Published 8th February 2021
If you are currently teaching English as a Foreign Language, you probably know the drill. You know how to prepare a lesson adequately for your lessons, you’ve got a good rapport with your students and you know English grammar like the back of your hand.
In fact, maybe you’ve done so many TEFL lessons that you can practically do them in your sleep.
But now you’ve decided to venture into the world of online teaching. How hard could it be? You’re teaching the same language and utilizing the same theories and methodologies. Your students are the same, so surely your lessons are the same?
Let’s just stop you right there.
Yes, teaching English online is very similar to teaching English face-to-face. The content of your lessons can remain the same, provided your students have the same needs, abilities, and interests. But there are stark contrasts between the two media.
Sadly there are many teachers who are not fully aware of what they are getting into when it comes to online teaching. They believe they can translate their lessons into online lessons with minimal changes. And this is where the danger lies.
Let’s look at the most common mistakes made by online TEFL teachers so that you can be adequately prepared for your new online career.
Location, location, location
Where is your online classroom? If your background is a busy bookshelf or the students can see dogs and children running in the background or the doorbell rings regularly and the TV is always on, your students are going to struggle to concentrate on you and your lesson. Your background should be clean and simple with no distractions (audio or visual) and with no distracting movements.
Teaching tip: Invest in a backdrop if you can, or create your own background that you can stick on the wall. Lock yourself in a room or turn off your phone, if necessary. Do whatever you can to make your virtual classroom the best place for your students to learn.
Not watching the clock
When you’re teaching online, it is likely that your students will be in a totally different time zone to you. Imagine you’re in London, and your students are in Seoul. As an online teacher, punctuality is very important so you need to make sure you are always aware of what the time is not only where you are but also where your students are. Plus, you must also handle your time between lessons efficiently. You might teach five lessons back-to-back with five minutes between each lesson.
Teaching tip: Have a clock on your desk with the time of the country your students are in, so you are always aware of their time. Then, to make sure you are ready and waiting for your students, prepare your props and lesson plans in the morning or even the night before. So you can spend those precious minutes taking a toilet break, taking notes, or giving feedback.
Teaching like you’re face-to-face
If you’ve got some experience teaching EFL in a face-to-face setting, you might think you’ll be a natural at teaching English online. And we’re not saying you won’t be, but you need to understand that you can’t directly translate your teaching methods and activities from a face-to-face setting into a virtual classroom. While the general principles remain the same, your lesson materials and delivery will need to change.
Teaching tip: You will need to adapt your usual lesson materials and consider carefully the best way to teach your students using the technology available to you.
Talking talking talking
If you’ve had a Zoom meeting (and by now, who hasn’t?), you’ll understand that talking to someone online can be a stressful experience. It can be difficult to concentrate when you feel like you’re in the spotlight, and if there are more than two people on the call it can be difficult to focus. Now imagine you need to try to focus and concentrate and translate and learn – all at the same time!
Teaching tip: There is a lot for our students to juggle during our lessons. Even though we might feel the need to fill any empty moments with talking, we need to allow our students some moments of silence in order for them to process what we are saying and think about how they can contribute.
Read more: How to Deal with Zoom Fatigue
We understand, times are tough, but that’s no excuse not to invest in yourself and your business. Cheap and cheerful is not going to cut it for teaching online. Unreliable equipment is the easiest way to lose students and since online teaching is all about word-of-mouth recommendations and student testimonials, you don’t want to do anything that might hurt your reputation.
Teaching tip: Make sure you invest in a good laptop and a decent headset. Make sure the area where you will teach is quiet and there are no distracting noises. You will also need to invest in a few props or backgrounds to make your virtual classroom more visually appealing and interesting.
Just because you are working from home, doesn’t mean you’re alone! Being online all day and not seeing another soul in the flesh can be hard on your mental health. It can also be difficult teaching without the support of a staff room. Luckily, there is a lot of support for you online, with forums and groups you can join.
Teaching tip: Connect with other teachers who work with the same online company. Join Facebook groups and forums with other TEFL teachers you can chat to when you feel the need for some teacher talk or advice.
Even the most experienced teachers need to keep an eye on their professional development so that they don’t stagnate. Theories of learning and teaching foreign languages change all the time and new – and better – ways of teaching are becoming available to us every day. One of our jobs as teachers is to make sure we are on-trend with our teaching styles. Teaching online can mean you lose focus. If you are trying to cram in as much teaching as possible in your week, you’re probably not leaving much space for development.
Teaching tip: Keep an eye out for webinars or podcasts which focus on professional development. Be sure to involve yourself in some sort of professional development to make sure you stay in touch with developments in the teaching field.
So now that we’ve looked at some of the most common mistakes teachers make when teaching English online, you can feel comfortable moving forward – and not making them yourself! Happy teaching!