Todd Vercoe is the creative genius behind the website http://www.tesolgames.com. He provides lots of great advice in his interview for teachers who are looking at teacherpreneurship. Todd says "Start. You never know when or where you will finish, but starting is key".
Can you start off by telling us where you teach?
I am taking a break from teaching at the moment, though I started standing in front of classrooms back in ‘79. Then, I was just a young pup instructing Saturday morning classes, after 4 p.m. programs and summer school sessions. I taught games mostly such as Dungeons and Dragons before most had even heard of the game and also delved into historical simulation games, world games and other Role Playing Games (RPGs). I taught drama as well, especially after studying theatre as an undergraduate.
How long have you been teaching?
I worked with the then Toronto Board of Education until 1996 when I left to teach in South Korea. I planned on being there a year but one year turned into twelve! First I taught in a couple of hagwons (학원) before a decade spent at Inje University (인제대학교) in Gimhae (김해시), Gyeongsangnamdo (경상남도).
At some point I became a part of Korea Teacher Training and taught teachers around Korea. I also had the pleasure of serving as an instructor of a TESOL Certification course teaching games and activities for the language classroom under the direction of our Head Instructor Dr. Rod Ellis (whose book The Study of Second Language Acquisition should be on most language teacher’s bookshelves) before returning to Canada mostly to research games in Waterloo.
Can you describe a typical teaching day?
I like to review my material and lesson plans the night before and do a quick re-read in the morning over coffee.
I believe in a changing classroom, so each class will involve the rearrangement of desks. Sometimes for pair work. Sometimes for circles. Sometimes no desks at all. Sometimes rows etc. Each class will be different and designed to keep the students from becoming complacent in their learning. New space opens new thoughts.
Keeping my classes student-centred. I try to keep changing the learning tasks to keep the classes fresh and interesting for students.
Each class brings its own challenges, and I believe that if a lesson plan isn’t often thrown away or changed by the end of a class, then somewhere, somehow a teaching opportunity was lost.
I have always taught with games, and try to include them in about 30% of a course, but that doesn’t mean a game every class. Some classes have no games, some classes are only a game. Some assignments (and I am a big Project Based Learning (PBL) fan) are for students to make their own games.
I believe in reflective teaching so the end of workday coffee includes journalling the days' events.
What do you do in your spare time to relax?
It should come as no surprise to anyone that I like to play games both digital, board or otherwise. I read and write for pleasure and like to walk and watch birds. When I’m home, cooking and baking are sources of joy and discovery. My wife has me addicted to television murder mysteries.
You took on the tremendous task of starting a website called TesolGames.com. Can you talk about it?
http://www.tesolgames.com was started as a resource for teachers, students and researchers interested in games, language teaching and learning or a mixture of both. It caters to all three clients (teachers, researchers and students) through content and resources such as a digital arcade for students and some articles for teachers.
The website boasts link libraries of journals focused on education, language and linguistics, play and games, and for networking educators, it provides links to educator organizations from around the world.
There is a daily rebus puzzle and some quotes meant to inspire teachers, students and game players, a huge database of tongue twisters and also some classroom game suggestions such as 14 Easy Verb Games.
For a long time I posted free word search puzzles every Wednesday for students and teachers to download and use. These were designed with ESL/EFL students in mind. I have stopped that for the moment, though plenty are still available.
How long did it take you to set up your website?
I will let you know when it is finished. ;-)
A good part of my Masters’ degree was work on it at least in terms of content and research, plus my studies helped tune up my digital skills. However, I built it first as a PHP/MySQL website from 2006-2008 and then chose to convert it to a Wordpress site in 2013, partly as an excuse to learn Wordpress and partly because I saw the Wordpress tool as more functional for me as an individual. If TesolGames was a team, I might consider returning to PHP/MySQL for some functionality, but at the moment Wordpress provides me with all I need.
From 2013-2014 I worked a lot on the site, but less so in 2015-16. This was on purpose. I wanted to let the site just sit to see what happens. To discover how many visitors I get (about 5,000 unique visitors a week), how many subscribers (now at 15,000+), and how much revenue it generates with little work.
This experiment will come to an end soon, and I expect to be putting up much more content over the next year. It is interesting to see how search engine optimization has developed over time. These days, constant updates will rank your site higher and higher. Having let TesolGames lay fallow for a time, I have definitely noticed the ranking drops in search engines, but I still attract visitors with the right key words etc.
Where can teachers and students find your content?
At the moment all content on http://www.tesolgames.com is free and the website monetization is driven by advertising. Though I am considering taking some material already on the site and some in the pipeline to turn into books, some for sale and some perhaps to be offered for free.
Are you working on any other projects at the moment?
I write. I have just finished an adaptation of broadsheets, advertisements and pamphlets published from 1650-1695 into a two-act play called “The Petition Against Coffee”. It is making the rounds of North American theatre companies looking for a production.
I am also working on a novel and a short story at the moment. Plus the odd article here and there as they pop up or I get freelance gigs.
A couple of new board game designs being play-tested are in the works, but I’m not sure how far I will develop them or exactly which model of distribution will be used.
Another website is in the opening stages, but nothing more than pencil and paper models at this moment.
What skills did you gain from classroom teaching that have allowed you to excel as a teacherpreneur?
Patience, discipline,and an understanding of people.
What advice would you give to teachers who are considering writing a book or resource/website?
Advice to writers: Work everyday. Try to get at least a page or half-page done, but work each and everyday so the material stays fresh and you can see your own progress. Try not to fret when you write poorly. If possible, never leave a page with writers’ block, instead try to leave the work knowing what comes next so you are excited about the following writing session and can jump right back into it.
Edit, edit edit and did I mention edit? But don’t be afraid to let a mistake into the world. It can be fixed later, especially digitally.
Advice for digital sites: Design on paper first.
If you are going to work solo, expect everything to take longer than you plan. It isn’t hard, but it will take time.
Backup, backup, backup and did I mention backup? Even then, expect to lose things over the years. I have an article or two and several designs that are long gone with a lost laptop, a hard drive crash and some CDs lost in a move.
Expect the site to break sometimes as you are your own Q&A team and webmaster. Somedays it can feel like everything is broken. Somedays everything is.
All you need to learn any computer code is online. Though books are useful, they become dated quickly. Stay current and learn more from the ‘net than the library.
Some of my favorite sites:
Quackit for code learning, wpbeginner for all things Wordpress. and csszengarden is a place to become inspired by what talented designers can come up with in css code. Though there are a number of free image resources out there, Freeimages is my first stop and Paletton is a big help when dealing with colours and colour schemes.
Though difficult at times, there is a pleasure to building your own website and I encourage all to do it.
Is there anything that you would like to add?
Start. You never know when or where you will finish, but starting is key.
Thanks so much Todd. Looking forward to meeting you at the TESL Hamilton conference in April.
Interested in learning more about transitioning from a teacher to teacherpreneur but don’t know how to get started?
Here are some ways to get started:
1. Read more teacherpreneur interviews at www.teacherpreneur.ca
2. Check out my Teacher to Teacherpreneur Toolkit at http://www.teacherpreneur.ca
3. If you are a TESL Ontario member, watch a free recording of my webinar Teacher to Teacherpreneur https://tutela.ca/GroupFiles?organicgroup=8594&cat=518
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. Join my LinkedIn group for teacherpreneurs. Connect with other teacherpreneurs https://www.linkedin.com/groups/7060976
7. 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!
Who am I?
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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