ne of the most common complaints you’ll hear from writers in every genre is that they lack the time to work on their writing in a meaningful way. Everything gets in the way of the novel, the article, or the poem, including commuting to a job and working forty or more hours a week away from home. Certainly, there are those disciplined souls who hold full-time jobs outside the home, but still get up early and dedicate an hour or more to their writing before heading to the office; or they pound out at least 1,000 words every day prior to bedtime. One friend, who works as a special education teacher, goes to bed at 7:00 p.m. and gets up at 4:00 a.m. to write a couple of hours before leaving for school, although she admits this only works for her because she is unmarried and doesn’t have children.
Many of the most successful writers in the world previously worked in “regular” jobs before their books allowed them to quit and write for a living.
However, what if you could hold a position that would allow you to work from home with the flexibility to write throughout the day? What types of employment are available that still allow a writer time for writing, whether as a budding freelancer trying to build a portfolio or as a seasoned fiction/poetry/nonfiction writer working toward that next story or book? The answer could be working as an online instructor.
“For learners with full-time jobs or full-time demands as a parent, they never have to worry about missing a class or a chat room call-in due to illness, travel, or unforeseen emergencies.”
(Photo: Christina Hamlett)
What Kind of Classes?
With the ability to do almost anything on the Internet, more and more students are finding the web is a great place to learn. Adults can earn a bachelor’s degree, gain professional credits, or take classes for fun. Homeschooling parents may be searching for online classes for their students to fill a “hole” in the curriculum they’ve designed or to even do more of the teaching for them, if they are not qualified in a certain subject. And all of these areas need instructors.
Author Christina Hamlett agrees. “The fact that instruction is conducted exclusively online invites participation by students of all ages throughout the world, allows them to work at their own pace, and provides them with one-on-one feedback that they wouldn’t necessarily receive in a traditional classroom. For learners with full-time jobs or full-time demands as a parent, they never have to worry about missing a class or a chat room call-in due to illness, travel, or unforeseen emergencies; just as long as they let me know that they didn’t fall into a black hole, I can easily accommodate any schedule as well as offer ‘do-overs’ in the event that their assignments could benefit from a second try.”
For young adults fresh out of high school or mature adults returning to education after being away for many years, attending college on a traditional campus may not be the best or easiest choice. As Christina said, this can be especially true if you have a full-time job, a couple of part-time jobs, children or older parents to care for, or other obligations. But does that mean a student shouldn’t learn more about a career field or earn a degree?
Definitely not. More and more colleges and universities are offering online courses to help individuals for whom getting to a seated class is difficult. Students can take classes toward an associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and even doctorate degrees from their home, while still fulfilling the daily tasks in their lives.
Who teaches these classes? It varies. In my case, I found myself needing to get a job quickly after being at home with my children for nearly ten years. The idea of returning to the regular 9-to-5 wasn’t appealing, especially if it meant putting the kids into daycare and commuting. Right around this same time, an acquaintance casually mentioned that she was considering teaching classes online, so she could stay home with her younger daughter. With some investigation, I learned that because I have a master’s degree, there were several opportunities available to me. One of my first positions included scoring essays online for the Educational Testing Service; after the initial training, I scored essays for about four hours a day, several days a week. Shifts of eight hours were also available, and I could score for a variety of tests including California’s CAHSEE, the GRE, and others.
I also got hired at a couple of well-known for-profit universities, teaching English classes. Since students are required to take several English courses, having an English degree helped to ensure I received almost back-to-back classes. I now teach classes ranging from developmental English to British literature.
Where Writing Fits In
How does this relate to having more time for writing, though? Once my kids got older and began attending school, I debated about whether I would try and get a regular tenured position at a university or some other full-time position. What I realized was that while those positions may hold a bit more security, I liked working online from home and enjoyed the flexibility of being able to take my work with me wherever I landed for the day. I also found that the time previously spent on the day-to-day kids’ demands could now be spent instead on my writing; if I wanted to hang out for the day at my local coffeehouse finishing up a piece of flash fiction, that option was available to me. The upside to all this: when I truly began focusing more seriously on my writing, which I had wanted to do for years, I got published more frequently. What a boost!
A life filled with work, kids, sports, and chores rarely slows down, and I’ve been considering changing my middle name to “flexible!” Below is a basic schedule of what a typical day might look like for me; you’ll note that I try and put writing in the morning hours to make sure it gets done each day:
||Drop kids at school
||Quick errands or chores
||Writing time (This may consist of paid writing, reading about writing, researching, or non-paid “fun” writing.)
||Errands and cleaning (pay bills, yard work, meet with friends or writing cohorts, grocery shop, longer errands)
||Pick up kids from school
||Sports or other activities (This varies by season and is where that flexibility comes in handy.)
||Online Classes (log in to classes, answer questions from students, grade papers, load grades)
Of course, driving for a field trip on a particular day can put the schedule out of whack. However, even if writing doesn’t get done one day, I get right back to it the next day. As most writers will tell you, time for writing should be on the daily calendar, just like a dentist appointment would be.
“It saves commuting time, transportation costs, and the hassle of working outside the home.”
(Photo: Bonnie Hearn Hill)
No Advanced Degree? No Problem.
But what if you don’t have an advanced degree? Is the online world of teaching a closed door? Not at all.
Bonnie Hearn Hill is an author and has taught writing classes online since 2002. She holds a bachelor’s degree and had taught on-ground classes for several years. For her, teaching online was the “next logical step in order to reach a larger audience of students,” helping them reach their goals of publishing. She currently teaches fiction writing for several online venues, including WOW!, Authorlink, and Writer’s Digest. Has teaching online enabled her to successfully carve out time for her writing projects? “I write before I do anything, so yes. I know writers who teach too many classes and don’t have time to write. On the other hand, online classes allow you to teach at home, and you can check in with your students whenever you like. They won’t know if you are sitting at the computer in your sweats with no makeup. It saves commuting time, transportation costs, and the hassle of working outside the home.”
Bonnie nailed some of the biggest perks of working online. You can throw on a pair of ratty jeans and a jacket, drop the kids off at school, then return home for work—there’s no special work clothes, no heels (unless you want them!), fewer dry cleaning costs, and no sitting in rush hour traffic. When you step through your own door, you might sit down at the computer and grade math quizzes for an online high school course in algebra. Once that work is out of the way, you are free to focus on writing for the rest of the day. If you prefer to work the other way, as I do, you spend the earlier part of the day writing and use the afternoons and evenings for responding to discussions and grading papers.
Is It Right for Me?
Is the world of online teaching right for you? There are several questions you may want to consider in order to find out:
- What kind of online experiences have you had? While it’s not essential to know everything there is about online teaching platforms, online writing tools, such as Google Docs and different types of live chat functions, you should be willing to learn about them and even experiment with them. As Christina advises, “If you’re new to online teaching, I recommend that you test your material on friends or coworkers before you actually go ‘live’ with it. The reason for this is that sometimes you can be so immersed in the subject yourself that you inadvertently assume knowledge on the part of those who sign up. This can lead to confusion and frustration, as they start to work through the lessons. Your volunteer guinea pigs can help you work the bugs out and perhaps even provide you with some fresh ideas on what to include.”
- Do you have skills you’d like to share with others? Keisha Gregory, who has an associate’s degree as an educational paraprofessional and teaches career classes at an online technical high school says, “Those interested in wanting to teach online . . . [should] find the area of expertise that they are eager to teach, [and] gain experience in that area . . . Talk with the human resources, hiring recruiters, managers, deans of those appropriate programs because they often provide great insight on how to go about presenting one’s self to the companies of interest that is not discussed in a job description.”
Keisha hopes to soon publish a guide for those who want to gain a foothold in online teaching.
- Do you enjoy teaching, and can you commit the required number of hours it takes to teach online? There is sometimes a misconception that online classes are easier than traditional classes because students (and instructors) don’t have the added time of driving and sitting through classroom lectures. While this is true, the time is spent on the computer instead. Most schools have specific response times and a certain number of days that are required for participation; there are “best practices” within the industry of online teaching, and instructors that fail to pay attention to students either aren’t asked to teach additional classes or burn out from the sometimes burdening requirements. Bonnie concurs. “Be sure it’s something you want to do. Just as taking an online class requires tremendous commitment, so does teaching one. I check in with my students every day, and I try to answer all e-mail within the hour.
If you aren’t willing to make the time commitment, you might want to reconsider teaching online.”
While online teaching has its definite benefits, it should be said that it is not for everyone, and it takes some adjustment, especially if you’re used to working in an office or traditional classroom environment. Some people simply need more interaction with friends and coworkers than others. So if the thought of spending your days and nights in front of a computer screen sounds lonely, you might want to pay heed to that.
Of course there are ways around this scenario, such as setting up regular meetups with fellow writers or working in more public places like the library, ensuring some face-to-face time away from the computer screen. Christina says, “Whether you’re a teacher or a student in an online platform, you need to keep up your socialization and conversational skills in the real world, rather than allowing the virtual world to consume you.”
And as Bonnie said earlier, it’s easy to end up teaching too many classes in the effort to earn more money. With nearly five years experience, I know I can handle about six classes at a time comfortably and still have time for writing; however, I found myself teaching about ten classes at once last year. Not only did I lose my writing time, but I worked nearly twenty hours a day for many weeks. I had to learn to set some boundaries on the number of classes I would accept at once, and remember that my writing was both important to me and was a job just like teaching, even if it didn’t “pay.”
Resources to Consider
Online teaching has opened up doors in my writing world. It has allowed me to take my job to any place with an Internet connection. More importantly, it has given me the freedom to focus on my writing in a way that works for me. Is online teaching in your future? Here are just a few of the many resources available to get you started in learning more:
A basic overview of online teaching:
Join the discussion about online teaching through forums on Yahoo! groups:
On LinkedIn, search for “online adjuncts.” There are several groups devoted to teaching part time and online.
Find out about current online openings in academic teaching:
http://www.higheredjobs.com/ (you can search here using “online” as a keyword)
Breaking into Online Work with a Graduate Degree
Educational Testing Service
Ongoing opportunities are available at ETS, as students take a variety of standardized tests. One of the more common is the GRE (needed to enter many graduate programs), and the ETS looks for graders with advanced degrees in English to score essays. In addition, graders are needed for Advanced Placement tests and the PRAXIS. Find information at http://www.ets.org/scoring_opportunities
University of Phoenix
UOP is the granddaddy of online teaching. It is a good place to get your feet wet in the online world, as it is structured, organized, and the demands are pretty reasonable for the pay. Learn more at http://www.phoenix.edu/about_us/employment.html
Ashford is part of Bridgepoint Education, which includes University of the Rockies. Again, they’ve been in the business of online education for many years, and beginning here as a teaching assistant is a way to get a foot in the online door. See http://careers.ashford.edu/
Many mainstream universities have added online components to their curriculum and because of economics, have moved to using adjunct (part-time) instructors instead of tenured faculty. Contact your local community (junior) college or university for online adjunct opportunities.
Online Opportunities Without an Advanced Degree
Like the ETS, College Board offers standardized tests to students and requires readers for the essay portions of those tests. Learn more about scoring tests, such as the PSAT and SAT, online at http://professionals.collegeboard.com/prof-dev/opportunities/become-sat-reader
K12 is an online educational source for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade. While requirements vary state-to-state, most require a bachelor’s degree and/or teaching credential. Find them at http://www.k12.com/careers
There are many choices for private schools these days, both online and seated. One such school, The Potter’s School, offers Christian-based online courses for junior high and high school students. The search for teachers usually begins in the spring for the fall start. Information on teaching at TPS at http://www.pottersschool.org/h?id=723871
Local school districts
Like universities, area K-12 schools have moved to adjunct or part-time teachers to fill positions more cheaply. Depending on the class and availability of instructors, some states may require only an associate’s degree in the pertinent field and may offer some classes online to meet the needs of homeschoolers, alternate students, or traditional students that need classes to graduate.
Online Teaching Opportunities for Writers
Authorlink offers On Demand audio and video courses for writers, webinars, and more. Most of their courses are pre-recorded. To apply, e-mail a resume and a brief description of what you’d like to teach to Doris Booth, Editor-in-Chief: email@example.com. Please include your contact information so she can call you to discuss possibilities. You can browse their course catalog at http://www.writerseducation.com/, a sister site of http://www.authorlink.com/.
Gotham Writers’ Workshop
Gotham Writers’ Workshops are always looking for online instructors. You can send a brief cover letter and resume, indicating in the cover letter which type or types of writing you are qualified to teach. E-mail your resume as an attached Microsoft Word document to Alex Steele, Dean of Faculty at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, please see: http://www.writingclasses.com/InformationPages/index.php/PageID/111
Mediabistro offers online courses and seminars for writers and media professionals. If you are interested in teaching for their continuing education program, you can view available positions for instructors on the Mediabistro Job Board: http://www.mediabistro.com/joblistings/. Or you can pitch your idea for a course, written up like the descriptions on the Mediabistro site, along with your bio and resume to Carmen Scheidel, VP of Education & Events: email@example.com
WOW! Women On Writing
WOW! offers online writing and marketing classes for writers of all levels. To teach for WOW!, fill out a class proposal and turn it in to Angela and Marcia. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org to receive an application. Check out the class listings on the WOW! Classroom Page to see what is already being offered.
Susan Gabrielle has spent nearly five years as an online educator in addition to being a published writer. Her work has been included (or is forthcoming) in The Christian Science Monitor, Heyday, TheBatShat, New Verse News, and local publications. Susan was a finalist in the Tiny Lights Narrative Essay Contest, and her short story, "What she should have said," was published in the Social Justice issue of the Little Patuxent Review. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize for her poem “After 10 years of War.” She currently teaches writing and literature classes as a university instructor and is at work on a writers’ guide, Writing Your Way into Dreamland.
Visit her website at http://susan-gabrielle.com/.
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