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A woman types on a laptop computer while holding a cup of coffee with her other hand.
Photo via Unsplash

Being an online teacher is a roller-coaster ride. It can feel lonely at times and it can be difficult to gauge your own success.

So, when one of my colleagues emailed me to comment on my work and asked for recommendations, I was astonished. When working online, it’s easy to think no one notices what you do. That colleague inspired me to share my recommendations for an online teacher:

I set one new big goal each year. My first year of online teaching, my goal was just to adapt. My second year, my goal was to get my time management down. I worked on a bunch of different ways until I finally found one that stuck. (Finally, what worked for me was creating a daily checklist template to ensure I completed everything). That year, I focused mainly on that one goal. When I realized I had accomplished it, I set a new goal. Last year, my one big goal was teacher branding. I read up on it (I recommend reading BrandED by Eric Sheninger) and focused mainly on that.

All last year, I kept a list on my phone titled "Ideas for Next Year" and as things went badly throughout the year, or I thought to myself "I wish I had done this instead..." I wrote it on the list. When it was time to return to work, I just started going down the list and working on each item.

I attend webinars and take online courses. Not about teaching, although that would be clever. No, I take courses about topics I love like social media & photography. I do this for two reasons: 1) to find a way to disconnect and 2) to get ideas. I see what those online teachers are doing and what I like and don't like from the perspective of a student. For example: While taking an online course, I missed the deadline for an assignment and the school sent me an email with a graphic saying it's not too late. I loved that, I learned that as a student, I responded to visuals in my inbox. So, I figured out how I could do it too (this was years ago, by now we’ve all figured this out.)

I make time for creativity. This is probably the most important thing in my life. Grading, lonely office hours, responding to emails, it can get a little monotonous and boring! I am the kind of person that needs to create. That’s why when I'm feeling down and overwhelmed I switch tasks and create something. Even if it's just turning a simple PowerPoint into something prettier. For example, earlier this year my grading queue seemed impossible, I thought I'd never clear it. I was so frustrated. So, I created "cutesy" templates for student feedback, changed the font color, even recorded voice notes for students. Believe it or not, it worked, I enjoyed the grading!

I figure things out. What I mean is, when I have an idea. I don't think, "that's too difficult, it sounds nice, but it can't be done." Instead, I start researching until I figure it out. When I wanted to do virtual backgrounds for my live sessions. I researched. I tried many things. I tried butcher paper, plastic table cloths, regular fabric, etc. Until finally, one worked. Then, I made my husband build me a PVC pipe mount. It sounds crazy - but I love my virtual backgrounds, and I know my students do too. If I would've quit thinking it's too hard, I wouldn't have that.

I am not afraid to work alone. I know how that sounds but trust me, sometimes you have to. It’s not because I don't want to be collaborative but because people are busy, live too far, or have their comfort zones with other teachers. I would love to be able to work on a team - and have many times. But moments when it hasn't worked out for me, I don't let that dissuade me from a big idea. I just put on some Netflix in the background and get to work. If and when a co-worker reaches out to work together, I'm all in. But I don't wait for that. I get my own momentum going first.

That said, I know that when teachers work together, magic happens. To think, it took a simple email from a colleague for me to write this. For inspiration, think about the bouts of adrenaline you’ll have at the peak of this rollercoaster ride as you prepare for this new school year.


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