Sarah Mulvey recently left classroom teaching after 22 years to focus on her coaching and counselling business for ex-pats in Japan. Sarah combines her interest and training in NLP, coaching and counselling with her personal experience of being an ex-pat to offer a very unique service. Sarah believes that we should take chances, get our vision out there, and try new things.
Sarah, can you start off by telling us where you teach?
Well, my transition from teacherpreneur to small business owner has already happened. My teaching career came to an end on March 31st of this year, and I am in the process now of getting my new venture underway. Up until April 1st, I was teaching at Nagoya City University in the heart of Nagoya, Japan.
How long have you been teaching?
I have been a teacher for twenty-two years.
Can you describe a typical teaching day?
At Nagoya City University, my day would generally start at 9:00 am with a morning class. I taught 8 to 9 classes per week, so on a typical day I would teach from 1 to 3 classes, and then spend the rest of the day in my office, working on curriculum or meeting with students. I, fortunately, had very few faculty meetings which was very nice, and I also had one non-teaching day set aside strictly for curriculum development or any other duties.
What do you do in your spare time to relax?
I love reading and swimming, or just going for bike rides with my husband. We live within biking distance of some really great parks. We live in the centre of Japan, so hopping on a train to visit Kyoto or Osaka for a weekend is something we do quite often.
You have two entrepreneurial ventures. Can you tell us about them?
This first one began quite a few years ago in the form of a textbook. My husband, also a university instructor made me realize that creating your own textbook makes so much more sense than relying on mass produced materials which can rarely meet all the needs of your students. Together we wrote a textbook called “Scraps” which is now in wide publication and being used throughout Japan. At NCU, I wrote my own tailor-made 15-week course that I felt suited the students’ needs (and my own need to step outside the box of a typical grammar/listening/reading class.) I printed, collated and distributed the materials as a complete and ready-made course for all my first-year students, and I updated it year to year. It promoted critical thinking skills and I am very proud of it.
My second and most recent venture is starting my own company. My new business, the reason I took the leap completely out of teaching, is called “The J’Expat Network.” It is a coaching and counseling service which I provide specifically for ex-pat women in Japan. Having lived in Japan myself for over two decades, I can understand the unique challenges facing foreign women during the different stages of their lives here, from the ‘honeymoon’ through to the hardships of culture shock. I’ve found over the years that newcomers and veterans alike would gravitate towards me for advice and counsel, and were often very grateful for the assistance I was able to provide. At the same time, I was becoming burnt out by the demands of teaching as well as by students who seemed unmotivated to learn English. I decided to take a chance and move towards something that I was already doing well naturally; providing assistance and guidance to women who could really use my help.
How long did it take you to write your book and start a company?
For writing the textbook, my husband and I worked together. We each took on tasks, and would come together at the end of the day and share what we had put together. We would try out some of our ideas on our current students and tweak what didn’t seem to work. The first edition came together in about 6 months. We added a CD which we recorded ourselves and by getting some friends in to help with voice work. It took 3 editions to get to the truly final product. I would advise any teacher making a textbook to try out all the tasks on their students. After that, you’ll either self-publish or find a publisher to take on your project. All-in-all, I would say be prepared for the whole project to take up to a year and a half (particularly if you’ll be testing the units on your students throughout a school year.)
For my coaching and counseling venture, it came to fruition only after several years of building up my credentials. I have studied Neuro-linguistic Programming (*NLP) through reading, workshops and online courses for nearly 15 years. I became a certified practitioner five years ago. (*NLP is a skill-set that promotes positive change in all areas of your life. Humans have a tendency to run set patterns in their daily lives, some good, some not so good. NLP provides the tools necessary to break the patterns that aren’t helping us, from common issues like procrastination or habitual lateness to more serious matters such as addictions and anxiety.)
My NLP background led me naturally towards the area of coaching, and over the course of six months, I took further courses that helped hone the skills I had already acquired through NLP. The skills I have gained over fifteen years have given me enough confidence to become my own boss and begin my own coaching and counseling service. My years as a teacher allow me to feel comfortable working with people, whether I am one-on-one in a counseling session, or standing in front of a larger audience presenting a workshop.
Where can teachers and students purchase your book/resources?
The textbook, “Scraps,” is available in Japan through www.englishbooks.jp, and there are samples available through http://perceptiapress.com/books/scraps/index.html
For my coaching and counseling services, foreign women in Japan can contact me anytime at [email protected] to set up a one-on-one appointment, or a session by Skype.
Do you have any plans for a second book, other resources or projects?
Absolutely, but as my career direction has now changed, the focus will be more on a self-development resource book for English-speaking ex-pat women in Japan. I am in the process of compiling resources and advice for women who travel to and live in Japan. It will be available in print and online.
How do you promote or market your book and coaching business?
The textbook “Scraps” is being advertised by the publisher and through www.englishbooks.jp and is displayed at ESL conferences throughout Japan.
My coaching and counselling practice is in its early days. While I have been counselling foreign women and helping them to set and achieve goals for years, taking it to the next level as a proper business has just begun. The website is a work in progress, and can be accessed at www.jexpat.com.
Can we find you on social media?
My website can be found at www.jexpat.com. A Facebook page will be coming soon.
What have you had to do outside of your comfort zone as a teacherpreneur?
Marketing myself has been far more challenging than I anticipated. I will be leading a workshop with my husband in July, and promoting it as an event that will cost the participants money has proved to be a difficult point for me, and something I had not expected. I’ve always led at the front of a classroom or as a presenter at conferences knowing I was receiving a salary through my employer for my hard work. My income still depends on my hard work, but is completely reliant on the general public wanting the service I am providing. Students had to attend my lectures. When it comes to clients, I have to actively solicit them, and set out a payment plan. This is definitely outside my comfort zone. I’ll get better at it!
What skills did you gain from classroom teaching that have allowed you to excel as a teacherpreneur?
Being a teacher has instilled a sense of confidence in me that I didn’t have when I was much younger. In Japan particularly, students, for the most part, treat teachers with a lot of respect and over the years I have come to expect that when I stand in front of a room of people who are gathered to listen to me. That confidence will cross over well into my new career and I know it will serve me and my clients well.
What advice would you give to teachers who are considering having a company?
Learn how to make a proper webpage. I knew it would be challenging, but so much has changed from nearly 15 years ago when I made a simple blog site for my writing. The capabilities have improved and become far more complex than just writing and hitting the ‘publish’ button. When I made my first hesitant steps into website building this year, I almost threw my hands up and hired someone. My husband helped me so much, and I’m able to add and edit my page easily now that the foundations have been set in place. When it comes to advertising, I’m still learning. I remember a business person telling me many years ago that 10,000 flyers in mailboxes statistically pulls in three paying customers. Selling a product, no matter what it may be, is not easy in the information age. People are inundated with stuff, so yours has to be unique and stand out.
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?
Well, the thing that so many teachers told me when I stepped out of the teaching world and into something completely different was this; “You’re so brave.” I don’t know, though. Is it brave? Or is it simply knowing so very well what you don’t want, that there’s really only one proper choice that’s left; to choose something that you DO want. Of course, there are other choices. One choice really could be to continue doing what you don’t want, counting down the days to retirement. But that just wasn’t a choice I was willing to consider. Or, another choice could be to look closely at your present teaching situation and especially the parts of it that may not be working so well and shaking things up a bit.
Try doing things differently, even if it’s just the way you take attendance or how you test your students. It could be the environment, the workload, the materials you’re using. Whatever it is that’s making your teaching life not as good as it can be, those are the things that need to change. I’ve met many teachers who relinquish control to the “other”, who, if they are unhappy in their present teaching situation, lay blame on outside influences. I say to those unhappy teachers; take back control, make difficult decisions, take action. Counting down the thousands of days to retirement, or sleepwalking through your days and following a curriculum by rote is no fun. Write a textbook, challenge your students (and yourself), or, take a step out of the field completely. Take a chance.
Is there anything that you would like to add?
I would stress what I said above; take chances, get your vision out there, try new things. As teachers, we often encourage our students to do things outside of their comfort zone (and then test them on it,) yet we often hesitate in our own lives to do just that. Now is the time, and while you may not be tested on your results, your sense of accomplishment when you get out there and try something new will be proof enough of your success.
Thank you, Sarah. Your interview has been very inspirational! Best of luck with your new coaching business.
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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