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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

Meet the Team: Tawanda Chabara

So who are the movers and shakers behind MyCoolClass? We asked our Finance Director, Tawanda Chabra, to answer a few questions.

Where are you from?

South Africa

What do you teach?

Finance and Investment

Why did you become a teacher?

To help others with what I know and contribute to the inevitable change by simplifying the complex into understandable concepts.

Who do you most admire?

Gary Kasparov. He is a genius and was never shy to share knowledge. His humble approach to life inspires me.

What do you do when you are not teaching?

Writing and playing chess.

What books do you like?

Political and power books.

What is your ambition?

To become a chartered Financial Analyst and a Professor of Finance.

Tell us something important that has happened to you?

I am a Summa Cum Laude graduate and a late bloomer in my educational background. I was always average in early years but became bright and excelled in high school and college.

What attracted you to MyCoolClass?

I was looking to teach online and met the awesome team at MyCoolClass.

Anything else you’d like to tell us?

Thank you for this opportunity to present teachers with autonomy over their skills 

 

 

What’s in it for Me? – How a Teacher Cooperative can Benefit its Members

What’s in it for Me? – How a Teacher Cooperative can Benefit its Members

We all have our barometer to measure success in the workplace. Many of us are content to show up, perform our duties, and collect our wages, leaving the headaches to management. Then there are those of us who like to have some say in how things work, who want to have our hands firmly on the steering wheel. Still, there is a middle ground, where you can go about your day-to-day, without the pressures of managing a business, yet, have a say when it comes to how the business is run. If the 3rd option sounds good to you, perhaps a worker cooperative is what you’ve been looking for.

So, what exactly is a worker cooperative, and how can teachers benefit from one? Here are a few points to help you understand a teacher cooperative and why they very well may be the future of business.

 

Member Control

Cooperative members have a say in how the business is run and who runs it. Each member carries a voting share equal to any other member of the co-op. Regardless of the distribution of equity shares the co-op has issued, when it comes to voting each member holds a solitary vote. When it is time to elect a board of directors one member can’t swoop in with his or her majority stake and install their preferred candidate to ensure the profits keep rolling into their account without consideration to how the workers themselves are affected.

Of course, every detail of the company is not put to a vote. Some decisions must be made on the spot for any business to operate efficiently. It would be absurd to think that a vote should take place every time a department considered any initiative. Therefore, the board of directors is democratically selected by the members. The board can make the decisions that may be deemed beyond the capacity of a single department. This way, the needs of the members are represented without a limited number of owners or investors dismissing the needs of those that make the co-op successful to line their own pockets.

 

A Support Structure for Members

One of the 7 principles of the cooperative model is ‘’education, training and information”. This means that a cooperative has a responsibility to provide its members with adequate resources to assure members can best contribute to their cooperative, hence increasing the chance of success for the community. Whether it be information on how the cooperative operates in general or the necessary tools a member needs to be successful within the sector that the co-op does business, there is a support structure in place to help both the individual and the cooperative thrive.

 

Profits and Compensation

With a cooperative no silent investors are waiting in the wings, dictating how the company operates and hoarding surpluses to the detriment of workers. While it is possible to acquire capital from outside sources, the return on such investments is limited. The old way of slashing benefits, wages, and employees to maximize profits is left out of the equation. In a cooperative model, the money left over after business is conducted can be utilized in a manner which the cooperative community sees fit. Members can choose whether to roll that money back into the co-op to enhance the business or distribute said cash to the members as dividends. This allows said money to benefit those that earned it by putting it back into their communities, where it does the most good.

 

By Us, For Us

The work within a cooperative is performed by its members. Through collaboration on both new and existing projects members can contribute to the betterment of the co-op community. The idea is to utilize the talents and resources of the owners/members to feed the business. By limiting the use of outside contractors, costs are kept in line, and more cash flow can remain within the cooperative. Everybody wins…Except those that just wish to profit from others’ labor. Instead, that profit is returned to those that produced it.

 

These are just a few of the advantages of forming worker cooperatives. By putting the power back in the hands of those that make a business run the sky is truly the limit.

So, why have we chosen this model for MyCoolClass.com?

Shortly after starting their journeys into online teaching, co-founders John Hayes and Scott Anderson quickly realized that this industry is wrought with social injustice. Teachers are discriminated against due to where they were born, among other factors. They are penalized financially for situations that are often out of their control. The idea of any type of benefit coming from an employer is simply unheard of. No sick leave, vacation allowance, maternity leave… NOTHING. The only extra many of these online platforms offer is the fear of waking up to a message that you are no longer employed. No explanation, no recourse for teachers, nothing. Just a devastating kick to the gut, leaving capable, hardworking teachers wondering where their next paycheck will come from.

We hope that we can build this cooperative to remedy these injustices for as many teachers as possible and that others might follow our lead. We have no desire to monopolize this industry. Nothing would please us more than to find that our cooperative’s hard work set off an explosion of change in how online platforms treat their workers, benefiting not only teachers but their students and communities alike.

Read more about our vision at coop.mycoolclass.com and join the #TeacherRevolt today!

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