American Association of Blind Teachers

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Carla Hayes

What can you do if the school year has started and you haven't found a teaching position? Or, perhaps you have a teaching job but you would like to supplement your income and gain valuable work experience. In either case, there are several alternatives to teaching in a traditional school.

For example, have you ever considered tutoring in your areas of expertise? I have done it for several years and find it very rewarding. Tutoring offers a lot of flexibility. You can work out of your home, in a public library, or in a school. You can also work for a learning center, but the center sets the fees and, because they have to pay for the overhead costs of running the facility and still make a profit for themselves, tutors are often not paid as well as they would be if they worked privately. Unless you are working in a school during regular class hours, a majority of your tutoring jobs will be late afternoon, evenings, and weekends which can be a plus if you are doing it to supplement your regular teaching job.

To be an effective tutor, you will need to have access to the textbooks that your students are using. It's usually not practical to purchase them in Braille or large print because many schools change textbooks often and not all your students may be using the same books. I have found two workable solutions to this problem. Sometimes, I borrow a copy of the book from the school, scan the pages that I need with my Kurzweil, and transfer the text files to my Braille Lite where they can easily be read. I am also a member of Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic. If the books are available, I have the option of borrowing them in recorded formats for as long as I need them.

Finding tutoring students is usually not difficult. You can run ads for your services in local newspapers. Also, the guidance department of many schools maintain lists of tutors who are available in various subjects. Make sure that your name is on the tutor lists of all your local schools along with the subjects you are qualified to teach. If you are a certified teacher, that information should also be part of your ad or the information about you on tutor lists; many people will be more likely to hire you if they know you are a certified teacher.

Another employment option is to work as a homeschool instructor. The homeschooling movement has been growing exponentially over the past several years because many parents are not satisfied with America's public schools. Some homeschooling parents may not feel qualified to teach their children such subjects as math, science, and foreign languages, especially on the secondary level. When this happens, several families might get together and hire qualified teachers to teach classes in these subjects. This is where you can help as a qualified teacher. Even though being certified in your subject is a plus, it is not always necessary. As a homeschool instructor, you may teach classes on your own in your home, in a church, or public library, or you may work as part of a homeschooling co-op that usually meets once or twice a week in a church or another public facility where several classes are taught in different subjects by several instructors. In such a setting, groups of students would rotate from class to class in much the same way that they do in a regular school, and you might be expected to teach two or more classes on different levels. You may even be responsible for providing the curriculum.

Parents are usually willing to purchase or borrow new or used textbooks for their children. However, you will be responsible for buying your own copy of the textbooks and preparing tests and supplementary handouts. Whatever teaching materials that you use, you must have them in an accessible format to be effective and this will be your responsibility.

For my homeschool foreign language program, I was able to obtain several copies of textbooks which were being discarded by our local school district. Luckily, I already had these books in Braille. So, I lend the books to my students and supplement them with my own handouts. Even though most homeschooling families are on a tight budget, your pay as a homeschool instructor can be decent if several families are working together to pay the bill. Of course, being a homeschool instructor usually requires much more preparation, paperwork, and record-keeping than tutoring. In addition to teaching, you will need to prepare and make copies of handouts, give and grade tests, prepare grades and student transcripts, and you will often be called upon to write letters of recommendation for your students. Remember to keep this in mind when you are deciding how much you will charge. On the other hand, you cannot charge homeschooling families too much or you won't get enough students to make it worthwhile.

To find work as a homeschool instructor, you will need to run ads in local newspapers as well as in newsletters for homeschooling families and on homeschooling websites. It is also a good idea to speak to local homeschool groups and attend homeschooling conferences in your area. I have been teaching foreign language classes for homeschoolers through my business for the past 14 years. When I was first asked to do this, I have to admit that I was skeptical. "How could children learn at home without the guidance of trained teachers and the social interaction with classmates?" I wondered. However, as I worked with these students, I learned the true advantages of homeschooling. Students can work at their own pace which means not having to rush so that they don't get behind the class, and not having to wait for other students to master something when they're ready to go on. To be successful, homeschoolers must learn to be self-disciplined and to manage their time wisely at an early age. This makes most of them much more diligent and motivated than a majority of the students that you would find in a typical school. Homeschoolers generally get more individualized attention from their parents and professional teachers than they could get from regular classroom teachers with large classes, and you, as their instructor, will have more time to give them the attention that they need.

Moreover, I have found most homeschoolers to be much more mature and articulate than their public school counterparts because they spend more time with adults and they are not distracted by the social trends that are present in most secondary schools. Surprisingly, many homeschoolers perform two or three grade levels above traditional students on standardized tests. In short, I have found that being a homeschool instructor can be very satisfying work and I highly recommend it.

An alternative avenue for employment is the local community college. Although you must be qualified to teach, certification is often not necessary. When considering community college work, you will have to decide whether to teach credit or non-credit courses. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Generally, a course that offers credits pays more than a non-credit course, but it also requires the added responsibility of preparing tests and correcting papers. If, on the other hand, you teach an adult continuing education course that doesn't award credits to students, you won't be paid as much but there isn't as much paperwork involved. In addition to teaching courses in your area of expertise, you might approach your local community college about teaching professional development courses for teachers who often need continuing education classes in order to keep their teaching certificates current. In the past, I have taught several community college foreign language courses. It was a rewarding experience and a valuable addition to my resume.

Depending on what you teach, corporate work might be another employment option to consider. Some corporations offer such classes as public speaking, business writing, foreign languages and computer applications to their employees and hire teachers as subcontractors to teach these courses. Although you obviously need to be skilled in your area of expertise, you don't need a teaching certificate to teach corporate classes and the pay is usually very good. In addition, companies may hire you to do other tasks besides teaching. Although the work may start out as temporary, it could lead to permanent employment. Through my business, I have had several corporate clients over the years. In addition to teaching foreign language and ESL classes, I have worked as a translator, assembled technical vocabulary lists in several languages, and written and produced bilingual audio scripts for training and demonstration videos. As you can see, corporate work can be an interesting way to gain experience and supplement your income and it may even lead to a full-time career in which you can use your teaching skills without the hassles of grading papers and discipline problems.

Another alternative to working in a traditional brick and mortar school is teaching in a correspondence school or cyber school. If you were a correspondence school instructor, teaching materials would be mailed to your students who would complete their lessons and return them to you by mail for your correction. Instead of meeting with your students face to face, your contact with them would be by mail, by phone and perhaps by computer. In addition to traditional correspondence schools, technology has spawned cyber schools and distance learning programs on all levels in which instruction is done via the computer. For a growing number of students in Grades K-12, cyber schools supplement or even replace traditional public school education. In addition, many colleges and universities of the 21st century offer online classes to accommodate their students' hectic schedules.

Online teaching offers its advantages for blind and visually impaired teachers. First, online teachers can often work from home, thus eliminating transportation problems. Second, since much of your students' work and the documentation you are required to submit will be in electronic format, you will have less need of a sighted reader. Online teaching also has its share of requirements. It goes without saying that you will need to be skilled in the use of a computer and all the necessary programs and access technology. In addition, many institutions require that their instructors use the school's computers and these computers must be equipped with the access technology you will need. Finally, online teaching usually requires similar qualifications as teaching in traditional schools. Most public cyber schools require teaching certificates and colleges and universities that offer online classes will likely require their professors to have advanced degrees.

Finally, you might want to consider working as a freelance instructor. Freelancing involves forming your own classes and finding a place to teach them. Libraries, churches, YMCAs and community centers are often open to offering classes for children and adults of all ages in a variety of subjects. This type of teaching offers the advantages and responsibilities of designing your own courses, selecting your own teaching materials and setting your own price within reason. When deciding how much you will charge, be sure to factor in your costs and preparation time.

As you can see, there are many exciting opportunities for teachers beyond traditional schools. So, if you can't find a school teaching job, don't despair. Instead, give one of these options a try. You will be glad you did.

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