Finding Creative Outlets and Economic Opportunities Outside of School (That Don’t Interfere with Your Teaching Job)
It’s no secret that teaching is a stressful profession for which the compensation is often insufficient. We’ve all heard stories of K-12 teachers who have no other choice but to purchase classroom materials out of their own pocket, which is shameful. That’s not to say, obviously, that teaching can’t eventually be profitable. Indeed, those who stick around long enough to gain years of experience and continuing education credits can, in fact, raise their salaries to a comfortable level. Unfortunately, many teachers burn out in the first few years and end up leaving the profession, only exasperating the teacher shortage.
Here in Illinois, the teacher shortage is as bad as it is anywhere, especially in subject areas like foreign languages. There may be more competition for good teaching jobs in bigger cities in the Chicago suburbs, but in our rural part of the state, it’s not rare for Spanish teaching positions to go unfilled because there are no candidates for the position. Some positions are filled by people with substitute teaching licenses who have the required qualifications, minus the professional educator license. Some school districts have resorted to giving Spanish credits to students who complete online Spanish programs. I’m convinced that the only ways out of the teacher shortage are to pay teachers a more competitive salary and to do something meaningful about their workload. Occasionally we have politicians who say as much, but there is little collective will to fix those issues because it would require either higher taxes or a redistribution of current taxes.
As individuals, there isn’t much we can do, other than to put pressure on our lawmakers to ensure that our teachers feel valued, protected, and adequately compensated. I’m not against contributing to online fundraising campaigns for classrooms and parent-teacher associations, although by doing so en masse we’re ultimately letting our local, state, and federal governments off the hook for their failure to address the issues. Those solutions that could benefit the profession the most may be far off, but the economic needs of teachers are immediate.
I’m especially concerned when I hear stories about professional educators who leave the school in the afternoon to start a second job at a restaurant or in retail or some sector of manual labor. I can’t imagine how that work schedule affects one’s mental and physical health. And what about the effect on the quality of teaching? Teaching is a demanding enough profession without having to take on a shift at the local grocery store at night. And with the Coronavirus pandemic, how many teachers are risking their health further by going out in public to work their second job? Just writing this paragraph I’m reminded of the first episode of the great series “Breaking Bad,” in which Walter White, a brilliant chemist with cancer who teaches in the local high school, is embarrassed when his students see him washing cars to make some extra money to support his family. His students laugh and take pictures of him.
Even though I’m not a K-12 teacher, I will say that university professors are not immune to economic pressures, either. After about 9 years of grad school – three years for my MAT and six years for my PhD – I entered the work force with a decent amount of student loans to pay off and a small family to take care of. We were a single paycheck household trying to stay afloat with a salary that was lower than I had expected. Credit card debt increased for a while before things eventually stabilized. I, too, considered ways to get extra income. However, I never looked into jobs in retail or the service industry, and these types of businesses probably don’t hire too many PhDs anyway, since they’re overqualified.
So, I wondered, what side gigs might be available for foreign language educators that wouldn’t interfere with their teaching? Could the work hours be flexible? Could the work be done from home? What if the work didn’t create a conflict of interest? Could the work even allow us to use the skills and knowledge that qualified us for our teaching positions? Most positions that promise such things are scams. One popular route available to teachers of any subject is tutoring, either online or in person. I did some tutoring of high school students while I was completing my PhD, and it was a fine way to get a little extra cash. I would be a little wary of the online tutoring opportunities, however, because I think they can come dangerously close to accepting money to do work for students, to which I’m philosophically opposed; I’m sure some people will disagree with me on that point.
One legitimate website that is popular with teachers for making a little extra cash is TeachersPayTeachers. On this platform, you create an account in which you upload course materials that you’ve created. Other teachers can download them for a small fee. I’ve heard some anecdotes about teachers who’ve been able to make quite a bit of money here. If you’ve been teaching for a while, you’ve probably accumulated a lot of materials throughout the years. If you don’t mind sharing your genius with other teachers, you can upload what you have and start earning.
But what about opportunities that are especially for language teachers? Here are some ideas to try that will not only get you a little cash, but they may even help you be a better teacher. I’ve tried some of these first hand, but confidentiality agreements limit what details I can share about them; so please forgive me if I’m intentionally vague on some of the nuances of the positions.
- AP Reader: There are two Advanced Placement (AP) exams in Spanish: Spanish Language and Culture, and Spanish Literature and Culture. Several years ago I applied to be a reader of both these exams, and I was accepted as a reader for the literature exam. It seems like you can’t be accepted to both. In general, both high school teachers and university professors are eligible for these positions. High school teachers must be teachers of one of the AP Spanish courses. And professors must also teach something similar at their university. If you are accepted to be a reader, you commit to read and evaluate exams for a whole week. Traditionally, all readers get together in the same place and grade exams for 7 days, from 8 AM to 5 PM. Yes, it’s intense. It’s long. However, the money is probably quite a bit more than one week of a reader’s salary at their school, and all costs are covered, including flight, hotel, and food. The people you meet are wonderful and inspiring. And the experience really does make you rethink how you assess and evaluate your students. Thus, it makes you a better teacher. In 2020, the reading became virtual, which was understandable, but I think most of us were disappointed not to be able to have the traditional experience. The reading for 2021 will also be online. Click here to find information about becoming an AP reader.
- AAPPL Scorer: A lesser known assessment taken by K-12 students, most in the United States, is the ACTFL Assessment of Performance toward Proficiency (AAPPL). The exam has different sections, some of which are assessed by the computer, but help is needed to evaluate the students’ writing samples and oral recordings. There is a period of time when applications are accepted, but both high school teachers and university professors are eligible to participate. If accepted, there is a training process that must be passed before being allowed to grade exams. In theory, there could be exams available for grading all year long, but there is a heavy period, in the spring, as well as a moderately heavy period in the fall. Evaluators are expected to grade during the heavy periods, but there is no minimum commitment. You are paid a certain amount for each exam you grade, so in theory, the only limit on how much money you can make is based on the number of exams available for grading. Click here for information about becoming an AAPPL scorer.
- edTPA Rater: I would imagine that there are less people who would be interested in this opportunity, mostly because it’s probably more difficult to qualify for. The edTPA is a required assessment in many states for teacher licensure. If you are a licensed teacher or you work in teacher preparation for a university, you may be interested in this opportunity working with Pearson. There is a lengthy training process, for which you’re paid. Afterwards, you’re paid according to the number of assessments you evaluate. Click here for more information about becoming an edTPA Rater.
- OPI Rater: This is one opportunity I don’t have any experience with, not because I wouldn’t be interested, but rather because the required workshops cost participants many hundreds of dollars to take. Maybe your school district or university can host a workshop to defray the costs, otherwise, you’ll have to put up a lot of money. I’m sure you can make that money back by assessing students, but there’s no guarantee you’ll even pass the training. It might be a good idea to talk to someone who has personally been through the process before signing up for a workshop. Click here for more information about becoming an OPI rater.
The above list is not exhaustive. I have a colleague who works part time as an interpreter who works in courts or with social workers and school districts, which I can imagine is a gratifying (although sometimes disheartening) experience. When I was in grad school I spent some time interpreting for Spanish-speaking patients at a clinic. You could even make flyers advertising Spanish lessons and distribute them in local coffee shops (or make a page for your tutoring services on Facebook). If you use your imagination, I’m sure you can think of many other ways to stay active, make a little money, and contribute to your profession and your community. Whatever you decide to try, never forget that your teaching assignment should always take priority. Also, make sure you understand whether or not your employer would require you to disclose any outside employment you may have.
If you have any other suggestions in addition to the ones listed above, let us know in the comments.
If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it on your favorite social media. ¡Gracias!