The independent, trusted guide to online education for over 24 years!

Becoming an Online Teacher: 5 Perils to Ponder

photo credit: Helico (flickr)

Becoming an Online Teacher | Lego man juggling

Becoming an online teacher must be much easier than managing a traditional classroom, right?
You may be surprised.
In my experience, many new online instructors are unprepared for the amount of work involved in becoming an online teacher. Online faculty must be ready to face many issues and all manner of student complaints. Among them: poor college readiness; students’ personal crises; and the complex management of the online classroom process.

Knowing how to handle all these issues, and many more, is critical to learning how to effectively manage an online classroom while staying sane! 

Read on for a trained-in-the-trenches view from an experienced online teacher. 
Self-assess to see if online teaching is right for you before you make the big leap.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Becoming an Online Teacher


1. Can you set – and maintain – boundaries? 


If setting boundaries is difficult for you, you may find online teaching challenging. Setting boundaries is critical when managing students in the online classroom as well as controlling your own home work environment.

Online students who are struggling with either the learning process or the material may attempt to see what they can “get away with” by asking for repeated extensions or by making disruptive comments in the online classroom. 
Gentle but firm is the way to go here. Stay objective. Remember to always include a word or two of encouragement. Most of the time, the online student is simply fearful of not succeeding. That anxiety may bubble over into email and inappropriate online communications.
On the home front, make sure family members know you cannot be disturbed when you are “in class.” Remember: It’s ultimately your job to protect your time when teaching online.

2. Do you work well within strict guidelines? 

Just because you may have the luxury of working in your PJs doesn’t mean you can skimp on professionalism. There are a whole host of local, state, and federal regulations that have been put in place to help ensure quality standards are safe-guarded in the online learning classroom, and you had better be prepared to meet all of them.
If your personality is more “go with the flow” than compliance-oriented, you may find becoming an online teacher puts a cramp in your style. However, if you love details and juggling a zillion balls at once – without dropping any! – then you and online teaching may be a great match. 
It takes all types, to be sure, but a major cornerstone of quality in online education is a college’s ability to acquire legitimate accreditation – and keep it. 
All credible, accredited online college programs are bounded by multiple levels of compliance. As an online faculty member, it is your responsibility to enforce quality standards to meet those regulations. Your school’s Online Faculty Handbook will typically guide you in what is expected in areas of compliance, from grading obligations to managing online student issues and enforcing proper standards of classroom management. 

3. Are you great at self-management?

Becoming an online teacher requires a high degree of motivation and self-direction. If you’re someone who can’t resist “taking a break” every 10 minutes to see what’s new in the fridge or who’s “liking” your posts on Facebook, then online teaching may not be the gig for you. If you can sit and focus on certain tasks for sizable stretches of time – whether it be managing the classroom, conducting administrative tasks, or grading assignments – then becoming an online teacher could be very rewarding.
At many schools once you have completed the online instructor training process, you are on your own. You will be responsible for shepherding students through their work, dealing with their personal issues as they impact the learning environment, ensuring compliance with university policies, grading papers, and more. 
The good news is online teachers can work whenever and wherever they desire – even if it’s in the middle of the night or from an RV. If freedom to self-manage your time and work is a high career priority for you, then you’ll love this aspect of online teaching!

4. Can you be reliably available?

With great power comes great responsibility. While you have the freedom and flexibility to work whenever and wherever you want, you need to remember that your students need you. A lot. As in all the time. The online classroom is open 24/7/365 and nothing turns off online students more than an unresponsive professor. Many online classes require faculty not be “away” from the classroom – that means your Internet connection – for more than 24 to 48 hours a stretch during the class term.
If you typically enjoy taking vacations “off the grid,” or love visiting places where unreliable internet service may be the standard – online teaching may not be a good fit for you. Students have lots of questions and issues that require attention – YOUR attention – and they often demand that attention in a time-sensitive manner.

5. Do you take student success or failure personally? 

Finally, your mantra must be: An online student’s success or failure is, ultimately, their own. As online teachers, we facilitate classroom discussions, encourage struggling students, provide relevant resources, and give support freely – but, at the end of the day, each online student must do his or her own work. 
It can be easy to slip into feeling that you did not do enough as an online teacher to “make” a student succeed. When students struggle you may be tempted to lower assignment standards. Resist this temptation. Trust that your online students will succeed as they are able.
Letting go of a student’s success or failure is particularly challenging in an online learning environment, since, unlike a traditional classroom, it can be difficult to decipher true levels of student engagement or understanding. 
Like becoming an online teacher, succeeding as an online student requires high levels of self-direction. Students who lack self-direction – or those who for whatever reason prefer to be in a traditional classroom – will usually learn this about themselves quickly and move on. 

No matter how much you try to help, some of your online students simply won’t succeed – but happily, many will.


Gail Overstreet Get Educated Guest AuthorAbout Guest Author Gail Overstreet

Gail Overstreet earned her Master’s degree as an online student, and is currently an online instructor, writer, and instructional designer. She has been an advocate for online learning since 1999, specializing in topics related to adult education and technology. Find more Gail Overstreet at