This is the last of a four-part series on Teaching Online as a “retirement job.” This series hopes to provide accurate information on pursuing that job of online instructor. If you haven’t been reading, catch up here!
- Part One: “I’ll Retire and Teach Online!”
- Part Two: A Day in the Life of the Online Professor
- Part Three: Teaching Online: Education and Equipment
In the final installment of this series, we will look at how to actually get that online teaching job. It isn’t easy, but it is possible!
You want to spend at least some of your retirement years teaching online. You have the equipment, the education, the internet connection, and the computer savvy to pull it off. Now, getting that first job.
First we need to look at the job outlook for post-secondary teachers in general for the foreseeable future. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are currently 1.3 million post-secondary teaching jobs in the United States. This number will grow by 13% in the next ten years, adding 177,000 new jobs. (See the BLS report here) Since the trend for college students is to seek out online courses where available, the need for instructors in these online courses will continue to increase. (The BLS does not have numbers to track online instructors.)
So jobs will be out there – so how do you find them and eventually get hired? There are many strategies for landing that online teaching job, but success depends on a lot of variables.
Starting local is the best way to get started. If you have a college or university in town, go there and inquire about available jobs, both online and in the classroom. The idea is to get your foot in the door – quite literally. If you can, apply to be an adjunct instructor – a part time, as needed teaching position. A few colleges keep adjuncts on call to come in and substitute for regular instructors who get sick or injured, so make yourself available for that kind of work, too. The process for hiring new adjuncts is pretty involved, including a long application, interviews, background investigations, fingerprints, forms signed, and what seems to be a never-ending process. When complete, you are added to the rolls as an adjunct instructor, ready to respond at a moment’s notice.
Once on the payroll, take advantage of whatever training classes the college offers. If you want to teach online, there is normally a training regimen that you must complete to learn the Learning Management System (LMS), college policies and procedures, software packages, and other things deemed important by the institution. Take whatever you can, even though there is no pay involved. Building skills, knowledge and abilities are what is important. And document the training that you take – important for the next application for the next job.
Based on your background and qualifications, you will be assigned to a subdivision of the university or college, such as the English Department, Math Department, College of Business, etc. Make yourself available to the person scheduling courses, but strike a balance – be available, but don’t be a pest. Colleges normally schedule their instructors well in advance, as much as six months in advance. So you will definitely learn to be patient. I teach in Daytona State College’s Criminal Justice degree program, and my courses are already scheduled and assigned through the end of 2016. They were scheduled and assigned in February.
While you are there, find out if your college provides continuing education classes in your field. This is especially true for healthcare and business. Talk to those in charge and see if there is a place for you to design and present relevant topics in their format – one-day, half-day, etc. seminars in everything from effective marketing to holistic medicine to legal updates are popular in some markets. The bottom line here is to get teaching something – anything. And remember that if you are in front of the classroom, you’re making money.
You may not be comfortable with live lecture-style teaching in the classroom, so this method of stand-up teaching to get you in the door may not be appealing to you. If so, you will find that getting that adjunct job directly to the online market may be much more difficult.
Make friends with current online instructors and see if you can shadow classes online to see how it’s done. There may be technology barriers in place that effectively prevent this, but give it a try – kind of an “internship” situation.
If you have the skills, you could volunteer to develop an existing lecture course into an online course. This is not an easy task and requires special skills, knowledge and abilities. Some schools will pay you to do this, while others assign the new class to you for a period of time – normally a year – as compensation for developing it. Whichever is the case, this is a great opportunity to cement your position as a skilled online instructor. However, unless you have the skills, don’t volunteer to develop a course – it could turn out to be a disaster.
Your local institution can provide some valuable insights into the hiring process, and it can also add college instructor to your resume – important when trying to get the next part-time job.
If getting that teaching job locally is a task, then getting hired by distance is even more difficult. While some schools will interview via Skype, more will hire without ever seeing you face to face. The closest you will get is a phone interview.
With this in mind, your application and other paper representations are what will earn you an adjunct position at distance. Your resume or Curriculum Vitae must be in top shape, current, and easy to read, assembled to contemporary standards. The application you fill out will probably be online, so everything must be in perfect order, with no “unknown” abbreviations, typos or misspellings.
Many schools have you send a writing sample, normally expressing your feelings on the teaching of college students, your teaching philosophy, or other topic. The reason for this writing sample is to 1) see how well you can express yourself in writing and 2) get some feedback on topics that are important to the institution. When you complete this task, make sure that you have followed the instructions carefully and have done exactly what was requested. Make sure you submit these things as requested in the requested software, format and to the proper email address.
While not every school asks for it, include a nice cover letter with all your contact information, thanking the school for taking your application and quickly outlining your qualifications. They can get the specifics from the resume, but the cover letter gets them interested in you. This is also the place they go to find out how best to get in touch with you – make it easy for them.
As with your local school, the distance employer will have certain hoops to jump through, including learning the LMS, school policies, etc. Be gracious, keep good notes and make a list of names, titles, functions, phone numbers and email addressed for everyone with whom you come in contact – good for later when you have a question or issue. Again, scheduling is months and months in advance, so it may be a little while before you are chosen to teach. Find out what their scheduling policies are, and emails to the right people reminding them of who you are – and that you are ready to teach – is important.
We have said this before, but it is worth saying again – you will probably not earn a full-time online teaching job right away. Many House Spouse online teachers find that once they land that first adjunct, part-time job, others can come along, and they end up teaching for several institutions part-time at the same time. I have had part-time employment with as many as five institutions at the same time with overlapping schedules and requirements. (Keeping each of them separate, remembering the rules and requirements for each, and properly applying these procedures can be a challenge in itself.) Multiple adjunct positions can turn into more than a full-time job itself, so be careful what you wish for!
College courses online can be as short as four weeks or as long as fifteen weeks. Most are six to eight weeks long, though. Classes are normally arranged in modules or lessons, one or two weeks long, with activities focused on a single topic area. (See Part Two: A Day in the Life of the Online Professor)
Instructors are compensated in a variety of ways. Here are some examples:
- Instructors are paid by the head count of students – so many dollars per student. Example, $90 per student, so a class of 20 will pay $1,800.
- Instructors are paid by the course – so many dollars per course. Example, $2,500 for the course.
- Instructors are paid by the class plus a bonus over a certain number of students. Example, the course pays $2500 for the first twenty students, then $75 per student over that. A course with thirty student would pay $2500 plus $750, or $3250.
- As a part-time job, this can add a couple of bucks to your retirement fund. If you work for only one institution, you can expect anywhere from three to seven six-week courses for the year. Three courses grosses $7,500, seven can gross $17,500 for the year. (If you are taking or plan to take early social security, you can teach online and still stay below the maximum annual earnings level. Check SSA.gov for more information.)
Instructors are normally paid more for higher level courses than lower level courses, but this is not always true. Master’s courses can pay higher than Associate’s level courses. Some will raise compensation regarding the education level of the instructor – a Ph.D. will be paid more than a Master’s instructor for the same course. Some schools have negotiable pay scales, others do not.
Most schools use a three term year for their schedule – Spring, Summer and Fall. Each term is fifteen to sixteen weeks with the major semesters being Spring and Fall. Know this – Summer term is the “slow time” when enrollment is down, so you may not teach at all during the summer – May to August. That means no teaching, no pay. Also, most schools close for several weeks at the end of the year for the holidays, meaning that Fall classes end at the beginning of December and don’t resume until the middle of January. You get your last paycheck for fall term classes around December 15 and won’t see anything more in your bank account until the end of January after the spring term startsfor a.
Finally, be prepared to dedicate eight to twelve hours a week to each class you are teaching online – and make that figure higher at first as you learn the ropes. If you take on five classes at once, you are back to working full time.
And yes – you can teach in your pajamas if you like.
So What About Full Time? With Benefits?
Only after you have taught as an adjunct for a while will a school offer a full-time job – at least in most cases. Do a good job, work hard with your students, get good reviews, and the leadership will see value in you and your work. The offer of a full-time position may then be in the cards. Full time work may be in the form of a coordinator, a course leader, or one of many other positions that have been invented to solve issues with online presentation.
Minimal benefits may be offered, but modified for online instruction. Healthcare coverage may be offered, along with contribution to a retirement account of some description. There is normally no vacation or sick time in the benefits package.
So, you want to retire and teach online to make a few extra bucks? Yes, you can, but it takes a lot of preparation and a lot of perseverance to pull it off. If you planning to retire at a certain age, start your preparation as described in this series a year or more in advance. Apply at many schools, get your paperwork in order, do a lot of research to choose the right fit for you, and shore up your equipment on your desk. Get the preparation right and the transition will be a lot less painful.
It is best to start this journey before you retire – even start teaching before you check out from your full time job. Online teaching isn’t for everyone, so trying it out is a good idea. Better yet, TAKE an online class from your local college or University to see it from the student’s side of the screen.
Good luck in your pursuits, wherever they may take you.
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