Limits of the Remote Teaching Life

As a relative newcomer to remote work, I was attracted to the flexibility and freedom that such a professional life has.  I can set my own hours and scale the business to work as often or as little as I need to.  If required, I can avoid the fixed cost of a workspace.  Despite attractive options such as WeWork, if you don’t have to pay for a dedicated place for work, why would you?  Nevertheless, there are always some drawbacks to being a professional nomad.  You need to carefully prepare yourself in practical ways to avoid hang-ups and problems.

Limit #1: Loud music in Starbucks.  I was attempting to teach a class to a student in Brazil.  He was at home in his own private room and his children are playing in the other room.  On the other hand, I had really wanted to go for a hike that night.  I went to one of my favorite state parks far from my house.  I had just run into this particular, unfamiliar Starbucks to ensure we could do the class.  You tend to take it for granted that there will just be cool, quiet, jazzy background music in Starbucks or Panera Bread.  Two cafes that I prefer for the free WiFi and ambiance.  Not this location.  It actually turned out to be quite small and no matter where I sat, there was a speaker almost directly over my head.  My student noticed.  My student was not happy.

Solution #1: Reconnaisance.  I could’ve had my hike and my lesson too by simply knowing more about this special Starbucks and doing a simulated lesson ahead of time.  It could’ve been a Skype call to my mother or to my lawyer and anything but a real lesson for which I was getting paid.

Limit #2: Wires get tangled, devices don’t always work.  I immediately jumped up and attempted to run around the Starbucks looking for the least noisy (and still free) spot.  My power adapter is trailing me like Satan’s tail and my thin headphone wires are tangling everywhere as I move.  I was getting yanked left and right as I snagged on chairs and almost on some people.  My poor Brazilian student still can’t hear me well so I switch to my monster headphones (complete with TED talk microphone).  I actually only use these when trying to zone out into a state of monoidealism.  That was marginally better but my upgraded microphone was picking up most of Limit #1 and my voice.

Solution #2: Test external and internal devices beforehand.   This specifically refers to your microphone and your camera.  I usually find my built-in microphone and camera on my laptop work perfectly well for almost any lesson.  When you conduct a “recon” of the location you can take the time to consciously test these devices.  I would advise to always have a secondary device that can make-up for unexpected shortcomings.

Limit #3: Weak WiFi signals.  All WiFi is not created equal.  While I was attempting to communicate with my Brazilian student we were constantly hampered by a “weak connection” message in my hastily chosen and poorly surveyed Starbucks.  I gazed longingly outside of the Starbucks because I knew it could solve “Limit #1” (otherwise known by this point as crappy loud music) but knew the WiFi signal just outside the cafe could be questionable.

Solution #3: Data usage.  Today’s data plans on smartphones are pretty remarkable for how much you actually receive.  If you can afford a refurbished smartphone and at least keep it for work, now you have a back-up for your computer.  I was ready to run out to my soundproof car and conduct the rest of the lesson via Skype on my smartphone.

What actually happened is that my student gave up and amicably asked if we could reschedule the session.  We did and I made sure to conduct it from my strongest, safest and choicest location with the best WiFi.  As you can imagine, that is my house.  This is not as flexible and remote as I would like, but at the end of the day, there really is one more ultimate limit.  The satisfaction of your students.  Everything you are doing is for their benefit, and if you keep on giving to them you’ll find they give you all the flexibility you need in terms of time and location.



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