How to make money teaching your hobby to others

Beekeeping at Brooklyn Brainery via Flickr's Ryan Sarver

If you’re an expert on esoteric topics — from how to have awesome conversations to Rubik’s cubes to calligraphy — you have a chance to supplement your income from that middling retail position you took during this double-dip recession. The Brooklyn Brainery will let you teach a course on your favorite subject — like, any subject — and get paid for it. The Carroll Gardens-based Brainery pays teachers with experience $45 per 90-minute class. But how do you become a teacher who inspires and amazes against all odds without much, uh, experience?  Since the school year is here (Bueller?), we asked a few popular Brainery teachers for advice on how you too can succeed as a first-time teacher so you can get invited back — and get paid — again and again.

To get a class: Come up with an idea that you can teach others about and pitch it. You have to have a bit of teaching experience before you start getting paid, but the Brainery says you can volunteer to teach a class or two to gain that experience. Once you have experience, you earn $30 an hour (each class is about 90 minutes).

“We really love hosting stuff that’s a bit, or way, out of the ordinary and can’t really be found at other places,” says Brooklyn Brainery co-founder Jen Messier. “Esoteric hobbies are right up our alley.”

1. Engage with your audience: The best way to keep students from nodding off, says experienced instructor Sarah Lohman, is to make them feel important.  “If I am doing a lecture, I try to throw out thoughtful questions to the audience that call for opinion-based answers. That way, people can speak out without fear of giving a wrong answer,” says Lohman, who has taught a handful of courses on food and is also a lecturer at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and periodic speaker at the Brooklyn Historical Society.

She really grabbed her audience’s attention during a class on Dickensian cocktails. She clustered students together to share equipment and try the drinks, but Lohman noticed her students were too busy talking about the drinks to pay attention to her. Nightmare scenario? Just the opposite: “Everyone was talking to each other and having the most amazing time. People were excited about the topic and, drinking always makes people relax a little more in class.”

2. Know your subject inside and out  This may seem obvious to experienced teachers, says Ryan Doto, a Ph.d student and veteran Brainery teacher on subjects from DIY podcasting to philosophy + film, but make sure you have enough material to fill a full 90-minute class. “Don’t find yourself running out of material half way through class because you didn’t take the time to say the material out loud,” Doto says.

The key to having the right amount of material, he says, is to pick something you’re passionate about, organize your thoughts with a sense of flow, and then improvise. “Free your mind from a step-by-step process and worry about the big picture.”

And if you run out of things to say?  “Look over the last person in the class’ head. Everyone thinks you’re either looking at them, or at someone behind them, and you don’t have to face the scrutinizing eyes of students listening to you.”

3Learn from your students: If you’re teaching for the first time, avoid the trap of thinking you really know what you’re doing, says Brainery veteran Tim O’Neal. O’Neal, a beekeeper in Brooklyn for more than 14 years, started teaching classes after getting inspiration at the Brainery. “

Teaching other people forces you to reexamine your own practices and constantly adapt,” O’Neal says. “I mean, I like talking about bees anyways. May as well get serious about it, right?”

The Brainery is also a great way to connect with like-minded people: one of O’Neal’s former students started keeping bees after taking O’Neal’s Beekeeping 101 class. “It was validating,” he says, “almost like I actually knew what I was talking about.”

For more info, visit Brooklyn Brainery.

Follow Andrew: @Lindermania.

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