Let's start the new year with some ideas on getting organized. In this interview, we talk to Rachael Roberts, ELT business and mindset coach, about how teachers and ELT professionals can get the most out of the year ahead.
Rachael has 30 years of experience in ELT as a teacher, teacher trainer, manager, and materials writer. Now she works as a business and mindset coach for ELT entrepreneurs and freelance professionals, helping them earn more, work less, and live more fully. She works with clients 1-2-1 and on a 14-week small group business foundation programme called Flourishing Foundations. You can join nearly a thousand like-minded professionals in her free Facebook group, ELT Professionals- Lightbulb Moments. You'll find regular live videos from her, guest speakers, and tips and strategies on building confidence, managing stress, saying no, time management and more more.
Interview with Rachael Roberts
You have had many years of experience not just as a small business coach for ELT Freelancers, but also as an ELT teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer. What are the most challenging things about being a language teacher?
Where to start?! I think it’s a really challenging job mentally, physically and emotionally. Teachers have to make hundreds of micro decisions every lesson about what next step will best aid learning, how to keep students focused, what’s happening with Juan who’s a bit too quiet today… It’s a huge juggling act.
Of course, it’s also really rewarding because we get to see how we can really make a difference to other people’s lives, but we shouldn’t underestimate the challenges, as that’s why teachers need to really look after their own well-being first, so they can fully be there for others.
What skills do you think language teachers have that they often forget about or might not even recognize?
Most experienced teachers have inbuilt antennae which allow them to have ‘eyes in the back of their head’ (I’m mixing my metaphors!). It’s almost a kind of psychic ability to pick up when the pace is slowing, or there’s some confusion or restlessness. Teachers are usually excellent listeners too, and have great project management skills. There are a lot of transferable skills.
As a coach, where do you think language teachers most need support?
As a teacher and teacher trainer, I could talk about learning to exploit materials more effectively, classroom management skills, pronunciation work… but as a coach, I think the biggest thing is recognizing that as a teacher you are the most important resource you have. You can have all the interactive whiteboards, great materials, or apps you want, but if you don’t prioritise looking after yourself, you soon won’t be in a position to help anyone else.
I think it’s a cultural thing within education, and maybe especially within ELT, that we expect to be able to run on empty forever. I find the same thing with the ELT freelancers I coach. You wouldn’t own a Ferrari and refuse to give it petrol or oil, or never take it to the garage…
We need to block out time to take care of our health: taking breaks, getting outside, eating well, drinking water, sleeping, meditation….these aren’t ‘nice to have’ extras, they’re priorities.
Getting organized for the new year is important mental preparation. What tips have you got for language teachers, thinking of the year ahead?
I’m a big believer in setting up systems that will support you when the going gets tough. Regular helpful habits is the key, rather than trying to make huge changes just because it’s a new year, and then giving it all up by February.
A really useful habit I’ve developed is to take 15-20 minutes every Friday to sit down and reflect on the previous week and write it down. What were your ‘wins’, or those things which went well? It’s a natural human tendency (negative bias) to focus mainly on what went wrong, so we need to consciously balance that out by reminding ourselves of all the positives. It can also be a real boost when you get to that exhausted point of the term to look back and see all the wins.
Secondly, what were your learnings for the week? When things go ‘wrong’ there’s almost always something to be learnt from it, which can make it less painful. And again, writing it down can help us not to keep making the same mistakes again and again.
Can you share a strategy to deal with daily stress at school?
Another natural bias we all struggle with is what’s known as ‘the planning fallacy’. We naturally tend to be over-optimistic about what can be achieved within a certain amount of time. So, as well as all the ways we can look after ourselves physically and mentally that I mentioned earlier, I’d like to recommend consciously allowing ‘cushion time’ between tasks. Don’t try and cram in those emails during a short teaching break, leave a bit more time to mark those essays, set out for school ten minutes earlier so you won’t be panicking if there’s traffic.
Initially, it may feel like you’re wasting time, but in fact you’re just being realistic, and removing a major source of stress.
Thank you for the interview!