Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Teaching on Outschool: 90 Days In

Today marks ninety days since I started teaching on Outschool. I thought I'd make a little post to tell you what it has been like for me!

I first discovered Outschool in February while I was desperately sick for the umpteenth time this school year. I worked in a brick and mortar school, and I just got SO SICK ALL THE TIME. While I laid in misery on my couch I googled "teach from home" and that's how I discovered Outschool. It was hard to imagine leaving my students, but at age 40, I'm not honestly sure how many more times my weakened immune system will tolerate pneumonia and flu. I began to think, when I feel better... Maybe... Maybe...

Then, life as we all know it, ended.

I was in the throes of a fever when the auto call came to my phone from my district that school would be closing. Since I was already out with pneumonia, I got no chance to say goodbye to my students. My job vanished, just like that.

Soooo... I guess I'm definitely applying for Outschool, right? It was a truly scary time, made worse by my own serious illness. But, I got better, I applied, I was approved to teach. I spent several weeks brainstorming, figuring out what to teach, creating materials for my courses, etc. And then... I started.

This experience has utterly surpassed my expectations in every imaginable way. Both as a teacher and as a parent who now enrolls my own kids on Outschool. In fact, I am planning on removing my own children from public school this school year for homeschooling, and the availability for THEM to use Outschool is a big factor in why I feel comfortable doing that. 

Lets talk about what class is like... One thing I was skeptical about was whether you could really make genuine connections with students in this format. I wondered if it would feel impersonal and mechanical. But, I'll tell you, even from my very first class where I fumbled a bit with the technology, it is VERY personal. These kids are an absolute joy to be with. And it is kids from all over the world. They are fun, love learning. Quarantine is such an unusual time for all of us, and these kids seem to be looking for a way to escape and dive into something that they enjoy learning about. 

The parents as well have been astoundingly welcoming. They are almost as much fun to talk to as their kids! Parents are allowed to leave reviews after each class and I'll tell you, for about the first month I cried EVERY DAY over the sweetness of reviews people leave me. I had never, ever, ever, in my life, had people so lovingly accept and welcome me. I truly DID NOT know what that was like. It was very emotional. 

In 90 days I have taught almost 200 classes and have served almost 1100 children. Many of these kids sign up for more classes and I've enjoyed the absolute privilege of getting to develop lasting bonds and relationships with them, a real chance to help foster a love of books and art in these kids. I believe that books and art can bring a creative spirit joy for their whole lives, so when I meet children who love those things, I want to foster that. Parents thank me for this; and it amazes me because I'm definitely the one who owes them thanks for the honor of sharing this with these kids. 

Some highlights: when real life friends separated by quarantine take my classes to spend time together... I've been moved to tears numerous times on this. 

I love to give out extra materials for students after class that they can print off and enjoy on their own time. So, often I'll get a student from a previous class who will show me my own printables that they've printed off and colored or used! That is really exciting. 

Sometimes students will teach their parents the art that I teach them and they show me their parents' art. THAT'S FUN!!! (Also thank you parents, for doing that with your kiddos!!!) 

I had a student design a drawing tutorial and she sent it to me and I got to do HER tutorial. 

Sometimes students come to my classes to celebrate their BIRTHDAYS!!! Talk about an honor, that they pick drawing with me for that. (FYI, if you let me know in advance it will be your child's birthday, I'll have an extra treat ready.)

It's so fun and exciting to me to have children from all over the globe gathered together in one small class where we can spend a little time getting to know one another. 

I had so many students ask me for more ways to draw with me and ask me to start a YouTube channel that I did that! Now they come and show me the art they completed from my YouTube channel and it just makes my heart so happy.

My most most most favorite thing that I absolutely can't wait for every single day is when students add more to their work after class and the parents send me pics of their art later. With parent permission, I post their artworks on my Instagram and Facebook, and I have to tell you, my timelines have turned into these epic, glorious art galleries of amazing folk and kawaii art from my students. Of all the various things I've done online with selling my own art, publishing, etc., I have never been more proud of my social media "doings" than I am now where all this great art is displayed. And parents and students have been sticking around and engaging with the art, so it's becoming this wonderful community. 

In terms of "employment" and why I like it, I have to say it is very fun to me to get to employ my own creativity in creating classes. Outschool is just this incredible array of anything under the sun that you can think of to want to learn about. I have never really felt like I have fit in anywhere in life; but on Outschool, I fit. My creativity and my ideas are welcomed and they work here. My imagination is ignited, and it makes it very easy for me to pass that positive energy onto my students. 

To give you a full picture though, I'll describe the drawbacks. Really, my "complaints" are so small that they are hardly blips on the radar. Tech support can be a little lacking. However, they have been transparent the whole time that when schools closed, their business exploded and I feel that they put forth due diligence to scramble to keep up. It's MUCH better now if you need tech support than when I started. 

I wasn't a fan of the associated Outschool Facebook group they ask you to join when you're approved. There is a certain toxic element there at times, but it's Facebook, so who doesn't expect that? It's not mandatory, so once I was up and running I just left the group and it's no big deal.

Just like any workplace, especially a school, you can't please everybody. Not every student will enjoy your teaching style. That's OK! As teachers, we want to please everybody, and we want to impact every student, but that's not reality. But, I will say this, even students and parents who didn't love the class were STILL warm and kind to me, so THAT is quite unusual in this world right? The whole community there in my experience has been just NICE people. 

The one thing about Outschool that was tough to swallow at first was copy cats. Now, every school in the world has more than one teacher who teaches a subject; that's a given. In fact, it would be impossible for only one teacher in a subject to accommodate all the kids, so that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about people can sign up for your class as a child, not attend, and then look at the video afterwards to find out EXACTLY how you teach, gain access to your materials, and emulate you. I'm talking about people with absolutely no experience teaching or with children, no idea what to do or how to do it, so instead of learning for themselves, or gaining the experience or education that I have worked for 20 years to earn, they just pirate my imagination. I have a copycat on Outschool who has almost exactly replicated MY original artwork and changes her listings just enough to not be able to be accused of a direct copy and paste. She even basically took my own personal motto. 

The thing is, Outschool is a marketplace in this respect so they will do little to nothing about this. Especially if the person is sneaky enough to change a few words or add one thing that is different. As a professional artist and illustrator who has had my work stolen RELENTLESSLY, I was not OK with this. I almost left the platform. My soul is weary of other people stealing my work because they can't be bothered to put in the work themselves. But, you know what, the imagination is mine. The new ideas are mine. My personality and "way" are mine, and nobody will be able to exactly copy it, nor will copying work forever. Their resources will run dry before my imagination does, so I decided to not let this one sour spot ruin a VERY positive experience for me.

So that's it, in a nutshell. If you are thinking of teaching on Outschool and have questions, feel free to send me a message on the contact me box, or you can find me on Outschool and send me a message there! If you're interested in signing up, I'd love it if you use my referral link which is here