Episode 6 of 9

Dave Stuart Jr.

Teacher. Husband. Father. Writer. Speaker. Blogger.
Words by Kayla Hollatz • Photography by Caleb Wojcik

  • 15,000 email subscribers
  • $125,000 revenue earned in 2017
Dave Stuart Jr.

When Dave opened the email, his pulse quickened. He had been waiting for this one. As he began reading, he pumped his fist in the air, elated.   

He quickly reached for the phone to call his wife, Crystal.

Honey, you know that rug we’ve been needing for the living room? We can get that now; we just earned some money from the blog.

He could feel his wife’s joy through the phone.

A simple advertising sponsor email to his alma mater’s marketing department had just earned Dave an extra $1800 in income from his six-month-old blog. As a full-time teacher with a modest salary, this was money that would help his family pay for items in their new home.

Later that afternoon as Dave helped Crystal unload the rug from her car, they both looked at each other with delight and disbelief.

Could it be that he had found a way to provide for his family while continuing to make an impact in the classroom as a high school teacher? This advertising contract was the first spark on Dave’s blogging journey, but his story began long before he published his first blog post in May 2012.

Dave’s Early Career Aspirations

As a kid, Dave had dreamed about becoming a writer. As an adolescent, however, he started to hear the concern in adult voices when they’d question him on these aspirations:

How much money do writers make? How do you ensure that you get a job doing that?

Dave heeded those doubts, deciding instead to head to college as a pre-med major.

In college, Dave quickly realized that medicine wasn’t for him. There was one particularly poignant experience where, as a freshman undergraduate, he shadowed a doctor. At the end of the shadowing experience, the doctor looked Dave in the eyes and said:

You had better love what you just saw because it will be your life.

At about the same time, Dave started feeling the urge to work with young people. In his pre-med classes, he found himself daydreaming about teaching English and history during the school months and following his dream of being a writer during his summers off. Before long, Dave applied to the School of Education.

Dave had always been passionate about history, English, and education. He was inspired by his teachers throughout grade school and thought maybe becoming a teacher was his next best step. As he began studying education and student teaching, he knew he had found the right career path for him.

Teaching matters because all of human history is built on teaching. It’s this constant investment in those who follow. Teaching in the classroom matters a lot to me because it’s my calling, and I feel like I’m just made to teach these kids about world history and life.

He graduated a few years later with his bachelor’s degree in education.

Becoming a Teacher—And an Eternal Student

In 2006, Dave began his teaching career in Baltimore, Maryland, where he taught English Language Arts to middle schoolers. A couple of years later, he married his wife, Crystal, and, after spending a year in New York City together while Crystal finished her undergraduate degree, the couple moved to their home state of Michigan in 2010.

During their first few months back in the state, Dave tried (and failed) to find a full-time teaching position. It was a humbling season of life, as Dave had expected that his three years teaching in Baltimore would make him an appealing candidate to hiring committees.

Ultimately, Dave was thankful to land a long-term substitute teaching position in Cedar Springs. This paid the bills, but barely—especially considering the addition of their first child, Haddie, in 2010. The family was grateful to get by living on $75 a day, thanks to the generosity of others and the help of a government assistance program for mothers and children.

It was during this time period that Dave reached out to a mentor of his in New York City, Tim Knapp. Tim had once been a teacher in Oklahoma, and to help provide for his family, Tim had worked various side hustles until finally landing on the entrepreneurial venture that he ultimately switched to from teaching. Dave had no desire to leave teaching, but he did want more financial security for his family. Tim encouraged Dave to look into how he could earn a side income.

In 2011, with financial goals in mind, Dave began exploring the idea of starting a business. But instead of building a business to replace his teaching job, he wanted to create a side business online that would provide more financial security and flexibility for his family.

This was a slow part of Dave’s story, where he spent nine months researching and learning from other successful business owners. He read over a thousand articles on online business during this time, reading a dozen or so each night after his baby daughter was in bed.

That time period of reading was very important. I’m very thankful that I had a paycheck that could provide for my family during that time because I think it was the key to immersing myself in the different ways you can earn income through an online business.

Early in his research, Dave came across Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income. He probably read everything that Pat had posted on his blog up to that point. It was Pat’s “Niche Website Duels” that inspired Dave to think about creating a niche website for a very specific audience.

Dave’s first idea was to create an auto body repair website since Crystal’s family owned body shops and he found the industry interesting. Although the idea was great, it wasn’t a good fit for Dave. Teaching was too time-consuming; he knew he didn’t have the margin in his life to develop expertise in an unrelated field to teaching. So he focused his blog content on teaching instead.

In one of Pat Flynn’s posts, Dave came across Corbett Barr, then of Think Traffic. As Corbett, Chase Reeve, and Caleb Wojcik launched their Fizzle brand, Dave found himself resonating with their earnest, no-nonsense approach. It was while reading articles by these three that Dave clarified his why for starting a blog for teachers: expanding his impact while earning a better income for his family.

I figured that impact was the key. It was why I wanted to become a teacher, and it was why I wanted to write since I was a kid. A blog, I started to see, gave me the potential opportunity to encourage and equip teachers, who would then encourage and equip countless students. But beautifully, it would give me a chance to earn extra income for my family at the same time. That was just what I needed.

With a new perspective and the strong support of his wife, in May of 2012 Dave started blogging under Teaching the Core. His plan was to read through a set of controversial teaching standards and parse out what they might look like in his own classroom.

The Turning Point of Dave’s Blog

With his second daughter Laura on the way, Dave’s family moved into a foreclosed home that needed total remodeling. As a new homeowner, Dave felt the responsibility to provide for his family even more. That summer of 2012, he would grab an energy drink after the kids were in bed, writing his way through a dense but important set of teaching standards, the Common Core.

For the first six months of Dave’s blogging journey, he worked at night after everyone was asleep and the day’s remodeling work was done. By the close of 2012, he was receiving several dollars a month in Amazon affiliate income from books he recommended on the blog, but Dave knew he needed to create more income.

When thinking back on how the blog survived beyond this point, Dave attributes a lot to Crystal. She believed in the potential of what he was creating, and she took on extra duties around the house to help him see it through. He refers to his wife as “the hero of the story” because, when it became hard to juggle teaching, blogging, and family life, Crystal’s toughness, trust, and work ethic made it possible for Dave to persevere.

The first flash of light came about half a year into Dave’s blogging journey when he asked his alma mater’s marketing department if they would like to advertise on his blog. After sharing his monthly pageviews and presenting his pricing plans (a strategy he learned from an old Pat Flynn post), he received a contract: nine months of advertising for $1800.

This advertising collaboration encouraged Dave to look into other opportunities to monetize his blog. In the early spring of 2013, Dave decided to create a Speaking and Workshops page on his website, hoping to attract some speaking gigs to help him gain experience. He linked to the page in blog posts and shared it on his small social media channels. Within a few months, he was hired to speak at events in Oklahoma, Missouri, and his own state of Michigan. To date, Dave has spoken in 25 different states.

The role that I see my work playing . . . is in encouraging and equipping teachers so that they can promote the long-term flourishing of their students. The encouraging part of that is key. There are a lot of professional development options out there that equip teachers, but too few of them make the work manageable or motivating. Robust, rigorous encouragement is a key part of what I do.

With an emphasis on encouraging teachers, Dave steadily built a large online audience through his educational blog and email marketing content.

Prioritizing His Blog and Speaking

After publishing consistent blog posts every Tuesday and Saturday for a couple of years, Dave saw his audience slowly and steadily grow. His strategies for audience growth were always kept in check by a simple question: How do I like to be treated as a blog reader or an email subscriber?

As his readership steadily grew, Dave saw an increase in speaking engagement requests, emails from readers, and income-generating opportunities.

Though the growth wasn’t overnight, within a couple of years Dave was faced with an important decision: How would he handle the success—and the growing demands—of his business?

He knew he didn’t want to quit his teaching job, but he also didn’t want to keep working nights to make the blog run.

After a period of reflection, Dave decided in 2015 to give up 20% of his teaching salary and teach one less class each day. This meant that his classes would end around 12:00 p.m. every day. That way, he could wrap up his teaching-related duties by 3:00 p.m., giving him a couple of hours each afternoon to do the writing and administrative work of the business.

This change now allows Dave to work on his business early in the morning before his kids wake up and then write from 3:00 to 5:15 p.m. before he goes home for the day. Instead of working into the wee hours of the night, Dave prioritizes family dinners and helping his children with their homework. It also gives him enough time to unwind and spend time with Crystal after a fulfilling day of work. Not overworking has been a critical component of Dave’s success since then, as it forces him to do less but better as a blogger and businessman.

It was also during this time that Dave “de-niched” his blog, moving from Teaching the Core to Dave Stuart Jr. This freed Dave up to write about a broader range of topics for teachers, such as literacy, motivation, and the inner work of teaching.

How Dave Balances Work and Life

In addition to his day job, Dave continues to lead workshops and speak at conferences around the nation. Up until 2018, speaking engagements accounted for the majority of his business income at 65%, while his second largest income stream came from digital products. This meant too much time away from family, however, so in 2018 Dave worked to transition the business into a product-centric model.

For years, Dave has offered a handful of starter kits on his website with a “pay what you want” model, which has been successful since Dave’s readers have been generous with what they feel the starter kits are worth. In addition to these, he publishes several eBooks for colleagues he has met with strong offerings for his readers, as well as an eBook of his own.

But the turning point for Dave’s product income stream has come from developing online courses for teachers. In 2016, he built a course called Teaching with Articles, and in 2018 he launched his flagship course called Student Motivation Course.
In a single month, this course brought in more revenue than Dave does in a year as a teacher. The training model Dave is experimenting with is finding rave reviews with his first cohorts of participants.

In 2014, Dave’s work on the niche he started in culminated in a traditionally published a book titled A Non-Freaked Out Guide to Teaching the Common Core. It was a surreal moment to see his words in print for the first time, a dream he’s had for as long as he can remember. The Common Core, however, was never a strong passion of Dave’s, which has made him eager to publish a more timeless book.

With the July 2018 release of These Six Things: How to Focus Your Teaching on
What Matters Most
, Dave is happy to have written a book he can proudly recommend. Even with these books published, Dave still considers blogging to be his medium of choice.

Being a blogger, to me, means being a writer. I love being a blogger because, unlike the writers of old, you can get stuff out the door really fast. It’s way better than getting an article in some prestigious journal or writing a book because with blogging . . . I get feedback today. Did today’s post help someone? That’s what being a blogger is really about.

In the next few years, Dave will continue to blog and teach simultaneously.
He hopes to build more online courses and digital products, as he has lots of ideas but limited time. He’s also thrilled to earn triple the income of his current teaching position through his online business and gets excited at the prospect of giving a growing percentage of that income to causes he and his wife believe in.

With more financial security and a more flexible schedule, Dave can prioritize his greatest earthly treasure: his family. As a husband and father of four children, he’s thankful for the support of his wife, the school he works for, and his blog’s readership of colleagues around the world.

The kids just balance out my life. I go home, and I’m immediately yanked into their world: playing, wrestling, chasing them around, getting mobbed by them . . . While I love the teachers and students that my work serves, these kids are why I put in the extra hours, put myself out there, and hustle. So you can’t tell the story of my business without the story of my family. It’s not possible.

Although Dave’s days of living paycheck to paycheck seem like a long time ago, he still remembers those first few years teaching in Michigan with humility and gratitude. Because of his consistent application of the principles he learned during those months of reading about blogging—and because of his wife’s consistent willingness to take on a bigger workload to make it all work—their family’s finances are now supported by his blog. The many blessings they experience are possible because of a website that, once upon a time in May 2012, had never had a visitor. And, Dave is quick to add, all kinds of providence, too.

From finally getting that rug for their living room to taking his family on trips, Dave has found joy in providing for his family through both writing and teaching—all while continuing to do what he loves.

Now when Dave takes the stage during a speaking gig, he proudly stands in front of an audience of fellow educators and introduces himself as a teacher and a blogger.

Follow Dave

You can be a blogger too

If you’ve checked out any of these stories, you’ll quickly see that even though each story
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