Teaching online, and subsequently teaching English as a Foreign Language comes along with a few strong associations:
See the world and make a living while you do it!
Of course, for many right now, maybe the dream is now edited: now the dream is working anywhere in the world – online. Wearing pajamas and working from home, or drinking coffee in a park with a virtual student, or live streaming from your dining room table. Teaching online is a worthwhile and intriguing side hustle (if you’re so inclined, that’s a link to EFL teaching) and for many people around the world, a reliable source of income.
However, teaching online requires a new skill set for the old guard who may be accustomed to teaching in-person courses. It’s rewarding and constantly interesting – and MAN I’ve learned so much in a short span of time. For those of you interested in teaching online, read along to learn more:
First of all, just start. It will never be perfect. If you get that paralysis by analysis, sometimes we just never start at all. It’s better to try and fail than always wonder. I read this quote a while back and it resonates with me when I get a little too self-critical.
What devices are your students using? Depending on whether they’re on a phone, a laptop, PC, or shared device will determine how you present your materials. Also, remember, there are different things to put on the screen. Sometimes it’s the talking head (you, lecturing), sometimes you may utilize a PowerPoint, a video, or animation. Other times you’re working through a worksheet together or reading a book.
Perfection is the lowest standard anyone can have – it leaves no room for growth. While completing a task perfectly may feel good for a little while, it’s through our mistakes that we develop our greatest strengths and find life’s impactful lessons. – Tony Robbins
Okay moving along. Admittedly, when it comes to online teaching, I’m a novice. My website was developed to be a virtual CV years ago and I have kept it that way until recently. Sometimes it goes down and students can’t log into class. Then once we connect, more than once we’ve had issues with the picture or sound. As I said, I’m learning.
This leads me to my first, and arguably most important point on this list:
1. Embrace practice classes
Right now, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to practice my online skills by teaching with a group of friends (hi, girls!). They tell me what they like and don’t like. They will offer suggestions for things to make classes more interesting or accessible.
I can’t emphasize strongly enough how important it is to “get the bugs out” – so to speak – before you go live.
During each students’ first class, I ask them where they’re connecting from and which device they’re using. This inevitably starts interesting conversations about locations, etc. but also helps you as the instructor to know the lay of the land. It introduces you to a bit of your students’ schema, or from which vantage point they’re approaching this course. This brings me to the next point:
2. Establish everyone’s connection
How do you connect to class? Make sure your internet connection is reliable. The last thing you want is to have to cancel a class because you froze mid-sentence.
Next, ask yourself, how do your students connect? Depending on whether they’re on a phone, a laptop, PC, or shared device will determine how you present your materials.
Also, remember, there are different things to put on the screen. Sometimes it’s the talking head (you, lecturing), sometimes you may utilize a PowerPoint, a video, or animation. Other times you’re working through a worksheet together or reading a book.
3. Make sure they can hear you
Consider your surroundings where you connect or film.
Is there an echo? A noisy air handler? Evaluate your space and do your best to eliminate background noise. If you’re in a cafe or place with lots of noise, consider earbuds or a headset. I’ve used both my AirPods and an attached speaker. This will reduce background interference as well as allow you to hear them better.
4. Simplify your approach
Over 50% of students surveyed (Online College Students 2019) used their phones for some or all of their online learning.
While working on a phone is super cool and provides access for many students who may not have had the time or the ability to come to an in-person course, there’s only so much you can do on a cell phone. So keep it simple.
Mu South Korean students typically connected with me over the phone for conversational English that took place on the bus to work. There was no room for course materials on their side other than homework, so it was up to me to cater the class to their needs.
5. Be consistent
Homework and grading were two of the things I didn’t even consider when I began teaching online. That is until my students sheepishly said “no, I didn’t have a chance to do that yet …” when they’d previously been so studious. Working from home, especially if you’re in a home that doesn’t also attend school, can be a challenge.
We’re still working our way through this one, but the best thing I can suggest here is to continuously follow up and ask about assignments sent out. Of course, if you’re grading your classes, then allot the points accordingly.
6. Create an online calendar
(Note: This really only applies if you’re teaching on your own platform).
Thank goodness for Reddit. I follow an ESL Teachers thread there and they led me to Calendly. After exploring and utilizing the free trial, I love it. So currently, that’s what I use as my scheduler. There are plenty of options out there, stay tuned for more on that!
Now it’s your turn. Do you teach online? Any tips you want to share? We all learn from one another, so thanks for taking the time!
About the Author
Brianna is a businessperson with a passion for social science and healthy living. They seem to always intersect and come together on Indie. If you’d like to read more articles like this one, check out Indie. Thanks, as always, for reading!