If you have done any amount of research into today’s ESL job market, no doubt you have seen positions advertised all over the world.
You can travel into the mysterious lands of the east, the vibrant continent of South America, or the mysterious realms of Africa. And if you’re not quite ready to board the plane, another type of job may have caught your attention. Teaching ESL online. The opportunities for online instruction are more popular today than ever, and you may be considering a virtual teaching career. If you are, there are some things you’ll need to consider before you put your electronic signature on any document. Here are some of the things you’ll need to think about before you sign up to sign in.
5 Things You Need to Know before You Hit Send
You Should Be Comfortable at Home
When you teach online, you do have coworkers, but not in the traditional sense. While you can send emails and join online discussions, you can’t just pop over to the water cooler to chat for a few minutes or to blow off steam. If you are the type of person who thrives on interaction with others, especially face to face, a more traditional position might be more for you. If on the other hand, you want to teach English but aren’t ready to uproot yourself and your entire life to travel overseas, teaching online might be the best fit for you. One advantage to virtual classrooms is you can teach your students from anywhere in the world, including your living room. You won’t find yourself in a foreign land needing to learn a new language. You can still hang out at your favorite spots with friends you have known your entire life as you touch the lives of students and further your educational career.
You Should Have the Appropriate Equipment and Software or Be Able to Get It
Depending on the expectations of your potential employer and your job responsibilities, you will probably need some of your own equipment to fulfill your teaching responsibilities. Clearly, you will need a computer with internet access. But you may also need a web cam, an appropriate headset so your voice comes through with the quality your students expect, and software for logging in to your school and grading student assignments. Likely, your school will provide the necessary software to download, but it can also be helpful if you have a technology minded person you can turn to at home for help. For my first online position, I had a very difficult time setting up all the software that was necessary and the struggles with the setup started my online teaching experience off on a shaky foundation.
You Will Need to Have Good Time Management and Self-motivation
Depending on the requirements of your position, you may need to be online several times each week and perhaps even multiple times each day. Working from home isn’t like working on location for many reasons, but one of the biggest reasons is you’ll need self-motivation. Are you a get up and go kind of person? Do you get things done without others having to remind you? If so, you probably have good time management skills that will serve you well as an online teacher. You’ll have to post assignments, read student work, and give feedback in a timely manner. And no one will be next to you telling you to get those things done. You’ll have to get yourself up out of bed and sitting in front of your computer. It takes a certain amount of self-discipline to work this way. You also have to be quick about doing your part for your online class, and you won’t be able to leave all of your work for the last two days of the week. Some schools also require scheduled office hours on a daily basis, so keep in mind whether you can do meaningful work when no one is pressuring you to get it done. In addition, your school will have standards you have to meet on how many times you check in, how many responses you have to make, etc. be sure to read and frequently review these so you are keeping up your end of the bargain once you do accept a position.
You Will Need to Give Meaningful Feedback without Face to Face Interaction
Most likely you will never have live interaction with your students, though there are exceptions. That means that you will have to give them meaningful feedback without having a conversation, standing up front in their classroom, or sitting across a table from them. Since the majority if not all of your communication will be in written form, you will need to be a good writer to share your positive and negative feedback with students without in a way that is clear and kind. As we all know in the age of email and texting, your tone does not communicate through writing, so you’ll have to be deft at getting across a gentle attitude when you communicate with your students.
You Will Need to Be Very Specific with Your Expectations to Students
One of the most challenging assignments I regularly give ESL students in the classroom is to do listening and speaking activities over the phone. That is because much of our communication happens through body language and facial expressions. Without those clues, comprehension is much more challenging. Your online students will be in the same boat as someone talking on the phone, no face to face interaction, so you’ll need to over communicate to be sure everyone is on the same page. Be extremely clear and detailed with your expectations and assignments for students. You should also give an example of formatting for assignments where students can access it so they can see what you mean in addition to reading your instructions. It is also important to use complete sentences, correct grammar, and accurate spelling, avoiding shortcuts or casual speech since students will be basing their language learning on what you present to them.
Teaching online will require four more things of you.
You will need to be a cheerleader for your students who will need encouragement from you so they don’t feel attacked or judged when you make comments or ask for additional information. You will need to be present. Let your students know your general schedule and how long you generally take to respond to their questions and assignments. This will forge a connection between you and your students and keep everyone’s expectations realistic. You will need to live up to your own standards. Use standard English, correct formatting, and appropriate conduct even though your instruction isn’t face to face. Finally, you will need to keep learning yourself. If you love learning, your students will see that in you, and your love will rub off on them as they learn and become fluent in the English language.