After 20 years in online teaching, my experience and research has taught me some things that have helped cultivate a long and meaningful career.
Encourage the introvert
When I started teaching online in my twenties, I was so excited about it that I told all my friends they should do it too. I thought, Who wouldn’t love asynchronous discussions, visual anonymity, and being in a quiet office without water coolers? About two years after I started, a few of my extroverted friends landed online teaching positions only to quit a few months in. One even went so far as to say, “It steals your soul.”
In his Personality Theory, Carl Jung noted that none of us are completely extroverted or introverted, but that we will often find ourselves on one side of the spectrum. Introverted personality types are more comfortable being by themselves and depend on their alone time to recharge and reach higher levels of productivity. Extroverts, on the other hand, depend heavily on their external environment to feel energized and tend to feed off loud and busy environments (Houston, 2019). What I have found throughout the years is that online teaching, with some exceptions, is not always the best fit for extroverts, but a dream job for introverts.
Find a dean who cares about career success and human success
I’ve been fortunate to have many great online deans throughout the years. Alongside those positive experiences, there have been other instances not as favorable. One thing I learned is to try and find a dean who not only cares about your career success, but your success as a human being. It also helps if your dean has current or recent online teaching experience. In her weekly, virtual check-ins, my dean asks questions like: What’s on your mind? What do you need from me? What are you looking forward to next term? Do you feel burned out?
One professor compared it to a much-needed therapy session. In one meeting, I mentioned that I hadn’t taken time off in years out of fear that I would not be seen as a hard enough worker. Knowing I needed a big push, she reached out to me a week later and not only encouraged me to take vacation, but already had a substitute ready to take over my classes. It made a world of difference because I finally took some time off!
Once, my dean recounted her doctoral studies and how demanding they were. Despite the intense workload, she emphasized that when her teenage daughter wanted to go shopping, she made an effort not to be so consumed by immediate stress that she couldn’t recognize the significance of these small excursions, which become treasured memories. Having a teenage daughter myself, it really stuck with me.
Try to find a dean who supports your professional growth, but also never fails to remind you to zoom out in order to restore perspective and do the things that are important for your mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.
Have deeper discussions
Before becoming an online professor, I taught English classes at an urban high school. To establish greater connections, I not only shared my career goals, but also my spiritual ambitions. As I discussed the significance of meaning and purpose in a world inundated with distractions and conflicting priorities, I noticed that my students grew more attentive. I then asked them about their life goals and was left speechless when one student said, “I just want to make life easier for my friends and family. Isn’t that what life’s all about?” It seemed my students never had the chance to share what mattered most to them. Whenever the situation allows, I practice this with my college students and always witness a sense of gratitude, as if to say, “Thank you for caring about who I am at my core.”
Listen to audiobooks and podcasts
Author and philosopher Alain de Botton said, “Anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough.” With all of the access we have to binge-worthy information, it should be easy to keep learning and growing. If your schedule doesn’t allow you to get cozy with a book, try listening to an audiobook or podcast while driving home from work or getting ready for a meeting. Take in a variety of material, not just what you’re used to. Sometimes it’s the podcasts that I didn’t plan on listening to that have been the most stimulating and transformative. You’ll feel energized by the experience of learning something new and hearing a new perspective. The more knowledge and wisdom you gain, the more you can share with your students. Sometimes the most powerful content we share with students goes beyond the curriculum.
Edit your daily routine
John C. Maxwell said, “You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” If you’re burned out, in a rut, or don’t feel like yourself, check your daily habits and start to get more intentional. If the sedentary lifestyle of online teaching has caught up with you, it might be time to get back into an exercise routine. If you feel disconnected from yourself, it may be time to meditate or journal. If you feel overwhelmed, it may be time to schedule some time off. If you feel rushed, it may be time to start waking up earlier. Figure out what you need and gradually improve your daily habits so you can show up as the best version of yourself for your students.
In the words of the French novelist, Marcel Proust:
I think that life would suddenly seem wonderful to us if we were threatened to die as you say. Just think of how many projects, travels, love affairs, studies, it–our life–hides from us, made invisible by our laziness which, certain of a future, delays them incessantly.Marcel Proust
‘But let all this threaten to become impossible for ever, how beautiful it would become again! Ah! If only the cataclysm doesn’t happen this time, we won’t miss visiting the new galleries of the Louvre, throwing ourselves at the feet of Miss X, making a trip to India.
‘The cataclysm doesn’t happen, we don’t do any of it, because we find ourselves back in the heart of normal life, where negligence deadens desire. And yet we shouldn’t have needed the cataclysm to love life today. It would have been enough to think that we are humans, and that death may come this evening.
Mortality imparts valuable lessons. It frames life, reminding us of its finite nature and the impossibility of experiencing everything. This awareness has motivated me to invest more in my students while I have the opportunity and to take creative risks in the classroom. It reminds me to do more of what feeds my soul. It reminds me that my career is part of my purpose and that it should be done with excellence and gratitude in the present moment.
Dr. Noura Badawi has 20 years of online teaching experience..
Houston, Elaine (2019). “Introvert vs Extrovert: A Look at the Spectrum & Psychology.” Positive Psychology. https://positivepsychology.com/introversion-extroversion-spectrum/
Marcel Proust et al. (2003). Swann’s Way. New York, Modern Library.