3 common misconceptions people have about teaching English online (as told by a real teacher)

Hello! I’m Shannon - an energetic, caring, goofy and ukulele-playing teacher. I currently live in Toronto, Canada, where I work as an online English teacher with VIPKID.

I love that my commute to my classroom is approximately 30 cm, from my bed to my computer desk. From the time my alarm beeps, it takes me about 30 minutes to make a coffee, fix my hair, clip on my pearls and put on a nice shirt so I can teach in my pajama pants.

A little more about me: In 2011, I graduated with my BA. After graduating, I worked as a university recruiter for about five years, traveling around Canada to speaking with high-school students about post-secondary education opportunities.

I loved working with students on a daily basis, so I decided to go back to school to study for my bachelor’s degree in education. In 2016, I landed my first teaching job through Teach Away, teaching kindergarten students in South Korea. In 2017, during my second year in Korea, I started teaching English online a few evenings a week to supplement my income.

Read this: 5 reasons why licensed teachers should try online teaching

When I finished up my second contract in Korea, I took a two-month break from teaching and went on a backpacking adventure around South East Asia. Now that I’m back in Canada, I’m taking online English lessons four mornings a week as I try to figure out where in the world I want to travel to next.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand!

Myths and realities of teaching English online.

When it comes to teaching English online, educators have a lot of questions about how the job compares to teaching in a physical classroom. (At least, I know I had!)

While it is a different experience and requires tweaking traditional teaching methods to adjust to teaching on an online platform, it can be just as rewarding.

So let’s dispell some of the myths about teaching English online together!

Watch this: A day in the life teaching English online

1. I need lots of teaching props and tools.

Nope! Everything I use in my classroom fits into one shoebox. I’ve got a mini white board, dry erase markers, an old sock turned into a puppet, reward system cutouts, alphabet cards, a notebook, a few small stuffed animals, a mini toy car and a ball of sticky tack.

I guess I should admit that the one thing I regularly use in my lessons that does not fit in my shoebox is my ukulele - but that is not a required online English teaching tool.

teach english online from home

On occasion, I will momentarily run off screen to grab other applicable items lying around my apartment.

Sometimes I pop on my chef hat when we talk about food or hobbies, my snorkel mask when talking about underwater life, or I’ll grab my trusty jar of peanut butter to explain the word “squish,” but these are just bonus items.

My shoebox of goodies is all I really need to effectively teach a lesson. I can easily throw my shoebox in my bike basket to take to my friend house, in my suitcase on a plane or even just under my arm to the basement on a sweltering summer day when it’s too hot upstairs and I want to save on my AC bill.

The items in my shoebox are super helpful when I am teaching, but truly, the most important thing you need as a teacher is a genuine smile and a positive attitude.

Those are much more important than knickknacks, fancy backdrops, alphabet cards or lesson plans. An enthusiastic teacher who shows genuine interest in their student is the most important factor contributing to student learning.

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2. You can’t build a relationship with your students.

Also nope! Every week, I usually meet a handful of new students in my classroom, but I would say that most of my students are repeats.

Before each lesson, I facilitate a brief Q&A session in which my student and I take turns asking each other three questions and providing an answer. Not only is this an opportunity for the student to practice their conversational English skills, but it fosters a stronger student-teacher relationship.

We chat about our hobbies, what we ate that day, family members, what the weather is like, what our weekend plans are, favorite colors and so much more!

teach english online to chinese students

I also have an excel document where I jot down notes on my students to help me remember little details, such as “Sam has a salsa dance competition this week”, “Lily has a pet pig named Lulu” or “if John was an animal, he’d like to be a lion”.

Not only can I use this information to personalize my lesson but the kids are excited to tell me about what is happening in their life. For example, during a lesson on measurement, I asked Lily to estimate how long her Lulu is in centimeters and millimeters. She loved it!

3. The lesson is set in stone.

Nope, no and another big fat NOPE! One of my favorite things about teaching English online is that all of my lessons are made for me. With my company, I’m provided with powerpoint slides of pictures to inspire conversation, writing activities, stories, questions and language games.

That being said, every student has their own personality, likes, abilities and learning needs. I may teach the same lesson to multiple students, but it is NEVER the same experience. While it is important to stick to the learning goals of that particular lesson, the way you execute it is up to you.

For example, on one slide you may find a picture of a bear with the sentence, “bears live in caves.” One student might need to focus on the pronunciation of the word “bear”.

With another student, you may focus on animal habitat vocabulary and ask questions, like, “where do bees live?” and “where do ants live?”

You may discover that you have a very high-level student and choose to ask thinking or opinion questions like, “why do bears live in caves?” Or, “if you were a bear, what would you do?”

Another day, you may have a student who really likes music and you could decide to compose a song about bears with them. If you see a stuffed teddy bear on your student's shelf, you can ask them to use it to demonstrate a grammar point, such as, “my teddy bear is eating.”

I’m sure you’re already thinking of your own ideas based on these little examples! This keeps things exciting for the student and teacher alike. The more fun you’re having as an online English teacher, the more excited you will be and that energy will, in turn, transfer to your student.

So there you have it - some of the most common myths about online English teaching officially busted! When I’m chatting with my friends about home-based jobs, I always highly recommend giving online English teaching a go. I love that this job has allowed me to be flexible with my location, working hours and vacation time. Best of all, I always look forward to seeing my student’s smiling face when our lessons start!

If you have any more questions about teaching English online, ask away! The amazing Teach Away team is ready to answer.

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