It is frequently mentioned that people in education are not interested in asking classroom teachers to do things in education. Sometimes this is stupid. Sometimes it makes sense.
Here’s the question: suppose you want to try to do it. You want to do valuable work that reaches beyond your classroom, and you want to get paid doing it. What kind of opportunities can you reasonably expect to find, as a classroom teacher?
I feel like this is the sort of thing I would’ve liked reading about when I was starting out. I will share what I have seen.
OK first let’s point out that the question is in a sense ridiculous, because how on Earth can you find the energy to have a second job besides for the classroom work? And I think there’s an obvious thing that people don’t always talk about but let’s say it: some teaching jobs are MUCH more stressful than others. It’s much harder to have a side gig in education when work life is emotionally taxing.
The first school that I taught at was a draining place to be at. Terrible boss, pressure to cover material for state tests, unhappy colleagues, a few lovely people who simply didn’t teach kids stuff, kids who destroyed the classroom computers, walls and windows were trashed, there was once a bottle of pee in the hallway that created a minor kerfuffle, I once caught a teacher trying to steal a laptop, I got a Michael Scott-style hazing on my way out from my principal, I was there three years, it was weird.
During those years I did manage to start writing, speaking, and trying to find myself in the larger world of education. I can’t imagine doing that plus working there plus dealing with little kids at home, which is my life now.
The school that I’m at now is an extremely lovely place. Any classroom work puts you in contact with stressful situations, that’s just the name of the game. But I feel very happy at the place I’m at now (I’ve been there six years) and that has allowed me to handle parenting plus whatever stuff I’ve been able to do on the side.
OK, but what are the actual things that you might be able to do in education from a classroom stance, and even get paid for them? Here are some “yes”s and some “no”s, in the order that I think of them.
Part-time Curriculum Work – Yes. I know a lot of people who have done this in one form or another, and I have done this. Sometimes there are local organizations that want to hire teachers. A lot of the very-online teachers (myself included) have been able to leverage their online profile into work creating lessons or activities or lesson guides.
I wouldn’t know how to actively pursue this work, though. Like I don’t know where you’d apply to get a job writing curriculum. The opportunities I’ve known of seem spotty — never know when it’ll open up — and I’ve only known teachers who have connected with paid curriculum work through their various networks. I’m sure there are other ways to get connected to this kind of work, but I don’t know how.
Research – Mostly no, you can’t be a researcher who gets paid to do research as a classroom teacher. In fact, no, you can’t be a researcher who gets anything published as “research” as a classroom teacher. There are a few exceptions, but they prove the rule. Magdalene Lampert was a researcher already when she was a teacher-researcher. There are PhDs who continue to publish here and there after they return to the classroom. But if you want to be a researcher (especially one who gets paid in any form) there is only one path towards that and it goes through grad school.
Now…I have gotten paid here and there for things that are kinda research. So I once got paid to read a lot of papers and summarize them. (That was a lot of fun. Someone should pay me to do that again.) And another time I got paid to design something — that only worked because the research team I was working with just wanted me to design something and write about it. And I’ve done little paid research-assistant things here and there.
Every opportunity that I’ve had here has been 100% a consequence of my being a very-online math teacher. People knew and liked what I had shared online, and they thought I could do a good job — I am sure in some cases they liked the idea that they could pay me less than they could pay someone with a real background.
PD – Yes. You can do this part-time, and you can also transition into doing this full-time. This is an extremely well-worn pathway that I’ve seen classroom teachers take. One way of getting started here seems to be getting a coaching position in your school or district. That will get you in a lot of PD-offering situations, it seems to me. Or you can become a technology specialist for your school or district. TOSAs seem to often move in this direction.
The other thing is to try to leverage conference appearances into some sort of PD gig. That seems tougher to me at the national level unless you make a big impression in your talks. Maybe if you’re speaking locally, someone will ask you if you’ll run PD for their teachers?
I once taught a mini-course at Math for America, but that was weird because I got involved more through my blogging than any speaking. (I’d do it again, though!)
Keynoting/Paid Speaking Gigs – I know of one or two classroom teachers that get paid speaking gigs. I certainly never have done anything like this.
The tricky thing is that to get a paid keynote or speaking gig, you need to have an independent profile that would make someone aware that your perspective is unique and interesting. That immediately raises the question as to how you’d pull this off, how do you become so visible?
You can try becoming highly-visible online, though I think it’s tougher now if you’re starting out than it was in 2005-2010, that’s just my impression.
You can become a highly-regarded teacher, win a lot of impressive awards, basically just impress lots of people.
Other than that, I don’t know.
Teacher education – I have no idea how, but I know a couple of people who have become adjuncts and taught teacher education classes. This is apparently a thing that is possible to aspire to as a classroom teacher, but I couldn’t tell you how you get such a gig.
Writing books – There are some teachers who have done this, yes. Though I have trouble thinking of many of them off the top of my head. Book-writing in education is more or less like PD, since the books are usually textual PD.
If it’s textual PD that you’d like to write, teaching is a hard way to gather material for a book. It just is. It’s easier to generate material for a PD book when you’re regularly doing PD, or in charge of figuring out what your message is for a group of teachers. If your goal is to write this kind of book, I think the best thing to do is to find chances to do PD with teachers, or try to do some teacher training.
Other than that, there’s no law that says teachers can’t write general interest books. But that’s taking us beyond the world of education and beyond the purview of this post.
Writing articles – I know a couple people who freelance while teaching, and you can do this too. It’s just that writing is hard, is all.
One thing that doesn’t work, I don’t think, is trying to use your classroom perspective as an advantage. Unless you have a kvetchy op-ed about kids these days, I don’t know who will publish what you’re saying purely on the strength of your classroom vantage. If you want to write something about education, you need to borrow some other vantage, or find a way to artfully supplement your own perspective. Reading is good — history, research, math, these are all good.
Tutor – YES, everyone tutors. Well, I don’t any more because I stopped enjoying it and took on extra responsibilities at school, but this must be the #1 thing you’re qualified to do as someone who teaches a lot of people at once — teach one person at a time also.
Social Media Influencer – Yes, ew.
Sell your lessons online – Yes, clearly, but mostly ew.
That’s all I can think of. Have I forgotten anything?