Online teachers are popping up everywhere as the demand far outweighs the supply. This is one of the quickest ways for a native English speaker, or Spanish or Chinese, etc., to find online work and, if they want, to begin traveling. Teaching online offers the flexibility to work from home or abroad while gaining a stable income. It is also particularly attractive to people like me, a single parent and/or a stay a home mom with a young child that I would prefer not to put in daycare (I couldn’t afford it anyway!). I also enjoy the freedom of being able to work wherever I want, as long as the internet connection is stable and fast.
But what about licensing/certification/degrees?
Yes, in a perfect world, all online teachers would have degrees, certifications and/or licenses, but there simply are not enough qualified teachers to fill the demand. Countries like China, Japan, Russia and those in the Middle East will pay top dollar for effective online teachers. But what does an effective teacher mean exactly? In my opinion, it is one that will help the student improve his/her language skills in each and every class.
One of the biggest mistakes that amateurs make, upon becoming an “online teacher”, is that they think they are being paid to have a conversation. While this is a ploy often used in recruitment advertisements (i.e. “Make Money by Speaking English!), there is much more to being an online teacher. In fact, I have gained a number of private students who come to me from other teachers. Their biggest complaint is that the teacher expected to chat for the class and had not prepared anything formal.
Tips for being an Online Teacher
Here are some hints and tricks to make your online teaching as successful as possible so that you can retain students long term:
- Prepare: You need to prepare a lesson plan as if you were a teacher in a classroom. Even conversational lessons need to have a list of vocabulary to focus on and at least one grammar point. Sometimes online companies will provide lessons for you, but you still need to take a few minutes to look through the materials and make 2 – 3 backup activities that you can if you finish early. It is easy enough to create a role-play based on almost any material to keep the class going and provide additional practice.
- Dress Professionally: Yes, one of the benefits of working as an online teacher is that you can literally do it in your underwear. But from the chest up, you need to be presentable if you are on camera. If you work in a hot climate, like I do, make sure to have acceptable shirt or blouse nearby to put on for your classes.
- Environment: Although this is a great job for a stay at home parent, you need to make sure your environment is appropriate. Students don’t want to hear crying babies or toddlers or to be constantly interrupted during their classes. If you have young children, I would suggest scheduling classes while they are asleep (which is possible with the time zone changes in many parts of the world). You can also enlist a mother’s helper, to play and entertain them while you work (this is what I do), or you can work opposite your partner’s schedule… but either way, children and other interruptions, like televisions, pets, and traffic are distracting to the student.
- Correct: Students need to be corrected as much as possible. You will have to figure out when it is appropriate to immediately correct, or when to wait until the end of the activity (for example, reading a text), but you should try to correct the students as much as possible. It is even better if you can record the new vocabulary and pronunciation mistakes to include in the after class feedback. Correction is even more important for adult students, who want to see progress in their learning with each class.
- Visual Aids: According to the Multiple Intelligence Theory, there are several types of learners. The majority are strongly inclined towards visual learning. In an online class, you can use an interactive whiteboard (I use http://www.realtimeboard.com) and/or screen sharing to help increase the visuals. You can also use this to point out corrections and pronunciation errors. Repetition of the words will also reach auditory learners. Sometimes students need to repeat a work up to five times before they can say it easily and you should be aware of that and be patient with them.
- Adjust your Speech: You will need to speak slowly and clearly for even advanced learners. What seems like slow motion to you may be overwhelming to them. They will need time to absorb the information and think of a response. Speaking slowly helps to give them that chance without a misunderstanding or a long, awkward pause while they think of an answer.
- Feedback: All students should receive some type of feedback following each class. It is important for adult students, and parents, to see the progress that the student is making. Feedback can come in many forms, but generally, you can prepare a report (even from a template) which includes new vocabulary from the lesson, grammar points, advice and perhaps homework assignments. I choose to send an e-mail that contains the materials used in class, screen shots, lesson notes, and homework.
Final Thoughts for online teachers
While this is not expected to be your certification as an online teacher, I hope that the previous points will be helpful to your new career. Successful online instructors are ones that provide value to the student and show them that they are advancing and learning more with every class. Also, as a final note, smile! You want to show the student that you are enjoying your job and the time you spend with them.
In my next article, I will be writing about communicative activities which can be used in the online classroom in order to get students speaking in the target language. Stay tuned!