the last day approached like an on-coming freight train, I witnessed inspirational growth in every one of them. In the end, they banded together to ensure the memories wouldn't die, the school's spirit would live on, and they would look after one another.

I wept on the last day, in the street, about a block away from the school.  I wept because they were some of the most creative, resilient and clever students I had ever taught.  They taught me more than they will ever know.  As another quote says: “A new year is unfolding – like a blossom with petals curled tightly concealing the beauty within.”  At MIP, I met dozens of unfolding blossoms. And I was incredibly fortunate to see their beauty within.  

Next year and the years ahead, I hope you witness petals unfolding. And as they do, shine the light on others' talents for us all to see. Continue to focus on growing and pass that growth on to others.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Free Legal Advice in Paris

The English Language Teaching (ELT) profession in France has seen dramatic changes over the last 40 years.  In the 70s, we saw a surge in demand for language instruction and an influx of teachers from English-speaking countries.  In the first part of this century, the demand stayed strong, but laws changed and Americans were denied easy-to-obtain contracts.  Today, the profession is in a bit of a low, companies are cutting back on their spending and language schools and travailleurs independents alike are feeling the pinch.

While a crisis is the perfect opportunity to think outside the box, it's not an opportunity to cheat the system or employees.  And sadly, I've heard of too many examples of the latter.

Granted, some language providers were cheaters even before the crisis.  So, hopefully this post will help them break that nasty habit and replace it with something a little more, say, nail biting.

Over a lunch of steak, fries and beer, a dear friend and colleague told me of a terrible legal issue she had.  Her French was good, but not good enough to compete with the person who was clearly cheating her.  Moreover, the culprit had a legal background and used that to further intimidate my friend.  She told me of a tiny shack she stumbled upon in the 14th district of Paris: La Maison de la Justice et du Droit du Secteur Paris Sud . Here, she was given FREE legal advice.

Translation of their website:  La Maison allows everyone to learn about their rights and to assert them in everyday life. Hotlines are organized around the themes of daily life: family law, the protected adults (guardianship, trusteeship), housing, labor, consumption, access to French nationality, immigration law, fight against discrimination. For schedules and making an appointment in the house of justice and law, contact us directly.

With the changing tides of the ELT industry in France, I hope you don't need to pay a visit to the Maison. But just in case - there are lawyers there ready and available to help you - free of charge.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Auto-entrepreneur (a wolf in a sheep's clothing?)

I have been called, cornered and accosted by teachers over the past several months asking me to compare the travailleur independent status and the auto-entrepreneur status.

While I am not an auto-entrepreneur (and cannot become one because I'm already a travailleur independent) I've listed a few pros and cons below following an email conversation I had with a teacher.

Being an auto-entrepreneur has its good and bad sides.

  • The social charges can't be beat - you pay 22% in social charges and don't pay income tax on top of that.  That beats being CDD, CDII and Travailleur Independent
  • You can charge "pre-charges patronales" prices.  For instance, as a CDII teacher, the going rate per hour is about 22 brut.  However, as an auto-entrepeneur, you could bill the school as much as 35 an hour because they won't be paying any social charges on your salary.   - Ask them about that.
  • You have to bill the school and keep track of your bills (and be very very organized).
  • You can't charge any business expenses (metro, lunch, etc).
  • You get very little health coverage.
  • You need to be able to understand the government website to become an auto-entrepreneur which is in French, sign up and report your income to the government.
  • And most importantly:  the auto-entrepreneur status was set up to allow for already self-sufficient professionals and students to have an income on the side. It was not designed for people to live off of as their prime income.  So, if you do this, I strongly suggest you juggle other contracts that are CDD, CDII, CDI, or that you have a spouse who has a CDI. 
Again, it's great to have on the side, but terrible as a prime income status.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The ELT PLN Book List!

I've just had a quickie conversation on Twitter with those I follow (99.999% are English language teachers) a.k.a. my PLN (Personal Learning Network).

I was also recently asked: "Can you recommend any good summer reading?" 

I came up with titles such as The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of The Oxford English Dictionary or Shakespeare on Toast  or The Fight for English.  But then it hit me. All the books I've read in the last 365+ days have been non-fiction books related to language or literature.

Fortunately, I've been saved! In the time it's taken me to type this out, the hashtag has taken charge.  It's coiner: @

Who better to ask for reading recommendations than our fellow teachers? We probably have a high sensitivity for writing styles we can sink our teeth into not to mention excellent filters against airport junk.  

So use the hashtag and join in on the discussion!  And happy reading! 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

You Think You Can....But Can You?

I never thought I'd say this, but language schools, I feel your pain!

Many teachers come up to me asking if they should become an independent freelancer.  The question isn't "Should you?" but "Can you?" This goes for becoming a travailleur independent AND/OR an Auto-entrepreneur.  Do you have what it takes to strike out on your own?  Sure being your own boss sounds cool, but before you take the leap, I strongly recommend you take a good hard look at what language schools go through - because that's exactly what awaits you once you write that letter to UR$$AF or sign on to be an auto-entrepreneur.

Are you ready for: 
  • Finding clients (in France, this means, are you good enough so that your trainees talk about you and recommend you. In France it's all about word of mouth, so put down that phone before you make one very chilly cold call).  
  • Comfortable with communicating the price of your services to prospective clients.
  • Writing up contracts in French (and understanding their company's jargon if they are the ones drawing up the contract). 
  • Maintaining clients (e.g. follow up, assessments; quality control of your own services).
  • Monthly billing (and keeping up with it).
  • Chasing after payments (are you willing to get tough? If you're subcontracting other teachers, do you have enough in the bank to pay those teachers in the event the client "forgets" to pay your invoices?).
  • Keeping track of your earnings and business expenses (a.k.a. keeping track of itty bitty pieces of paper and filing them in chronological order). 
  • Understanding the frequent love notes from government agencies such as UR$$AF, CIPAV, RSI et al.
  • Setting aside money you earn during the good months for the bad months (in France this means one thing:  July, August and much of September).
  • Setting aside money for when UR$$AF and CIPAV and RSI bills appear in your postbox every 4 months or so. 
  • Getting to know your accountant and double checking any dirty work he side-dishes to his interns.
  • Keeping a close eye on your own sanity and professionalism.
All of these slippery round orbs one must keep in the air are important and necessary.  I've said it before: it's not for everyone. But it's also an adventure and a never-ending learning experience.