Teachers will forever be known as some of the most important heroes of 2020. As COVID-19 forced students everywhere to stay home and changed the way they learn, it fell to teachers to redefine the way they reach students. As an adjunct instructor at the University of Florida, I had to navigate and shift the way I taught my public speaking classes—and eventually, I had to step away from my classes altogether to be able to teach effectively at all. I now interact with students through an online tutoring platform completely remotely, which allows me to give each student an individualized experience that can ensure their success.
Like most educators, when remote learning became a necessity back in the spring, I adapted on the fly. As a graduate teaching assistant, I had been used to building camaraderie in-person in the classroom. When some of those techniques became impossible, I leaned on the digital experience that I had from running my own college admissions consulting business. The way I typically graded my public speaking class was based on presence in the room and commanding the attention of an audience, neither of which translate well over video calls. I needed to adjust how I taught the skills that students need to be productive public speakers in the real world.
But changing my teaching style and syllabus wasn’t enough. I quickly realized that success became inherently tied to which internet connection didn’t cut out during a timed speech or a lecture that wasn’t able to be recorded and saved. The upper hand was automatically with those who had ample space to record themselves giving a formal talk without distraction or interruption. I immediately could tell a difference in performance between my students who had gotten a chance to go home immediately to their own spaces, and my students who were still quarantined in their dorms and feeling the impact of their small environments. As we are seeing across the nation, equitable learning is still a struggle, but seeing it play out in my own virtual classroom was upsetting.
Heading into the fall semester, I knew that my priority to interact with students in a meaningful and helpful way wouldn’t be possible in a traditional teaching role. Safety concerns and rising COVID numbers in my state of Florida made returning to my classroom for in-person learning out of the question. So after entering the education field out of a genuine desire to pay it forward and to educate the next generation, I chose to leave a position that I really loved. Not because I didn’t want to teach anymore, nor did I have a desire to join the ranks of the record-breaking number of unemployed professionals, but rather because I no longer felt that I could be part of a broken system that was not serving everyone’s best interests. I wondered how many other teachers, professors, and educators have found themselves backed into the same corner this school year as countless districts face teacher shortages. But what next? I didn’t want to abandon the practice of teaching altogether.
I no longer felt that I could be part of a broken system that was not serving everyone’s best interests.”
As educators, we know that many students are struggling to find their rhythm through all of this. Different learning styles, individual attention, and personal goals are all extremely hard to address via large Zoom classes, and the learning loss that some students are feeling cannot be overlooked. As a result, there has been an overwhelming wave of interest in supplemental, personalized learning support across the board—whether it’s coming from parents of young children who are struggling, teens and young adults that are eager to keep up, or even older learners who are looking to expand their resumes with added skills and certificates.
This acute need is what pushed me to become a remote tutor specializing in public speaking and statistics. Personalized learning was something I had always valued, but understanding the unique circumstances of students amidst a pandemic is needed more than ever. I chose tutoring because I wanted to be an immediate source of help to those that needed it, but tutoring too isn’t without its limitations. Some services are too expensive to be widely accessible to all students who need assistance, so I chose a platform that let me set my own rates, and only charges a small fee for their tools, rather than the industry average. My sessions cost $45 per hour, a far cry from the up to $80 per hour that has become the norm for many services at the college level. I’ve had the opportunity to contribute to personal growth and development regardless of where my student is located or the resources available to them. Interacting with them and seeing their progress brought humanity back into teaching for me.
Of course, it was a concern to walk away from a steady paycheck, and I was privileged enough to have some flexibility since I began saving aggressively at the start of the pandemic. After deliberation, I realized the right choice was maybe the more “risky” one. In addition, I had some assurances—individual learning styles and the need for extra academic support has created an increased demand for tutors. In fact, the platform I use, Wyzant, has seen a 64% increase in demand for public speaking tutoring as compared to this time last year.
This school year, so many teachers are struggling with the best way to forge forward and navigate these uncharted waters on behalf of our students. Teachers are being pulled in every direction, but it took me stepping away from the traditional teaching system to be able to teach more effectively. Whether taking a break from the classroom setting is due to frustrations like mine, out of concerns for safety, or for any other reason, there are still ways to educate and connect with people who are looking to learn. There are countless teachers out there heading back to school this month, whether it be in hybrid or completely remote scenarios, and those teachers deserve support from everyone—from school districts to parents to now alternate educators like me. Being an educator during a pandemic is no small feat, but it’s imperative that we still find ways to meet students where they are, even from home.
Kelsy Adams is a public speaking tutor with Wyzant, the largest tutoring marketplace in the U.S., and is currently based in Gainesville, Florida.