Behind the scenes: how Outschool teachers create awesome video chat classes

Outschool teacher Adrienne Dillard was almost ready for bed. PJs on, teeth brushed, just a final check of her phone to set the alarm.

“I received an email from a parent asking if a class was getting ready to start,” Adrienne remembers.

But there was an issue. The class wasn’t scheduled to start for another 12 hours.

“Needless to say, I got out of bed and taught the class to that one child and told him that if he would be awake in 12 hours he was more than welcome to join in with the other students.”

When a learner was confused about class time, Adrienne taught the class to just him.

This story captures much of the magic of Outschool classes. Combine a dedicated teacher, a curious learner, and a personal touch, and you have special experiences not possible in a traditional school.

Teaching live online classes is a dream come true for many educators:

  • Teach classes about topics you love
  • Interact with enthusiastic learners from around the world
  • Take control of your time and income with the flexibility to teach when you want

All of this is true. But it doesn’t mean that teaching on Outschool is easy. Dedicated teachers put in hours of work to create engaging, educational, and fun experiences for their learners. And there is much the community of families taking Outschool classes never gets to hear. Until now.

We talked to 18 Outschool teachers about their process of going from inspiration to instruction when it comes to their Outschool classes.

Mom, where do Outschool classes come from?

While many Outschool classes come from parent requests, there are even more that are the result of an inspired Outschool teacher who decides to make their ideas come to life for curious learners.

Teachers shared several unique ways they develop ideas for classes, with some entertaining quotes to boot.

Outschool teacher Julie Coder is always ready when a new class idea strikes.

Julie Coder is always ready to jot down ideas in a notebook, knowing that quantity leads to quality: “Honestly, only about half of [the course ideas] actually make it to a listing for various reasons.”

Outschool teacher Sarah Smithers gets inspired by talking with learners and parents.

Sarah Smithers uses conversations with learners to develop ideas for classes. In fact, her most popular class about Hamilton: The Musical was the result of one such conversation. “We are both theater fans, and her mom asked if I would consider teaching a course on Hamilton. I had already thought about it, but it seemed like a daunting task. Once I did it, I was hooked!”

Erin Girard teacher lives her daily life with a teacher’s mindset, constantly noticing things that might inspire a future class. “When I am on a field trip with my girls, on a trip, or a hike, even when we make something in the kitchen, I find myself thinking, ‘Can I use this for a class?’”

Art teacher Rozine Prock seeks artistic inspiration from a variety of sources, too, saying, “When I notice a parent request, pop culture topic, or commercial holiday which interests me, I sketch something relevant for learners to draw. I take a photo or scan of the sketch and use Photoshop/Illustrator to create a graphic image for the class listing.”

A labor of love

The process of attending classes for Outschool learners is relatively seamless: families browse classes, enroll in one they like, and the learner logs in to Zoom to begin learning.

But behind the scenes, there are often hours of preparation put in by dedicated teachers who want to maximize the value of each class they teach. Our teacher survey revealed some interesting numbers and stories about how long it takes to teachers to prepare for their classes.

Dr. Kai is dedicated to ensuring learners get the most from his classes.

Dr. Kai Kafferly has a routine of working each Saturday morning to prepare for upcoming classes and review work from past classes. "I sit down every Saturday and spend 5 to 6 hours doing work for the following week's class. I spend another 3 hours grading papers, assignments, and projects and giving very meaningful feedback with added details," Dr. Kai said.

Several teachers shared it takes them “about a month” to create a new class for Outschool, while a few said they can create a new class in a few hours. Keep in mind that many Outschool classes meet for several sessions, so teachers are planning materials and activities for multiple hours of instructional time.

Erin Girard uses trips with her children to find class ideas.

Erin Girard shared an interesting insight about her flexible schedule classes, which are classes with pre-recorded videos and written discussions instead of live meetings. She said, “My flex classes tend to take the longest as they are all recorded videos. Often, I teach the live version first and then create the flex version.”

Many teachers on Outschool create classes in response to parent requests. In these cases, the teacher’s existing level of familiarity with the course topic has a big impact on how long it takes to create the class. Emily Lafferty says, “For example, a class that is on content that I'm very comfortable with, my only limit is the amount of time it takes to get the class approved and listed on Outschool. But for something that is not quite my area of expertise, I need a few weeks to decide how to structure the class and actually write the content.”

The video chat class creation process

Teaching is a creative job, and like artists or writers, all teachers have their own creative process. However, there is a general pattern in the process teachers follow in creating their classes. Most involve similar steps, though the order and specifics vary.

Many Outschool teachers get inspired by an idea, go through some process for outlining and planning their classes, then go on to create specific lessons, submit their class for Outschool’s approval, and perhaps rehearse or practice their sessions.

But the beauty of Outschool is that teachers have the freedom to plan and prepare in the way that works best for them.

Rozine, who teaches art on Outschool, finds class ideas from pop culture and holidays.

There are many unique class formats and topics requiring unique preparation by the teachers:

  • Erin Girard offers baking classes and needs to test her recipes before sharing them with learners.
  • Erin also offers nature classes and prepares special nature journal pages for learners.
  • Rozine Prock, offering drawing classes, is always on the lookout for fun and interesting topics for learners to draw in an art class.

What teachers wish parents would know

While the process of attending classes is often a convenient one for learners, there are some things Outschool teachers do that often go unsaid in the hustle and bustle of daily life. One of the biggest ideas Outschool teachers want families to know about the work they do for learners is the time they devote to their craft.

Ashley Thompson teaches writing and STEM classes for young learners on Outschool.

“Each class is created ‘from scratch,’” Ashley Thompson said. “Unlike teaching in a brick and mortar school where there may be curriculum and resources available for teachers to use, here we are creating all of our own content.”

Laura Paxton, M.A., Ed.S. emphasized that even beyond creating curricular materials, Outschool teachers devote time to monitoring enrollments, managing their schedules, and improving existing classes. “Even after I have taught a previously prepared class several times, I am constantly thinking of ways to improve it,” she said.

Laura Paxton is always looking for ways to improve her Outschool class offerings.

These teachers often balance the work they do on Outschool with other jobs and life responsibilities. Though this requires dedication, the enthusiasm of students is energizing for some Outschool teachers. That includes Adrienne Dillard, who teaches a full-time job during the day and Outschool classes in the afternoons and evenings.

“I really look forward to teaching these students because in my experience the majority of them really want to learn,” Adrienne said.

Emily Lafferty thinks it’s important for families to know that teachers create classes from “a combination of our passions and our expertise.” This may mean that they can’t teach all requests, “but - if we have created a class you can bet it’s because we are excited to teach it!” she said.

Karmen Paterson welcomes parent feedback as a means of improving her Outschool classes.

As a fitting final note, Karmen Paterson encourages parents to make suggestions on how teachers can improve classes. All reviews are welcome, but reviews with feedback are especially useful and actionable for teachers.

Karmen notes that “the times I’ve had low reviews (or even high reviews) with feedback, I’ve always been able to improve the class and make it a better experience for future learners.”

So, remember that Outschool teachers are dedicated, hardworking, and inspired to teach your youngsters. Engaging with your child’s teacher helps to improve the Outschool community for everyone involved.

Gerard Dawson

Gerard Dawson teaches English full-time at a public high school in New Jersey. He also writes about teaching, learning and technology for education startups.

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