Getting a “Real Job”

Let me start by saying I always resented that phrase – “real job” – as if the way I earned my money wasn’t actual work. People loved to ask if I was applying at “real jobs” or if I’d thought about giving up teaching for a “real job”. Working from home as a freelance English as a Second Language Teacher was nothing short of a real job. From the very basics of performing a task and getting paid to the more complex work of planning, preparing and continuously training, teaching was meaningful, challenging and real work.

Still, this kind of teaching lacks a certain stability. It’s hard to plan your life or build serious financial goals when your pay varies widely in the wake of world events, holidays and student availability.

Not to mention that you end up teaching during your own countries holidays and off on vacation during holidays from other parts of the world. It’s not the worst but still, it’s hard to explain why you taught on Christmas eve and then relaxed all through February (Chinese New Year).

The last few months have brought a lot of change to my life. While I do still love the work flow I had built I also wanted to try something new.

So I went out and did it – I got myself one of those “real jobs” people talk about. No more “real” in the actual doing of work, but substantially more stable and a better hourly wage.

I’m now happily working away full time in a call centre – I got lucky and found one that lines up super well with my existing skills and interests. There’s a sort of taboo around being okay with call centre work. It’s not supposed to be a “good enough” job to warrant anything nearing job satisfaction but so far it’s been a good experience. So good, in fact, that there’s already talk of me “levelling up” my training. Hello, raise!

Not to mention it brings me back to my favourite town. The place where my Grandfather lived, my dad grew up, and I went to school. It feels like coming home.

Don’t worry – I’m not abandoning all my at home hustle. The social media management business and Etsy shop continue to evolve and remain close to my heart. I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus while the dust settled on the new job and other life changes. That dust is settling, though. Soon all the changes will be official in blog posts and I’ll keep ya’ll posted with the changing realities of working from home and working from well, not home.

Carmen in Canada’s Top Ten Tips for Teaching Online

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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 ohmymermaid.blog@gmail.com 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!

Carmen

 

Working from Home and Setting Your Own Schedule

The biggest misconception people have about working from home or working for yourself is that you work when you want or need and can take it easy the rest of the time.  The reality, for online teachers at least, is that we work at the demand of our students.

The only way to make this job work as a full time gig is to set work goals in accordance with your financial goals.  I know I need to make X number of dollars a month to pay my bills, save and have some room for unexpected costs.  It is necessary to translate that dollar amount in to classes taught, break it down by week and meticulously track day by day.

I’ve learned I have to notice early on – by mid-month at least – if I’m falling behind on my goals. After that point there isn’t enough time to meaningfully add to my schedule and make up the hours. With teaching it’s easy to fall behind on goals.  If classes don’t get booked it adds up fast. Being a class or two short of a daily goal quickly means stripping down the budget to accommodate anticipated shortcomings.

The truth about working from home means I am available until my goal is met.  Maybe I only need to work 8 hours in a day but I can’t force my students to consistently fill 9am-5pm so that I can go live my life. I start around 7:30 most days, many days earlier, and most days I work until 11pm or midnight. Some days it’s 1am or 1:30am.

Working crazy hours Monday to Thursday allows me to end earlier (mid afternoon) most Fridays and then take Saturday and Sunday off with my family.

The hard part is having to politely remind people that you actually do work and it isn’t possible for you to change your schedule last minute the way some work from home jobs can.  Even if I could, changing my schedule for last minute plans would still mean making the time up so chances are even if my companies let me change my schedule last minute I would still be held on schedule by financial obligations.

What we really mean when we say our work from home jobs are flexible is that, with 24 hour potential to work you might be able to set up a unique schedule that suits your life.  My whole family works 9-5’s with weekends off so I try to mimic that as much as I can to maximize my time with them.

That being said lots of people are working jobs like mine on a when-the-kids-are-out schedule, or using it as a night job. Flexibility doesn’t mean that I can change my schedule last minute, but it does mean that I can book classes around other obligations outside a traditional work schedule.

Oh, and I guess it’s true that outside of my budget, I don’t have to ask anyone for approval when I want a day off.

Thinking of picking up extra work? What kind of schedule would working from home mean for you?