Joan Bartel has published three books. Joan candidly talks about both the "success and failure" and how she has applied what she has learned to become a successful teacherpreneur.
1. Thanks for joining us Joan. Can you start off by telling us where you teach?
I’ve been at Humber College, Toronto, Canada, for several years now. I teach Occupation-specific Language Training (OSLT) courses on contract (usually three per year) and give guest workshops in the TESL Training Program. OSLT is a free program for job-seeking professionals who have immigrated into Canada.
By the way, I haven’t always been a teacher. I’ve spent a significant part of my career in ESL/EFL program management, most happily when I was able to creatively influence the program. But I chose to go back to teaching in 2005.
2. How long have you been involved in ESL education?
A long time! Over 30 years. And I’ve never regretted my career choice.
3. Can you describe a typical teaching day?
I think my day is pretty similar to most other teachers’ in an intensive program. OSLT at Humber runs three days a week, 9:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. with the same group of students/participants. Especially with quiet groups, a lot of energy and variety of tasks is required from the instructor, so I do at least six or seven different activities and use all the language skills every day. Beyond that, and especially for those participants who aren’t focused on improvement of their English, we work on soft skills (linguistically speaking, “pragmatics”) for employment. I usually mark students’ work and plan next lessons at home in the late afternoon and in my class-free time two days per week. Sound familiar? In the months between teaching contracts, I write materials. And I travel to visit my far-flung family.
4. In what way(s) are you a teacherpreneur? What else do you do professionally besides teaching?
I’ve written some curricula on contract, presented workshops at conferences and to TESL groups (which gave me the credibility and network to get the writing contracts), worked as a CELBAN Assessor and authored three ESL textbooks. Most of my current work centers on ESL for job search and employment. In order to do it well, I took Career Counselling courses at a local college part-time for two years and earned some Certificates in that field.
5. You took on the tremendous task of writing some books. Can you talk a bit about that – successes, failures? What have you learned?
Yes, I can talk about it at length! But I’ll try to be brief. The three books I wrote have been three totally different experiences.
For the first book I was asked to join a team to write a basal series for adults in Germany, where I was living and working. It was a wonderful, and very profitable, experience; along with writing in a team, I got to see how the editing process worked.
For the second book, I responded to a need of my students at Harvard. They wanted to know how to keep up their English once they returned to their home country, so I suggested reading a newspaper – back then in the late 80’s there was no internet! I wrote and piloted a four-week curriculum on understanding American newspapers. A well-regarded publisher accepted it but I did not have a great experience. Three editors and three years later, when the book appeared, a rival also appeared on the scene, so my book had lost its uniqueness. The publisher never actively marketed the book in the U.S. so it languished in the catalog – but saw good sales in Asia (from where I received only half the usual royalties). I learned that just from being published didn’t mean that a book would be financially successful.
So when I had enough materials together for a new book, Office Soft Skills, for English and soft skills at work, I wasn’t very interested in contacting publishers. Instead, I decided to self-publish. In 2008-2009, online seemed the way to go, partly because my students told me they would have loved to have had the book before they even landed in Canada. I paid for a website to be developed (should have gone with Wordpress but it wasn’t as prevalent then as it is now) featuring a somewhat interactive version of my book. What I was naïve about was that it would actually be found online! It wasn’t. Eventually my website was hacked (it might have been to get at the PayPal accounts – ha! there were none), so I closed the book portion of the site. The experience was partially a failure but I learned from it. In 2009 I started printing hard copies instead. Over two thousand copies later, Office Soft Skills has been used in several college programs and by innovative managers and individuals in the workplace in Canada and the U.S.
6. How long did it take you to write the last book, Office Soft Skills?
I was trying out snippets of materials for three or four years before there was enough to put together into a book format. Because of my earlier experiences with publishing, I didn’t find it too hard to edit and format (which some of your other interviewees said was a major pain). But getting the interactive book up online took a lot of time (and it cost a lot, too).
7. Where can teachers and students purchase your book?
8. How do you promote or market your resource?
Word of mouth from past students and participants in my conference presentations, as well as promotions from englishcentral.net, are my main marketing efforts. Self-promotion and marketing pull me out of my comfort zone, so I don’t do as much as I could. (If I lived in the U.S., Office Soft Skills would be on amazon.com but that’s hard to do from a Canadian address.)
9. Do you have any plans for another book or other resource?
My next step is to go online with Office Soft Skills again. It’s been nine years since I first tried it and the world of online materials has greatly expanded. I’ll try joining an established site this time and maybe Facebook.
10. Where can people find you on social media?
Only on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/joanbartel And I don’t usually respond to generic requests to link without a message letting me know why you want to link. Not good marketing, I know, but I like to know whom I’m connected to. I guess I’m conservative that way.
11. What skills did you gain from classroom teaching that have allowed you to excel as a teacherpreneur?
That’s a really good question. I’d say the desire to meet the expressed and unexpressed needs of my students helped me. So, the skill of noticing, perhaps. I noticed needs and was motivated to respond. The books, in turn, were well-received by (potential) students and their instructors precisely because they met those needs.
12. What advice would you give to teachers who are considering trying something new or having a company or just "putting themselves out there"?
By all means put yourself out there, for example, give presentations or blog online on your idea or key message. Watch/read people’s reactions. For me, I really enjoy presenting in person and interacting with others who are teaching in similar programs. For you, it might be blogging that you enjoy. Putting yourself out there gives you credibility in your field. I find it stimulates me to keep on growing in the ESL field too.
Know yourself. Are you a risk-taker (the “Just do it!” type) or rather risk-averse? Can you stomach financial uncertainty (if starting a company)? Do you enjoy reaching out and marketing/ promoting? Are you willing to proofread written materials a gazillion times? If you are developing a new company or material to be sold, first consider these things – because the skills needed are not exactly the same as teaching skills. Also: know the competition. Be ready to make alterations if that’s what the market seems to demand.
You can also just put your product out there for your own satisfaction or to gain recognition in your field, if profit isn’t a main driver.
13. Is there anything that you would like to add?
Thank you for this opportunity, Patrice. These interviews are a nice idea – and good marketing for both you and the interviewees. I wish you further successes in your teacherpreneur career!
You are welcome, Joan. I appreciate your time and for also sharing your expertise as a teacherpreneur.
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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