Effective teachers make time for themselves. To be the best teacher for their students, teachers must be the best versions of themselves. Whether that means making a schedule that honours a certain routine or taking certain holidays off to spend time with family, teachers have to find a way to take care of themselves. I often find that teachers, especially ESL educators that wake up at the crack of dawn every single day, tend to get burnt out over time and eventually lose the vim and vigour that engages both them and their students. It doesn’t matter if you are in the classroom or teaching from home, taking care of yourself makes a huge difference in the quality of instruction and education that students receive. More importantly, the quality of a teacher’s life is improved when they make time for themselves.
As a part of my interview series about “5 Things You Need To Know To Be A Highly Effective Educator”, I had the pleasure to interview Kris Jagasia, founder and CEO of Off2Class.
Kris Jagasia is the co-founder and CEO of Off2Class, a software toolkit for English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers. Off2Class is used by thousands of teachers in more than 120 countries to deliver online and in-classroom ESL lessons. Kris has built many of the key teams within the business including teacher support and success, marketing and sales, and takes an active role in managing U.S. K-12 operations.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory “behind what brought you to this particular career path?
I grew up in Toronto and after graduating from college, I returned to my hometown to start a career in finance. That job led me to the other side of the world, more specifically Dubai, where I met the person who would become the future co-founder of Off2Class, James Heywood.
James studied languages and linguistics in University, both in his native country Australia and at the Sorbonne in Paris; he had been teaching English on and off since completing his Masters. He was in Dubai taking a break from teaching while working at a friend’s software company. A couple of years after we met in Dubai, James returned to the classroom at a private school that he had previously taught at in Istanbul. I remained in the UAE but eventually got disillusioned with the corporate slog, and left my job without much in the way of a backup plan.
While visiting Istanbul during my ‘sabbatical’ I discovered that James had been supplementing his income by providing students with weekend tuition. This is a classic ‘side hustle’ that many teachers are accustomed to and have embraced for years to supplement their income (long before millennials coined the phrase). Of course, like many countries, learning English is a big business in Turkey, as it is seen by parents as a gateway tool to all sorts of future life opportunities.
Istanbul is such a giant city that James proposed that he teach some of his students online. At first, James assumed parents would want a discount (‘online? that’s not a real lesson!’). While online education is more of the norm right now (especially in the middle of a pandemic), back in 2013, teaching languages online was very nascent. James used Skype as his mode for teaching and shared PowerPoint presentations that he developed as the lesson content for his synchronous programming.
Throughout this experience, we both noticed a gap in the market. There was a lack of content that had been designed for the 21st century, screen-based classroom and this realization is what started Off2Class. We felt that nobody had re-imagined the form of content or design of tools for the new world of digital classrooms. The big, traditional publishers were largely converting their course books into basic web products. So we started with an Off2Class beta and released it to 300 online ESL teachers for free.
Today, Off2Class is composed of not only live, teacher-led content, but also homework, assessments, and student analytics. We are still very active with online teachers, many of whom work as freelancers for various online schools and platforms, but we’re also very active in U.S. public K12 districts and several other institutional verticals. Ultimately, we built the company with the teaching experience at the forefront of everything we do, with the belief that happy teachers result in good student outcomes.
The last thirteen months, since the onset of the pandemic, have undoubtedly been quite the adventure. Suddenly, we were supporting every institution and every teacher in our community in their pivot online, seemingly overnight. The unique thing about ESL teachers and language teachers, in general, is that due to the communicative nature of their teaching practice, many in this profession, like my co-founder James, have been teaching ‘live’ online lessons for almost a decade. Language teachers, and particularly ESL teachers were one of the first education verticals to thrive online. This proved extremely helpful for the pandemic, as a base of existing online ESL teachers were easily able to help out and support their less experienced colleagues, who had to get online so abruptly.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your teaching career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Throughout my journey at Off2Class, I’ve had the pleasure of teaching English to four students: my nephews living in Germany, and two Syrian refugees in Toronto. The idea of teaching using Off2Class was originally based on getting first-hand knowledge of the product (since I’m not a teacher by training). I can safely say that using Off2Class, I took the four students from roughly an A1 level of proficiency to a B1 level. For those that don’t know CEFR levels, that basically means they couldn’t produce the language at the start and could easily be understood when they were done with my lessons. What surprised me the most was how rewarding the process proved to be and continues to be! Currently, I am only teaching one student, my nine-year-old nephew Leo who I’ve been teaching for more than a year. I meet with him on Sunday mornings for an hour and the sessions don’t even remotely feel like a chore. A year ago he couldn’t string together a coherent sentence. Yesterday it was his birthday and he told me all about it. Leo was able to describe his entire birthday, including what presents he got, what they did to celebrate during lockdown, and who he talked to by phone. With that being said, I am more than thrilled to see how much Leo will progress in the year to come.
Language teaching produces a feedback loop where teachers can see the results of their hard work in practice; it is incredibly rewarding. I recommend that everyone give it a try. There are so many students out there, like recent migrants to local communities, in need of someone to help them through their language acquisition journey. The tools available to someone that wants to help out, have never been more accessible. I’m living proof that you don’t need to be a trained language teacher to make a real impact on someone’s life and their learning outcomes.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Not long after the pandemic hit we started formalizing a lot of the work that we were doing around building a supportive community of Off2Class online ESL teachers. We launched a Facebook group and started building professional development content there. As the pandemic trudged on, the group exploded both in size but also in terms of depth of resources and advice. Lots of teachers working with ELLs (English Language Learners) in the U.S. started joining, looking for advice from more seasoned online ESL teachers such as those freelancing or working in the international education sector. The community has been a lifeline for a lot of teachers needing to switch to online instruction at the drop of a hat.
As a way to give back to the community, we launched a Mentor Programme that gives credits to select Off2Class Facebook group members through a standardized application process. Those selected will provide mentorship to the group community in the form of professional development sessions. Mentors will not only gain credit but recognition while benefiting their fellow online educators. So far it’s been a truly positive endeavour in a year filled with a lot of disruption and darkness.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. From your point of view, how would you rate the results of the US education system?
The experiences of students across the U.S. education system are so diverse that it’s very difficult to provide an overall rating. Some public school students get access to incredible education and extra-curricular opportunities. Yet, many segments of the population aren’t so fortunate. Through my journey at Off2Class, I’ve been primarily exposed to the ELL teams within U.S. school districts. These children are typically recent migrants. ELLs face very real challenges when it comes to key statistics such as graduation rates. Lots of children will start elementary school as defined ELLs but will test out before they get to high school. But for some children, this is never the case. They’re never able to test out of the ELL distinction. These children face particularly challenging overall outcomes from their experience within the U.S. education system. On the bright side, the U.S. education system is highly innovative in its data-driven search for solutions compared to other, more slow-moving countries, and folks are trying to crack this one example of inequity.
Can you identify 5 areas of the US education system that are going really great?
Most of my insights here come from working teachers within the U.S. education system and others abroad, so I’m able to draw some comparisons to what works in the U.S. and not so well in other places. The U.S. is particularly blessed with:
- Dedicated teachers. I’ve worked with teachers in the U.S. and internationally, and there is no doubt that the U.S. system is full of extremely dedicated professionals.
- A willingness to explore. Education systems are naturally conservative but the U.S. system is often more than willing to try something out, to see if it works. A rarity compared to most other countries.
- Technological advancement. A lot of us probably take for granted how much technology has been implemented across the gambit of the U.S. education system.
- An online community of teachers. As of late, the U.S. education system has relied heavily on e-learning and a lot of dedicated teachers have been forced to convert to online instruction. With that, teachers have banded together to support one another through online groups and social media. I’ve seen this happen first hand on our Off2Class Facebook group and it’s quite exciting to witness.
- Inclusion. Of course, issues with equality and accessibility are prevalent, however, diversity among students and teachers creates a more dynamic and inclusive environment to serve communities better.
Can you identify the 5 key areas of the US education system that should be prioritized for improvement? Can you explain why those are so critical?
My thoughts here are not as informed as someone with firsthand experience in teaching or administering directly within the U.S. education system so I’d rather not offer an unsubstantiated opinion.
Super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share your “5 Things You Need To Know To Be A Highly Effective Educator?” Please share a story or example for each.
- Effective teachers are often the most supportive to their peers. In the online community that we manage, the same teachers that are helping their peers with resources and strategies are the same that rank highest on their student feedback ratings. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, our Facebook group has fostered a supportive environment where teachers advise, encourage, and provide one another with resources. Also, it’s been astounding to see how members act as moderators toward any negativity or spam before we even have the chance to get to it!
- Effective teachers are masters of efficiency when it comes to resources and planning. Teachers know that the less time they spend planning a lesson or reinventing the wheel, the more time they get to focus on individual student needs. What this means is that teachers have to develop systems and strategies that save time without sacrificing quality. An effective educator must know where to find professional and effective resources that complement their teaching goals accordingly.
- Effective teachers never stop learning. Believe it or not, educators are the ones that should stay the most informed on teaching practices, curriculum, and world events. All of these things impact teachers and therefore impact student learning. It is especially important to stay aware of different cultural practices to respectfully communicate with students from diverse backgrounds.
- Effective teachers are relentlessly positive. Whether it is seeing a student get discouraged or feeling overwhelmed when a student isn’t retaining information, teachers must remain patient and positive. Teachers need to look at challenges as opportunities to overcome or else teaching will become a very arduous and draining process. I’ve also noticed that teachers who keep smiles on their faces tend to put smiles on the faces of their students.
- Effective teachers make time for themselves. To be the best teacher for their students, teachers must be the best versions of themselves. Whether that means making a schedule that honours a certain routine or taking certain holidays off to spend time with family, teachers have to find a way to take care of themselves. I often find that teachers, especially ESL educators that wake up at the crack of dawn every single day, tend to get burnt out over time and eventually lose the vim and vigour that engages both them and their students. It doesn’t matter if you are in the classroom or teaching from home, taking care of yourself makes a huge difference in the quality of instruction and education that students receive. More importantly, the quality of a teacher’s life is improved when they make time for themselves.
As you know, teachers play such a huge role in shaping young lives. What would you suggest needs to be done to attract top talent to the education field?
What needs to be created is an environment where teachers are encouraged to pursue their passion to teach. Almost every teacher gets into the field because of a love of teaching, but many get bogged down by administrative tasks and reporting. Ultimately what happens is that the teacher lacks the bandwidth to provide quality lessons for students over a longer time; their focus is not entirely on the student. Instead, student and teacher engagement need to be prioritized. Teachers need access to quality resources and support to provide the best learning experience possible. One of the main things that drive teachers is seeing their students excel, this can only be done if teachers are supported by the organization in which they work for. I believe teachers deserve recognition and the opportunity to engage with fellow teachers, which is why at Off2Class we aim to foster a supportive and positive community.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.” — Johnny Cash
I believe that individual growth is defined by how one handles failure and this quote embodies my philosophy perfectly. As a business owner, you can imagine the number of challenges I have faced and overcome, especially in the times when online education was not widely recognized. It’s important to tackle each challenge while learning from any mistakes made. Mistakes are gifts that allow us to move forward with new lessons. Take only what you need from the experience of failing rather than “dwelling” on it, as Johnny put so perfectly. I like the idea of transforming the energy one would normally use to experience failure into positive energy that propels one forward closer to the desired outcome.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Miguel Cardona, the United States Secretary of Education in Joe Biden’s Cabinet. Mr. Cardona is an American-born English Language Learner and he’s a role model for the type of work I do with ELL teams across the country. His insights drawn from his life journey would be fascinating in a private conversation.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Please follow me on Twitter, the handle is @off2class. Also check Off2Class out on Instagram, @off2classofficial. You can also find us on Facebook or LinkedIn, we would love to connect with you!
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!