8 Things I Wish I had Known Before I Started Teaching English Online
I started teaching online two years ago. With no training, it was a bumpy start. If there is one thing I want you to take away from this post, it’s this: relax. It gets better.
1. The learning curve is STEEP. You will get better.
Be ok with not being great when you start. Teaching is a craft. No amount of school can fully prepare you to teach. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t study before you start teaching. Studying can help you be better equipped when you do start. But there is an intuition you have to develop when you begin teaching. You will learn with practice how to connect with your students, how to identify what areas they are struggling with, and how to best teach different concepts. Odds are, your first classes are going to be rough. Go into it with the mentality that you are going to try your best but with the expectation that might not go well. You will hit it off with some students right away but struggle to connect with others. You will end up confusing your students when you try to explain things. It’s ok. You are learning. You will get better.
2. You will have bad classes. It’s not always your fault.
No matter how much experience you have, you will still have bad classes. I see a lot of new teachers blame themselves when they have a student who refuses to participate in class. You cannot blame yourself for this, especially if you’re teaching kids. The more you teach, the more you will learn how to make class fun and interesting, but the bottom line is that there will always be kids who don’t want to be there, and you can’t always change that. So don’t be so hard on yourself.
I had a student who really hated class. He would pretend to fall asleep and occasionally put boogers on the camera to communicate his disdain. Ironically, I had taught him the sentence pattern “I don’t like ,” so he would have been able to tell me in English that he didn’t like me if he’d been paying attention. Every class with him crushed my spirit. I gave every class 100% and was demoralized when it didn’t pay off. Eventually, I had to remind myself that I had lots of students who liked me and that this wasn’t my fault. When you encounter students like that, always try to find ways to engage them, but lower your expectations. Be ok with not being able to help everyone.
3. They don't have to get it right away.
Learning a language is incredibly difficult. It is a marathon, not a sprint. There are several things that your student won’t be able to do right away. A good example is teaching the “r” sound to Chinese students. Do not expect them to be able to say it in one lesson. Have them practice it each lesson for about a minute, then move on to something else. The same idea applies to vocabulary and grammar. If they have trouble conjugating verbs, practice it with them. If they don’t get it, move on. You can revisit it in the next lesson.
Getting stuck on one thing is a dangerous trap that a lot of teachers, myself included, fall into. If you overcorrect a student, they will get frustrated and demoralized. It will feel strange at first to move on from something before the student has mastered it, but it is much preferable to destroying your student’s confidence. Be patient. Keep revisiting it. They will improve in time.
4. Rushing class is counterproductive.
There is a tendency among teachers to cram as much as possible into a single lesson. This is especially true if the curriculum has been decided for you. Don’t. It's counterproductive to make the class boring and fast-paced. It is better for your student to understand and be able to use what you taught them than for them to see a massive pile of rushed content that they will instantly forget. Don't rush through material your student doesn't know, even if you're running out of time. It’s better to learn a little than to forget a lot.
5. Students learn more if they're having fun.
Incorporate games into the class. Make sure the student is speaking for about half of the class if possible. Ask them to define certain words. Play Pictionary. Find out what they like and teach them vocab related to that. Students learn more if they’re having fun.
6. You can’t let your students see how far they have to go.
Learning a language is very daunting. It can take years to become fluent. Realizing how far you have to go is demoralizing. So teachers have to do a bit of a magic trick. As I said earlier, happy students learn faster. Show your students how much they’ve learned and cleverly hide how far they have to go. Only introduce concepts that are one step above what they have learned and start each class with a win.
7. Starting kids off with a win helps them be more confident in class
Most of the kids I teach are just starting out. They can’t form sentences on their own. I start each class with a drilling exercise about emotions. First, I teach them “happy,” “sad,” and “angry.” They learn these fairly quickly. Then, the next class, I show them pictures. They almost always get it right. Once they’ve had the confidence boost of getting those three right, I introduce another emotion. I keep introducing emotions at the start of each lesson until they have mastered all of the ones on my list. This has had a profound impact on my classes. My students absolutely love shouting the names of each emotion to me at the start of the lesson. They have a comfortable routine to start each lesson. When we dive into the lesson material, they are already confident because they started class with a win.
8. It gets better
It’s so rewarding to see your student's face light up when they see you, to hear them say "I love you, teacher!" and to see their English improve. These things take time. You have to invest and be patient, but these moments will come.
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