How one NYC teacher is using a side hustle to change children’s lives

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Photo credit: Shauna Flowers; jammydesign/Getty Images

Teachers around the United States work tirelessly every day to support their students, oftentimes even providing basic school supplies and lunches out of their own paychecks. But one woman took her ambition to help children even further by starting a side hustle — and honestly, she’s a hero.

Meet Shauna Flowers, a dance teacher in New York City. Along with some of her other teacher friends, Flowers decided to start a tutoring business as a way to help children in her community and provide another source of income for herself.

The business, called Black Girl Tutors, aims to offer a different approach to tutoring. By creating a positive and inviting learning environment, students are able to see how learning can become fun.

While Flowers hopes for schools to receive proper funding — at least for the children’s sake — she works hard to ensure both her and her students are having their needs met in the meantime.

Learn more about Shauna Flowers and her tutoring side hustle in our Q&A below.

GRATEFUL: Can you start by telling us about the founding of Black Girl Tutors and what motivated you to co-found this side hustle?

SHAUNA FLOWERS: I’ve always tutored in some capacity, especially when I was unemployed. I thought to myself, “I’m up here tutoring, why don’t I become a teacher full-time?” I did want to be a costume designer, but it just was not working out and I needed benefits and a stable income. So I said, “Okay, I’m going to apply to teach full-time.”

I’d been tutoring for a good two years in my community and then I became a teacher. Then about two summers ago, my friend Georgia said, “Guys, we should start a tutoring company.” All of us here are tutors, we’re all nodding our heads like, “Yes.” We put our heads together [and] we met every week. We were on the phone every single day, texting every day, got the paperwork settled, figured out a name, a logo and a concept.

G: I know a lot of teachers are underpaid and looking for side hustles. Can you talk about needing to supplement your income when you have an already-busy career?

SF: The great thing about having a business is that there’s always income coming in. Even if I’m not here, we hired tutors and they’re working.

I’m glad that I tutored so much last year [because] I was injured. I ended up being on short-term disability, because at the beginning of the school year [until] I looked at my benefits and I’m like, “That’s it.” I was out for five weeks. I came back eight days early because I just couldn’t afford to be on disability anymore. And the side hustle came in because I had all this residual money from tutoring. You know, we got paid at the end of the year. When that check came in, it was a godsend. I didn’t know how I was going to pay my medical copays. I didn’t know how I was going to have groceries. That tutoring check really helped at the beginning of the year.

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G: What would you say to other teachers who are feeling defeated by the system?

SF: Teachers should really use their resources and think about ways you can earn extra income. We do have some flexibility in our schedule and our knowledge is invaluable. We give a lot; we’ll tutor kids for free. Think about the skills [teachers] possess and how you can pretty much have your own business or just earn some extra income by tutoring one or two times a day. You can create your own schedule. Teachers can also tutor online or at home, especially if you have young children. There are plenty of opportunities to do that. You can [also] tutor in your community.

G: Do you feel like it will get better for teachers out there? What changes do you hope to see in the education system in the next five years?

SF: Education is really all about the children. Unfortunately, the children are always at the receiving end, like at the very bottom. There are so many politics when kids just need school supplies and clean facilities. That would alleviate the stress on teachers having to spend. We could have a viable income if schools were properly funded. I don’t mind paying more taxes so that kids can receive a better education. I put the children first and everything else will just work out.

G: Why is teaching such a passion for you?

SF: I never thought I would be a teacher. I never thought that I’d be responsible for educating someone else. Once I tried it, I actually enjoyed it. My very first job was working at a daycare center at age 14 in my neighborhood. I liked it a whole bunch. I found that I loved sharing my knowledge with others who probably don’t have access to it. It makes me feel very accomplished to see my former students succeed, to help kids with special needs. That’s why I’ve been teaching — to help kids succeed, especially kids from disadvantaged backgrounds.

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G: Can you share a story or personal moment you’ve had in your career where you knew you were having an impact?

SF: I had a student, I met him in second grade and he loved to dance. Everyone was excited because the school got dance. I thought he was the cutest thing. This is the kid they say was emotionally disturbed. They say he tears up classrooms and screams and hollers, [but] he’s so cute and adorable.

So we come out for an hour, me and the PE coach, and we found out that he knew how to drum and that he loved music. We became very close over the next two years of school. It was like night and day. His mom always thanked me for everything that I did for him. His parents and all the other parents were so grateful.

He hangs out with my son. I’ve become a part of their family now. He’s doing great, even in middle school. He graduated, he received an award at graduation for elementary school and I know that all really changed his life.

G: What are three things you think people should know before starting a side hustle?

SF: You really gotta gather information about the financial benefits of it. If you want to turn your passion into your business, how can you monetize that passion? You really have to know if it’s gonna make you money and if it’s worth your time.

The second thing is that you need to seek counsel and get yourself educated. Seek help from your local Better Business Bureau. Maybe get a mentor who has a similar business.

The third thing is that you can’t give up. Most new businesses fail within the first two years. You just can’t give up. You have to keep going, keep trying. Evolve. See if there are some things you can do better with your business. Maybe bring in a business partner. Give it a good five-year run and then make a pros and cons list to see if it’s worth continuing the business. You might have to let it go and start from scratch.

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G: How many hours would you say you work in a week during the school year?

SF: Oh, my God. I mean, we’re at school just 10 hours a day. With tutoring, working, having a blog, I probably do about 90 to 100 hours a week.

Shauna Flowers is a New York State certified teacher with a Bachelors Degree in Special Education and General Education.  She is a reading coach and offers tutoring for kindergarten to fifth grade students in math and ELA. To find out more about Black Girls Tutor or to purchase tutoring sessions, visit their website and follow them on Facebook.

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