I knew, when I began a Master of Fine Arts two years ago, that I would take off a year when I finished, before pursuing a PhD. I didn’t know what I’d do in the meantime, though I envisioned in some vague way that I’d have a job with health insurance. As unrealistic as that vague dream was, I actually came pretty close to achieving it, but alas, second choice for a job with one opening is no different than 50th choice for a job with one opening, and around March I became anxiously engaged in a search for some form of income.
I thought I might move back to New Hampshire for a year and spend time with family (and with bright autumn leaves). But where would I work? Returning to my high school jobs at the local grocery store or at Dunkin’ Donuts was an unappealing thought. But as I searched for opportunities to teach at a local college or university, I realized that my best bet was to apply for work as an online adjunct. Before long, I had been hired as an online adjunct at not one, but two universities.
Working online seemed ideal and flexible. I could work from anywhere, so long as I had a laptop on me, and that would open the door for travel. How often do we see a great deal on airfare and think, “If only I could fly somewhere in the middle of September”? Working online could mean freedom and adventure, funded by a steady income.
How has it actually gone so far? Well, it’s hard to say since I haven’t actually begun teaching online, but there are certainly both pros and cons where online work is involved. On the downside, working online comes with lots of mini hassles. For one, all the paperwork we ordinarily complete in person when we’re hired is an extra pain in the butt when we have to do it long distance. I spent several hours in a notary’s office and inadvertently brought her to tears before she directed me to someone who could sign my I-9 form. And it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of work you do in front of a faceless computer screen, especially when you’re used to sitting and talking with students in person.
But I’ve been surprised by the sense of community you can build online. As a blogger, I shouldn’t be surprised, but I’ll admit that when I started a two-week instructor training course with BYU-Idaho, I doubted I’d ever feel a sense of community with the other instructors enrolled. But by the end of the first week, I enjoyed commenting on the discussion boards. As I completed online training for SNHU, I was enrolled in a small class, which lasted four weeks. When I missed commenting for a few days, others noticed my absence and asked if everything was okay. By the end of the last week, we were all joking around with each other, and I was sad to say goodbye when we completed the training course.
Perhaps the biggest surprise I’ve had so far, though, is that when you work online it’s easy to over-schedule your life. While there might not be a high demand for full-time instructors, there’s certainly a high demand for adjuncts, and when I was hired to teach as an adjunct in a traditional classroom (in person), I had to choose between my two online offers. I knew I didn’t have enough time to teach for three different universities, so I canceled my contract with BYU-I. So now I’ll experience what it’s like to work mostly in person, with an online job on the side. I may not be able to travel very much right now, but I hope this decision will open the door for future opportunities.
In the meantime, I’ll continue describing my experiences as an online employee. I’ll have a lot more to say once I start teaching online and discover all those unexpected nuances of the experience.