This is our fifth interview from our thought-leadership series with teachers who work at 51Talk.
Elizabeth, please tell us about your education background.
I hold a PhD in Rhetoric and Composition from Georgia State University, a Master’s in English Education from Georgia State University, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Performance (violin) from The University of South Carolina. I have my Georgia T-7 Teaching certificate and am also Gifted Endorsed and AP Certified.
You have a lot going on right now. You work for Kennesaw State University, edit academic writing for scholars and teach at 51Talk. How do these roles complement one another?
These roles are perfect together, although let me just say that I am JUST as busy as I was when I was a full-time secondary English teacher. 51’s flexible schedule allows me to have the power over my day; if I want to work, I will, but if I don’t, I will take a day off. That said, I don’t take many days off because working with 51 from home doesn’t feel like “work.”
Because the editing is not always consistent, 51Talk gives me the steady money that I need to survive, and it also gives me the freedom to pursue other interests. I also teach part-time at Kennesaw State University, at night, which meshes perfectly with my early-morning hours with 51Talk.
Another way that these roles are all synergistic is that in each one, I get to help others communicate better. I start with Chinese students of all ages who need different levels of help. For instance, today I taught a sweet little five-year-old, who knew no English, how to say her first words.
Then I had a one-hour intense session with a business adult who needs to elevate her already proficient English. It’s fascinating.
Next, I get to edit and work with academic scholars, and again, I am helping them to organize their thoughts and fine-tune their work. I also coach them and keep them motivated so they can finish big projects like dissertations or business reports.
Finally, I go to my university job (I teach three different classes) and I get to teach college students how to become prepared for the professional world. So, everything I do now is filled with basically the same purpose.
How did you land the role at 51Talk?
It was beautiful. Right around the time I decided that I was done teaching secondary English and that I wanted to move on (November 2016), I got an email from a recruiter at 51Talk. I think she must have seen my LinkedIn profile. I had been so worried about making the change, but when I got the chance to interview for 51, I had a great feeling about it and I took the plunge.
Now, it wasn’t quite that easy though. 51Talk is a very thorough, professional business, and so they put me through several interviews, requested my certifications, CV, and transcripts, and had me go through an intense orientation and training. By the time I actually started teaching, I felt ready and knew that I’d found the real deal with 51Talk.
You mentioned 51Talk had been a large factor in changing your life. Can you elaborate on your experience?
It’s hard to make a change. We all know that.
I had been a high school English teacher for over a decade, and with my Ph.D., my salary (plus fantastic benefits) was pretty darn awesome. But…I was miserable. I felt that I needed to either make a decision and take action, or just accept that I was meant to remain in the same job for the rest of my life.
I was scared.
Everyone said it was crazy to give up a job with such good perks. But I have always been an action-oriented risk-taker, and I knew that if I didn’t go for it, I probably never would.
51Talk gave me the leverage to follow my heart and make the change. Many people wonder if the money is “good” enough. For me, the knowledge that if I needed to, I could work for as many hours as I wanted, gave me the confidence to just do it.
Let me give you a real example of the difference a few hours can make. Last month I didn’t open as many hours as I could have. This month, I taught 2-3 more lessons several days a week, and my check for March will be over $500 more than February.
Some teachers are resistant to teaching online. What two pieces of advice would you give to other educators who would like to join 51Talk?
Do not be afraid of the learning curve and accept that there WILL be one, no matter how well-versed you are with the Internet. Know that in the beginning you will probably be overwhelmed with the teaching platform, Skype, the Internet speed, and the time difference. And also, expect that there will sometimes be issues with the Internet; China is a world away and things are going to happen. Be confident that within a week of teaching, everything that seemed so difficult to you will be “old-hat” – – in fact, after my first lesson I was so relieved and I felt just fine. You just have to get that first one done.
Be flexible and patient; be responsible and dependable. When things happen, use the resources available to you. If you cannot fix a problem, wing it! Students want to learn, and the parents appreciate it when they know we are trying our best. They also understand that “things happen.” Also, if you commit to a time, you need to be there. Keep your materials organized, have a list of to-do items for before each day’s lessons begin, and follow the rules. Online teaching doesn’t mean unprofessional teaching. We live by the ratings that our students give us.
Finally, as a traditional classroom teacher, I too wondered how it would “feel” to teach online. Well, let me just say that it feels normal. I see students, they see me, and we interact as if we were right there in the same room together. The only thing I had to get used to was the slight delay in my audio (if their Internet was slower). The other day, a student “gave” me a present online. I “took” it through the video. Another student likes to draw me pictures, and another played her piano for me. It’s all real-time, live, and personal. This is real teaching folks; you’ve got to connect, and the 51 Platform (AC) allows teachers to do just that. It’s great.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Yes. I would like to share a picture of me and a student having fun. Even during a science lesson (don’t worry, we don’t have to be science experts; the lesson is already prepared), we were laughing and kidding around.
Interested in learning more about teaching for 51Talk? Stop here for more information!