Teacher, teacher trainer, ELT materials writer and Life Coach for teachers and education professionals.
From teaching and training to coaching, Rachael Roberts is passionate about helping people grow and lead better lives. While we take a glimpse into her successful ELT career and inspiring work as a life coach, in this interview Rachael offers a few tips on self-publishing and tells about the warning signs of negative stress.
What inspired you to become an ELT teacher?
Like many ELT teachers I rather ‘fell into’ teaching. My first degree was in English and Drama and I had plans to do an MA in theatre directing after a ‘year out’ teaching abroad. But, somewhat to my surprise really, I found that I really enjoyed teaching and one year became two, and then four, and then I sealed my fate by doing a Diploma and MA in ELT. I’ve never regretted it.
You’ve taught in many countries. Looking back, which country shaped your teaching style the most? and why?
Interesting question! I think maybe my time in Brazil was the most influential. Partly because that’s where I did my Diploma, and I had some great tutors, and partly because Brazilian students are such fun to teach, and inspired me to make my lessons as engaging as possible.
How did you get into materials writing?
Another happy accident, really. At the time (2001) I was working in an FE College and we had a lot of low level (e.g. low intermediate) students studying for IELTS and at the time there weren’t any published IELTS materials for this level. So my colleagues and I put in a proposal to Macmillan for a lower level IELTS book, and ended up writing IELTS Foundation. I found out later that this really NEVER happens. Publishers plan books 5 years in advance. But it just so happened that they’d had the same idea as us. And that was where it all started.
Do you prefer writing materials for General English or Exam Preparation? Why?
I like both, for different reasons. General English is great because of the freedom you have in terms of task types. But I also find that there’s a lot of creativity to be found in terms of producing exam type tasks which also feel natural and fun to do. And I quite like the challenge of meeting all the criteria- sometimes having more constraints makes you more imaginative.
What advice can you give to those who want to self-publish?
I’ve only self-published one book (so far) - The CELTA Teaching Compendium, which is a guide to all the key teaching skills you need to pass CELTA. I was a CELTA tutor and assessor for about 12 years, so it was satisfying to try and bundle all this up into an e-book. It sells pretty steadily, but I’m not exactly a millionaire as a result. I think my advice would be to find a niche which is aimed at students, rather than teachers (because there are a LOT more of them), make the benefits of buying your book clear, and price it fairly low and go for volume.
It’s clear that teachers’ wellbeing is a topic close to your heart. How did you become passionate about it?
This is a long story…really it started over 20 years ago when I first burnt out from teaching myself. I gradually realised that the circumstances I was working in was only part of the reason for my burnout, and that a lot had to do with my own beliefs and patterns of behaviour - finding it hard to say no, perfectionism, fear of being judged etc. I started training as a counsellor, originally just out of curiosity, but ended up doing three years and a Diploma in Person Centred Counselling and Psychotherapy. For a long time though, I saw it more as an extra facet to my teaching than as a possible career. However, three or four years ago I realised that I did want to use my skills professionally to help others who were going through similar challenges and I trained up again by taking a Diploma in Coaching at Warwick University.
Can you tell me more about your role as a Life Coach?
Through psychology-based coaching and in-service training, I help teachers and other educational professionals who are feeling anxious, overloaded, or otherwise not living their best lives, to grow, and to make deep, permanent, positive changes.
I work with clients 1-2-1 over a three month period, mainly online. The work varies, because it’s very much tailored to the needs and preferred working styles of my clients. Some of it might be quite practical stuff, like preparing for job interviews, or finding ways to be more productive, some might be deeper work looking at patterns and beliefs which are holding them back, or getting in touch with and releasing long buried emotions, or learning how to love and take care of themselves better- it’s scary how few of us really feel able to do this.
I do have a small group programme up my sleeve as well, which I’m planning to launch in the autumn. Watch this space.
What are your three top tips for teachers to keep stress under control?
There is nothing wrong with stress per se. We produce stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol for a reason - they help us have energy when we need it. The problem comes when a) we are in a state of constantly producing stress hormones because our bodies do not respond well to this and b) we find that when we do try and relax we can’t actually switch them off. Not far behind this is the state of burnout, where we go from being always ‘on’ to always ‘off’, exhausted and unable to do anything. And this can take months to recover from, or we may never fully go back.
The problem with giving top tips is that there is usually quite a complicated mixture of reasons why we get to this point, which all need dealing with. But if you often find yourself pushing through exhaustion, or telling yourself that you’ll have some time off when X is finished (and then Y always happens), or you get ill every time you have a break then you really MUST stop and re-evaluate what you are doing because this is not sustainable. To be able to work hard, we also have to spend time resting and relaxing ‘hard’.
Nowadays, there’s a better understanding of issues that affect our mental wellbeing, from anxiety to burnout. Perhaps we could do with a helping hand when personal worries, tense workplaces, or pandemic-related anxiety (or all of the above!) become difficult to face on a daily basis. A life coach could provide the support needed to achieve a more balanced lifestyle.
If you’d like to know more about Rachael and her work, visit: