Setting your teaching free

Being a successful entrepreneur in this ever more competitive and interconnected world is no easy feat. Especially, if one has never had any training in management, business or the like, nor thought any necessary, or wished to become un homme d’affaires. Being merely an English teacher, by education, profession and inclination, could not really help in the whole affair either.

But Fortune had other plans, I guess. Or rather my girlfriend had. To study in Wageningen, Holland. I happily went along. After all, despite the name, life there is far better than that depicted in the mythological nether lands (for one, it is a touch cooler).

A little aside is necessary here. Wageningen is a town with no language schools, which means two things. No chance for a teaching post. But no one spiriting the sheep away from your flock either. A big university, which offers a variety of VERY cheap language classes. Bad news. Privates will always come out more expensive. Quality and innovation then must be the way to go. About 10 thousand Dutch and foreign students, whose English hovers around IELTS 6.5. Great, as there are a lot of potential clients. Not so great, because you will have to somehow persuade them to continue improving their English. So again: quality above all. Addressing very specific language needs. Preparing tailor-made courses.

After this brief briefing, let’ s cut to the chase. Task at hand: transform a supposedly decent teacher into an even better entrepreneur. Time frame: IMMEDIATELY!

Not an easy one, I admit. But, if I may turn philosophical for a moment, has success ever happened to anybody easily and of its own accord?

No. Never. To nobody.

Off we go then. Briskly – lest I lose my impatient reader to Facebook.

Step 1. Investigate the market. Identify the target audience (see above).

Step 2. Let the audience hear your voice. Posters and leaflets are as old and as dead as dinosaurs, but I still gave them a go at first, before a more enlightened friend saved me from the abyss of ignorance: “Let’s set up a FB page  for you”. Dicho y hecho.What a great idea! I started building an audience and getting likes fairly quickly.

Yet another revelation (hallelujah!) has been jing. It’s a program (credit to Robert McCaul for acquainting me with it) that allows you to make a video with whatever is on your computer screen. Example: you run a ppt in which you explain briefly a language point you know some of your target audience are having trouble with, run jing, give your commentary to the ppt, post it on FB, and listo!

A little aside here. We all like to pretend and think of ourselves as humble. Let’s face it, though. If we don’t tell and show the world (and especially those we entice to part with a substantial part of their meagre student scholarship, when there’s food, beer and other temptations to pay for) how good we are, we will be quickly forgotten, without even first making our name.

Step 3. Get to know your target audience not just a bit better, but inside out. Everything from the time they get up, where they sleep and who with can be of profound importance. Ok, I’m pulling your leg here. You do have to know, however, what the needs, lacks and wants of your prospective students are (just like in any decent needs analysis, although on a much larger scale and a more general level).

I quickly discovered that Academic writing (especially referencing, paraphrasing and quoting) is one of the key issues – this revelation (I’m starting to feel like a prophet of the almighty here) came from my girlfriend in the form of a fairly long string of Spanish and English swear words. She was trying to put together and correct a barely comprehensible patch of their classmates’ writing, which was all part of a group project. So I struck the iron while it was hot. I used jing to make 3 short videos in which I gave some tips on how to reference better , put them on my FB page and shared them on Wageningen students’ FB groups.

The response came in quickly as a stream of likes. I was elated. And hooked.

Step 4. Get enough students by the end of the year to get by. This last I hope will turn out to be more than just wishful thinking. So far I’ve got 4 students and about 120 likes on my FB page, which is promising, considering the fact I’ve only been at it for about 3 weeks. It’s been a very rewarding and a highly instructive process, and it has only just begun. I’m really looking forward to seeing how it pans out. Whatever happens, though, it’ll be a great learning experience. And that’s what life’s about, isn’t it?

PS: I just quickly want to thank all those who have helped, are still helping, and might do so in the near future. Dziękuję. Gracias. Merci. Danke. Thanks.

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