They arrive in your mailbox every few months, and chances are that you don’t give them a second glance. Announcements, schedules, and catalogs of continuing education programs are common since nearly every high school, college, senior center, and library offers them year round. However, if you are looking for a way to supplement your income, don’t ignore these potential markets!
Continuing education programs offer a wide array of classes for adults and children. Peruse a few of those catalogs in your mailbox, and you’ll see course offerings that range from hobby instruction to professional development in many fields. Some classes carry college credit, others earn “Continuing Education Units” (CEU’s), and a few are purely for personal satisfaction. What they all have in common is a need for teachers who can design and implement their own curriculum.
Classes can be built around nearly any area. Are you a gardener? Try pitching a class about your specialty. Do you love to cook? Maybe a class about international dishes will be popular. Entrepreneurs can share experience and suggestions for opening a small business. Photographers may want to teach about close-up technique or photo composition. Writers can turn nearly any article into a class topic.
Continuing Education teachers need not be certified in teaching. Qualifications such as job experience, a passionate interest, or experience at a hobby are often enough to convince program organizers that you can create a worthwhile class. Published writing about the topic is a plus.
Teaching for continuing education programs often begins with a class proposal. Check those catalogs, and you will generally find contact information for the program’s organizer. This is the person to talk with. Present your ideas in a quick phone conversation, and chances are very good that at least one will be accepted.
If you are unsure about topic ideas, study a current catalog, and generate course topics that are related and similar to current classes. You don’t want to duplicate existing courses, but expand in directions already offered. Do you see a class about the Civil War? Propose one about World War I or the American Revolution. Is there a course that teaches about flower gardening? Pitch a class on raising houseplants.
Once you’ve proposed an intriguing idea, you will be asked to complete a course proposal form. Here is an opportunity for your writing skills to shine. A catchy title and a clear, enticing course description are vital marketing tools. Whatever you write will end up in one of those brochures, so it needs to be eye-catching.
From your work on the proposal, you can draft a class outline and choose information and concepts to share. You will find that course design has a lot in common with writing a solid paper like you did in high school or college. Plan a good introduction to show your students why they need this information and then present it in a step-by-step fashion. Conclude with ways to apply the new-found knowledge.
Students usually prefer handouts to help them retain information. A class outline or summary of salient points make nice supplements. Choose a clear font, use an obvious structure, and add graphics, bullets, textboxes, and other visually interesting items.
There is one final hurdle for a community class teacher to jump: how to fill class time. If you are not accustomed to public speaking or comfortable leading group discussions, here are a few other ideas and alternatives to straight lecture presentation.
Begin with a brainstorming session. Ask participants to generate a list of questions or topics they wish to cover. Write these down on chart paper, chalkboard, white board, or overhead. Hopefully, if your course description was clear and your class well-thought-out, most of these ideas will already be included in your outline, and you can check them off as they are covered. Students will feel more involved and satisfied with having some control over the direction of the instruction. If a topic falls outside of your intended scope, be honest and acknowledge that. You can offer to address it privately or find a way to fit it in if you wish, or you can simply move on to topics that you did plan to cover.
Utilize class discussion, as well. Pose a question or a problem and encourage participants to respond. Discussions can involve the entire group or you can split into smaller groups who report conclusions back to the main body.
You can include visual aids and other resources for participants to explore. Check your local library for videos, recordings, and books to share. Ask students to bring in their favorite related resources, as well. You can assign class members to take a close look at one or two resources, evaluate them, and report back to the group.
If your class meets for multiple sessions, consider introductory and team-building activities. You can find ideas for these in public speaking books and at the library. Students generally have a more satisfying experience when they feel connections with the teacher and classmates.
Create some non-threatening evaluation activities. It’s always helpful to find out how well you’ve met your goal of imparting information. Unless you’re teaching classes for credit (which may require specific types of evaluations to give grades), these can be very informal. Try posing related problems or situations and sharing responses, playing trivia-type question and answer games, or asking students to summarize the main points of class.
Many things dovetail nicely with teaching in the community education field. Your passion and skills will help you design effective and interesting classes. Creating new classes will spur you to research ideas that can become related articles. Your students can be a new audience for your work or services, and many programs allow teachers to offer supplemental publications and promotional information to participants. Teaching also builds credibility in your field. The opportunities for success are boundless, and best of all, most Continuing Education Programs offer payment, stipend, or honoraria. What have you got to lose?