This is likely to be the most personal blog I will ever write for this site.
I began teaching online in January 2020. When COVID happened, the platform on which I was teaching blew up (almost literally) overnight. I had meant for teaching to be a fun side project, but when kids had to leave school or receive a subpar education while schools scrambled to adjust, my conscience pulled at me to teach full-time.
That’s how I make most of my life decisions; I listen to my conscience and hope things work out.
At the time, I was a freelance grant writer (already part of the gig economy) for a local nonprofit–and I had six months left on my contract. The conversation that followed was one of the most difficult professional conversations I have ever had. I had (somewhat accidentally) trained my replacement, and I assured them that I would be available for phone calls and questions, but I needed to leave; I needed to teach.
In 2020, I helped another nonprofit, but my focus was on teaching. After some successful reading classes, a parent suggested that I teach a semester-long English language arts (ELA) class, and things exploded from there. Suddenly, I had found my niche: middle grade ELA.
And a new career was born.
Part 1: May to December 2020
Teaching online was rewarding (just as in-person teaching had been), but it was hard. Really hard. In an effort to maximize my income while keeping classes small, I had overscheduled myself. In Fall 2020, I taught between 38 and 49 classes each week, most of them 50 or 75 minutes each.
By November, I was working 90-hour weeks–and being verbally abused by parents.
The US elections were tense, and tempers were high all year, but I received more borderline-abusive emails from families in early November than I ever had before (or since). Suddenly, I wasn’t organized enough, I wasn’t grading fast enough, and I was assigning too much homework. Nothing I did was right.
I’m a fairly mellow person, and I stay in control of my emotions, so my responses were often “I’m sorry you feel that way,” or “I understand your concern,” or “that wasn’t my intention.” That lack of aggression just made people angrier, and a handful of parents stopped sending their kids to class.
By mid-November, I was sobbing at 3 AM thinking, “I’ve made an enormous mistake.”
People wiser than me assured me that this was part of being a first-year teacher. Creating my own curriculum, grading, teaching, answering emails, reading books, and everything else was overwhelming, but not impossible.
And they were right. I pushed through the last three weeks and vowed to never again overschedule myself.
In 2020, I taught 1,174 lessons to 489 learners. And yet, my take home pay was less than $28,000. Nearly $12,000 had been taken by the platform in commissions.
But that was fine with me; they treated their teachers well, and I realized that was the “cost of doing business”. I felt heard and supported, and 30% of my income seemed a small price to pay for a positive working environment.
Part 2: 2021
I kept my promise (more or less) to not overschedule myself. In spring, I taught roughly 35 classes each week, and by fall, I had that number to 29. I had budgeted in planning (honestly, sometimes napping) time, and I started classes later some days. Every semester, I tweaked my schedule a bit, and I found my groove.
Summer was a reality check, however. I had very few enrollments in May, and it wasn’t much better in June or July. In fact, between May and July, I earned less than $3,000–and that was including private tutoring students.
COVID restrictions had started to relax in summer 2021, and everyone wanted to go outside. I didn’t blame them, but I hadn’t planned for that either. Nevertheless, it gave me time to plan for the fall semester and sleep well.
In August, I started fall classes, and despite the fear of “everyone sending their kids back to school,” I was able to teach another group of students. Overall, I was relatively happy.
However, I had noticed a change on the platform. The staff weren’t quite as friendly. The requirements for submission of courses were much more rigid. I created specific wording in my descriptions just to persuade the staff that I was worthy to teach a class. Some of my classes required such significant changes that I gave up the idea of teaching them.
Additionally, when I contacted support to ask a simple question on behalf of a parent, they read through my conversations with the parent. When I told them about a significant international issue, they needed the learner’s information. (Also, a global platform should have already been aware of that volatile situation.)
More and more, I felt less supported and heard, so when I paid nearly $14,000 in commissions, I was doubting if it was worth it.
Was that really the cost of doing business?
Part 3: January and February 2022
I began thinking about an exit strategy. The rules about communication were rigid; I wasn’t allowed to direct families to a different site nor share my email address. All communication was required to stay on the platform.
For the record, I primarily agree with this idea. All teachers should be careful of providing too much personal information to families, especially new families. Keep yourself and your students safe!
Nevertheless, I resented being told what I–an independent contractor–could and could not do with the learners whom I taught for months and sometimes years! If their parents felt comfortable sending me an email, I felt that they should be given the opportunity.
When my friend suggested I use social media, I was skeptical. I have never liked social media, and I wiped all of my accounts several years ago. However, my friend was right; if I directed families to my social media profiles, I could announce my move–whenever that happened–without violating any rules. Plus, in the meantime, I could use it for marketing.
To be safe, I read through help articles regarding social media, and I found a flaw in my plan: I was not allowed to direct families to a social media platform–even that of my own business. I considered that this might be a safety issue, and that the platform didn’t want social media links posted in the classroom. That I understood. But to not be able to directly message parents without students’ access? That seemed strange.
So I checked.
I sent a message to support staff on Friday, and the staff member wasn’t sure how to respond. He forwarded the message to another member, and I received an email that Sunday morning, which read in part: “We do not authorize any promotion of personal websites/social media anywhere on the…platform. Class listings, teacher profiles, classrooms, and private messages should be free of any links/information that will lead users away from our platform. You can however create your social media accounts and direct traffic from there to your … profile.”
I honestly couldn’t believe the response. I had expected an excuse about safety, if they were going to object at all, but I had not expected them to admit they simply didn’t want users led from the platform.
I chose my words in my reply very carefully, but I made it clear that this would affect my future teaching business decisions.
I mentioned earlier that I keep my emotions in balance most of the time, but I was furious at this news. I was on my way to meet my friend (the same friend that gave me the idea in the first place), and I texted them to let them know what had happened.
I stewed for nearly half an hour, grumbling under my breath. However, I am a solution-focused person, and I started thinking of alternatives. Honestly, $14,000 seemed like a decent advertising budget, and there were other platforms potentially available. By the time I met my friend, we were talking more about solutions than we were about the problem.
When I arrived home, I began searching for alternatives. In January 2020, I had not found any legitimate alternatives, but COVID had changed that. Several platforms were available for different subjects and age groups, and each had a different fee structure. I spent a few hours looking through the options, and I landed on MyCoolClass.
After looking around the site, reading the business plan, and watching uploaded videos, I sent a message and received an instant, warm response. “Okay,” I thought, “this might be it.”
Obviously realizing my annoyance, the platform followed up on Monday in a new email that stated it really was a safety concern. “To ensure that all users have a high-quality, safe, and positive experience… [we] need to have visibility into those communications…. [Without] visibility into the conversations where parents and teachers communicate via texting, Facebook, or personal emailing, [we] would be unable to help. When parents find you through other means or official Facebook groups… teachers need to give parents the class links, or your teacher profile, and move conversations onto the… platform.”
I simply thanked the staff member and wished her a good week. There was no point in any other response.
After all, I was updating my resume and preparing to apply to MyCoolClass.
Part 4: March to May 2022
My application was approved fairly quickly, and I was incredibly excited to start. I completed the training, updated my profile, and attended my first Monthly Meetup.
I cannot express the relief that washed over me during the first Meetup. I felt like the walls had been closing in on me, and suddenly someone provided a door. It reminded me of when I first started online teaching, except MyCoolClass was even kinder and more personal. There were discussions about how to help Ukrainian teachers and students and sharing MCC’s long-term goals with complete transparency.
There have been three moments in my life, in which I arrived at a place and felt like I was home: once on a trip in my teen years, once when I started a new job in my mid-20s, and once when I joined a coworking space the following year. “I want to live here. I want to help these people. I want to be a part of this community.” Those were my thoughts, respectively.
I had that same feeling in that first meeting. “I want to help build this.”
Typically, this would be the part of the story in which the author would say, “And the rest is history!”
Sure, MyCoolClass was new and exciting, but I’m an adult, not a kid in a toy store. I cannot drop everything simply because I find something cool. I needed a plan, and I needed to be careful.
For two months, I transferred only students with whom I had outside communication. Families consistently pestered me about when I would be setting up my summer (and fall!) classes for registration, and I dodged most of the questions with vague answers. In two cases, I made the calculated risk of giving my email address to a family. I slowly started deleting classes from my offered list. I sent a list of summer classes to parents.
My friends celebrated every achievement. “They accepted your application! You went to a meeting! You transferred another student!” (They did act like the kid in the toy store.) Usually, my response was more reserved. I was planning to walk away from one of the largest platforms in the world to quite possibly the youngest platform. I had barely marketed myself on my current site and knew that I would need to do more on MyCoolClass.
Although I suspected and hoped many families would come with me, I knew that platform loyalty existed, and that I might be starting over.
“It would be almost impossible for you to do worse than last summer,” I reminded myself, but that felt like a very low bar.
By late-March, my friend was reassuring and encouraging me in an effort to stifle my panic attacks from the “What if” questions constantly rattling in my brain. “What if…I couldn’t convince families to follow me? What if…I couldn’t sell enough classes? What if…I couldn’t market myself correctly? What if… What if… What if…?”
But remember how I make most of my life decisions: listening to my conscience and hoping things work out. Finding my next career opportunity while being furious after an email earlier that day? Yeah, that seems like a very “me” way to live.
The “I want to help build this” sentiment never left, and neither did the feeling of breathing fresh air after near suffocation. With every interaction, email, and meeting, I simply loved MyCoolClass more.
Nearly every semester class I taught ended on the last Thursday and Friday of April, but I had four more classes between Sunday and Tuesday, and I debated when to break the news. I decided to take a calculated risk and announce my departure on Friday.
I posted my email and Twitter handle in the classroom, and I messaged the information to individual families.
Part 5: The Present
Between the Monday of my final week of classes and the Wednesday following them, my resting heart rate dropped 10 beats per minute. The wave of relief I felt when I hit the “Post” button and told families that I was leaving is indescribable.
I finished my last class on Tuesday; my dashboard reads “You don’t have any upcoming classes.” I should be terrified, yet joy is my primary emotion.
I have lost a couple of students who remain loyal to the platform (for now), and I will miss them. However, many parents did email me–even those with whom I hadn’t spoken in over a year. It appears that most of my long-term parents will follow where I lead.
And I’m glad I could lead them to MyCoolClass.
Am I 100% certain that I will be as successful on MyCoolClass as I was on the other platform? No. Life is full of uncertainty, and, as COVID has taught us, anything can happen. However, there is no way that I would have gambled my entire livelihood on MyCoolClass if I didn’t believe it was the right choice.
I know MyCoolClass is the right choice for me.
I trust MyCoolClass is the right choice for my students.
I believe MyCoolClass is the right choice for investors.
And I have faith that MyCoolClass will change the future of online education.
If you are an online teacher and want to join MyCoolClass, apply today!