Ola Kowalska about doing CELTA and running your own teaching business.

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Interview with English teacher about creativity and writing teaching materials

Ola, thank you so much for taking time out of your very busy schedule to answer these questions for us! We’re so happy to have you here with us!

So first of all, could you tell us a bit about what you do? Where can we find you online?

My name is Ola and I’m an English teacher – turned teacher trainer – turned language school manager – turned online language school owner – turned business coach for teachers πŸ˜‰ I’ve been working in the field of English Language Teaching for over 13 years now in a variety of roles but my most recent experience has been focused on helping teachers build their own profitable businesses.

I absolutely love what I do – I’m a teacher at heart and put my students at the centre of everything I do – people say I don’t just teach, I empower them to take action. And I think that’s true – one of my main strengths is ‘Maximiser’ (in the Clifton Strengths test – if you don’t know what that is, check it out, you’ll thank me later!) I still occasionally do some teacher training on CELTA courses as well.

I mainly hang out on Instagram @ola_coaches_teachers but people also find me on other social media platforms under my name. I run a weekly podcast ‘Stand out in ELT!’ which is available on all podcasting platforms and via my website olakowalska.com

You’re a CELTA instructor. We want to know more about that! For any teachers who are considering it – why is it worth doing it?

For the record – I don’t sell CELTA, haha πŸ˜€

Ever since I did my own course in 2015 I wanted to become a CELTA tutor. When I started my CELTA I had about 6 years of experience as an English teacher (mainly working for private language schools and freelancing a bit) so you could say it was quite substantial! But CELTA completely changed my perspective on teaching. It was such a refreshing course and it gave me everything that, let’s be honest, university degrees often lack. Mind you, I graduated with an English teaching/education related degree in 2015 as well. The amount of practical information and the actual hours of teaching were what gave me the confidence to teach (and move abroad to the UK to find multiple teaching jobs)!

On CELTA you’re supposed to teach for 6 hours – you teach real students and are being given feedback on everything that you do! It’s nerve wracking but so useful! For a lot of people (especially non-native speakers) the theoretical element of CELTA is nothing new, they usually do super well in assignments (there are 4). They have great language awareness but it is the ability to put into practice and be challenged on your old teaching habits that may not be very effective in language teaching (that was the case with the amount of my Teacher Talking Time, haha!) is a game changer.

For anyone considering CELTA, I guess I’d say it depends on what you want to achieve. It opens lots of doors (it’s a requirement for work in language teaching industry in the UK and many other places, especially if combined with a degree). If anyone is planning to do freelance work, I’d still say it’s super useful but not a requirement πŸ™‚

How can more experienced teachers benefit from doing CELTA?

More experienced teachers will probably find CELTA hard work but comprehensible. The biggest challenge that they may face (from my experience as a tutor) is changing their old habits to meet CELTA requirement – the essence of the communicative language teaching method are the basis for the requirements. And the more experience people have, the harder it is. When I was interviewed for my own CELTA and said that I’d had 6 years of experience, my tutor warned me that some unlearning of some old techniques and habits may be necessary. He wasn’t wrong πŸ˜‰ More experienced teachers find it harder to adapt but still usually manage the course very well and have higher chances of getting a better grade!

You’re also a business coach for teachers who have their own businesses. What mistakes do you see teachers make most often in their business?

Yes, indeed I am! That is my main focus at the moment. I do love all things teacher training but coaching teachers feels like a calling! I love working with teachers because I know them SO WELL. This is because I know myself and what I used to think when I first started out.

Most importantly, teachers aren’t in it for the money. They are people with a mission and usually with a great passion for what they do. And that’s admirable. Yet, very often it leads to problems when it comes to setting boundaries, marketing their work and charging. What I often see is the fact that teachers are natural givers. They give out free information, free trial lessons, free content and never ask for anything in return.

Many teachers struggle with imposter syndrome and compare themselves to others as well. It’s heart-breaking to watch that people still charge peanuts per hour of private teaching (while in my dictionary this is a bespoke and premium service!) or just wait for people to come and sign up for their courses. It’s such a waste to see so many talented educators not get visible online (for example on social media) out of fear of being judged while their work deserves to be noticed and paid for.

Knowing a language can change people’s lives, open doors to a better future, improve their job prospects and the people who help students achieve their dreams still think that an hour of their time is not worth more than XYZ. I hope that one day teachers will look at the impact of their work beyond helping people understand the difference between Present Perfect and Past Simple πŸ˜‰

Wow, Ola! That makes me want to work with you right away! It’s so true, we (teachers) are guilty of undervaluing ourselves. It’s great to have someone like you on a mission to change that!

So what would you say to a teacher who just quit working for a school and now wants to start their own business? Any initial tips that would set them off in the right direction?

I’d congratulate them first and foremost! It’s such a brave decision, well done! The world is your oyster now.

Where I would start (if I could do it all over again) is working out how I could maximise what I already have – the network of students that I have, my personal strengths (hence mentioning the Clifton Strengths test or Myers-Briggs) and collecting testimonials. I’d think about what I could offer and to who (specific type of students rather than everything for everyone, aka niching down).

I’d also do some market research including what people need, what social media platform to use (there’s no perfect choice that works for everyone!). And most importantly I’d work on my mindset. They could start by reading the book ‘Mindset’ by Carol Dweck or even listen to my podcast, where I often mention how absolutely crucial it is in freelance work! As I always say, the biggest obstacle to your success is… YOU!

Your podcast is fantastic! I think it’s an absolute must for every teacher who runs their own business!

Tell us a bit more about what you offer. How can teachers work with you?

I currently offer 3 ways of working with me (summer 2022).

There is my 12-week 1:1 bespoke coaching program where I help people build businesses from scratch or improve/scale existing businesses. This is my premium offer and the investment is similar to the one for CELTA.

I also have a business course for English teachers (next edition starting in September 2022) called The ELT Rocket – it’s 10 weeks packed with business knowledge for teachers so they can build their own business ecosystem.

And finally I do have a lower cost offer – my membership ELTpreneurs – it’s a community space with lots of pre-recorded trainings and monthly coaching and webinars where people can just jump in and out. They can learn together, support each other and feel less lonely as aspiring teacherpreneurs!

All the info about my offers can be found on my website olakowalska.com under the tab ‘work with me’. For TWOFOLD readers I’ve decided to offer a 10% discount so if anyone is interested in any of my work, just message me and I’d be happy to have you!

That’s wonderful! Thank you so much, Ola!

And finally, a question we ask everyone: what do you do to relax? πŸ™‚

That’s a hard one! I’ve got ADHD and I’m a mum of a pre-schooler so it’s very difficult for me not to be active. But I do try to incorporate lots of breaks in my week. I’ve recently been trying to embrace the fact that I can totally be in control of my schedule. So I start work at 10 am, take 2-hour lunch breaks to sit in my garden and drink coffee with my hubby (who also works from home). I’m obsessed with listening to audiobooks (I listen to about 2-4 a month). I do lots of yoga nidra (my new obsession), plan day trips around the UK (where I live) with my boys and our sausage dog and go for massages often.

Just reading this back, I’ve realised I kind of have a perfect life πŸ˜‰ But it wasn’t always like this. I worked too hard for many years but I arrived at a lovely place now. Which is what I wish for people reading this as well!

Ola, thank you so much for this interview! What a dose of energy and positivity! It was so wonderful talking to you. You gave me (and I’m sure other teachers) a kick in the b*tt to get better and aim to have this perfect life we’re all dreaming of!

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