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The rise of the teacherpreneur

How can a teacher stretch their limits outside the traditional teaching box?

As more and more people turn away from traditional work to the so-called “gig economy,” Brad Carty – author, educator, and “teacherpreneur” – tells us all about his books, his work, and his journey through turning skills and knowledge from mere gigs to successful business endeavours.

Q Deliberate learning of vocabulary and idioms has always been popular with learners. However, for many years the academic preference has been for incidental learning from context. Why did you choose to go for deliberate learning in “500+ Business English Idioms?”

BC The problem with idioms and phrasal verbs is that they are the final step in fluency. If you have spent enough years listening to and reading another language, you will discern meanings from context after hearing and reading multiple examples. Otherwise, you will have had very few chances to make these mental connections.

This really only becomes an issue when a native speaker deals with a non-native speaker. When two non-native speakers talk to each other using English as a common language, they have very few problems; when I would sit in on my German engineers having teleconferences with colleagues around the world, everything was fine as they spoke in English with Chinese, Middle Eastern, and Scandinavian partners. However, as soon as they started talking to Brits or Americans, the native speakers would start using expressions that the Germans didn’t understand. I would take notes, and after the meetings I would send my students emails explaining all the idioms and phrasal verbs.

Q This may be an e-book and audiobook, but it is still a book. Why choose a book format in a world of YouTube, podcasts and Duolingo?

BC For both the idioms book and the follow-up book on Business English phrasal verbs, I wanted something that would be a reference text with the entries in alphabetical order, so they could be easily looked up. If a non-native speaker hears “don’t count your chickens” or “I have something to bring up at the meeting,” they need to be able to find the meanings and examples easily, which is why a book format works best.

Q In teaching business English most teachers err on the side of formality. Why choose idioms which are generally regarded as a marker of informal speech?

BC Because businesspeople use informal speech just as much as friends and neighbours do. The problem with fixed phrases is that they are often too formal or out-of-date. For example; when native speakers are proposing a meeting, they don’t usually say, “Let’s have a meeting about…” or “Let’s meet to discuss…” In fact, they are more likely nowadays to say, “Let’s sit down and discuss…” This has been validated by modern corpora based on recordings of hundreds of meetings, yet textbooks continue to use what are often more stilted phrases.

Q Reaching the desired audience is integral to creating any successful business. Since your books are not just on Amazon, but also on Audible, they must have a good deal of readership. What ways could teachers potentially reach their audience with their services or products?

BC If you want a book that is easy for people to find and to buy, you want to be listed on Amazon. Likewise, if you want an audiobook to be searchable and easy to buy and listen to, you want to be listed on Audible. Amazon owns Audible, so getting the book on their platform makes it very easy to also list the audiobook, and since all Audible books are listed on Apple’s iBooks platform, you get an automatic listing there, too. The bad news is that you have to share royalties, and take a lower payment for physical books printed in paperback or hardback; Kindle digital versions don’t have these extra costs.

For Audible products, you have to meet their audio standards with the recording, editing and mastering of the recordings; that might require having a producer work on your raw recordings, and/or a narrator, both of whom will expect up-front payment or a royalty share. I narrate my own books, and I taught myself how to produce them to Audible’s standards, so I can keep the full royalty.

If you choose not to use Amazon’s infrastructure, then you either have to find a publisher or publish it yourself and hope that Amazon will accept the book and list them for free on their site; it’s easy to do, but it certainly hasn’t worked out well for teachers I know who self-published. You can do all the marketing in the world, contact influential people within the profession, but if people can’t easily purchase your product, you will have wasted your time.

Q Alongside your work, you teach oneto-one online, which must mean you need to attract potential students. What is it, specifically, you teach and who is your course catered for?

BC I started teaching online in 2009 when I was living in Ireland and started working with a Hong Kong company, which I still work with today, that matches teachers with students. My courses are very skills-oriented, and I cater to businesspeople who have to give presentations, or have to write and speak with customers and colleagues in English. I also work on pronunciation and intonation, and grammar if they are having specific problems in those areas.

I may not teach the same students for extended periods of time, but they leave reviews that say, “Brad really helped me with x,” which attracts new students. Nearly all of my private students come from referrals and word-of-mouth. When I was teaching in companies, I would often be asked to also begin training a different department from the one I started training; sometimes I’ve taught employees of the same company who work in different locations, either entirely online or while teaching their co-workers face-to-face while they join us online from a different city.

Q You used to run an online business called “English Toolbox.” Can you tell us more about that?

BC I started English Toolbox in 2007 to sell the EFL training materials I had developed over the previous years for teachers. It had a database that teachers could use to select speaking level, general or business English, grammar topics, and soft skills like presentations and meetings language.

I started English Toolbox because I knew that hundreds of new teachers were being recruited every year, and I knew that almost none of them had any training beyond a CELTA certificate. I also knew they were probably spending countless hours after work trying to create materials. So, I gave them a resource for worksheets they could print, or computer exercises they could e-mail, at a low cost.

Q It is inspiring to see how you have grown as a “teacherpreneur.” How would a potential teacherpreneur take those first steps to building a career?

BC I think you need to do a professional self-inventory to see what you know well enough to teach, and then think about reaching customers – who could be other teachers, students, or both – in non-traditional ways. You see this with the hundreds of EFL teaching videos on YouTube: some of those trainers have amassed huge numbers of followers, and generate income both from YouTube and from selling packages of pre-recorded lessons.

Due to the inequities of the EFL profession, most teachers don’t realize how good they are and how valuable their knowledge and skills are. There are many ways to monetize these skills, but it requires a determination to step outside the lines. That means lots of extra work during leisure hours, and then a commitment to marketing the results forever! There are lots of marketing channels today, such as social media, but they need to be understood and mastered to break through the clutter. There are also advertising opportunities with Google, Twitter, Facebook, etc., but those require a willingness on the creator’s part to risk funds in order to, hopefully, get a good return on the investment.

I became a teacherpreneur because I was lucky enough to be employed over the years by language training companies that paid a higher salary than most. Nonetheless, that salary was only about 20% of what they were collecting from the clients for my services. Comparatively, when I worked for other companies as a freelance trainer, the portion I received of the client’s payment was around 32%; however, I now had to pay for insurance and taxes, and I didn’t get paid for days off for sickness, national holidays or vacation.

This same model is being replicated now in the online teaching realm, where I see ads searching for teachers who will be paid $9-$12 per hour with no benefits whatsoever! Therefore, I saw becoming an independent, initiative-taking English teacher as the only way to stop being exploited by the profession. Teachers of all subjects are shamefully undervalued, and receive appalling and insulting remuneration for what they contribute to improving their students’ lives.

Image courtesy of Library
Brad Carty
Brad Carty
Brad Carty has been teaching Business English for over 20 years at major corporations in South Korea, law firms within Germany, at the University of Pittsburgh and also online. Brad has a master’s degree in teaching English as a Second Language, and writes, narrates, and produces EFL books.
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