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The Gig Economy and Online Teaching: Why MyCoolClass is the Future of Online Education

The Gig Economy and Online Teaching: Why MyCoolClass is the Future of Online Education

Since I was a kid, I always liked to toot my own horn and calculate my own risks. I never cared for sports or working in large groups. I hate relying on people for things that I can do faster and more efficiently myself. I think that a lot of online teachers feel the same way and enjoy independence but are also feeling lost with so many options, resources, and information to sift through and figure out what’s best. After all, online education is a booming industry, and everyone wants to get a piece of this global multi-billion-dollar market as the future of online education looks promising . But in case you haven’t noticed, teachers aren’t getting a piece. We’re getting robbed.

There have been a lot of discussions around the world recently, both in mainstream media and with lawmakers, about gig workers and we often hear about the exploitative practices of these mega platforms such as Uber and Door Dash. You don’t need to be an economist to understand that these companies are making record breaking profits while customers pay more, and workers get paid less.  

In the United States, Amazon and Starbucks workers are forming unions and schoolteachers are striking. Last year, the UK told Uber to provide holiday pay to drivers and classify them as workers. Etsy sellers also went on strike earlier this month against fee increases. Last year, an Italian court fined Deliveroo €2.5 million because of unfair algorithms and rider data collection.

Did you know that Hoxton Ventures, the venture capital group backing Deliveroo, also backed Preply with $10 million in funding in 2020 and then more cash last year? Unfortunately, online teachers have been completely left out of the gig worker discussion often dominated by drivers and food delivery. The fact is that those who control these mega platforms don’t care about anyone or anything except getting wealthier at the workers’ expense.  

When I first started teaching online, I worked for Palfish. I regularly ranked in the top 300 teachers of about 5,000. I had a full schedule and amazing student retention. It was fun and I was making decent money. In August 2020, Palfish teachers received a message thanking us for our hard work and informed us that the company received $120 million in funding (from 6 investors). Two weeks later they slashed teacher pay by changing an already exploitative point system that determined our pay rate. Palfish also started hiring Filipino teachers to do the same work as western native English-speaking teachers but they were paid significantly less than me.   

Another reality is that if the shareholders of these platforms want to hide or delete your account without reason, create discriminatory algorithms, unexpectedly raise commission fees, go bankrupt and shut down, sell to another company, change rules, or make any other decision that impacts your job, they can, and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it.

As online teachers, we either need to accept and deal with the conditions these platforms give us or invest in going solo and working independently without a middleman. I was considering going independent myself after the crash of the Chinese ESL market as I’ve been self-employed most my life anyway. I understand business and ran several WordPress websites and consider myself relatively tech savvy. I also know how to market myself and utilize social media. So why not?

The Struggles of a Freelancer

Before moving to Poland and becoming a teacher, I was a private investigator in California for ten years. I was self-employed and had my own clients. Some months I did extremely well, others not so much. It was a rollercoaster, and my income was always unpredictable. Sometimes clients paid me late and other times, not at all having to take a few to court. I had no paid time off and needed to pay for continuing education and training. I also needed to spend an enormous amount of time marketing and buy all my own tools. I loved the job, but it was also a constant hustle.

Research by WondaPay found that 55% of freelancers in the UK are having to wait a month or more for each of their invoices to be paid. If that is your only means of income, this could be the difference between paying rent and eating only peanut butter and bread for a few weeks. If you’re a delivery driver, a private detective, artist, independent teacher, or any other gig worker, we all have the same headaches and lack job security, industry power, and a voice in our workplace.

As we have seen in online education over the past two years, more and more venture capital backed platforms are popping up to make a quick profit. The competition has been driving down prices for teachers on big platforms which is having a huge effect on what students are willing to pay for an independent tutor. Big platforms control the market and set the standards and practices.  

Shortly after Palfish slashed teachers’ pay, I heard about a group of Uber and Lyft drivers in New York City who started The Drivers Cooperative. They raised $1.5 million in crowdfunding and now have over 5,000 drivers in NYC offering a better wage than Uber, while also a better value for riders. I also learned about Signalise, a platform cooperative of sign language interpreters in the UK who recently raised £300,000, and Outlandish, a tech cooperative.  

Cooperatives aren’t a fringe type of business nor are they any type of pyramid scheme. It would be foolish to dismiss them without making an effort to understand the basics of how they work. There are over 3 million cooperatives around the world with over a billion members. In recent years with the boom of platform-based gig work, many platform cooperatives have started emerging in many industries. After doing a bit of homework and seeking the right resources, I had this wild idea to start MyCoolClass, the future of online education. After all, I was bored out of my mind sitting in my apartment in Poland during lockdown, plus the weather sucks most of the year anyway. I haven’t had a good challenge since I was chasing fugitives in California.

The older I get, it becomes more apparent that decent work and fair pay is becoming harder, if not almost impossible, to find and sustain. The rich are getting richer and everyone else is overworked and underpaid. I may be getting gray hair, but I’m still as punk rock as when I was sixteen rocking a green mohawk. I don’t think we should accept a system that a select few created for their own gain at others’ expense. I could have gone solo and am confident that I would be successful. I also could have started a coaching business showing teachers how to make websites or how to create their own courses.  

Nope. I decided to take on an insanely difficult task that most reasonable people would never consider pursuing. To spearhead a project to create a democratically controlled, teacher-owned platform cooperative operating on an international level is no simple task. To get where we are today has taken dozens of volunteers and thousands of hours to make MyCoolClass possible. A place that gives teachers a stake in their workplace while keeping autonomy.

We can either continue giving our money to platform owners or swim solo hoping we don’t eventually drown. As Ryunosuke Satoro said, “Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.” MyCoolClass has a real chance of success and the future of online education, but we aren’t a television where you can kick back and enjoy the show. We need teachers, gig workers, and anyone else who wants something better out of their professional lives, wants job security and a real stake in their workplace, online or not. Since launching last summer, thousands of teachers have been watching us and expressed support for our mission. However, that support has also been met with skepticism if we can actually do it.

The founding team behind MyCoolClass has proven to be competent but because we aren’t funded by millionaires, things have been slow. Many online teachers are looking for quick work because many are living paycheck to paycheck, therefore seeking an instant solution. Our plan is to make MyCoolClass the future of online education but it is not a quick fix and is an investment that requires participation, especially in these early stages.  We are a movement to reach our aspirations by uniting for fair work. We need masses of teachers uniting to make this possible. If freelancers in other industries can do it, I’d like to think teachers can too.

MyCoolClass needs to raise £300,000 to be able to become the best platform for teachers and students. We need to hire a marketing team, developers, pay for advertising, improve the platform, develop an app, and we also need to start paying our current workers.  There are a lot of things we want to do and there isn’t anything stopping us if teachers come together as a community with an identity and needs.  

To raise this money, we launched what’s called a community shares offer, in which anyone in the world can become an investor member. Community shares is a user-friendly name for withdrawable, non-transferable share capital: a form of equity uniquely available to cooperative and community benefit societies. Since 2012, over £155m has been raised by over 104,203 people in community shares across the UK. The minimum share subscription per person is £100 and an interest of 5 percent will be paid annually after one year. The withdrawal of capital is targeted after three years, and UK investors may seek tax relief of up to 50% on their investments.

I know we can raise this money if everyone who wants to see this succeed makes the effort to participate. We need teachers to share about us on social media, comment and like our posts, tell others about our mission and encourage other teachers to join.  If you’ve been following us but haven’t joined yet, take that leap, and sign up. If you like what we are doing but you’re not a teacher, invest in our cooperative, and share our vision. If you don’t like what we are doing, you are also invited to get involved and help make us better. Until online teachers collectively own a democratic workplace, we will continue to be exploited by platform capitalism.

I’d like to see an Upwork owned by freelancers, an Uber owned by drivers, a Deliveroo owned by riders and restaurant owners, an Etsy owned by artists and creators, and an Amazon owned by sellers, workers, and drivers. We need organization, not venture capital.

by John Hayes, Creator of MyCoolClass

With a Little Help from My Friends in the Teaching Community

One of the best things about teaching in a cooperative is the communication with other teachers that you have instant access to. Most TEFL courses will tell you how important it is to build relationships with other teachers even if you’re a freelance teacher because the support you can get from people doing the same thing as you can be invaluable. Here are five reasons why you need to be part of a wider teaching community.

Ongoing teacher training

Regardless of how many courses we’ve done or how long we’ve been teaching, almost none of us would say we’re currently the best teacher we can be. Most teachers want to learn more ways of engaging and supporting our students for the length of our carers and being part of a wider teaching community means regularly receiving tried and tested tips. 

This network also gives us a place to turn for specific advice. If a student has a learning issue we’ve never encountered before or is from a country we know little about, we can ask for advice before the class. The good thing about a teaching community is that what is unfamiliar to you could be the specialism of somebody else. This means we can learn from the best just by exchanging a few messages. 

For some of us, this could be an extra push to explore our own specialism in more depth. As we learn more, we can share better tips with other teachers. 

For more industry transparency

Like many companies, language schools are not always entirely honest with their employees about things like pay rates, policies, and the future of the company. Teachers can find themselves working for less money than they were encouraged to expect or spending hours filling in applications for schools that don’t have enough students. Communicating with other teachers can help us to avoid these traps because they will usually be more honest than employers will.

This transparency can extend to resources we use to teach, such as online whiteboards, subscription sites with lesson materials, and advertising methods. Teachers who have tried certain things can share their experiences and inform other teachers of the downsides and fine print that we should read but often don’t. In addition to saving us time, it can make us feel better about our own mistakes if we’re able to help others avoid them. Doing this could even turn a mistake into something positive, like a friendship. 

For emotional support

Teaching is a lot of fun and very rewarding, but it is also challenging. Whether you’re a freelancer or working for a language school, difficulties are inevitable. Talking to people who are going through the same difficulties can help you work out solutions, or just vent after a bad day. 

A nice bonus to this is that it can keep your expectations realistic. We all have setbacks. We don’t like this, but we’ve all taught bad classes. Many of us have had power or connection issues that have caused us to miss class. The situations we dread do unfortunately happen and knowing that you are not alone and that it is not the end of your career can be invaluable in these moments. 

The best thing about teachers sharing these stories is that it lets us plan for many of these things before they actually happen, or at least get advice on how best to deal with it after it has happened. 

Sometimes we have a trial class with a student we’re not the best fit for. At other times, we might have a student who doesn’t like missing classes but we still want to go on holiday for two weeks. If we’re connected to a network of teachers then we can pass on details of an appropriate teacher to students and arrange cover for our classes when we know we won’t be available to teach them. 

To refer students to more appropriate teachers

This can be useful for those of us who teach children because they’re likely to continue studying after they’ve outgrown our classes. Being able to find another really good teacher for their child when they need it can reassure parents that you’re the right person to teach their child. It can also be important to us to know that the child we’ve been teaching for several years is still getting all the help they need to reach their goals. 

It can also be helpful for those who teach adults. As any freelance teacher will know, there are students who ignore the teacher’s specialism and book lessons with someone with little or no experience helping people with their particular goal. An IELTS teacher with a student who wants to learn business English then needs to decide whether to spend lots of time learning about business English, use generic lesson plans, or have potentially unpleasant conversations with the student about choosing another teacher. But when we’re part of a teaching community we can pass on the details of a more appropriate teacher and avoid a potentially unpleasant situation. 

For help with career development

As freelance teachers, we all know that there is so much more to our job than teaching. There’s marketing, dealing with tech problems, and creating lesson content, to name a few things. Being part of a network of teachers means that we can help people with the things we’re good at in exchange for help with what we’re not good at. 

Many teachers have ambitions to work in other aspects of the TEFL sector, like web design or creating course materials. Communicating with other teachers can help them to solidify what their target customers want, which will lead to better products and services for the rest of us. Teachers could even work together on their projects. For instance, if someone who wants to write course materials meets someone who likes drawing or graphic design then they can help each other achieve their goals.

Your Favourite Teacher

“Who was your favourite teacher at school?”  That was the one question I asked all candidates for teaching jobs when I was Head of Studies of an international language school. People turned up with all sorts of CELTAS, DELTAs and don’t-know-what-else diplomas. They had beautifully prepared CV’s, neatly laid-out and colour printed. But it was that one question – Who was your favourite teacher at school? – which informed me best. It wasn’t what they told me about their favourite teacher that mattered. It was how they told me. If their eyes lit up with enthusiasm, if they moved forward in their chair, if they displayed a need for me to see what they saw, then I knew I was in the presence of a real teacher. The best teachers are inspired by great teachers. They are evangelists. They want to run up to you, grab you by the lapels and say ‘Look at this! You’ve got to see this!’ I think the same not just about the teachers I was looking for as head of studies, but also when I am looking for a teacher to teach me something.

I was looking through the teachers who work with MyCoolClass and I was struck by how similar they are to my idea of great teachers. The common thread in all the teacher biographies is passion. But not just passion, there is also empathy – an essential quality. Teachers are experts in the art of explanation and to become an expert you need to understand what your students are experiencing. There is a colossal difference between being a virtuoso in something and being able to teach it. You will never work with MyCoolClass if all you can do is play Vivaldi’s Four Seasons perfectly – wildly impressive though that is. MyCoolClass wants to know you can teach it. Education by osmosis is not a thing. That’s why they insist on all the teachers having qualifications. You won’t find anyone on MyCoolClass who thinks being a native English speaker makes them an English teacher. That old, disproven myth is left for other platforms.

And talking of myths, online education is not limited to learning English. The teachers who make up MyCoolClass offer all sorts of learning opportunities. Kelli from California, for example, offers a two-day course about Van Gogh. You can learn all about the great artist through practical activities. Teacher Joe can teach you music through guitar, bass, violin, viola, or piano. You can start your musical adventure from as early as 4 years old. Or what about Teacher Noori who offers Business & Management, Cooking, English, and Travel & Culture. She is a one-stop academy! These are just a few of the teachers who make up MyCoolClass. They are qualified, passionate and care deeply about their students.

These teachers all have something else in common. They, along with all the other teachers, are joint owners of MyCoolClass. It’s a cooperative. There is a board of directors who will be regularly elected by all the co-op members – one member, one vote.  Many online teachers are moving to MyCoolClass because they are tired of exploitative conditions on other platforms. They are tired of working to make someone else rich. Joining MyCoolClass is simple and clearly explained on their website.

MyCoolClass is on the cusp of becoming a major player in the world of online education platforms. This will be the story of how a teachers’ cooperative took on the venture capitalists and put the emphasis back on education in the education industry.

In 2022 there will be a community share offer to give MCC the economic wherewithal to become everyone’s favourite teacher.

Get up! Stand up!

Are you sitting comfortably? Well, why not get up and do some exercises. Online teachers spend a lot of time sitting in front of a computer and it is so easy to forget that, as human beings, we are designed to move around. I can easily sit down to work at eight in the morning and not have moved until two in the afternoon. And it is killing me.

Sitting down slows down your metabolism because you are not moving your muscles. This messes with your bloodstream and reduces the effects of insulin. Over time it also causes stress in your lower back and can lead to serious injuries. Sitting down for prolonged periods of time increases your chances of heart disease by 64%!

As online teachers we should be more aware of our working conditions. We’re self-employed so we don’t have unions looking out for us. We need to look after ourselves.

When you timetable your classes, put in blocks of activity time. Making a mental note – ‘Must move more’- is not going to work. We all know that when we go down the internet rabbit hole, we’re not getting up anytime soon. Your activity time is as important as your teaching time. When your timetable says it is time to do some exercise, do it! No excuses. Set an alarm if you need to and place it far from your desk.

Even simply standing up is better than sitting down. When you are on the phone, stand up. You don’t need to be seated to use a phone. Or to have lunch for that matter. Get, or improvise, a stand-up desk so you can still teach and use a computer while you’re on your feet.

Eat healthy. That means nutritious foods, like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. People who work from home notice hunger quicker than office workers. Avoid junk food to stave off the munchies. Have healthy snacks like fruit or nuts around. Drinking water helps enormously. It stops you feeling hunger and it makes sure you get up to go to the bathroom regularly.

Disconnect! You have a life. Try to have a separate area in your home for your workspace. When the day’s work is done, leave that area. Do not be tempted to just answer a few emails or look up that fancy coffee pot on Amazon. Clock off physically and mentally. You will feel better for it.

Get out of the house. Walking is a perfect activity to reduce stress, to get the blood flowing, to check out the latest Billie Eilish album and, if you’re lucky, to meet other human beings; real ones not talking heads on a screen. There are lots of walking apps available to motivate you and it doesn’t take long to develop walking as a healthy habit.

And sleep! Sleep strengthens your immune system, improves memory, makes your heart stronger and can help you avoid putting in weight. Let MyCoolClass take care of business but you, please, take care of yourself. You’re important!

Meet the Team: Ana Vagni

Where are you from?

Argentina

 

What do you teach?

English

 

Why did you become a teacher?

I like working with young people.

 

Who do you most admire? Why?

I can’t think of a particular person at the moment, but I admire people who go after their dreams.

 

What do you do when you are not teaching?

Now that there’s a pandemic, I use the internet a lot!

 

What music / food / films / books do you like?

I like Alain de Botton’s books very much.

 

What is your ambition?

Moving to Spain

 

Tell us something important/funny/strange that has happened to you?

I got my BA in Linguistics. It wasn’t easy to find time to study, work, and look after my family.

 

What attracted you to MyCoolClass?

Their ideas about how teachers should be treated

Meet the Team: Heira Hardiyanti

Let’s meet Heira Hardiyanti, Director of Co-operative Education at MyCoolClass.

 Where are you from?

Indonesia

What do you teach?

Cooperativism, cooperative management, and community development.

Why did you become a teacher?

I think it’s genetic. Both of my parents were teachers. For me, teaching is enlightening and a legacy you can invest in your community. Teaching is investing for the future and contributing to civilization.

Who do you most admire? Why?

My Prophet and my parents. They’re my role models I strive to live up to.

What do you do when you are not teaching?

Reading, traveling, watching movies, or just cuddling with family

What music / food / films / books do you like?

I like soft-rock and pop music. I love my traditional (Indonesian) foods. I enjoy many different movie genres such as action and science fiction. I love books!  While I may not have a favorite, I have read everything by Dan Brown.

What is your ambition?

To live in peace while helping make a fairer world and healthy environment

Tell us something important/funny/strange that has happened to you?

Joining MyCoolClass is something amazing to happen in my life. You can’t even imagine!

What attracted you to MyCoolClass?

It’s a cooperative!

Anything else you’d like to tell us?

We’re the game changer. We’re the Jedi of online education!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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