As I was writing “working with less” and thinking about what we as online teachers put out there to other potential online teachers, and each other, it got me thinking. I said with that post that you shouldn’t be intimidated by veterans and the elaborate set ups you see online. However, what would be useful when you’re just starting out?
I’ve been at this around two years now and turned it from a side hustle to a full time gig. Here’s my Top ten tips:
- Pick something you’re comfortable in and wear it all the time.
For me, it’s a plain black, long sleeve shirt. I bought several and I keep them on hand. I put it on and then don’t think. From class to class, company to company throughout the day it’s professional without being over the top and it’s comfortable without being too casual.
If I’m feeling ambitious I might up my game with simple, elegant accessories or a little extra effort in hair and makeup. But truly, you’re in a small box on a screen, keep your look simple and clean.
- Pick a space you like being in.
Sometimes on the really long days I migrate around the house if I’m feeling stiff or stir crazy from endless hours in office. I do that less now than I used to, though. The more you create a space you enjoy being in the better you’ll work in it. So go ahead and hang those twinkle lights, white boards, posters… whatever it is to make it cozy and comfortable for you.
- Smile and laugh.
Smiles and laughter transcend borders like nothing else. When I teach children I also sing with them and I laugh at the sound of myself singing so they know it’s okay to have fun while in class. When I’m with adults I tell embarrassing stories about myself and laugh with my students. Remember that being a teacher is a position of authority and you can be intimidating to your students, especially when they can’t understand the language. But this isn’t regular school – if they don’t like you they won’t book your class again so welcome them and make them feel comfortable.
- Take breaks.
Value your time. A gap in your teaching schedule does not need to be filled with errands and other commitments. During working hours I try to make my gaps refreshing and celebrate the mental down time. I watch netflix, eat, fetch tea, shower and go for walks. Anything to refresh my mind and body.
- Use breaks
That being said, a good passion project on the side doesn’t hurt. Often I write blog posts during my break, check in on the social media channels and promote the blog. I try not to work to intensely in between classes so I don’t exhaust myself but I do like a good side hustle.
- Build a props collection as needed.
When you wish you had X, Y, or Z to reach for take note and either create it or find it to purchase in the near future. This way you build a collection of props based on what will support your teaching style and not just what you see other teachers have.
Try to avoid wasting a lot of time and money guessing what you’ll want and buying things “just in case”. Stick to things you know are useful.
- Organize and Re-Organize.
As you collect props and equipment you’ll need to create an organization system that works. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. For me – I have one drawer that stays open all the time on my right hand side. It acts like a tray-shaped side table that holds stuffies and props ready. Smaller things like cue cards sit underneath my laptop (which is raised so that my camera is at a flattering angle). Not only should you have a system but as you’re teaching you’ll shuffle stuff around. When you finish class, shuffle things back where they belong or chaos will eat your work space.
- Get your fam on board.
It took some getting used to for my family to know that even though I’m right here in the office at home, I’m not available. I felt guilty for a long time, too, as they adjusted. It feels awkward and strange that sometimes they’re eating downstairs all around the dinner table but I’m not there because I have a class to teach. It took a while for the idea that what I’m busy doing up here in the old spare room is actually just as serious as the work they do from 9-5 every day and I needed the same kind of respect and space they enjoyed at their offices. Don’t be afraid to have that conversation with your family and help them understand that you need them on board with this job, too.
- You are Your Brand – Have Personality!
Remember how I just said that you’ve got to make students comfortable because unlike regular school, if they do’t like you they don’t have to take your class again… Well as an extension of that, you are a sort of brand. Even though there’s a bigger company or brand you’re teaching with – the company who you work for – you are what makes students come back to book you class after class. I’ve written before about how I have a sort of “Teacher Carmen” personality that is separate from who I am as a whole person (See Carmen in Canada). That’s my brand. That’s the consistent experience that students can connect to, come back to, and rely on. Be yourself – be memorable – build yourself a brand as a teacher.
- Pay Attention to Trends & Competition.
When I started there weren’t a ton of companies doing online education the way my company was. Now? Ther’es a TON of companies. Pay attention and maybe work with more than one if you want this to be a full-time gig with reliable money. If your company closes its doors they don’t owe you severance or benefits. Nothing. Pay attention so you know if your company is losing its edge, and keep yourself open to opportunities!
Bonus Tip: Start Now!
You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will tell you more details about the specific companies I work with and I can refer you, which means I’ll be there for you through the whole process of applying and starting out!
This is a job, so have fun with it and make informed choices to create security. However, it’s a job that is interacting with other human beings so be human and have fun!