How Online Courses Allowed Me to Reclaim My Love of Teaching
In college and in graduate school, all I could see on the road ahead of me was the opportunity to be a teacher. I had worked hard to learn everything possible about my field and to gain confidence in my teaching abilities. In my Master's program at Virginia Tech, I honed in on those teaching abilities by working with numerous groups of undergraduates both in the classroom and tutoring them on their writing skills. I loved it! It was a great opportunity that really opened up my eyes to all that would be available with teachin
That experience encouraged me to pursue a full-time secondary teaching career when I moved to Maryland while pursuing my PhD in Public Policy in the evenings. There was no question about my vision at that point in time. I was definitely headed for academia. My experience teaching seventh grade in Baltimore City, though, forever changed my academic and my career goals. It rocked me to my core at 25 years of age when I realized that, after years of preparation for this career, I simply wasn't interested or willing to commit to the amount of work and mental exhaustion it would take to be a teacher.
Although I had loved my experience being an undergraduate teacher at Virginia Tech, it was markedly different being in the classroom of an inner city middle school with no resources. I spent an entire summer before entering my own classroom in Baltimore, training with some of the best teachers in the area. We learned from experts about how to create lesson plans, deal with differentiation, handle administrative issues, minimize bullying and control our classrooms with solid discipline and incentive programs. Trying to teach students who were three, four, or even five years behind where they should be with regard to reading level was difficult. The school wanted me to be able to teach History, Geography, Civics, Reading, Math, and manners during the one hour each day that I saw every one of my 110 students. And that’s in the midst of addressing kids with severe behavioral issues disrupting as much as they could.
That summer, I worked in a US History classroom with students who needed to pass the class in order to move on to the next grade level and ultimately graduate from high school. Although there were certainly challenges associated in that initial training experience, it wasn't until I was in my own classroom that I realized this was no longer what I wanted to do. When I stepped into that classroom for the first time and saw the conditions that I would be teaching in, I knew the year was going to be a challenge but I stayed committed to it anyway. The Principal informed me that since the school hadn't been able to afford a sixth or an eighth grade Social Studies teacher the year before, I needed to try and cover as much ground with my seventh-grade students as possible because it would be their only Social Studies education before hitting high school.
The curriculum was overwhelming and I tried to figure out the most important things that I felt these 12-year-olds should know before heading into ninth grade. That being said, I had no resources. We were quickly told that making copies on the copier should be an extremely rare experience. I had no books to teach with and the old textbooks I did have were mostly ripped and drawn in from previous classrooms. The overhead projector with the clear piece of paper that my own middle school Science teacher had used to explain cells was all I had and it didn't work. I quickly jumped into action to obtain my own projector and connected it to my personal laptop every day so that my students could view videos and other helpful materials. We battled through what I felt was essential information for them to learn, like the discovery of North America, the American revolution, the holocaust and the fall of communism.
Some days were better than others. Some days the students were relatively on point and amazed me with their insightful comments. Other days were absolutely awful.
If the students were out of control or if I didn't have the appropriate support from administration, I ended each day in tears. I started each day by grabbing the corners of my wooden desk and praying for the strength to get through the day. Students screaming, trying to climb out of the windows, staple their ears, were all a daily occurrence. Other students had such severe problems at home including parents dealing with drug addictions, siblings who passed away in gang fights, or severe home fires in their dilapidated buildings that it made it difficult for them to focus in school.
And yet there were amazing students, there were students who showed up and started every day by giving me a hug. There were students who showed up for tutoring every day. There was one student who was reading at a second-grade level who came to my planning period every day to practice reading out of the textbook so he could become better. Those students were the only reason that I continued to show up to my job. It might sound heartless and cruel, but out of my 110 students, there were 20 or 30 who made the job worth it and I only continued to show up to that job because of them, because I believed in them and because they believed in me.
That being said, the emotional wear and tear of day to day life in Baltimore City took its toll on me. I had health problem after health problem because I taught for six hours straight with no opportunity to take a break or to even use the bathroom. My mental nerves were shot and I spent all of my free time lesson planning, grading papers, communicating with parents and tutoring students. I simply wasn't cut out to be the disciplinarian that someone needs to be in order to succeed in that difficult environment. When I left my teaching job, it was a difficult experience for me to cope with.
After years of preparing for this career, I no longer wanted it. I had no idea what I did want and I accidentally stumbled into a career as an online freelance writer. Being a freelance writer helped me heal from this devastating experience of life in Baltimore City. I only finally left my teaching job after someone slammed into my car on the dangerous streets leading up to my school early in the morning and then chased me all the way to the school, threatening to kill me. That was the final straw for me amidst my medical issues as well.
When I left, though, I couldn't help but feel that I had let the children down. I later found out that the administration never told my students that I had left for good as I was still getting text messages and phone calls from parents asking if I was alright months after I left.
Being a freelance writer allowed me to reclaim some of my creative energy and to pursue my goals again.
But I was constantly faced with the question from the peers in my PhD program, so what are you going to do when you graduate? Are you going to teach?
And my answer was a resounding ‘No’ because of all of the internal frustration I had built up about being a teacher.
Thankfully, after years of being a freelance writer and having my success profiled in various places, other teachers, graduate students and people in my world gradually started asking me how I did it. They wanted tips, they wanted to dip their toes into the waters of freelancing online. I realized that I could help each one of these individuals one by one or I could build a comprehensive course to help them.
That's when I built my first online course. It took me months to get the hang of organizing a course, putting together the slides, buying the right materials to record, learning how to edit video, and enrolling students in the program. What I realized, though, as my student numbers grew, was that online teaching was allowing me to reclaim my love of learning.
I had students in my courses who loved being there. They were willingly there. I called the shots administratively not having to deal with even 10% of the frustrations I dealt with as a cog in the giant bureaucratic wheel of an urban school system. My students loved my courses and enjoyed what they were learning. It was an absolute joy to see them put my strategies to work, asking for help and growing part-time or full-time freelance careers.
I often tell my friends and loved ones, thank god for the internet, because without it I'll probably be unemployed. And it's true. Having spent most of the last couple of years writing search engine optimized content for law firms and insurance agencies, the internet is my bread and butter.
But what I didn't realize was that it would allow me to also reclaim my love of education and helping other people achieve their dreams.
These days, I get to work from home doing what I want. I get to help students who are passionate to be there- driven and motivated to reach their dreams using online courses.
I love the testimonials I get from current and former students who are achieving amazing things. Creating lessons is coming naturally more than it ever did when I was knee deep in a system that didn’t make things easier for teachers. And I get to create amazing tools and strategies for business owners that help people over and over again.
If you’re stuck putting together your first online course, you’re not alone. It took me months to create my first one, but then I benefitted from a snowball effect. Soon, my clients started coming to me asking for help to build their own online course. In the past year, I’ve created 18 online courses for myself and others.
I love getting emails from my students and hearing their success stories or helping them break through an obstacle. In online course and coaching, I found what I wanted so much in my teaching career, but as an added bonus I get to call the shots and do it on my own time and in my own way.