Helen Waldron is a veteran EFL teacher who is now making her mark in the ELT materials writing world. Find out why Helen believes that teacherpreneurs should cultivate their networks and support others as well as the importance of keeping a sense of balance.
Helen, can you start off by telling us where you teach?
I teach freelance in companies around Hamburg, Germany.
How long have you been teaching?
Over 30 years, which makes me a real survivor! I have to add I’ve recently reduced this to 2-3 days a week, and am spending the rest of the week writing company materials and translating. Writing ELT materials is the new adventure.
Can you describe a typical teaching day?
If I’m teaching, I get up earlier than I would like, as I seem to have an odd affinity for teaching techie people (why do they all get up so early?). Having spent years coaching senior managers one to one, I’ve recently returned to teaching elementary and pre-intermediate classes, which in my context, often means they learnt English at school, but were not confident in it. Sometimes this is rooted in wider language acquisition issues. They went into technological jobs to avoid having to work with words and now the framework of the job has changed and they are having to write emails and make phone calls in a foreign language. However this past situation + current situation + task in hand constellation is what makes the job so varied. Adult education is all psychology, whether it is providing a thinking space for senior execs or encouraging people in more functional roles to find their own path and to take responsibility for and a pride in their learning.
What do you do in your spare time to relax?
This is wicked, but I mix with completely different people. I’ve always had a talent for doing the usual things in an unusual order, so after 30 years in the business I’ve only just started to network with other ELT-ers. Many years ago while I was studying for my first degree an enlightened female lecturer impressed on me that women especially need to compartmentalize their lives, and it has stuck. Plus I’m a very curious person. I obviously don’t get enough of psychology at work! I’ve always done some voluntary work, whether it was running a playgroup, representing parents at my sons’ school or helping to run the pub we bought up as a collective to prevent it from becoming a neo Nazi meeting place (yikes!).
It has been almost a year since we met at IATEFL. You have been busy and have written a book about teacher identities. What first interested you in this subject?
When you’re running your own business, you not only need to be clear about what you’re doing and why, you need to be able to put it into words for other people. And identity is a subject that affects all teachers. Teaching is a performing job, where we have to think about how we want to present each lesson and how we want to come over ourselves to our learners. This all gets us thinking about our identities, but while a lot has been written, quite rightly, about learner identities, I think there is less documentation of our own teaching identities, beyond the effect it has on our learners.
I read a blog post this week by a teacher who mentioned several times that she had a “strong teaching identity”, which is great. Very often identity issues arise from a sense of disconnectedness… and the danger is there: we straddle cultures, we work alone, we often live abroad and are the odd ones out in our daily life.
Where can people purchase your book?
Do you have any plans for a second book?
Not me, but the subject of teaching identities will continue with the next book in the Legacy series: “Why NNEST” by Erzsebet Bekes and Marcela Carrasco. This will examine the subject from a non-native speaking English teacher’s point of view. Here’s a bit of a taster: http://eflmagazine.com/whats-your-teaching-identity/. Hopefully this will be followed by a book written about women in ELT. Identity is such a huge subject.
I personally have contributed to “A-Z of Hope” (now out – all proceeds go to charity http://www.keltic.co.uk/main-title/view/id/2433/title/View+Item and the forthcoming “A-Z of Global Issues” with Linda Ruas and Julie Pratten http://www.keltic.co.uk/search/index/query/A-Z+Global+Issues.
Where can people find you on social media?
My website is www.helenwaldron.com
What have you had to do outside of your comfort zone as a teacherpreneur?
Assert myself. Being the little EFL business operating within the big corporate culture can be tough, as the sort of business discourse that we surround ourselves with (and also use as models in our business English classes) rarely applies to us. I think we sometimes forget that not all business is global concerns and billionaire start-ups. The business of the ELT entrepreneur needs defining and documenting. And we’re back to identity again…
What skills did you gain from classroom teaching that have allowed you to excel in your business?
I’ve learnt not to take negativism personally and to focus more on where this perceived reaction is coming from and what consequences it could have. I’m not sure whether I learnt this in the classroom or in life, but it has stood me in good stead everywhere.
What advice would you give to teachers who are considering becoming a teacherpreneur?
If you are thinking of changing your circumstances there will be a reason, so be strong and see it through. Cultivate supportive networks because working freelance can be lonely if you’re used to being part of a team. Be ready to support others. Learn the rules of social media, but don’t get lost in it! Never think in terms of “success” or “failure.” It’s never that black and white. Likewise don’t worry about other people judging you. They probably aren’t. If at all possible, do things outside work to keep a sense of balance.
Is there anything that you would like to add?
Only that I’m grateful for this opportunity to market my ELT writing to so many teachers spread over such a wide area. Thanks, Patrice!
You are most welcome. I hope we have the opportunity to meet again.
Interested in learning more about transitioning from a teacher to teacherpreneur but don’t know how to get started? Here are some ways:
Connect with me on social media. Teacherpreneurs must be on social media.
My name is Patrice Palmer, M.Ed., M.A., CPP. I have more than 20 years’ experience as an ESL Teacher, TESL Trainer, and Writer. I spent seven amazing years teaching in Hong Kong and have taught students from 8 to 80 years in a variety of programs. I now work as a teacherpreneur doing the things that I love such as writing books, courses and teaching materials; coaching teacherpreneurs, travelling at any time of the year and applying the science of positive psychology to all my work (www.patricepalmer.ca). Contact me at [email protected]
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