Ludo Millar 0:56
Hello, and welcome to the Qualified Tutor Podcast, the podcast that brings you the latest in the world of tutoring EdTech and education and hopefully inspires in us a big change that each and every one of us is capable of.
Qualified Tutor is an industry-leading tutor training organisation and an online tutoring community for 1000s of tutors around the world. This podcast is the voice of this community, where we aim to hear from tutors, teachers, entrepreneurs, coaches, business experts, students, tutor printers, and more from the world of tutoring about what inspires them every day, how they can help tutors like you and what they’ve learned about tutoring along the way.
The question is, what will you learn today?
Hello, and welcome to the next episode of the Qualified Tutor Podcast. I am delighted to welcome on Crystal Weber today. So welcome Crystal, thank you so much for joining us.
Crystal Weber 2:09
Thanks for having me, Ludo. I’m really excited to be here.
Ludo Millar 2:13
I am delighted to welcome Crystal onto the podcast today because Crystal has so much to talk to us about and so much experience to teach fellow tutors out there, especially experiences of the online tutoring world and the online English as a Second Language world. So, Crystal is the Founder and Managing Director of Crystal Clear ESL, which provides, I’m going to be honest, a beautifully designed and carefully curated ESL curricula to help online ESL tutors around the world.
Now, before you ask, ‘Where do I sign up?’ which I know is the next question for you listeners, we need to explain ESL a little further. For those of you who don’t know, as I just mentioned, ESL stands for English as a Second Language. It’s a little like EFL, English as a Foreign Language, except that ESL students are typically already within an English-speaking country and wish to therefore learn the local language, which is English. Now, Crystal has been in this space for a long time and once lockdown hit, like so many other amazing tutors out there, immediately spotted a gap in the market for the 1000s of ESL educators across the world. And so set about filling that gap. In fact, Crystal went much further than simply filling it. Crystal has led hundreds of online educators through their first steps into ESL teaching. Let’s see how …
Now, just before we start Crystal, you’re based in Southampton, UK. Is that right?
Crystal Weber 3:47
I am yeah, but it’s not where I’m sort of born and bred. I’m originally Canadian from British Columbia, a little town in the interior of BC called Kamloops. And I’m a long way from home now.
Ludo Millar 4:02
Your husband and I believe have swapped countries actually.
Crystal Weber 4:04
Yes, you have. Yeah. He’s from near Frankfurt. And I think you’re in Berlin.
Ludo Millar 4:09
Currently in Berlin. Yes. So there’s just a little a little exchange that’s gone on there. That’s amazing. I mean, that just demonstrates doesn’t it straight off, how adept you are at understanding different countries, different cultures, different languages, you know, German husband living in UK, from America. That’s a really a very, very good spread. So wonderful. Yeah. Let’s dive in Crystal, into our first question. I know you’re dying to get to this first question. What is your why as a tutor, Crystal?
Crystal Weber 4:42
Well, my why is a really an evolving why. So I started out as a tutor over 15 years ago when I traveled to Japan to teach English to preschoolers and elementary aged children, where I actually met my husband incidentally. So that, at that point, my why was literally just traveling and seeing the world and broadening my own horizons, which then evolved into a love of teaching. So I went to university when I started living in the UK and had got my QTS (Qualified Teacher Status), taught English in secondary schools for about five years, and then decided to take a career break to have kids. So you roll on another sort of 5, 6, 7 years, and the online ESL industry is blossoming. And then my why quickly became something that I could roll my experiences into, at the same time as having the flexibility of being a stay at home mom, because teaching online is such a flexible job.
So then, the pandemic hit, and sort of everything exploded, my husband sadly lost his executive job right at the beginning, April 2020. And my why quickly changed to, you know, bringing home the bacon, basically, like my little eight-hour-a-week hobby changed from that to 12 classes a day, six days a week, and the husband doing the stay at home parent role. And it was overwhelming and exhausting, as I’m sure many teachers out there are experiencing still. But I realised there was a ceiling to contracted work that I wasn’t ever going to pay the mortgage, even with those, that number of classes. So I also started the freelancing. And some of my students, you know, came to me from other platforms – I didn’t poach them, I didn’t ask them to come. But it builds up slowly. And by word of mouth that way, and referral. And one of the things that struck me in freelancing was that there was very little curricula out there for freelance teachers, especially purpose-built for digital delivery.
So it was stressful, because I came from these contracted roles where I could literally turn on my PC, in my pyjamas, and teach for my 25 minutes, log off and attend to my children again, to having to put in pretty much as much planning and preparation time for every class as actual contact time. And I just didn’t have the time for it. So I got to thinking that I surely must not be the only one in this position, who wants to replicate that experience of having everything supplied to you from a contractor, but then to do so on a freelance basis. And that’s where the sort of cogs started turning, Ludo. I realised that there must be a need and set to work. And luckily, my husband did find new work so I could decrease my teaching hours and invest those into the planning side. So that brings us to about 10 months ago.
Ludo Millar 8:03
And then there’s another why.
Crystal Weber 8:05
Yeah, well, exactly. It’s totally evolving all the time. And the why at this point is that I love being able to give freedom to other teachers to take that leap. So whatever’s standing in their way: lack of competence, lack of actual curriculum, lack of skill and know-how, with regard to business acumen, or the industry, if I can receive one email a week or a month that says, ‘Thank you, Crystal. I wouldn’t have done this without you’, that is incredible to me and heartwarming, and really at this point, a huge why for me.
Ludo Millar 8:44
Okay, so that’s the interview over then. Thanks, Crystal. [LAUGHS]
No, so you’ve developed something over the last 12 months that perhaps you never saw coming and and that has developed into something worldwide, that’s developed into something that hundreds of users take their learnings from, take their motivation from, each time they come to conduct a class online, and you mentioned that you provide a step-by-step ESL curricula, or that you provide step-by-step ESL curriculum. Can you take us through that a little bit further, please?
Crystal Weber 9:31
Yeah, so what I mean by that is that the lessons are really incremental. So they build little by little on every learning objective. You can see steady progress in your students. You can report on it, which makes your clients happy and they stay with you long-term. It also means that everything’s built in. So all the exercises, games, songs, assessments, it’s all there for you. So like I said, before, you could get a feeling for the resources and my writing style, and then rock up to your computer and teach them with very little planning and preparation. And when I say that you keep your students long-term, my ambition for the general curriculum is to be almost 700 lessons long. So I really do mean long-term if you’re starting a student right from beginner level, and keeping them the whole way through.
Ludo Millar 10:26
Yeah, that’s a really important point, isn’t it, for especially those educators out there who want to make a living out of what they do, which is, of course, a great sign for the best educators out there. We want them to remain in the profession, that long-termism is key, isn’t it? That stability, you can’t just keep jumping from new first session students to new first session students, as enjoyable as that can be. In fact, we had a wonderful question in the Qualified Tutor Community this month about- perhaps it was last month- about, ‘Do you enjoy the first session?’. The students and the members were really split, you know, the answers were really split between those who love diving into new sessions with students, they love the whole excitement about that. And those who said, you know, ‘I much prefer that long-term relationship-building that you get with students over even 20, 30 sessions’. So certainly for the profession, for remaining within the profession. Yeah, exactly. It’s about that long-termism. That’s really important.
So perhaps that feeds into the bit I wanted to explore next, which was, you have built up so many years of experience in this field, in online tutoring and ESL tutoring. Can you just give us a quick rundown, Crystal, of your top three tips for online ESL tutors?
Crystal Weber 11:54
Sure, I mean, I think you’ve touched on one, Ludo. And that’s about the relationships, everything that you do, whether it’s with the students themselves, or the parents, should be building relationships, not converting customers, because the students will always refer you onto their friends and colleagues and acquaintances, because they like you and trust you, not because you’re giving them some kind of kickback or bonus. So that would be my first tip.
My second tip is to perfect your product. So essentially, that’s you, your delivery, your teaching style. And that’s what will keep them coming back and referring you. So it’s not enough to sit back on your laurels and do the same thing that you did yesterday, tomorrow, I think it’s not maybe readily available. And perhaps this is an area where there needs to be a bit more built-up in the industry. But I think that all online teachers should seek out professional development. I’d love to see more of that.
And my third is more of a business tip. And that’s just to keep your overheads low, especially starting out. There are so many companies out there wanting to sell you something. But you don’t necessarily need all the bells and whistles, especially at first. So for example, I’m years now into freelancing. But I still use a simple Excel sheet for my scheduling. I just don’t use those scheduling apps. I’m sure they’re great. But I give my students the bonus of a guaranteed slot every week. And they love that, they feel special and it makes my scheduling life a breeze. So why do I need to sort of reinvent the wheel?
Ludo Millar 13:38
I think I can see an Excel for Tutors workshop coming up, Crystal. They are so popular, those scheduling apps. And they come in and each subscription, you kind of forget about some of this subscriptions and they’re only ever kind of £8, $8 a month but Excel is free.
Crystal Weber 14:00
You’re totally right, Ludo. You think yes, it’s only £8 for scheduling but then it’s £12 for curriculum and £6 for this and by the end of it, you’re actually investing the equivalent of like a full day’s work every month just to pay all your subscriptions. Yeah. And why? You know, all you need is a computer and some lessons and a relationship at the end of the day.
Ludo Millar 14:31
Absolutely, that could be the title of the podcast perhaps: ‘All you need is relationships and a computer at the end of the day’.
Diego Melo 11:06
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Ludo Millar 15:24
So I’d like to turn to an area that has probably affected yourself, Crystal, and many other tutors in your space particularly in the US, as most of the research and the stories have been kind of describing. How do you think the recent legal changes in China will affect the global online tutoring market?
Crystal Weber 15:52
Yeah, I mean, I think you’re right, they already have. I think we’re in the first wave of changes, and there are positives and their negatives. So right now, I think a lot of people are scrambling to find new work. And it’s becoming increasingly difficult to do so. Because all the contracted roles are becoming oversaturated with teachers. So that’s quite scary. But I think on the positive side, it’s an impetus to take that leap. So if your passion is this industry, then you’ve never- you probably never had the kick in the shorts, like this before, to get out there and make a go of it and and try for your piece of the cheese. I love the idioms! [LAUGHS]
Yeah. So I think that that first wave is turbulent, definitely, in the longer term. What I hope for the industry is that it does even out, that maybe the bar is raised a little bit in terms of who remains. So hopefully, the only competing factor isn’t pay, right? That it’s also down to skills, experience and qualifications. I would love to see more formal international accreditation of certification courses. Right now, you know, any Tom Dick and Harry can put out a TESOL course or TEFL course, and you don’t really know the quality of one from another. So I’d love to see that more standardised, and to have a baseline because ultimately, there are a lot of countries out there that regard teachers in very high esteem, and a lot of emphasis is placed on preliminary qualifications, but also professional development. And there isn’t the same for ESL, even though we are teachers too. And we have to keep that bar high. So striving for excellence, I hope over time is what the China changes kind of set into motion.
Ludo Millar 17:59
And that is not a paid promo for Qualified Tutor, I promise. [LAUGHS]
Well, that’s certainly what we are hoping to achieve, what we are looking to, seeking to achieve is, is bringing some kind of international minimum standard regulation. Exactly. And whether it’s Qualified Tutor or another player in the market, it’s important that we take advantage of the now international feel of tutoring, and that we are able to pool the resources and the expertise around the world into this concept, this kind of minimum global standards in tutoring, an international tutoring body as it were, perhaps who could help with the rise of tutoring in different nations around the world and could help as you say, with not only just setting the bar so that other t utors around the world can strive to reach that minimum standard but also to simply support those who want to get into the industry but don’t know how. Because, as you say, currently, there isn’t necessarily a global qualification or global standard to turn to if you want to understand a little bit more about about the profession, about the craft. So, people just go online and start giving lessons and and those lessons then impact upon that educator’s future because they may not be at a high standard. It impacts upon the parent’s finances because they may be paying for substandard teaching and it impacts, ultimately, on the student who may be receiving substandard or under-quality tutoring. So yes, it is centrally important, isn’t it? So have the new changes in China led to increased work in other areas across Crystal Clear ESL, across your business?
Crystal Weber 20:05
I mean, because there’s a surplus of teachers turning to freelance needing to do so very quickly and inexpensively, because, you know, they didn’t really have a great deal of notice to save up some some startup costs, I have had a lot of teachers reaching out to me, which has been fantastic. I said earlier that one of my greatest joys is being able to help people in that transition. So in that way, it’s great. What has been a challenge is that because the Crystal Clear website functions well, and looks semi professional, if I say so myself, people come to me and assume that I’m fully developed, you know, raring to go and don’t realise that I really only have about a, I don’t know, seven month head start [LAUGHS]
So it’s a challenge when they’re like, I need Level 5 by … yesterday. And I’m like, well, it’s just me. I mean, I’m going as quick as I can. So it’s fun. And nobody’s, like, rude. And I’ve made some amazing friends in the process. Because again, I tried to build relationships with clients and have that connection to- it’s not just teachers and parents or what have you. But that has been probably the biggest challenge with it, sort of a wave of new freelancers is trying to accommodate the demand.
Ludo Millar 21:38
Yeah, well, that’s why you can can look for growth currently, Crystal, you know, you look to build out the team who’s able to support you. And I think that’s, you know, once the central mission of the business of the project has been laid out. And I mean, already, you can see that from the numbers using your site. Yes. I believe in the need for this. And you’re solving problems for hundreds of people around the world.
Crystal Weber 22:03
I don’t claim to be perfect. And I invite feedback. And I do have a lot of fun thinking about the future of the company, because it’s not a role that I’ve had the luxury of being in before, in the creative side. So I’m also very lucky that my husband’s job is in business directorates and he tends to focus me so if I kind of get like, too engrossed and approach a project idea or off track, he’s like, ‘Okay, we’re sticking to this goal’. And that’s really good because I am driven but I get excited and sidetracked.
Ludo Millar 22:49
Like all good creatives.
For those of you who know the Love Tutoring Festival, you will be delighted to hear that … we’re back!
From Monday 24th to Friday 28th of January 2022, the Love Tutoring Festival will return bigger and better than ever. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re in for a real treat. The most loved festival in tutoring, the Love Tutoring Festival is a five-day, online celebration of all things tutoring. With some of the biggest names in tutoring, education and pedagogy and hundreds of committed and motivated tutors from all four corners of the globe taking part, it really is the biggest party in tutoring. We will again be working on a freemium ticket model this year, with all our events totally free, apart from our famous, and ludicrously inexpensive, CPD-Accredited workshops. You can find out more, including the confirmed speakers so far, how to grab your place, and key information on our wonderful sponsors at qualifiedtutor.org/lovetutoringfestival.
Let’s raise standards in tutoring together.
Okay, so we set some some visions, we set some goals. I’d now like to kind of formalise, narrow down this thinking into this topic, because what would ESL teaching success look like for you in 2030?
Crystal Weber 24:27
So this would be more like business success for Crystal Clear ESL for me. So I think it goes without saying that I would want the curriculum and the offering, the core offering, fully developed. I mean, we’re talking almost a decade from now. So that would be all set up. But I have hopes to be able to host other developers’ work because they’re currently, as far as what I found, are not subscription hosting sites for content that is similar to Teachers Pay Teachers, which is a fantastic site if you want to sell your material, but there isn’t similar for subscription. So I’d love to offer that. I really want to reach out into print publications to support what I have created digitally, and also perhaps to evolve for other languages. So to maybe start by just having some of the material translated, but I mean, it’s probably not possible to go like for like so to adapt it as well. And also maybe one day to have a team of more than one. [LAUGHS]
Ludo Millar 25:34
That’s what this is. This is a job recruitment podcast for Crystal’s mission.
Crystal Weber 25:42
Yeah, no, there are big goals for the company. And then I mean, I’m not currently taking on any more private students, because I have students that I love, that I couldn’t imagine giving up. But every spare second that I have is being devoted to the curriculum development for the company right now. So I haven’t even sat down to think about where my teaching goals might be in eight or nine years.
Ludo Millar 26:13
Okay, well, that’s this afternoon’s project. We’ll get you back on the podcast in, teah, eight or nine years. Oh, yeah. So that’s a little run through of what’s coming next for Crystal Weber, for Crystal Clear ESL. Just one one final word, Crystal, before we wrap up here is, what do you see as the future of online ESL teaching? Where can it go? What are the limitless boundaries of this field?
Crystal Weber 26:48
I think it’s gonna get bigger and better and more exciting. I’m seeing more gamified lessons, more ways to interact with students like VR. There’s lots of AI coming into it. So I think there will inevitably be that side of it to the commiserations of fellow teachers. But I definitely think that really the sky’s the limit, and that we haven’t even sort of wrapped our brains around what’s to come because the industry looks so different than even five years ago. So I think big things.
Ludo Millar 27:23
Even 18 months ago, yeah.
Crystal Weber 27:26
True. Yeah. Funny you say that, Ludo, because when I started planning 10 months ago, I was using just PowerPoint. And since then, all of these really interactive platforms have come too late, but are now available. And it’s just really upped the ante for what developers like myself can put on the table.
Ludo Millar 27:50
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, even the idea, it seems so crazy now to think that this would be crazy, given that we spent 18 months doing it. But the idea of, you know, hosting a podcast with me based in Berlin, and you based in Southampton, an American woman based in Southampton recording this podcast about an online ESL site. I mean, that seems so obvious now, because we’ve been doing it but 18 months ago, that would have been, that would have been very strange. It would have been difficult to host, it would have been difficult to record to prepare to develop to, to publish it. It’s just our lives. Yeah, they’ve been hugely changed, you know, turned upside down and the next 18 months, who’s to say it won’t be even more different?
Well, there’s your thoughts, listeners, to leave you with, wherever and whenever you’re listening to this. Go and visit Crystal’s website at esl-curriculum.com. You can find Crystal on Facebook as well at Crystal Clear ESL Curricula. Those are the two spots you can go if you’ve got any feedback from this episode, or if you’d like to drop Crystal a question and just go to speakpipe.com/QualifiedTutorPodcast, you can leave any kind of audio message, feedback, answer to a question there. And next week, we will be interviewing the CEO of The Profs who will be sponsoring Day 2 at the Love Tutoring Festival 2 this coming January, and that man is Richard Evans. So if you would like to have your questions, sorry, your answers to the questions that we’re asking Richard answered and included at the end of next week’s podcast, these are the questions for next week that we’ll be asking Richard:
- Will top tutors ever reach the status that lawyers or doctors have in society?
- What top three tips do you have for tutors in 2021?
- And what are you most looking forward to at Love Tutoring Festival 2?
Those are the three questions that you can go ahead and have a go answering on speakpipe.com/QualifiedTutor Podcast and the best answers will be played at the end of next week’s episode. So thank you very, very much for listening. Thank you very much, Crystal.
Crystal Weber 30:06
Thanks for having me.
Ludo Millar 30:07
It’s been an absolute pleasure. It’s been a wonderful 25 minutes journey through Crystal Clear ESL, your business and through the ESL area in general. I hope we have convinced as many tutors as we can to join in the English as a Second Language, English as a Foreign Language world because it’s a really vibrant and international sphere, even if we’ve just convinced one, that’ll do for today. So thank you very much, everyone. We’ll see you next time where we’re chatting to Richard Evans. And as ever, I’ve been your host Ludo Millar, cheerio.
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