There’s no denying that teachers are underpaid and that also includes ESL teachers working in state schools. Many of them have to seek other sources of income which, in most cases, means more teaching.
But not everyone wants to spend every waking hour of their day prepping lessons, instructing, marking, and so on. So, what else is out there for ESL teachers? Well, quite a lot. Teachers have a whole set of transferable skills and experience that can be utilized in ELT publishing.
ELT Publishers hire teachers for all sorts of short- and long-term projects. Apart from bringing in extra income, these jobs also have non-financial benefits. They’re a great way of building relationships with editors and writers, and learning about the publishing process ‘from the inside’. Many renowned ELT authors started their writing careers this way.
So, here are my top 5 publishing side gigs for ESL teachers. You’ll notice that all of these jobs are connected with research. Before any product, print or digital, hits the market, a lot of time and money is spent on analysing what it is that teachers actually need, what works for them in the classroom (and what doesn’t), how existing materials can be improved, and so on. In order to get this information, publishers need help from … teachers! Here’s what you can help with:
Commenting on manuscripts
Why do Publishers ask teachers to comment on manuscripts?
This is an essential part of the development of each book or course. Publishing teams have their views on what is needed in each market or segment, but they also need to hear feedback from teachers who will be using the material(s) in their classrooms to ensure they’re tailored to their needs.
What will the materials look like?
Teachers usually receive a manuscript in its first or second draft (in Word). This will be an unedited manuscript, so don’t feel tempted to comment on spelling mistakes or punctuation. Your job will be to comment on the content and how it applies to your own teaching situation.
What do teachers do?
Teachers read the manuscript and imagine how the content would work in their classroom, with their students. Then, they complete a report or questionnaire based on their own teaching situation. Ultimately, they’re helping editors and writers develop materials that will meet their own needs.
How can teachers ensure their feedback is useful?
Firstly, make sure you write honest replies even if this entails writing negative comments. A lot of readers are afraid to give negative feedback, but this is exactly what Publishers need. They want to know what doesn’t work in order to fix it and make the materials better.
Secondly, write constructive feedback. It’s not enough to write, for example, ‘this exercise won’t work in my classroom’; instead, you should explain why it wouldn’t work and how you would modify it to make it better, for example, ‘I teach large, mixed-ability groups, so most of my students wouldn’t be able to engage in this activity as it’s too difficult; others would be bored. I’d make the following changes for my class: …’
Writing constructive feedback increases your chances of getting more of this kind of work in the future.
How long are the questionnaires?
This varies depending on each project, the length of book, level, segment, etc. Most questionnaires that I prepared for upper-primary and secondary books were about five pages per unit.
What is ‘piloting’?
Piloting entails actually using the materials in your own classroom and commenting on them, but at a much later stage than manuscript development. Once a unit or two are written, they then get edited and designed to make them look like the final product. These units, along with any audio tracks, videos and any other ancillaries are sent to teachers who are asked to use them with their students for a set amount of time (usually 4–6 weeks).
What will the materials look like?
They will either look like the final product (e.g. a book), or a brochure very similar to the final product, but with just one or two units. They will be fully edited, designed and will contain all of the art work.
What do teachers do?
They are asked to use the materials with their students just like they would use any other book. They also have to complete a diary or log every time they use it. As before, this entails giving constructive feedback on what worked, what didn’t (and why) and how the materials could be improved.
What happens next?
The feedback is reviewed by the editors, publishers and writers. If necessary, improvements are made and the final version of the material is created and published.
Taking part in focus groups
What is a focus group?
A focus group is a meeting of selected people (in this case teachers), specifically chosen to discuss a particular product (new or existing). In ELT publishing, focus groups are usually facilitated by the editors working on a particular project and can be observed by the authors writing the material.
What happens during a focus group?
This really depends on the aim of the focus group. Just to give you a few examples, some are organized to discuss the unique selling points of a course, or the contents of the course package (so all of the materials that will be offered to teachers and students), what competitors offer, or the design of the Student’s Book.
Usually, attendees are asked to comment on materials that are presented to them during the meeting (although sometimes they might receive the materials before the meeting). The facilitator asks the attendees different questions or sets a variety of tasks (e.g. ranking the most important features of a course or the most striking design elements).
How can teachers ensure their feedback is useful?
Most importantly, make sure you contribute during the meeting. Focus groups can be daunting, especially as they’re usually conducted in English. But remember that you’re not judged on your language skills and that your feedback will contribute to the development of the course.
How long is a focus group?
This depends on the organizer, but the most effective focus groups are up to two hours long.
What are lesson observations from a Publisher’s point of view?
As a teacher, you’ve probably been observed by your principal or other teachers from your school. This probably entailed them commenting on your teaching style, classroom management, dealing with mixed ability groups, etc.
When editors and authors come to observe lessons, all they’re interested in is how the materials that you use work in the classroom, how students cope with the materials, and what kind of materials could make your teaching easier.
Should a teacher prepare a ‘show’ lesson?
Definitely not! Editors want to see a normal lesson. They usually want to know how you use the coursebook, so don’t prepare anything extra or unusual.
How experienced must a teacher be to be observed?
Publishers create materials for all types of teachers, so they want to see teachers newer to the profession, as well as those more experienced ones.
Do Publishers also observe lower levels?
Of course. Publishers produce materials for lower levels and complete beginners too!
Will the observers want to talk to the teacher after the lesson?
If there’s time, then ‘yes’. They usually want to know how you felt about the lesson, what went well and what didn’t. But you should be asked if you want to take part in this interview in advance.
Writing book reports
What are book reports?
Whilst commenting on manuscripts and piloting happens during the pre-publication stage, book reports involve publications already on the market. These reports are especially useful when a Publisher is planning a new edition of a course, or a ‘successor’ course. Book reports play an important role in shaping and developing a project. Publishers commission teachers to write very detailed feedback about the books that they use (or used in the past) and know well. They might be asked to comment on just one book that was published by the Publisher that commissioned them, or on a competitor’s title. They could also be asked to compare a number of titles against each other. The report usually contains information about the design, layout, number of units, lessons, key features, unique selling points, strengths, weaknesses, etc.
How long are the reports?
This depends on a lot of factors, but generally, a report on a single book can be around 15 pages long, whilst if multiple books are involved, then they can reach around 50 pages.
How can I find this kind of work?
Your first point of contact should be your local publishers’ offices. You can also use LinkedIn to make connections with research editors, publishers, managing editors or senior editors. If you haven’t got a LinkedIn profile yet, or if you’d like to improve your profile, then check out this post.
Will I get paid?
Generally, yes. If you’re using your own personal time, then you should always get paid (this involves commenting on manuscripts, taking part in focus groups, writing reports after piloting materials, etc.). This is your time, your work, so you should get paid for it. Teachers aren’t generally paid for lesson observations. Having said that, Publishers usually offer them vouchers or books of their choice. But lesson observations are usually a springboard to other work (see How easy / difficult is it to get this kind of work? below).
How much will I get paid?
This depends on a lot of things, mainly the country you live in and the Publisher (whether it’s local or international, for example), your experience, etc. But generally, the rates are on par with average rates for private English lessons in a given country.
How easy / difficult is it to get this kind of work?
There are a lot of teachers eager to comment on manuscripts and write book reports, so these ‘gigs’ aren’t that easy to come by. However, it’s usually difficult to find teachers for focus groups and lesson observations. Keep in mind, though, that if you attend a focus group or let someone into your classroom to observe your lesson, then you might also be asked to comment on a manuscript or to write a book report, so you’ll basically skip the queue as you’ll already be known to a Publisher.
Will my name be on the cover of the book?
Hmm … no …, but … if you look at the imprint page (this is the page with the ISBN and all the copyright information), you might find a list of teachers who contributed to the project (including your name, hopefully!).
Will I get a copy of the book that I commented on?
You should, but as there are always so many people involved in each project, you might get ‘missed’ off the list. If you’d like a copy, email the editor you worked with and request one.
As I mentioned before, if your feedback is good (constructive and well-written) you might be asked to help with other research. Some teachers get asked to write supplementary materials which could lead to writing (or co-writing) an entire book or even a course. So, keep at it and good luck!