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4 Tips for Turning Your First Online Teaching Job Into a Lucrative Rewarding Career

4 Tips for Turning Your First Online Teaching Job Into a Lucrative Rewarding Career

by Dani Babb
June 24, 2014

You have done it. You have your first online teaching job and you love it.

You are getting settled into the idea of using your smartphone as a mini laptop and not a device to take photos of food, and are learning to pace yourself in a 24x7 work environment. You are loving the engagement with professionals and enjoy teaching and developing courses. You have decided you would like to add to your workload, and maybe even make teaching your fulltime career.

This is essentially what I did in 2004. I was a full time IT Director (and had been for a long time). I had taught courses on the side here and there my entire career, brick and mortar and online classes. After I earned my doctorate, I realized I was getting quite a lot of work, and could not do my day job along with my “night job” and do anything well. It was time to take the leap – and quit my IT position to concentrate on teaching full time. It was scary; I had a mortgage and the thought of leaving the (not so secure) world of IT wasn’t exactly a decision that let me sleep at night. But.. I don’t sleep anyway.. so what the heck. I put in my resignation and embarked on the new journey. If you have decided you want this for yourself as well, congrats.

In this post in the series on Steps to Getting Your First Online Teaching Job I will help walk you through some options on how to turn your first online teaching jon into a lucrative career, how I did it myself and what I learned along the way.

First, I didn’t leave my day job until my teaching income was pretty close to my day job income. This required working at several schools. Obviously along with the day job, this meant 19-20 hour work days for some time, about three months. When my income was pretty close to the same, I panicked. I had met the goal, but was also now used to having double income. Why would I leave this for half (in my mind, I was now making double so leaving my day job reduced my income by half). Don’t fall into this trap! This left me pondering the decision for another three months, and as sleep deprivation wore on, I believe I can still see the added lines on my face from those additional months.

1So tip one is when you get to the goal you had set, stop. Resign.
Do what you had planned (unless of course you’re finding yourself not liking teaching). To get to the workload level you need, you will need to apply to a lot of job applications. You will hear faculty tell you they are “just contacted by recruiters” and “sign up”. Yes this happens! But, it’s not that common. You need to apply, which is why we created a job application service. On average. It takes 80 to 120 applications per interview for our clients, depending of course on the area of expertise, highest degree earned and experience teaching.

1So tip 2, apply to everything until you have the workload you need to feel comfortable.
When you do and you put in your letter of resignation, maintain contacts. You may find yourself having down times (financially or emotionally missing your past career) and this is a good time to take on some consulting.

1Tip 3- Don’t ever (ever) leave on bad terms, and keep your contacts.
You may even offer to consult for the company you are resigning from to finish up projects.

Now be prepared for some stress, worry and fatigue. You may find yourself with more time on your hands, but you will be able to pour that time into doing a stellar job in your new teaching career, and catching up a little from having double careers. The very first time I had my load cut by over half (it was summer, and you will learn it’s relatively normal) I panicked. “How could I possibly have left IT where this wouldn’t happen?” (or would it?) Recurring thoughts! I would remind myself IT had a lot of layoffs, and this wasn't any more or less secure than that.

1And then.. My final tip.. 4 - treat your teaching career as your own business.
You will need to do everything a small business owner does. You will need to get new customers (schools). You will need to treat your client’s customers (students) well. You will need to constantly be on the lookout for new leads (universities to work for). You will need to network yourself with other professors and higher ed leaders (marketing). You will need to watch financials (cash flows) to balance out the tougher months with those that have more cushion. You will need to communicate professionally and remind your bosses you exist, particularly if you are an adjunct (public relations). You may want to diversify. Some of you reading this will want to work for one university at full time pay and you will be happy with that. That’s a great path for some people. I needed more stability and decided to diversify (product mix). Different sectors (for profit and not for profit schools), different levels of students (graduate and undergraduate) and different types of universities (public, private).

The first time you get an email as an adjunct saying “we will only be using full time faculty now” you will panic, and that is normal. Then you will realize you have more in the pipeline because you never stopped applying (a key surviving online teaching as a career!) and that while that school represents X percent of income, they aren't your only source. You will email your other bosses asking if they need help developing courses or letting them know your workload is light and you would love a course or two if they have it. You will develop strategies to help feel more in control of your work. And, you will be. You will have created an entrepreneurial mindset for your teaching career.

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Contact the author Dr. Dani Babb
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