By Joanna Malefaki
I have been teaching online for more than 3 years and now I am a full time online teacher. When I started off, I thought my biggest challenges would be how to deal with tech issues or how to turn a Word document into a Pdf file. In fact, when you read about challenges of teaching online, you usually read about how hard it is to find students, how there may be technology problems, how difficult it is to start, and so on. I know about this because in the beginning, those were the “obstacles” I had to overcome. But those, in my opinion, are not the biggest challenges of teaching online. For me, the difficulties go beyond work and actually affect me as a person.
Rarely do you read about a different sort of problems a teacher may have when teaching online: challenges of being on your own, working from home, or how easy it is to become a workaholic. That’s what I want to focus on in my post, because if you ask me today, 3 years after I first started teaching online, what the hardest thing about it is, I’ll tell you it’s anything that has to do with psychology and well- being.
Most teachers work and then think about work. When you are not teaching, you often think about work. You take work home. When you teach online, home is also work. Working from home of course has its benefits: you work from the comfort of your home, you save money on commuting, and so on. At the same time though, your office, your work space is at home, too, which means that you do not physically leave any building to “go home.” Having boundaries and knowing how to switch off is extremely difficult when you are an online teacher because your work is staring you in the face. Allowing you to leave “work” and go “home” – probably a different room – is extremely hard. This can easily lead to burnout… because work is everywhere!
Another challenge of online teaching is the feeling of isolation. When you go to a school or an academy to teach, you have colleagues, someone to talk to exchange ideas about work, complain, and have a laugh during the break. When you teach online and work from home, you do not have that. You are on your own. Sure, you can use Facebook or other social media to connect with teachers, but the truth is, you are on your own, there is no human contact and you do miss the “office.” In fact, there may be days when you do not even leave the house!
As much as work is important, drawing the line is essential. An online teacher needs to be very disciplined about that and try to find reasons to draw the line and avoid turning into a workaholic. You, the online teacher, need to say to yourself that you will spend X amount of time in front of your computer and that’s it. After that time, you need to leave your “work.” It is also necessary to find reasons to leave the house. Most people go from work home and vice versa. In your case, you do not do that, so you need to find hobbies and activities that will make you leave the house.
Connecting with people who also teach online and using instant messaging may give a sense of not being “isolated.” Let other teachers know you teach online and start forming connections with people in the same position as you. You will definitely find that you share some of the same challenges and maybe something helpful will come out of this.
Whilst teaching online can be challenging, it still is a great way to do what you love – teach. You just need to be more focused about getting out of the “teacher zone.” Happy teaching!