This blog post is going to be a little different from what I normally post. I interviewed my good friend and esteemed colleague Monica Ruda-Peachy on her transition from an EFL teacher to an ELT content writer. I have known Monica for 8 years and we worked together for over 3 years. What has always amazed me about her as a teacher is her ability to see beyond the page and how easily she could adapt whatever materials to fit her students’ needs. Her originality and enthusiasm for teaching has always been at the forefront, so it was absolutely no surprise to me when she started writing ELT materials and articles. And now with her first book out, I checked in with her to see what it takes to become an ELT writer.
How did you transition from teacher to writer? What was your main motivation?
Well, this is quite a tough question to answer because there are several factors that have contributed to this career shift. About two years ago I suffered from burnout and I decided to leave the school life after 10 years of teaching. It was a particularly difficult choice to make as I’ve always been passionate about ELT and loved the classroom atmosphere. Part of the process of recovering and regaining my confidence was getting rid of a subtle sense of failure, and writing about it (see “Burnout: the elephant in the staffroom”, IATEFL Voices, Issue 264) gave me just that. It also made me realise that I had no intention of cutting all ties with the ELT industry...it was time for me to explore it further.
Unexpectedly, I was offered to work as a freelance consultant for Cambridge Assessment International Education, and I began to develop a taste for computer-based work. I couldn’t believe my luck when I was asked to create digital content and assessment materials to support English language learning in Cambodian schools. I enjoy writing, from articles to materials for my own lessons, but this opportunity took it to another level! I knew then that I had to pursue this career path further. I joined communities for ELT writers on social media and started to apply for relevant roles with various publishers. Work started to pick up and I’m very happy with the choice I made.
What did you find the most challenging in that transition?
There are two aspects to be considered here - a practical and a personal one. On a practical level, what I find most challenging is finding work. There are lots of excellent writers out there and it can be tough, especially for newcomers, but it’s not impossible. It takes determination and resilience, but in my opinion, it’s all worth it. You need to be prepared to put your name out there, network and contact people - if they don’t know you exist, they can’t offer you any work, right? While I keep this in mind, I still find it difficult to mingle in large groups, which is my personal challenge! I’m getting better though, and attending networking events (in person and online) has helped loads, with the encouragement of very special people in my life...
What have you found the most rewarding in your role as a writer?
As a writer, there’s so much to learn and to discover, which is exciting most of the time, but it can also be overwhelming. That’s why I think it’s really important to celebrate every success, from mastering ‘Track Changes’ on a Word document to signing a new contract. However, what I find most rewarding is knowing that what I ‘create’ is going to be useful for many people...it keeps me motivated and pushes me to do my very best. To be completely honest, though, the coolest moment is when you see your name on the front cover of a book...that is priceless!
Tell us about your book.
“Reading First: Eight practice tests for the Cambridge B2 First, Paper 1” has just been released and is available on Amazon - yay! It is published by Prosperity Education, where you can find a wide list of Cambridge revision books and apps.
“Reading First” includes:
Eight Reading tests (Part 5, 6 and 7), which replicate the Cambridge exam as closely as possible
A ‘guided’ answer key
Bonus content (Use of English)
In writing the texts, I was inspired by real-life events to engage the reader while testing a variety of sub-skills, like reading for detail, purpose, opinion, tone and attitude. It’s a book that can be used either as a part of a teacher-led course or for student independent practice.
At this point, I feel I should explain what a ‘guided’ answer key is and why I’m so pleased with it. I remember many students (but teachers too!) struggling to understand the reasons behind a correct or a wrong answer, when the practice book doesn’t provide any kind of explanation. For this reason, I have come up with a table that matches the clues from the questions to the clues from the texts. This table is a tool that guides students in understanding how the test works and where to find the correct answer. This is a feature that not every practice book offers, and it works as a teaching tool as well as a self-study aid.
What did you enjoy the most about this process?
Where should I start? I loved the whole process, more than I thought I would. The Reading part of the exam has always fascinated me (see “On the grid”, English Teaching Professional, Issue 116), so I was delighted with this opportunity. Beside the obvious ‘writing the texts, coming up with questions & answers’, there are several elements involved. First of all, choosing interesting topics to write about is a challenge in itself, but exciting! Then I had to do some research on the topics, and although it’s quite time consuming, it is also very enjoyable - that’s why it’s important to choose interesting
topics :) Let’s not forget about grading the language...that’s another story altogether!
Probably the part I enjoyed the most was writing the questions. I had to put my “examiner cap” on and think about what I wanted to test and how I could achieve that. I often had a great question in mind and I ended up changing part of the text just to fit it in. This is definitely the least straight forward part of the process, but the most compelling one, in my opinion.
Any words of advice for inspiring ELT writers?
I’m still figuring out the tricks of the trade myself but, if you’re thinking about becoming a freelance ELT writer, remember that it is something you can do as a part-time job and/or alongside your full time job - don’t feel that you have to dive straight into your new career...take your time, dip your toe in the water and decide if it is right for you.
Begin by writing ELT-related articles and submit them for publication to journals such as English Teaching Professional, Modern Teacher, IATEFL Voices, International House Journal etc. This has several advantages: first of all, it’s a starting point for your new CV; it also puts your name out there and, most importantly, it gives you an idea of how much you like writing and everything that comes with it. Then, start building your profile as a writer (think LinkedIn) and join ELT online communities. If you still think this is for you, start looking for work! I recommend ELT Publishing Professionals - not only do they advertise writing and editing jobs, but they also actively bring publishers and freelancers together, organising social and networking events - in-person and online. It is important to connect with other writers, for professional and moral support.
Want to know more about Monica's work? Check out her website: https://www.rudapeachey.com/