If you’ve been following me on Instagram (@readrelevant) you may have noticed that I’m not longer in the classroom. I’ve become a digital nomad: someone who works completely on a laptop and travels full time. So far, I’ve been exploring Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Mexico. This is the story of how I got here.
Like many teachers, during my years in the classroom I maintained several side hustles—dog sitting, tutoring, babysitting, etc. These were out of necessity as well as out of ambition. They kept me from living paycheck to paycheck, adding a little cushion to my monthly budget.
I switched schools a few times, hoping I would find the environment I was looking for. Ultimately, none of my schools felt like a really good fit. In addition, I felt like I was being left behind by friends in other career fields who continued to get promotions and raises as the years went on. Teaching felt like a dead end.
For a long time, I had been curious about entrepreneurship. I watched Shark Tank. I listened to How I Built This. I read The 4-Hour Workweek. When a tough day at school came up, I dreamed of what it would be like to own my own business. I believed teaching was important and rewarding, but knew I’d be burnt out if I kept doing the same thing forever. However, I didn’t see myself leaving the field of education. I even earned a masters degree in teaching reading.
My First Side Hustle
My first attempt at entrepreneurship was dog sitting. This was a fun and transformative experience. The website I used was called DogVacay (which has since been acquired by Rover). It was the perfect platform to become a side-hustler. You can read more about why I think dog sitting is an ideal side hustle for teachers here.
After a few years, I felt confident enough in the classroom to take on even more responsibilities outside of work. I began working as a tutor with the company Varsity Tutors. I tutored online as well as in person. Additionally, Varsity Tutors paid me to write question sets for their standardized test resources. The company reviewed the content I submitted and paid me for each set. This is when my side income started to become substantial.
As I became more involved with my side hustles, I tracked all of my side income on a spreadsheet. I was happily making an extra $300-400 a month for a long time through all of my efforts. After I began writing curriculum, I had my first $1000 month of side income. This was a huge moment for me. As a teacher, it didn’t matter how hard I worked; my salary was on a set schedule and wouldn’t increase much over the years. Now though, I was seeing that the harder I worked, the more I could earn. For the first time, I was in control of my income.
Soon after that, I began to think about how if I could write curriculum for an outside company, I could certainly write it for myself. Teachers Pay Teachers had always been on my radar, and I had bought curriculum designed by other teachers for my classroom. For some reason, I had always harbored doubts that I could create such beautiful, helpful resources myself. I didn’t know much about design. I didn’t have a significant amount of tech experience. However, I had uploaded a free resource to TpT years prior. To my surprise, people were actually downloading it!
As I became more and more invested in my TpT store, I did some research. I had heard from many people that the smartest thing to do when starting a TpT store was to find a niche. From what I could tell, there was a lack of high quality middle and high school material. The elementary market seemed saturated, and besides, I taught secondary language arts.
During my teaching experience in urban Atlanta, I also noticed that the novels we read in class did not always do a great job of representing diversity. My students often complained that the books we read weren’t relatable. When they got their hands on a story like Tears of a Tiger, though, they were engaged and invested. That’s how I came up with the idea for “Read Relevant,” my business name. I wanted to make reading relevant for ALL students.
There is an impressive collection of culturally responsive YA literature available these days. I first began my store by making novel units for books I felt kids should be able to get their hands on. While I have moved beyond novel units, I still create them when I find a book I think kids should read.
When teachers have the materials to teach a novel, they’re more likely to introduce it to their students. For example, I recently found out about Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee. This book is incredibly relevant in the #MeToo era, so I made unit plan for it.
I started to see what sold well and what didn’t. I made more of the things that sold well, and slowly, saw more and more sales coming in. Looking back, my first attempts at designing curriculum were sloppy. Through trial and error and practice, it got better over time.
For the first few years, I did not have any in person mentors for Teachers Pay Teachers. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have help. I learned a lot from Laura Santos of Core Inspiration and her YouTube series for teacher authors. I read TpT forum posts and as many blogs as I could. Instagram’s very active teacher community also provided help and inspiration. The Elite Edupreneurs podcast was helpful as well.
In the summer of 2018, I attended the TpT Sellers conference in Nashville. There, I got to hear from the teacher authors who had achieved huge success and many who had become full time curriculum designers. This helped me see that the authors I followed and respected were real people who simply put in the time and effort to make their stores successful. Because of this conference, I was inspired to really scale up my business.
Leaving the Classroom
My TpT store was not an overnight success. I spent about three years building up my business to the point that I felt confident leaving the classroom. My nights and weekends were consumed with working on my business. Also, I sacrificed summers and school breaks working on my business full time.
Eventually, my TpT store became successful enough for me to leave my job and pursue it full time. My dream of working for myself was coming true!
Joining Remote Year
I had heard about Remote Year somewhere on the internet a few years ago. Like the name states, it’s a program where you can travel for a year while working remotely. They take care of the logistics like getting you an apartment and finding a co-working space, but you have to supply your own job. Most importantly, they place you in a group of 20-30 other remote workers who travel with you. These people become your support network and friends.
That brings me to now. I am on the fourth month of the program, currently living in Mexico City. In the last four months, I’ve seen the deserts and coastline of Chile, hiked Machu Picchu, swam in the Caribbean ocean, and watched Dia de Los Muertos parades. I’ve eaten empanadas, arepas, and too many tacos to count. All of this while still working on my business.
Next month we travel to Hanoi, Vietnam, to begin four months in Asia. Sometimes I look around and realize that I’m living the dream. I am so lucky to be here and to be doing this. It’s really the trip of a lifetime. When I began teaching, I didn’t think this is where I would end up, but I’m incredible grateful.
In conclusion, if you have any questions about Remote Year or how to succeed on Teachers Pay Teachers, please reach out to me. I love sharing my story. I would love to help you make a career change if that’s something you’re wanting as well. Teaching is an important and honorable profession, but I’m glad to be going in a new direction, at least for a while!