How are people surviving the coronavirus crisis as a freelancer?
With no government safety net for freelance workers, including no statutory sick pay, financial downturns like this can be worrying.
‘Hard work’ is hard work!
Having worked full-time for 25 years in state school classrooms and following on from a successful career in teaching, I’ve been working self-employed, training teachers all across the world for the last 2.5 years sharing my passion for teaching and learning. My [new] work has been an incredibly rewarding experience and many readers will know my journey, the highs and lows, as well as the impact I have had on teachers across the world.
However, despite this shiny appearing website, there are many challenges many will unaware of, ranging from historical debt, redundancy and mental health, to the high-costs of living in London, website costs and a heavy workload. I don’t claim to have any challenges which are different to others, and I am well aware of my privilege, but in this post, I want to take the opportunity to write down my current thoughts and where my priorities are during the global pandemic…
The art of resilience
I know education is a small sector, yet working as a freelancer supporting our schools and colleges, I know I am not alone in this issue. To date, I do fairly well to navigate the challenges we all face, and having moved away from full-time employment to self-employment, I still take great pride in the fact that this website has remained freely available to teachers for over 10 years. From what started out as a simple website, my monthly costs now exceed £1,500 to keep the website running. I am now actively downscaling aspects of my business. I often say you cannot teach resilience in our young people unless they have actually experienced hardship. There is only so much theory a teacher can offer…
As a child, I grew up in a loving and secure environment, albeit in a very challenging circumstance. My mother and father worked for The Salvation Army, living and working in homeless hostels across the United Kingdom, supporting the local community as well as vulnerable children and adults with complex needs throughout the 1970s-2000s. This was long before any mental health awareness and stretched budgets. This environment was our home, growing up as a child with all its highs and lows, safeguarding risks and incredible experiences.
Today, my thoughts are to all those critical workers and those working in the Salvation Army today, supporting vulnerable people in our society. Debt, redundancy, being sexually abused as a child and the difficulties all teachers face navigating through a challenging profession can make any of us the hardiest of souls.
I am reminded of a recent podcast I had with Jennifer Gonzalez, founder of the Cult of Pedagogy [the equivalent of me in the USA] when I asked her: “Do you think anybody can host a successful blog?” In short, Gonzalez said, “No, you need to be organised, disciplined, hold yourself to account and be creative and resourceful – not everyone can do this.”
Working as a freelancer
Last week, I had the privilege of working with 50 teachers in Belfast and managed to reach Cheltenham College (again) on Monday to work with the teachers at that school. To keep my carbon footprint low, I catch the train everywhere which allows me to work on the move and reach all corners of the UK quickly. On Monday, given the increasing crisis with coronavirus and infection and as rumours started to escalate, I made the decision to drive. When I arrived home at 10 PM that night, I found my inbox flooded with schools cancelling their teacher training. It came as no surprise, but as the requests came in, what had started out as “the next two weeks” began to reach May and June in my diary.
Working freelance, as well as employing a small team of other freelancers to help manage this website, you can imagine there was a small turnover expected on a monthly basis to make everything work. Suddenly, this has all been pulled from under me and at the moment, I cannot see what protection I have for them [or this business] considering I have no full-time employees other than myself. I have also known that I need to develop my business acumen and it looks like now is the time to do this.
Looking towards September 2020
This week as I write, I’ve now been sitting at my desk for four days trying to keep my thoughts in perspective, reinventing myself and figuring out how I can live and work over the next two or three months. I’ve been playing around with many ideas for a long time about how this website can pay for itself, rather than me pay for it directly; continuing to support teachers around the world as the statistics increasingly grow.
For many years I wanted to create an online bank of resources that schools can use at the subscription level, and although the current focus on our schools and colleges is to provide a homeschooling service for pupils and parents to access resources at home (and rightly too), we will soon find ourselves continuing to work remotely in the weeks that follow.
When things start to settle down, I do believe schools will start to look towards offering online professional development for the teachers – some schools have already been in touch. This is now where I have focused my attention; thinking about how I can reshape my physical teacher training to online sessions.
Thankfully, when I first started to write books as a byproduct of redundancy [in state school education], today my books provide me with a small pocket money salary to help pay the bills. Mark Plan Teach has been incredibly successful, selling ~25,000 copies to date. I have been reluctant to commit to publishing an updated version of this book for September 2020 because of my doctoral deadline. However, looking at my diary and knowing that I will be at my desk until the end of April or May, my intention now is to write the book in full and also complete my EdD deadline.
Remaining calm and kind…
For all the freelancers working with an education, I suspect you are also open to the idea of’ schools returning to ‘normal service’ as soon as possible. Whilst I have observed many large organisations offering their resources and platforms for free to the school community, which is a wonderful thing to do, I simply do not have the capacity to do so.
Sharing my webinars to my 25,000 newsletter subscription database this week, I received one or two criticisms from my subscribers. Who would have thought it to be outrageous that I should charge £5 for an hour of my time to share practical ideas for teachers during a time of national crisis? This is easy to say when you have a regular salary, and although I accept I made the decision to leave full-time employment, I’ve always been mindful that there are far more than just teachers contributing to the success of our education system – myself included.
At the same time, I’ve been inundated with direct messages about resources, ideas and requests to share and create content. Although I am [typically] happy to support others in their endeavours, at the moment I am equally fighting for survival for my own family, my livelihood and to ensure that the world of TeacherToolkit doesn’t collapse. I take pride in sharing other people’s work on my channels, well before the coronavirus crisis.
Until recently, I have been considering how the website would outlive me, how I could upscale the website and grow a small team into a group of employees. It was only last week I was speaking to the bank about a loan to significantly upscale the output of the resources and content on the site. Within a matter of days, all of that is pretty much redundant and I suspect so for several years until we all recover from this crisis.
I also know everyone else will have their concerns, personal stresses and needs to consider as this difficult time, but if there is one thing I hope everyone will do during this time, is to be mindful of everyone else’s situation. It’s time for some brave leadership in all corners of society and when the time is right, I will find a way to upscale and give back to the community.
In the words of the beautiful Caroline Flack, be kind.