So far, we’ve looked at how to help your students succeed in an online environment.
And that’s important, of course.
Creating successful students is what teaching’s all about.
But there’s another side to the story here.
What about your well-being?
Starting any kind of new role is stressful, but as we’ve seen, online teaching brings special kinds of challenges.
Well, here’s some good news.
You have a unique advantage when you’re starting out as an online teacher.
It’s something you won’t experience in any other role…
No-one is watching you work.
This is really important.
And it essentially means two things.
- It’s the end of performance anxiety as we know it.
You no longer have to present yourself as a guru who responds with the right answer while the whole class watches. Now, if you don’t know how to help a student, you have time to find the answer before you reply to their email.
- You can learn the e-learning ropes in private.
This unprecedented experience of teaching privacy is also handy when you’re still finding your way around in your new role. If it takes you a couple of tries to find the right part of the LMS, or to download the right version of a student assignment, so be it.
No-one will ever know.
How fantastic is that?
It removes a huge pile of rocks from your shoulders!
But we’re not out of the woods yet…
There are still some dangerous beasts on the loose.
Even with these distinct and rather unusual advantages, it’s helpful to know about the key threats to your professional (and psychological!) safety.
Once you know what’s out there, you can make sure you don’t get carried off by a passing saber tooth tiger looking for an easy lunch.
Here’s a quick rundown of the 6 most common threats you may not see coming while you adjust to your new role.
It’s not just students who miss the immediacy of face-to-face learning – online teachers often do, too.
You can combat potential feelings of isolation by reaching out to colleagues and peers regularly.
There are plenty of online teaching forums to be found.
And I’ve personally discovered that regular emails and the occasional Skype meeting with colleagues go a long way to reminding me that I’m part of a professional network.
Support is out there – you just need to make sure you know where to find it.
Don’t wait for someone in your network to reach out, and ask how you’re doing.
Take the initiative, and email one or two trusted colleagues to set up an informal virtual support group.
When you’re new to online teaching, you want to get everything just right.
You want to exceed expectations, and make it clear how right you are for this role.
That’s perfectly understandable.
But guard against working 7 days a week to achieve unnecessarily amazing goals.
Chances are you have many more students than you’re used to, so your work habits need to reflect that.
Teaching 25 students face-to-face is entirely different from coping with 100+ demanding online learners.
By planning your workload and scheduling regular time off (no matter what!), you’re more likely to stay engaged, and keep enjoying the job.
Try these 5 practical ways to add a dash of Zen calm to a stressful working day:
3. Getting Stuck in a Time Warp
When you’re highly focused, half a day can pass, and you’re too busy to notice.
For example, let’s say it’s getting towards the end of a Monday afternoon.
You’re feeling pretty tired, but you want to “just clear your Inbox,” before calling it a day.
But by the time you look up from the screen, you find that day has become night.
Your family have started their evening without you.
Your baby woolly mammoths are howling with hunger.
You’ve been so focused on getting 1,000 things done that you haven’t noticed anything else.
Now you think about it, your shoulders are frozen in place, and you’re pretty starving yourself.
It’s vital to take regular breaks from your workload.
You don’t have to do everything in one sitting.
If you have large online classes, often it’s more efficient to ‘batch’ essays and mark a pile of them in a row so you can compare them as you go, and stay in the mind-set of a particular topic.
Personally, that’s how I do it.
I find it’s more efficient than jumping around from topic to topic, and changing mental gears all the time.
The downside of this approach, though, is that you can be faced with grading 25 essays in a row on the same topic.
You don’t expect work to be one long joy ride, but it shouldn’t bore you to tears, either.
You can counteract feelings of boredom by grading a limited amount of the same assignment, and then moving on to something else.
You could tackle, say 6 of one topic, then 6 of another.
You still make good inroads into your workload, but you give yourself some variety in the process.
Build rewards into your working day.
When you get through with grading each batch of papers, take a break and do something for yourself.
Send a personal email or two, browse your favorite website, go for a quick walk.
The workday doesn’t have to involve 10 hours without a reward.
5. Lack of feedback
By reading body language and listening to student comments, it’s soon pretty clear how well the topic is going over.
This is not the case in an online environment.
Sometimes it feels like you’re shouting into a void.
Can anyone hear you? Anyone?
Believe me, they can.
You just have to know how to listen for confirmation that your message has been received.
That confirmation comes from:
- student emails
- comments in discussion forums, and
- covering notes students include with assignment submissions.
Positive feedback on your teaching also comes from quality student work which clearly demonstrates that yes, your students are engaging with the course, taking your feedback on board, and making good progress.
Towards the end of a hectic semester (and sometimes much earlier), you may be knocked sideways by a wave of exhaustion.
Suddenly everything looks too hard.
If you have to explain that the assignment instructions are under the Assignments tab in the LMS one more time, you will have a nervous breakdown.
You’re beginning to wonder if this online teaching gig was a good idea.
It was, actually.
But you’re displaying the first symptoms of burnout.
Just like a sore throat means a cold is surely coming your way, feelings of overwhelm tell you that down-time has just become an urgent requirement.
Because the advantages of online teaching are truly fantastic.
You have flexible hours, autonomy, professional satisfaction, the chance to teach a subject you’re passionate about… oh, and you don’t even have to wear ‘professional’ clothes to do it.
You don’t want to lose this wonderful opportunity because you’re too burned out to carry on.
So when the tell-tale signs of burnout start to appear, the best thing you can do is take a step back.
A couple of days away from the computer will work miracles.
(And, yes that means a total break from checking work email. You’ll be amazed to find that the world is still turning when you get back into your Inbox.)
After a weekend away, the benefits of your amazing online teaching job will come sharply back into focus.
And then you can turn on your computer with a smile rather than a sigh.
Get an instant dose of inspiration with these uplifting quotes about teaching and education:
Well done on making it through this crash course in online teaching survival skills.
You now know what it takes to survive – and even thrive – in the wilds of e-learning territory.
Armed with your new knowledge (and your favorite spear), you’re now ready to make the role your own.
The best of luck to you!