Tips for Becoming an Online ESL Teacher

Tips for Becoming an Online ESL Teacher

Teaching English via the Internet could be your ticket to making your own schedule, being your own boss and  discovering cultures on an endless journey to learn and educate. There are tons of reasons why you’ll probably adore teaching online, and landing an online gig doesn’t have to be hard.

More and more, schools are offering blended language and remote teaching options. There are lots of benefits of teaching English online. Firstly, it’s sustainable, saving on transport, travel costs and it reduces the number of printed materials. Secondly, it allows you the flexibility to teach students when you’re away from school and the classroom.

Success in this arena looks a bit different.

The biggest difference between regular classrooms and online classrooms is that online, in the marvelous land of pre-written lesson plans and one-on-one instruction, teachers must provide constant, focused, student-specific engagement. The students only see you for a short time, anywhere from 25 minutes to 60 minutes depending on your company, so your job is to have them speaking, reading, listening, or writing in English that entire time, down to the minute, even if you’ve already taught six classes, even if you’re hungover, even if it’s 5:30am.

So, if you’re faced with a new remote class and you’re not sure how to approach it, follow these four tips and you’ll soon be an online teaching pro.

1. How to Market Yourself

When thinking about the many ways you’ll need to market yourself as an online teacher, there are four key aspects to consider:

  • Are you a university graduate of any kind?
  • Do you hold any teaching certificates (TEFL, TESOL, CELTA)?
  • How much experience do you have to offer to a potential online school?
  • Are you a native English speaker or non-native English speaker?

Missing one or two of the above assets most certainly doesn’t disqualify you from teaching online English, or any teaching any kind of ESL for that matter. These are just great ways to market yourself and obtain the best job possible, in the location you want and at the right price! So, if you’ve got them, flaunt them.

Relevant university degrees will get you in the door of an online English school with much more ease than without. However, there have been many instances when teachers get hired on with an associates or even less.

To teach online successfully, you’ll need a good broadband speed, Skype, a webcam and headset, and a TESOL/TEFL certificate. Generally, it’s also important to be a native English speaker. Finally, most important is a friendly, patient and punctual personality.

Like any ESL classroom, your subject matter has a lot of flexibility. You’ll certainly be required to cover the basics: grammar, speaking, listening, reading, and writing. The lack of face-to-face communication means you may need to get more creative in the classroom.

This added challenge is a real learning opportunity for educators, especially as we push forward into a century where the lines between online learning and classroom learning will continue to blur.

Native English speakers are highly sought after, especially in online English teaching. If you do a quick browse, you’ll see thousands of non-native speakers filling the “Our Teachers” pages scattered throughout the Internet. If you’re a native English speaker, use it to your marketing advantage. If you’re a non-native English speaker, posting TOEFL, IELTS or TOEIC test scores will boost your marketability greatly!

Think of yourself as a product. Brainstorm any possible skills you have which could relate to teaching English online and fill your resume with them. Marketing is an essential aspect to online English teaching, possibly the single most important component which will determine if you’re employed or not.

2. Invest in good equipment

If you want to become a great online English teacher, the first thing you’ll need to do is find a reliable online platform or learning management system to help you communicate with your students. The good news is that there are lots of free options available to you.

If you are running one-to-one or small group English classes and are mostly focused on conversation, Google Hangouts is an easy-to-use option. It’s free and web-based, which means desktop users do not have to download applications to use it. If you have a Gmail address, you’ll be able to send recurring calendar invitations to your student(s) and they will be able to sign in to the Hangout directly from their email.

Google Hangouts has some useful features. For example, you can easily share your screen, share files, write messages and talk on video. There’s also a neat add-on which is that it provides captions. That’s right, the platform actually subtitles your speech in real-time. This can help lower-level learners follow what you’re saying more easily. Of course, it can be switched off for higher-level students, or during listening activities where you want to test their listening comprehension.

Note: to use this platform you’ll have to use Google Chrome as your browser. To organize calls on Hangouts you’ll also need a Google account. However, students should be able to access just with the link.

Skype is also a good option and is free for group calls. In much the same way as Google Hangouts, you can share files, type messages and video chat. You can also call to landlines if necessary, but you’ll be charged for this. Please note: You will need to download the program and set up an account (and so will your students).

With its video conferencing capabilities, Zoom is another popular option for those teaching group classes online. You could also try creating your own video lessons by recording your screen in Microsoft Powerpoint.

As with any technology, we recommend testing it with another teacher or a friend ahead of time to make sure you have a firm understanding of how it works. This will also help you train your students to use whichever platform you choose.

3. Community building

Building rapport in an online English class is considerably harder than in a face-to-face environment. While video conversations are effective and human, they simply don’t equal being in the same room. For this reason, it’s important to build a sense of community among your students, so they feel part of a group and want to continue learning together.

Having a private Facebook or Slack group and making sure your students work together on projects can help overcome this problem (so long as you have created your classroom behavior guidelines).

Slack is a freemium communication platform that allows you to add conversation channels and hold private discussions. It also integrates with other web apps, like Google docs – which is helpful when you want to send activities or share projects and videos.

Alternatively, set up a private Facebook group for your students (aged 13 or over) to discuss classroom activities. Be sure to get parents’ permission, have a strict no-spamming rule and don’t permit students to add you as a friend. Also, don’t get sucked into spending all day in the group. Spend 15 minutes – at a set time of day – answering questions and moderating your class.

4.Your Pay and Conditions

The base pay rate to teach English online is generally not high, but can be increased for teaching specialist English, groups or getting a high satisfaction rating from students.

Generally, you will be able to set your own hours by inputting your available time slots into the school database. This means that you can teach back-to-back lessons with no enforced and unpaid breaks, which are often the norm in a conventional school setting.




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