The challenges of teaching English online are numerous and can feel overwhelming at first. Anyone who has made the transition from teaching English face-to-face to teaching English online will tell you that! Even though the lesson structure may be the same, the teaching experience is completely different online. Fortunately, with time, these challenges can be overcome. Especially if you’re armed with a bit of knowledge beforehand.
To help you prepare for your foray into online English teaching, here is a list of the most common challenges of teaching English online and some tips on how to overcome them.
The challenges of teaching English online
Learning how to use new software or a new website
We’ve all been there, learning how to use a new piece of software or an unfamiliar website can be daunting. Have you tried teaching 20 students simultaneously on Zoom yet? For starters, you need to know how to invite the students to the lesson and get everyone to join the class. That’s before you’ve even begun teaching! Similarly, if you’re using Google Meet you will need to learn how to share the meeting link and accept all of your students to the meeting. Skype has been around a while longer and may feel a bit more familiar, but it might not do everything you want it to.
In all cases, if you’re teaching more than one person at once you will find yourself needing to switch between students to speak to them individually. You should therefore familiarize yourself with any website or piece of software you to intend to use for teaching before your first class. That way you will be prepared and won’t look like an amateur to your students!
Ahh the internet, just when it seems like everything is going well you lose connection. This can be a nightmare for online English teachers, because if you lose internet connection you can’t teach. It’s therefore vitally important that you invest in a reliable internet provider with good connection. You should make sure your internet speed is fast enough to cope with teaching English online. If you’re working for an online English teaching company, check their website for their minimum internet speed requirements if you’re unsure.
If you’re planning on teaching outside of home, the first thing you should do is check if there is decent internet where you plan on teaching. Finally, as a contingency, you should have a way of contacting your school or your students if the internet does go down.
So, you’ve got your internet sorted out but what about your hardware? If your computer or laptop isn’t up to scratch you could find yourself encountering technical issues when teaching English online. A frozen screen is a particularly common one. To avoid this, make sure your computer is of reasonable specification and invest in a decent pair of headphones, microphone and camera. After all, you want your students to be able to see and hear you!
Good things come to those who wait. Like many online English teachers, you may find it can take time to fill up your teaching schedule. This can lead to worries over inconsistent pay and uncertainty about your timetable. However, if you teach well, are professional, punctual and provide a good level of training, your schedule will soon fill up. Word of mouth is a powerful thing among English students if you are teaching privately. Whilst, if you’re teaching for an online school, they should recognize your good work. Ultimately, any positive feedback you receive should translate into more classes.
If you’re just starting English teaching and want a head start, a great way of boosting your skills is by taking a TEFL course. Not only will it help you with your teaching and make you a more attractive prospect to students, it will also help you secure an online English teaching job. You may even find that some online English teaching companies allow you to work for other companies. This will help significantly in your quest for student bookings.
Some online English teaching jobs will require a TEFL certificate or a degree if you want to apply. If you’re not already TEFL certified this can easily be remedied by doing a TEFL course. You can find some great special offers on TEFL courses here.
Unfortunately, not having a degree can’t be fixed so quickly. Nevertheless, there are a number of online English teaching jobs that don’t require a degree.
Once you start the actual process of teaching English online, giving instructions is the first thing that you’ll need to do. This can be more difficult online than in-class because you can’t physically demonstrate tasks. You also need to remember that the students you are teaching could have very little knowledge of English. You should therefore keep your language as simple as possible, unless your students are of a high level.
Instructions should be clear and concise, and you can use gestures to help your students understand. This means saying something like “go to the next page”, rather than “would everyone please proceed to the next page”. This is particularly important when teaching English to beginners.
Keeping your students’ attention
One of the greatest challenges of teaching English online is keeping your students’ attention. When a student is learning from their computer, either at home or in their office, it is very easy for them to get distracted. This isn’t something that only affects young learners either! As an online English teacher you have little control over their learning environment, so it is up to you to keep the lessons engaging.
To help keep your students focused and maintain their interest you should involve them as much as possible. Ask questions, play games and do things that keep their eyes on the lesson. A great way of doing this with younger learners (and sometimes older learners!) is by using props such as a cuddly toy. Another approach could be involving an interesting item or conversation piece to add more fun to your class.
Sore, tired eyes
Anyone who has spent any significant amount of time in front of the computer will know that it can lead to sore or tired eyes. To help prevent this, make sure that you take regular breaks away from the screen. If this isn’t possible and you’re stuck in front of the computer, try looking away from the screen every now and then. A great exercise is to focus on an object in the distance for a few minutes before returning your eyes to work. In order to facilitate this, set your students a task that will take them a few minutes before going back to check their work.
Checking student work
We’ll keep this short and sweet. When you’re teaching online, you can’t just walk over to your students and check their work. You therefore need to make sure that you have a system in place. They either need to be able to show you what they’re doing on your screen, send you their work via email or share it with you on a collaborative platform.
Finally, when you’re teaching online it can blur the lines between work and home life. To overcome this, make sure that you manage your schedule effectively and spend time away from the computer to rest and do things you enjoy. Flexible hours can be one of the greatest benefits of teaching English online but don’t fall into the trap of letting your work dominate your home life.
You can do it!
Now that you’ve read about these challenges of teaching English online, you’ll be ready for anything that comes your way! The great thing is that with knowledge and experience nearly all challenges can be overcome. So, take the time to learn and you can look forward to becoming a highly successful online English teacher.