How to transition from the classroom to teaching English online

Woman on a video call

It’s official: online teaching is the future. And there’s no doubt that this could be a huge bonus for teachers–even those more used to traditional classrooms. With flexible hours, short or long-term contracts available, and literally hundreds of opportunities at major companies like VIPKid, getting into teaching English online has never been easier. It can be an excellent way for teachers to supplement their income, or even transition out of the brick-and-mortar classroom altogether.

Don’t have any teaching experience yet? Teaching English online can be a great way to get some, especially since there are companies that don’t require any previous experience. If you’re planning to teach English abroad in the future, it may also be worth giving online teaching a try first, so that you get a better idea of what to expect.

But even for experienced teachers, it’s not quite as simple as logging on and watching the $$$ roll in. While the fundamentals of teaching are the same in any context, teaching online does have its own unique set of challenges. Luckily there are plenty of solutions too. Shannon Fernandez, a VIPKid teacher, has helped us clear up some misconceptions about teaching English online in the past. Now, we thought we’d give you some additional pointers for a successful transition to the online classroom.

Overcoming language barriers

If you’ve taught English as a second language (ESL) before, teaching English online won’t be your first encounter with language barriers. But there can be a difference between dealing with gaps in knowledge online and in person. Imagine you’re used to working with a classroom full of students who can chip in ideas and support each other, and suddenly you’re sharing a screen (and an awkward silence) with one kid who just can’t understand you.

How do you deal with it? 

In the moment, stay patient, talk slowly and grade your language as low as possible. In advance, work on your facial expressions, hand gestures, and images or teaching props, so you have plenty of ways to explain what high-level vocabulary means.

 

Man teaching online

Understanding cultural differences

Again, anyone at home in an ESL classroom won’t be a stranger to daily culture shocks. However, if online teaching is your first major experience working with people from another country, prepare yourself to be surprised and confused by a few cultural curve balls––especially when combined with the language barriers mentioned above! 

Whether it’s something small, like what your student eats for breakfast––or something much larger–take a minute to think about how you react to surprising things your students say. As a rule, being surprised or curious is fine, but steer clear of any negativity or judgment. Cultural differences that might seem huge to you are probably just an everyday part of your students’ lives, and an uncomfortable reaction from you could leave them feeling alienated in the classroom. Remember, if you keep an open mind and listen to your students in a mixed culture classroom, you’ll end up learning as much as you teach.

Mastering online teaching technology

As a teacher, you know how embarrassing it can be to find yourself feeling unprepared, or on the back foot in front of a room full of expectant people. Unfortunately, switching to teaching online doesn't stop this happening from time to time! But one way to make sure you feel in control in the online classroom is by mastering the technology you teach with.

Obviously, this begins with a reliable computer and a strong internet connection. Beyond these basics, getting comfortable with all the different tools on your teaching platform is really important. It’ll improve your confidence, your lessons and make you look more professional. This is especially true if you’re working with kids, who (no doubt) will have all the tech figured out already. This may mean spending time figuring things out in the classroom outside of lessons, but the results (confident teacher ✅ well-managed classroom ✅ engaged students ✅) will be worth it. 

Adapting to the spotlight

You’re used to people looking at you. As a teacher, you spend all day standing up in front of people. But, suddenly, your face is close up on a screen for hours at a time and it makes you feel kind of . . . exposed. 

Unfortunately, this is part and parcel of being an online teacher. But the good news is you’ll get used to it, just like you got used to standing at the front of a classroom. To help you through it in the meantime, make sure you and your visible background look presentable (if not exceptional), and keep students busy so that, even if you feel your face is front and center, they’re focused on the tasks at hand.

And, don’t forget props––the virtual teacher’s ultimate teaching assistant. There are all kinds of creative and budget-friendly props you can use as entertaining teaching resources, or buddies to share the spotlight with.

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Creating a positive virtual environment

After all the human contact of teaching in a classroom, switching to an online environment might feel somewhat cold. But your online students are just as real as your in-person ones, and they’ll still need a supportive, engaging atmosphere to thrive. 

So, how can you recreate it? 

First, get to know your students and create opportunities for them to get to know each other by encouraging participation and discussion in class. Next, involve your students in the classroom by asking them for feedback on classes, monitoring their progress and following up on homework, just as you would in person. Finally, make sure the activities you do are adapted to creating an encouraging online environment. For example, with a little adjustment, classic learning games can bring life and humor into an online classroom, just as they would in person.

Planning your classes

One of the things that attract many educators to online teaching is the thought of no lesson planning. Major online schools such as VIPKid have great learning resources already planned out, leaving their teachers with nothing to do except turn up and teach. (Is that a dream come true or what?)

However, especially when you’re first starting out as an online teacher, you’ll still have to put a little thought into how you’re going to present yourself in class. This could literally mean laying out your clothes before bed if being in different time zones means you start teaching super early in the morning. Or it might mean that you have to tidy the house, so you have a professional-looking background for your webcam.

You’ll also need to consider how to increase engagement in your online classroom. You might want to make props, plan the online tools you’ll be using, or think about how to grade your language for low-level learners.

Whatever you need to get your head around, remember that online lessons are often short and planned to the minute, so getting any extra preparation done in advance is key. When the lesson begins, you’ll be glad you sorted out these factors beforehand, and the more experienced you become, the less you’ll have to prepare.

Getting started with teaching English online

Think you’re ready to teach online? With a few tweaks here and there, transitioning from the classroom to successfully teaching online is doable for any teacher. And it means having some extra cash in your bank account––which is always nice.

With so many online teaching opportunities out there, what are you waiting for? Apply to teach online today.

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