Despite its prevalence, the Internet is still somewhat shrouded in mystery. When you tell people that you teach English online, you will be met with furrowed brows or askance glances.
Indeed, though people have no problem using the Internet to manage their mail, taxes, shopping, entertainment, news, and banking, it appears that they draw the line at English class.
“Can Skype really take the place of face-to-face interaction?” Yes, teaching English on the Internet comes with its own unique set of challenges. But it also opens the door for countless opportunities. When it’s done right, online classes can be rewarding for both teachers and students, in addition to providing a stable income.
Perhaps the most obvious advantage of teaching English online is that you have incredible flexibility with your schedule. If you’re a night owl, you can fill up your evenings, and sleep in the next morning. Indeed, your students will come from all over the world — so if you feel inspired to teach at two in the morning, this might be a reasonable hour for a student in a different time zone.
This flexibility is great — but beware that you don’t want your schedule to be too flexible. It’s common for students to consider online classes to be less of a concrete obligation than classes at a school or institute. As a result, cancellations can be frequent, so it’s best to be clear about your cancellation policy from the get-go.
For some, working from home is a dream. You can go to the bank, work out at the gym, or buy groceries in peace when the rest of the world is at work. You don’t have to commute, and thus avoid traffic jams and crowded trains. As a bonus, your lack of commute means that you add an extra hour (or two!) to your day.
However, being cooped up at home all day can make one a little stir-crazy. Indeed, if you find yourself wearing pajamas at 6 pm for the third day in a row, consider changing your surroundings. That’s the beauty of online teaching: you’re not constricted by location, so feel free to camp out at your favorite café. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, try working from a different city, or even a different country: you can travel all over the world and still teach, as long as you have a reliable Internet connection!
“Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.”- Henry David Thoreau
Before I started teaching online, all of my students were exclusively from Buenos Aires, Argentina. As a result, I got used to what they struggled with — I was an expert in illustrating the difference between the letters b and v, as well as explaining the semantic subtleties of the prepositions “in,” “on,” and “at.” When you teach online, however, suddenly you will have students from all over the world. It’s great, for many reasons — you have the opportunity to meet interesting people from across the globe, all with different lives, opinions, and experiences.
It also means, however, that you will have to tailor your lessons to your students depending on the language that they speak. For example, in Mandarin Chinese, there are no articles; thus, a learner from Beijing may struggle with the difference between “a” and “the” more than a learner from Paris, whose language contains definite and indefinite articles (like English). Similarly, English word order may be easy for learners in Venice, as Italian also features subject-verb-object word order. But it may be a significant hurdle for Korean speakers, who are used to putting verbs at the end of sentences, after the object.
English textbooks are a boom for teachers — they provide a compelling study plan, and can be used as a crutch when you didn’t have time to prepare your lesson. But unless your student has the same book as you, or is willing to purchase it, it’s not easy to use textbooks in online classes (although online versions are becoming increasingly popular).
There’s a silver lining, however, to bidding adieu to your textbooks. If you haven’t already, you’ll discover the plethora of high-quality — and free — resources that are available on the internet. To name just a few, you can find lesson plans based on short films; you can administer a listening test to assess your students’ comprehension skills; you can read English-language-blogs specifically tailored to help learners, and you can check out a wealth of free classroom activities from LingoHut. You’ll have no problem creating interesting, dynamic lessons from material that exists online, and you’ll find inspiration in others’ work.
Unfortunately, the Internet still isn’t perfect. Indeed, dropped Skype calls are the bane of online English teachers, and finding the right technology to conduct your classes will require some time and troubleshooting. But once you find the right platform — whether it be Skype, Zoom, or Google Hangouts — you’ll be able to take advantage of the cool features that this technology has to offer.
My favorite tool is screen sharing, which is possible (and free) on all three of the programs mentioned above. With this tool, your student can watch what’s happening on your screen in real-time. It’s especially useful if you’re teaching students who otherwise would be unable to access certain media. For example, many learners in China are unable to access specific music videos or movie clips on YouTube, but with screen sharing, you can show them the videos during class. If you want to display a clip from Netflix, but your student doesn’t have an account, no problem — just play the video and share your screen, and voilà!
First, use headphones (and ask that your students do the same), as sometimes the video can delay for a second or so, which creates a distracting echo on the other end.
Second, look at the camera, not the screen. Though it may seem a bit unnatural, it will give the appearance that you’re looking at your students. Which mimics face-to-face interactions, and adds a personal touch to online classes.
As the Internet continues to grow, teaching online classes will only become more popular. Indeed, there are some obstacles associated with giving classes on the Internet. But ultimately, teaching online will connect you with both diverse students from all over the world, as well as the wonderful and supportive online teaching community. To me, this outweighs any obstacle and makes teaching online an excellent, accessible, and convenient option for an English teacher.