Learning Strategies

How One Educator Found Work-Life Balance By Teaching Online—From Her Living Room

By Wendy McMahon     Apr 16, 2018

How One Educator Found Work-Life Balance By Teaching Online—From Her Living Room

World maps, colorful letter charts and a felt animal poster line the walls of LaShundra Wigfall’s classroom. Toy cars, her puppet (BaBa the sheep) and other teaching props lay waiting for her to bring them to life with her jovial voice and infectious energy.

But Wigfall’s classroom isn’t in a school; it’s smack dab in the middle of her living room. Instead of 20 or more students, she teaches just one student at a time. And some days...she wears her pajama bottoms to class.

Wigfall teaches online ESL classes to students in China—from her home in Oklahoma City. It’s a transition she made two years ago after seven years in the classroom. The decision came after her fourth child was born and she headed back to work when he was eight weeks old. She quickly grew tired of watching her baby grow up through texts and emails.

Wigfall realized that teaching online provided a comparable salary and the ever-elusive work-life balance that her family needed.

We caught up with Wigfall to talk about the benefits of online teaching, how she creates work-life balance, and her “really big staff room”.

EdSurge: Why did you decide to leave a traditional classroom to teach online?

LaShundra Wigfall: I started out part-time, where I was teaching in the morning and then I would rush off to school. It really helped financially for me to have that extra money because, frankly, educators in most places in the United States don't get paid enough—especially in Oklahoma. We have teachers going on strike right now because of the pay situation.

And to be honest, teaching online is more fun. It's not half as much work as you would do for your brick and mortar classroom. There you're trying to meet the needs of everyone in the classroom and meet guidelines and expectations, and you want to have high test scores. Then there are teacher evaluations, walk-through evaluations, teacher meetings where you have to stay after school or parent-teacher conferences where you're trying to get parents in the classroom, get them more involved, get them on the same page as the students.

I’m sure any educator could add to that list.

What are some of the challenges of teaching English online?

Initially, it was getting up so early in the morning. Depending on the time of year, it's a 13- or 14-hour time difference with China so I'm getting up at three or four o'clock in the morning. But now I'm so used to it, I pop up at that time anyway.

Now the biggest challenge is not taking my whole classroom with me when I travel for vacation. I love that it's mobile, so I'm able to take work with me anywhere I go. But I tend to want to take everything!

Do the language barriers make teaching difficult?

Most of my students speak Mandarin. So, for me, I guess the biggest challenge is the beginning breakthrough with the ones that speak absolutely no English. But it doesn't take long to overcome that hurdle because we use the Total Physical Response (TPR) model.

With TPR, you use facial expressions and body movement to model what you want students to do. You use exaggerated hand gestures and are basically very animated with your speech. As long as I'm using simple language, they pick up on it really quickly.

I didn't learn about TPR until I started to teach online.

Do you have to create your own curriculum or courseware?

Oh, my goodness, no! The courseware is already made for us, so we don't have to create the lessons. I can't even imagine what it would be like otherwise. I would go back to the hours of lesson planning that I did in brick and mortar schools.

The company I work with, DaDaABC, has partnerships with McGraw-Hill, Pearson, National Geographic Learning, Oxford Reading Tree. These are all companies that we teachers are already familiar with. The lessons are actually taken directly from their books and adapted to suit the online classroom. The parents purchase packages and get to chose the types of lessons that fit their child’s learning level.

The courses are already composed as lesson slides; the teachers control how they teach the content. Anything I do is just enhancing what has already been created. I love that there’s a meaningful objective for each lesson. The lessons build on each other to where students are able to have natural conversations.

All of the lessons are English Language Learner based. Some lessons incorporate math skills, science, arts and crafts, and social studies—but they still teach English vocabulary and pronunciation. That’s beneficial in a full immersion program.

Do you have a set teaching schedule, or does it change often?

Actually DaDaABC encourages teachers to commit to a schedule. And I get paid whether or not I have a student in my committed time slot.

My schedule is very regular and routine. Seven days of the week, I am teaching from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m.. If I'm not teaching, I'm mentoring other teachers.

Having such a large family, it's important that I have that part of my routine down. Everything else can be crazy but my work schedule has to be routine!

How do you build a solid student/teacher relationship when your students are so far away and speak another language?

The platform really encourages teachers to build rapport and get to know the students. I think just about all of the teachers have regular students and that gives them the ability to really connect with students.

For example, I have 15 regular students right now that I meet twice a week for 30 minutes each. All of my available teaching slots are full.

Do you miss the social aspect that comes with teaching in a brick and mortar school?

That was something I was worried about. But that's why I stay active on DaDaABC’s Facebook group. We have over 3,000 teachers on there; it's like a really big staff room. I get to joke and play, and share files and resources with teachers from all over the world.

Do you still have opportunities for career growth as an online teacher?

Yes! I didn't even know these opportunities existed, but then as I became more active in the community, I learned they wanted regional organizers. I applied and began organizing teachers in my region, and even held a meet up with some local teachers last year. And now I’m a mentor, coaching other teachers. And, of course, I get additional compensation for all of this work.

We’re always looking for energetic teachers that are comfortable talking with and teaching students from a variety of age groups and learning levels. We want teachers who can make lessons engaging, and who are creative, dependable, attentive, and genuinely take joy in what they do. It shows!

What kind of salary can teachers expect? Is it comparable to teaching full-time in the classroom?

It all depends on your experience and performance, but the salary ranges from $15 to 25 per hour. They ask teachers to commit to a minimum of four hours per week, but there is no maximum. They even offer opportunities for you to teach outside your contract hours.

The bottom line is, I make a comfortable salary and can be with my kids. I’m not a stay at home mom; I’m a working mom. This type of teaching just better suits my family’s life.

Learning Strategies

How One Educator Found Work-Life Balance By Teaching Online—From Her Living Room

By Wendy McMahon     Apr 16, 2018

How One Educator Found Work-Life Balance By Teaching Online—From Her Living Room

World maps, colorful letter charts and a felt animal poster line the walls of LaShundra Wigfall’s classroom. Toy cars, her puppet (BaBa the sheep) and other teaching props lay waiting for her to bring them to life with her jovial voice and infectious energy.

But Wigfall’s classroom isn’t in a school; it’s smack dab in the middle of her living room. Instead of 20 or more students, she teaches just one student at a time. And some days...she wears her pajama bottoms to class.

Wigfall teaches online ESL classes to students in China—from her home in Oklahoma City. It’s a transition she made two years ago after seven years in the classroom. The decision came after her fourth child was born and she headed back to work when he was eight weeks old. She quickly grew tired of watching her baby grow up through texts and emails.

Wigfall realized that teaching online provided a comparable salary and the ever-elusive work-life balance that her family needed.

We caught up with Wigfall to talk about the benefits of online teaching, how she creates work-life balance, and her “really big staff room”.

EdSurge: Why did you decide to leave a traditional classroom to teach online?

LaShundra Wigfall: I started out part-time, where I was teaching in the morning and then I would rush off to school. It really helped financially for me to have that extra money because, frankly, educators in most places in the United States don't get paid enough—especially in Oklahoma. We have teachers going on strike right now because of the pay situation.

And to be honest, teaching online is more fun. It's not half as much work as you would do for your brick and mortar classroom. There you're trying to meet the needs of everyone in the classroom and meet guidelines and expectations, and you want to have high test scores. Then there are teacher evaluations, walk-through evaluations, teacher meetings where you have to stay after school or parent-teacher conferences where you're trying to get parents in the classroom, get them more involved, get them on the same page as the students.

I’m sure any educator could add to that list.

What are some of the challenges of teaching English online?

Initially, it was getting up so early in the morning. Depending on the time of year, it's a 13- or 14-hour time difference with China so I'm getting up at three or four o'clock in the morning. But now I'm so used to it, I pop up at that time anyway.

Now the biggest challenge is not taking my whole classroom with me when I travel for vacation. I love that it's mobile, so I'm able to take work with me anywhere I go. But I tend to want to take everything!

Do the language barriers make teaching difficult?

Most of my students speak Mandarin. So, for me, I guess the biggest challenge is the beginning breakthrough with the ones that speak absolutely no English. But it doesn't take long to overcome that hurdle because we use the Total Physical Response (TPR) model.

With TPR, you use facial expressions and body movement to model what you want students to do. You use exaggerated hand gestures and are basically very animated with your speech. As long as I'm using simple language, they pick up on it really quickly.

I didn't learn about TPR until I started to teach online.

Do you have to create your own curriculum or courseware?

Oh, my goodness, no! The courseware is already made for us, so we don't have to create the lessons. I can't even imagine what it would be like otherwise. I would go back to the hours of lesson planning that I did in brick and mortar schools.

The company I work with, DaDaABC, has partnerships with McGraw-Hill, Pearson, National Geographic Learning, Oxford Reading Tree. These are all companies that we teachers are already familiar with. The lessons are actually taken directly from their books and adapted to suit the online classroom. The parents purchase packages and get to chose the types of lessons that fit their child’s learning level.

The courses are already composed as lesson slides; the teachers control how they teach the content. Anything I do is just enhancing what has already been created. I love that there’s a meaningful objective for each lesson. The lessons build on each other to where students are able to have natural conversations.

All of the lessons are English Language Learner based. Some lessons incorporate math skills, science, arts and crafts, and social studies—but they still teach English vocabulary and pronunciation. That’s beneficial in a full immersion program.

Do you have a set teaching schedule, or does it change often?

Actually DaDaABC encourages teachers to commit to a schedule. And I get paid whether or not I have a student in my committed time slot.

My schedule is very regular and routine. Seven days of the week, I am teaching from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m.. If I'm not teaching, I'm mentoring other teachers.

Having such a large family, it's important that I have that part of my routine down. Everything else can be crazy but my work schedule has to be routine!

How do you build a solid student/teacher relationship when your students are so far away and speak another language?

The platform really encourages teachers to build rapport and get to know the students. I think just about all of the teachers have regular students and that gives them the ability to really connect with students.

For example, I have 15 regular students right now that I meet twice a week for 30 minutes each. All of my available teaching slots are full.

Do you miss the social aspect that comes with teaching in a brick and mortar school?

That was something I was worried about. But that's why I stay active on DaDaABC’s Facebook group. We have over 3,000 teachers on there; it's like a really big staff room. I get to joke and play, and share files and resources with teachers from all over the world.

Do you still have opportunities for career growth as an online teacher?

Yes! I didn't even know these opportunities existed, but then as I became more active in the community, I learned they wanted regional organizers. I applied and began organizing teachers in my region, and even held a meet up with some local teachers last year. And now I’m a mentor, coaching other teachers. And, of course, I get additional compensation for all of this work.

We’re always looking for energetic teachers that are comfortable talking with and teaching students from a variety of age groups and learning levels. We want teachers who can make lessons engaging, and who are creative, dependable, attentive, and genuinely take joy in what they do. It shows!

What kind of salary can teachers expect? Is it comparable to teaching full-time in the classroom?

It all depends on your experience and performance, but the salary ranges from $15 to 25 per hour. They ask teachers to commit to a minimum of four hours per week, but there is no maximum. They even offer opportunities for you to teach outside your contract hours.

The bottom line is, I make a comfortable salary and can be with my kids. I’m not a stay at home mom; I’m a working mom. This type of teaching just better suits my family’s life.

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