*Disclaimer: This post is only reflective of my singular experience and my current opinion about teaching on Outschool. I know that plenty of folks will have different experiences and different resulting opinions. Ultimately, I think that Outschool is a generally-positive learning tool for most users.
Since COVID-19 took over the world, most of us have had at least some exposure to virtual learning. Maybe you’re in college and now forced to take online classes. Maybe you’re a certified-teacher currently working from behind a screen. Perhaps you’re a parent– or an aunt, uncle, friend, co-worker, or neighbor– who has gotten your first taste of schooling a kiddo from home. Or maybe you’re teaching on Outschool yourself.
For those who don’t know, Outschool is an online learning platform that offers virtual small-group classes to learners aged 3 through 18. Outschool offers traditional classes, such as Algebra I and essay-writing, but it shines through its unique courses, such as learning Spanish using Taylor Swift music, Stranger Things-themed virtual escape rooms, reptile pets show-and-tells, unicorn milkshake-making, and more.
I started teaching on Outschool in September 2019, about six months before COVID-19 caused it to skyrocket with new learner and teacher accounts. What started as a fun and positive working experience turned into an unfavorable one that made me realize Outschool wasn’t a company that best suited me or my goals. Here’s why:
It’s a gig-economy company
A gig-economy company is one like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, or similar. It offers freelance jobs in which no security, benefits, or guarantee of work is provided. You pay your own taxes, you use your own resources, and you hustle your behind off. Although I recognize that the gig economy helps thousands of people survive, I fear that the normalcy and prevalence of this work creeping into every sector of our society will end up replacing stable jobs that guarantee income and provide benefits. The gig economy is another way to screw over working folks; it’s just packaged in a way that makes us think we are getting more than we actually are.
When I realized that Outschool was a way for another SanFran company to offer gig work in education, it lowkey freaked me out. I fully support private tutors working their own “gigs” for themselves and keeping all of their own profits. I also support companies that hire full-time teachers or tutors who receive benefits, or even part-time employees with guaranteed hours, resources provided, with scheduling and customer service taken care of. Of course, I support people working in the gig economy if they need or simply want to. I understand gig work for things like food delivery or dog-walking. But, ultimately, it didn’t feel good to be part of something contributing to the take-over of the gig economy within education— a sector that is so vital to our nation (and to the world.)
And also, maybe, sort-of an MLM
The more I thought about Outschool as a gig economy company, the more I realized that it might also be a form of an MLM. An MLM in reverse? This may sound like a lofty accusation, but hear me out. Outschool has none of its own classes. It makes money off of the classes that its freelance employees create, and simply stands in the middle to provide the platform (aka, the website and Zoom), and then markets the classes that others create for them (typically through social media.) Teachers who join the site create their own courses and are not paid for any of the time, effort, or resources that go into doing so. Teachers can write off materials purchased for their classes, but that’s on them.
Because of how teaching on Outschool is advertised– “Work from home! Be your own boss! Make your own schedule! Make tons of money!!” (sound familiar?) — it attracts passionate, creative teachers who bring fun, extraordinary lessons to the table. These people quite-literally create Outschool’s products; it would have nothing to market itself with without others’ original work. So, instead of buying a product upfront and then reselling it for a company (as with a traditional MLM), you are paying the company upfront with your time, effort, energy, and ideas, and then also paying it chunks of every sale it makes from the product (aka, classes) you’ve created. Which brings me to my next point:
I was investing in Outschool instead of my own business
I quickly began to realize that I was investing a whole-lot-of time and effort to build unique content, materials, my own brand, logging hours of unpaid customer service, and more for an outside company who was taking a third of the sales earned from selling my ideas. If I was going above and beyond while teaching on Outschool, then why not pull those long days and nights and put that same energy into my own business, keep all of my profits, and feel more purposeful?
A professional Zoom account only costs $15/month, and I have the means to market myself on social media for free or very low cost. If I want to market to Outschool’s scale, I could pay a local business and then write off the money spent as a business cost. Even if it does take me longer to build up my own pool of regular clients, every client earned would be that much more meaningful (and lucrative) for me. Establishing myself as an LLC also provides me with more freedom and resources– for example, applying for small business grants.
I made a few bucks shy of $10,000 while teaching on Outschool, and they took a 30% cut of that. What could I have done for my own business if I had invested $3000 into it instead of handing it to a million-dollar company? How much further would that money have gone for myself, and for the local, single-person, mom-and-pop businesses that I could have hired to help me with my marketing, website, and more? How much further could I have gone by expanding my own small business year after year?
This notion is also valid for my time. Teaching on Outschool took me away from my personal and professional goals. Because “easy money” was on the table with Outschool, I allowed Outschool to consume my days and lost sight of what really mattered to me: building a 100%-fully-owned-by-me business, being my own brand, and spending time with my family. When I broke down the numbers and rationalized my thoughts, it made more sense to invest into myself, my own work, and my own goals rather than into Outschool.
I became what sold on Outschool
I’m what we call a “womb to tomb” teacher, meaning that I have experience teaching literally every single age out there. I raise and teach my own son, I’ve nannied infants to teens, I’ve taught preschool to college courses, I’ve taught classes to seniors at AARP about how to use the internet. When it comes to teaching, I’ve done it all.
But let me tell ya: teaching online is a different beast. When it comes to virtual teaching, I enjoy working with older students and adults the best.
I’m not sure if you’ve ever had to virtually teach a group of seven three-year-olds who are in their own house, with their own toys and distractions, with their parents nearby watching and critiquing and then reviewing your work, often without having any virtual teaching experience of their own, but let me tell ya: shit. ain’t. easy. It’s exhausting, and you can burn out really fast as a result. Considering the ability and technical limitations for virtual learning with this age group, it’s also really easy to get bored– for me, at least.
I found myself working as a full-time preschool while teaching on Outschool because I’m good with the littles and the demand was higher, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do all day every day. Don’t get me wrong: I love working with the littles, but I hated doing so from behind a screen. I missed the face-to-face interactions and ability to get messy, hands-on, and physically wild.
Aside from the logistical and physical constraints, I longed to teach and discuss content that I cared about– including topics too “controversial” for Outschool. I was limited by which classes would be approved, what I was “allowed” to discuss during classes, and what would sell. When you have to adhere to a company’s limitations, you lose the freedom that self-employment provides, and that’s when I lose interest.
There are no real teacher ethics
I’ll be honest: the first time I sat back and re-evaluated my thoughts about teaching on Outschool was when a teacher brand new to the site straight-up copied my most popular, unique, one-of-its-kind class. I was shocked and felt like I busted my behind for someone else to steal the benefits of my creativity and hard work.
Coming from brick-and-mortar schools, I guess I thought that everyone had the same level of professionalism I was used to in the certified-teaching world, where teachers collaborate instead of ripping off their colleague’s unique ideas. I figured everyone would do their due diligence in checking to see if a unique class already existed before offering their own, a practice I followed myself. If such a class did already exist, I would assume the second teacher would collaborate with the OG teacher.
Of course, we can expect numerous variations of a general topic like algebra, reading, or phonics, but when it comes to highly unique content, it is clear when someone else is copying your idea. If you create an original “How to Replicate Cindy Lou Who’s Hairstyle At Home + Red and Green Kool Aid Hair Dye!” and then, months later, someone offers a “Red and Green Kool Aid Hair Dye and Replicating Cindy Lou Who’s Hairstyle!” class, it’s pretty obvious that your idea was copied.
When I created my original class, nothing of the sort existed throughout the entire platform– I made sure of it. My class was an instant success, and my online-teacher friends began to know me for my creative content. When my class was copied, several of these friends reached out to me with screenshots. I was flabbergasted, and I messaged the teacher immediately (which, in hindsight, is something that I should’ve cooled off before doing.)
The teacher never answered either of the two messages I sent. She copied my class, and then she started offering it upwards of 8 times per day, opening months of availability upfront– something I simply didn’t have the means to do while also being a stay-at-home-mom to a toddler.
When I posted a short, friendly, overall-positive blurb in the official Teaching on Outschool Facebook group about new teachers checking to see if highly unique ideas already exist, and if they do, to simply collaborate with the OG teacher, the community jumped down my throat in disagreement.
“That’s called business. Welcome to the business world!” was the general consensus.
“That’s not business,” my husband retorted to me. “You’re not both selling cheeseburgers. You’re selling the ‘Big Mac,’ and someone started selling the ‘Large Mak.’” He was right, and I was pissed. Within two months, more teachers replicated my class or some variation of it.
The worst part is that I am far from the only teacher being copied. This was a weekly, if not daily, occurrence, especially as more people flocked to the site. You do not have to be a certified teacher– or even have a degree– to teach on Outschool. While this uniquely opens the doors for realtors, hair stylists, chefs, and other professionals to teach their skills, it also attracts the “get rich quick” hustlers who don’t care about professionalism and just want to make the money they see on the table.
Realizing that I could be doing all of this hard work for myself, now coupled with the realization of the “shark-y” environment I was working within, I developed a bad taste in my mouth that I simply couldn’t rid.
Teacher and technical support is severely lacking
As Outschool is exploding, I know that they are slowing investing more into the platform. So, perhaps this con will be fixed in the future, but for now: Outschool has no real teacher support or technical support. If your students have any tech issues during your class, it’s on you. You’re expected to continue teaching your class so that the other kiddos stay engaged while also trying to fix a singular student’s tech issues– issues that are often beyond our control.
If a household has a bad internet connection, there isn’t much I can do. If the parent doesn’t know how to work Zoom, I’m expected to teach them how to operate while also teaching my class about finances and adhering to my schedule. Teachers are expected to split our brains and functionality in half, running both sides simultaneously and seamlessly. We must keep teaching in the most engaging way possible (otherwise face a bad review– more on that in a moment), while also privately chatting the student/parent with tech issues, often which remain an issue anyways (and result in– you guessed it– a bad review or a demand for refund.)
Parents can review your class when it ends, and I’m sure you can imagine how many parents use the review section to punish teachers for their personal qualms or tech issues. Outschool will not remove any poor review stemming from a parent having a poor connection. Some parents have been caught routinely rating teachers poorly and then demanding refunds after fully taking a class– every class– so that they essentially use the site for free.
Because Outschool wants to keep parents happy at any cost, there is no fact-checking on parent reviews. In other words, parents can blatantly lie, slander you, say whatever they want to, and Outschool will let it stand– even if you provide proof of the parent being dishonest. Although my overall Outschool rating is a 4.94 out of 5 stars with 1,604 students taught, this unfortunate experience happened to me once and changed my opinion about the company.
Finally, if a parent signs one student up for your class, but then props 2, 3, 4, or more in front of the screen, then Outschool expects you, the teacher, to address and handle that situation. This is not only money stolen out of your pocket, but it is an awkward and uncomfortable confrontation that should not solely be on the hands of the teacher– especially not in front of other students in the class. Teachers– myself including– have had parents “snap back” at them with attitude, yell at them, or make remarks like “OK well I’ll just pay after the class for the extra kids if it is that big of a deal.”
I cannot tell you how many times I had parents do this to me. In fact, it was such a common occurrence that numerous parents were flocking to Instagram to show others how to get a “two-for-one deal” by signing up one student, and then hiding a second student off-camera, who would receive the class content, take notes, etc., without paying. When I’ve emailed Outschool support staff to ask for assistance with families who blatantly break enrollment rules, they’ve simply told me to handle it with the parent myself, verbally, at the start of class. No help, no resolution, no backing me up, no contacting the family, nothing.
I’ve taught for a few other online educational platforms before, and these problems did not exist. I loved teaching with QKids, where tech support was live and instantly accessible during all class times, and poor parent reviews could be examined and deleted. If a parent had numerous kids in a class when he/she only paid for one student, I would simply message tech support and they reached out to the family. If a student’s connection was bad, I would IM support and they handled it. In my opinion, Outschool is making a grave mistake by not providing live tech or true teacher support.
The pay isn’t as high as it seems
Outschool advertises high hourly rates of pay, but this rate is before the 30% cut that they take, before paying taxes, and assuming that your classes are both booked and also full. There is also a lot of money lost in the form of unpaid working hours. You create your own classes on your own time, and you make all of the resources for the class yourself. You have to submit each class for approval and fill out Outschool’s course description template, sometimes receiving denials that require you to edit and resubmit a class numerous times.
Creating a single class can take upward of 20-30 hours of brainstorming, researching, and content/material creation. You might be thinking: “But I’m a former brick and mortar teacher, I already have a library of classes made!” Not quite. I have seven years of B+M teaching experience, and I still had lots of unpaid work to do. Not only do you have to adjust your content for the virtual classroom– which sometimes means redoing it completely– but you also have to create entirely new, fascinating, unique classes in order to stand out amongst the sea of thousands of teachers on the site. Entering the site with a standard geometry class ain’t cuttin’ it, no matter how good of a teacher you are.
A major time-suck for me, though, was all of the customer service I did on my own time, unpaid. Answering parent emails, requests, concerns, and more. Scheduling classes and creating your calendar could take a couple of hours per week, especially if you offer a wide variety of classes. Between paying your own taxes and Outschool’s cut, you lose 55% of the advertised hourly rate of what you “could make,” and that’s not even counting everything else mentioned above. Once again, it seemed silly to do all of this work for Outschool to take 30% instead of doing all of this for myself, pocketing 100% of the profits, hiring help when needed, and writing off the cost of said help.
This is another reason why I realized that I appreciated working for a company like QKids. Yes, the pay was $18-20/hour flat with no promotions, but with no cut taken and all of the class content, scheduling, customer service, and everything else handled for you. With QKids, you simply logged in, taught the lessons they assigned, and logged out– that was it. I did not spend hours upon hours working and not getting paid. When you factor in all of the unpaid work, Outschool pays the same as QKids– but with much more of a headache.
After teaching on Outschool for one year, I have learned a lot about myself, my purpose, my professional goals, and how I want to spend my time moving forward. I do not regret any of the time I spent teaching on Outschool, and I’m not completely against returning to the platform if my family is ever in a dire financial bind. For now, though, I’m moving on from the site and choosing to put my time, effort, and energy into working completely for myself.
Do you teach on Outschool? What has your experience been like? Connect with me on Instagram @ImLaurenRose_ and let me know!