Mike Simpson - ESL Teacher, Graphic Designer, Digital Storyteller

Mike Simpson has found a way to combine his skills as an ESL teacher and graphic designer. Mike believes that everyone can cultivate original ideas and learn how to express themselves creatively. It may be dormant from childhood but it’s still there. His advice?  Get creative and experiment – try some new things and try to offer a unique service or product.

 Mike, can you start off by telling us where you teach?

I am not currently teaching in the classroom, but I’m an ESL teacher with LINC (Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada) and EAP experience. In spring of 2017, I supply taught for Centennial College and CCLCS, a provider of LINC classes and TESL training (both schools are in Toronto, Canada). Earlier this year, I designed an online course on my website Ancestry Project called Introduction to Digital Storytelling. I’m the official instructor and I invite everyone to register for the site and take this free course.

How long have you been teaching? What kind of teaching have you done?

I’ve been teaching for fifteen years. I’ve also worked in training which I love. Generally, I work in Toronto, Canada and have enjoyed positions with a variety of colleges (Centennial, George Brown), and smaller schools like CCLCS and St. Stephen’s. My training highlight was the CALL (Computer-Assisted Language Learning) TESL workshop at CCLCS which I facilitated for two years. Working with tech and teachers is right up my alley.

What do you do in your spare time to relax? 

I like exploring the city. I’m interested in art, architecture, culture, history, language, tech, and urban planning. I read blogs and the NY Times, and love walking and cycling. When I get out of town I enjoy hiking and camping. I recently got a cruiser skateboard so I can keep up with my three-year-old as he zips around on his balance bike! Haven’t skated for twenty years but it felt great the few times I got out.

You took on the tremendous task of designing and building the Ancestry Project website. Can you talk a bit about the process? How long did it take you to complete it?

I conceived of the project in early 2016 and started building a WordPress website with a learning management system component in late 2016. I launched in early 2017 and I’ve been slowly adding blog posts and resources throughout the year. It’s not complete, per se, but it’s got lots of good stuff. That’s the beautiful thing about digital – often you can launch with one or two products and expand or pivot as necessary. 

Congratulations on winning a TESL Canada Innovation Award for the Ancestry Project. How does it feel to be recognized for this?  

Winning the TESL Canada award was a surprise and felt amazing. It's nice to be recognized by your peers and hopefully, gives an extra boost to Ancestry Project user registration.

Where can teachers and students purchase your resources?

I welcome everyone to visit the Ancestry Project website https://www.ancestryproject.ca/ All of the resources are free for 2017 – and many will be free beyond that. I just finished a resource called Canada Road Trip and my collaborator and I decided this material will always be free. More or less in 2018 and going forward the website will be based on a freemium model where many items will be free and you can pay for upgrades or additional items. I’m targeting indefinitely giving away about 1/3 of the content to registered users.

Do you have any plans for expanding or evolving Ancestry Project? Are you working on any other projects at the moment?

That’s an interesting question. I’ll let you in on a secret. Though I fully intend to add another dozen resources to the website in late 2017, I am going to market what I call Ancestry Project 2.0 from January 2018. Next year there will be the addition of international content – so visiting educators will see a ton of Canadian content and new content that reflects global issues and caters to a global audience.

As a freelancer, I’m also open to working on other projects so if people have an RFP or are looking to hire a graphic designer or e-learning specialist they should get in touch with me.

How do you promote or market your website?

Right now I am relying on flyers that have been distributed across Canada, but in the future, I will probably engage in online advertising. Search engine traffic plays a part so I am always looking for new ideas for blog posts.

Can we find you on social media?

Yes, I will be doing as much social media as possible but for now, I’m focusing on the Facebook Ancestry Project page which you can find at https://www.facebook.com/ancestryproject/.

What have you had to do outside of your comfort zone as a teacherpreneur?

Designing and maintaining a website forces one to learn more about technical aspects. I’ve learned how to find and add CSS or HTML code to change the look or function of my site. I’ve also learned lots about web hosting fundamentals like backups, security and all the non-fun stuff (fun for me is writing, doing graphics or recording and editing audio).

What skills did you gain from classroom teaching that have allowed you to excel as a teacherpreneur?

Teaching forces one to gain confidence in a situation where you need to be a leader and a listener. I’m more patient because of teaching ESL, and I know a bit about being concise and to the point. As a teacher, you’re trying to sell or convince your audience (students) your product (lessons) is worthy. This translates well to work outside of education.  

Any last words? Any advice for tech newbies or people hesitating to launch a product or business?

I’m a teacher and artist at heart. I’m not a businessman. But I know I have to learn more and develop some entrepreneurial skills. I need to evolve and embrace being a teacherpreneur. My main push is for people to be more creative.

I have always had an individualistic streak and a knack for unique ideas. I think people need to keep art in their lives. There’s a movement called “design thinking” which I think is important. It seeks to bring design ideas to all parts of society and business. I believe people can DIY or do many things themselves. Build a website or design a logo. That doesn’t mean you don’t hire a designer, but most people can cultivate original ideas and learn how to express themselves creatively. It may be dormant from childhood but it’s still there.  Get creative and experiment – try some new things and try to offer a unique service or product.

Anything you would like to add Mike?

Thank you, Patrice. I appreciate this opportunity to share my project with you and your colleagues.

All the best Mike!  Keep us posted on future developments.



Interested in learning more about transitioning from a teacher to teacherpreneur but don’t know how to get started?  Here are some ways:

  1. Read more than 85+ inspiring teacherpreneur interviews at www.teacherpreneur.ca/blog
  2. Download The Essential Teacher to Teacherpreneur Toolkit - 50 pages packed with information to get you started as a teacherpreneur at http://www.teacherpreneur.ca 
  3. Download 10 Tips to Transition from Teacher to Teacherpreneur https://www.teacherpreneur.ca/p/10-tips-to-transition-from-teacher-to-teachepreneur
  4. Download The Social Media Make-over Checklist for Teacherpreneurs at www.teacherpreneur.ca
  5. Connect with other teacherpreneurs by joining my LinkedIn group  https://www.linkedin.com/groups/7060976
  6. Set up a private coaching call with me  https://www.teacherpreneur.ca/pages/book-a-coaching-session-with-me

Connect with me on social media. Teacherpreneurs must be on social media.

Twitter     https://twitter.com/teacherpreneur2

LinkedIn   https://ca.linkedin.com/in/patricepalmer1

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/teacherpreneur2

Pinterest https://www.pinterest.com/teacherpreneur2/

About Me

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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