Motivation: Online vs. Onsite TEFL Courses
During my career as an educator, I have had the opportunity to teach English as a second language using both classroom and private tutoring platforms. My undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin - Madison led me to a major in Communications.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Joseph E. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
One course, in particular, required an internship at a local elementary school where I worked with students of diverse backgrounds. Although I had not majored in education at the university, that one course inspired my desire to teach, especially to children who had language barriers. Before college I had many opportunities to be involved in programs and theater activities, so I felt that experience would make me a creative teacher. After I graduated, I joined the Peace Corps where I was assigned to teach English to students in Namibia, an independent country in Africa. After my term ended there, I began researching other ways to teach English as a second language. I discovered the online program VIPKid and contracted with them to begin tutoring students privately in China via the internet. Both of these positions, although similar in many ways, have had different and interesting challenges to me as an educator.
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My first assignment with the Peace Corps was teaching English to students in grades 4-12 in a small rural village in northern Namibia. This remote village had about 500 people and an hour away from the nearest major city which had a population of around 2000. I taught 4 classes of English every day to learners of a variety of ages and skills. Classes were around 15 students each and 45 minutes long. There was no set learning program to teach English, so I had to prepare my curriculum, lesson plans, and classwork for each class. I later discovered that the school continued to use my curriculum from that day on. The major challenge that I faced when teaching in Namibia was my students’ willingness to participate in lessons. The desire to learn seemed to be reserved for only 1 or 2 students in every class. I was never sure if children were afraid they would give a wrong answer, did not think they needed English, or they had difficulty with communication. It was a constant struggle to understand how or what to teach my students. It became a game for me finding fun, engaging, exciting, and active ways to teach English every day so my students would see the need to continue their language learning. During this time, I put to use all my previous creative drama background to keep class going every day.
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Recently, I have started teaching English as a second language online with the VIPKid platform. This program is all one-on-one tutoring, and classes are only 25 minutes of lessons in length. The curriculum is set by the program. Progress is monitored regularly, so my lessons are on point with where the student is in the curriculum. Each class is already prepared for the teacher, which allows for less creativity as a teaching professional in the classroom. It does mean, however, that I can save time in lesson planning. My curriculum is set, and I know my students are receiving a similar experience to other students who are enrolled in the program.
Teaching with VIPKid has been a great experience for me, and I have enjoyed it greatly so far. This platform, although convenient and easy to use, does have one major pitfall for me, and that is my lack of connection with the children I teach. It is difficult to develop a personal relationship with them which I believe is important in learning. Also, this lack of connection has caused numerous problems with students who come to the lesson without parental monitoring. Without a parent to supervise I see children playing games, reading books, and using a variety of other tactics to avoid paying attention to the lesson. Unfortunately, since the classes are done through video chat, there is only so much that I can do to correct this problem. This problem is one that I have talked about with many other teachers who work in the program, and they all agree, saying that hopefully, the parents will choose to read the feedback and realize the importance of their participation.
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As a teacher I have had experience working with non-English students in a classroom and as an online tutor. Both of these methods of teaching provide different challenges and also different benefits. I have had the opportunity to develop a curriculum and use a prepared curriculum. I have been able to use my creative nature in both venues even when the basic structure is set. Both programs allow me as a teacher to understand and appreciate different cultures and see what students are like in other environments. I have broadened my horizons on what skills can work in both scenarios and which ones only work in-person versus online. I believe that both types of courses can be beneficial for English learning, and it all comes down to motivation for both mine and my students. If we as a team are motivated, successful learning will occur no matter where students are receiving their lessons.
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