Tip for TESL Career Advancement: Be Visible! 

Are you a part-time ESL/EAP instructor hoping to step into fulltime employment at your institution? If so, you are not alone. Recent evidence shows most ESL/EAP instructors in Canada are sitting in the precarious part time employment boat with you and are hoping to advance.   

Perhaps you are wondering how you can distinguish yourself from the pack? One method of distinguishing yourself is to have workplace visibility. 

Why is workplace visibility important? 

You could be the hardest working, most innovative/inspiring instructor at your institution, but those admirable traits mean nothing in an advancement context if they are not visible to the right parties.    

Daisy Dowling, founder and CEO of Workparent, says people often assume their hard work, creativity, and desire to advance will automatically be noticed by their employers, but this is not generally the case (Bernstein & Gallo, 2020).  Supervisors/managers are not psychic, explains Dowling, so workers must take it upon themselves to find ways to make their intentions and value visible.  

Why should I seek visibility? 

Experts suggest workers should be promoting skills and attributes they possess that would be of value to their organization.  

Some things that you could highlight include:  

  • Knowledge of technology and instructional design 
  • A wide network of contacts in diverse segments of the TESL market 
  • Education in an area uncommon for ESL/EAP instructors like business or STEM 
  • Fluency in a commonly spoken unofficial language like Mandarin, Tagalog, Punjabi, or Arabic 
  • The ability to teach multi-level classes 
  • Engagement in active professional development endeavours like presenting at conferences, or writing research papers 

How can I achieve visibility? 

Many people, especially women, feel uncomfortable in the spotlight says Muriel Wilkins, cofounder of the executive coaching firm Paravis Partners. Wilkins says there can be a sense that engaging in self-promotion violates gender norms and makes a woman appear too aggressive and individualistic (Bernstein & Gallo, 2019). Additionally, being visible opens you up to public scrutiny which can be tough to handle. 

There are two keys for raising your workplace visibility effectively:  

  1. Be authentic –The first key is being authentic in the ways in which you seek visibility. For instance, Wilkins suggests that if you are introverted and dislike mingling with large groups, find ways to have meaningful one-on-one conversations with influential people about your professional accomplishments and interests. Those around you can sense inauthenticity a mile away.   
  2.  Share the limelight –The second key is finding ways to share the limelight with others. If you have colleagues with whom you share a common research interest, collaborate with them to create a presentation or article. However, Wilkins cautions that visibility is not a limited commodity and glory hogs are a turnoff.  

Concluding thoughts 

Those who advance quicker/farther are typically those who have mastered workplace visibility. Avoid becoming a member of The Qualified Quiet, those who can do the work but are frequently overlooked because they don’t discuss it (Wilding, 2020). Recognize the personal value you bring to your institution and make it visible in an effective manner.   


Bernstein, A., & Gallo, A., (Hosts). (2020, June 15). Unpause yourself (Season 5, No. 10) [Audio podcast episode]. In Women at work. Harvared Business Review: https://hbr.org/podcast/2020/06/unpause-yourself

Bernstein, A., & Gallo, A., (Hosts). (2019, April 22). Step into the spotlight (Season 3, No. 2). [Audio podcast episode]. In Women at work. Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/podcast/2019/04/step-into-the-spotlight

Wilding, M. (2020, September 15). How to brag about yourself at work, according to author and PR expert Meredith Fireman. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/melodywilding/2020/09/15/how-to-brag-about-yourself-at-work-according-to-author-and-pr-expert-meredith-fineman/?sh=708c93506cc3 

Heather Donnelly has worked for multiple EAP programs since becoming an instructor in 2010. She currently works as the Supplemental Instruction Coordinator at Lambton College and as a PT faculty member at Fanshawe College.


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