Sara Svenja wears many hats and has found a way to combine her expertise and creativity as a successful teacherpreneur. Find out how Sara - an introvert - overcame her doubts and fears and why she thinks that criticism may help us to produce better resources.
Can you start off by telling us where you teach?
I currently live in Paris, France, where I teach ESL to children in my own little language school, but I’m also an educational manager and teacher trainer for English teachers at a private school north of Paris where I have 4 teachers under my wings there this year and about 200 students. We mainly teach children aged 3-14. Our kindergarten is a mix of Montessori and Steiner, the rest of the classes follow the national curriculum.
How long have you been teaching?
I’ve been teaching for over 15 years now. My first job was in a private school. I started out with helping children with their homework in English, as well as those that were having a difficult time learning. I guess that’s why my teaching style today is kind of unique and the reason why people send their children to me. I have a wide variety of approaches and can easily adapt to the needs of certain children. This is what I always tell “my teachers” .. the beginning is not easy. But don’t give up. Just hang in there and you will be thankful for it later on.
Can you describe a typical teaching day?
I don’t actually have a typical day. It all depends on my coachees, pretty much. I’m always available for them. If I have courses at my own school, the day is pretty relaxed. I take care of my coachees when there are questions, prepare lessons, work on my new website and create teaching materials. I also do work for the school such as writing curriculum, checking how the chosen methodologies work, checking lesson plans of the teachers, and dealing with children that have difficulties in English.
In the afternoon then, my classes start till the evening. In the evening I often have meetings or calls with parents as I love to stay updated on what’s going on with the kids. After school, I meet again with the teachers to see how they felt their class went. It’s important not to impose your own opinion, as I feel like every teacher has their own unique teaching style. If I’d tell them how to do, it would be “my” style imposed on them. After school, I go back home and work on my business idea, make plans, work on my website and new teaching material… and learn new things.
What do you do in your spare time to relax?
I love reading, surfing the internet, going out for walks in nature (not a lot of real nature in Paris, but we do have some nice parks), meeting with friends, cooking or going to a restaurant once in a while.
You took on the tremendous task of creating a new website for ESL teachers who teach children. Can you talk a bit about it?
I got frustrated when I wanted to find some nice things that I could use for teaching, but I couldn’t really find anything that I liked. When you use certain methods, they give you a manual that you have to follow this way… but the truth is that one size does not fit all. I had this idea many years ago but then I got offered a busy job as educational manager. I always thought that I could still do my project later on.
I saw that most schools just hire ESL for kids teachers (often without any education in the field or experience), and then basically just “throw them” into the classroom and don’t give any further support.
When teachers told me all about their challenges and I saw that I was actually able to help them with my experience and that they were able to make real changes, I thought that the time is right now to think about my idea again. This is why after 15 years, I started to work on my business, creating materials that work well in my classes, a blog where I try to give insights, coaching and am currently working on a course on how to teach English to children.
How long did it take you to get the site up and running?
I started to create materials about 1 year ago, basically to test the waters a little bit. Then 6 months ago I decided to create my own website and launched it. It took me about 6 months to build it. I could have given the task to a web developer, but I wanted to learn it myself so that I can easily change things.
What is your website URL?
My website is www.teachenglishkids.com. I just launched it so the choice of material is still a bit slim, but I’m constantly adding content. Also I’m very open to suggestions. If there is anything somebody needs for their class, they can let me know and I’ll try my best to add it.
Where can people find you on social media?
How do you promote or market your website?
Since I just started my business, I’m actually just learning how to market – and there is so much to learn!
I use Facebook a lot. I have a Facebook group and a page where I share ideas. I network there with teachers and marketers as well. Pinterest and Instagram is a nice place for teachers to show their projects and products. I’ve been on Pinterest for a while now, but am just starting on Instagram.
Are you working on any other projects at the moment?
I have tons of ideas, to be honest – all related to the website but I will do everything step by step. It won’t help to launch 20 things at once that are only half well done. I prefer to build 1-2 things well first and once everything is working smoothly, I’ll start adding my other ideas.
Unfortunately in our field, there has been discrimination against "non-native" speakers of English. What advice would you give to non-native speakers of English who would like to use their skills to become teacherpreneurs?
Don’t give up and always work on your English. I’m not a big fan of this native / non-native teacher discussion. I have seen native speakers that were just awful teachers and non-native speakers that were the best teachers I’ve ever seen. And vice versa. So for me, it’s not about where you are from, but how much you love teaching and the kids.
Do you do everything yourself or do you have someone help with the technical aspects, etc.?
I learned everything myself, but I’m lucky to have family and friends in different professional areas to help me when I have questions. Never be afraid to ask people around you. Ask friends if they know somebody who … You might be surprised who you find.
What have you had to do outside of your comfort zone as a teacherpreneur?
Where to start?! First I had to overcome some psychological barriers such as “I can’t do that”, “what if people don’t like me” or even “ what if people DO like me?” I’m a pretty introverted person. I had to understand that networking is a big part of being an entrepreneur. Today I’m very happy when I can connect with people to discuss things or plan together. But I had to learn it.
Technical issues, for sure. A lot to learn that was really not part of my area of interest (at all!), yet a necessity. Before I would avoid pretty much everything I didn’t like but now I’m always looking for solutions which I would have never done before. You actually feel how this spreads into other areas of your life too. Your view on things start to change and things don’t seem to be impossible anymore. We just have to get over our own negative thoughts, that often don’t even a basis.
What skills did you gain from classroom teaching that have allowed you to excel as a teacherpreneur?
Patience! When you start as a teacherpreneur, some people believe, they post something and it will be so awesome that you will have 100,000 followers the next day. People are constantly bombarded with new information and ads so it takes time. People need a chance to get to know you over time.
Trying to find new things and ideas that the kids may like, all the time. It builds up the ability to research things you may need also in other areas, as you learn how to use keywords more efficiently to narrow down searches for example – and you learn how to network with other teachers and exchange ideas.
Sharing. It’s funny how often teachers don’t want to share their ideas or resources. They sometimes see each other as competitors. Nothing could be further from the truth. The more you collaborate, the more advice and ideas you will get for yourself and the more you will learn by giving advice!
Mindset. Knowing how to motivate the kids … = motivate myself. Who are you doing it for? For teachers that need the help in order to help the little guys succeed. And telling kids .. you never fail .. you just haven’t found the right way yet. And then see them succeed later on.
It’s the same for a teacherpreneur. Yes, maybe something doesn’t work (the way you wanted), but that doesn’t mean that it will never work. Try to find another way to make it happen. Analyze the situation and figure out what went wrong and adapt. Do it better next time.
What advice would you give to teachers who are considering becoming a teacherpreneur?
Make a mindmap with goals you want to achieve in 3 months, 1 year, 3 years, 10 years and then go back and figure out what you need to make these steps happen. For example: 1. goal is to make a website. Ok, now what do I need in order to make a website? A webdesigner … I don’t have the money to get one .. So learn by yourself … What do I need in order to learn it by myself? Watch tutorials, etc. You basically go backwards to figure out the small steps you need to do in order to get to the big goals. You get a great overview and know exactly what your next steps have to be.
And ask questions! Everywhere and to everyone. Don’t be shy. Go on forums, facebook groups, ask people to mentor you, ask colleagues for advice, watch webinars, get courses … the more you ask, the more you learn. Books can be great, but there is nothing like real contact with people who can help you with specific questions and tell you how reality looks like.
I talk to many teachers about their fear or doubt in trying something new or "putting themselves out there". What advice would you give to these teachers?
I had the same fears and doubts. I was sure that there was somebody out there who is just waiting to criticize me or tell me my idea was stupid or who would tell me “who are you to do this kind of stuff”. But in the end .. what does it matter? You can never please everyone. There will always be somebody better than you, more creative than you, with more knowledge than you, brighter than you, whatever it is. That’s great! I’m happy for you! So you will attract the people that need to work with you and I will still attract the people that are a good fit for me. There is no competition. You attract people that can identify with you, your personality and share the same vision as you. Those who don’t, they are for other people to work with. And it’s ok like that.
When people criticize you, you do 2 things. First you check if it’s true what they say. Is there maybe really something I should change? If yes, change it. If not, let it go. Be honest with yourself. We all have different teaching styles and personalities. The world would look pretty boring if it weren’t that way. So just think to yourself “well, that’s his/her opinion, I got another one” and continue.
You don’t have anything to lose as long as you do what you love and work with people that share your views and opinions. You are not there to please other people or to make them happy. You can’t. They have to make themselves happy. You can just do what you are best at and are passionate about and you will see, you will attract the right people into your business this way.
Thank you so much for sharing your experience! All the best with your website.
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 teacherpreneur interviews at www.teacherpreneur.ca/blog
2. If you are a TESL Ontario member, watch a recording of my webinar Teacher to Teacherpreneur https://tutela.ca/GroupFiles?organicgroup=8594&cat=518
3. Check out The Essential Teacher to Teacherpreneur Toolkit at http://www.teacherpreneur.ca
4. Sign up for my 4-week online course with iTDi.pro - Teacher to Teacherpreneur http://itdi.pro/itdihome/teacherpreneur.php
5. Download 10 Tips to Transition from Teacher to Teacherpreneur https://www.teacherpreneur.ca/p/10-tips-to-transition-from-teacher-to-teachepreneur
6. Download The Social Media Make-over Checklist for Teacherpreneurs at www.teacherpreneur.ca
7. Connect with other teacherpreneurs by joining my LinkedIn group https://www.linkedin.com/groups/7060976
8. Set up a private coaching call with me https://www.teacherpreneur.ca/pages/book-a-coaching-session-with-me
9. Connect with me on social media. Teacherpreneurs must be on social media.
My name is Patrice Palmer, M.Ed., M.A., TESL and I reside in Canada. I have 20 years’ experience as an ESL Teacher, TESL Trainer, and Writer including 7 amazing years in Hong Kong. I have taught students from 8 to 80 years in a variety of programs such as ESP, EAP, Business English, and language programs for new immigrants in Canada. I'm now a teacherpreneur doing the things that I love such as writing courses, blogging, sharing teaching materials, instructional coaching for new teachers and coaching teacherpreneurs. Having a flexible schedule allows me to conduct short-term training around the world at any time of the year.
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