Published 30th April 2021
Considering the internet has been around for as long as it has, you might think you know everything there is to know about what you should and shouldn’t do online. You know, SHOUTING, saying what you wouldn’t say face-to-face, being too casual with your professors – that kind of stuff. And maybe you do, on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. But when it comes to teaching English online, there are probably a few things you might not have realised about the netiquette involved in this particular virtual situation.
Netiquette is etiquette specifically related to the internet – it is a blend of network and etiquette. In other words, what you should and shouldn’t do to be courteous in your communication online. If you are one of the thousands of teachers now teaching English as a Foreign Language online, have a read of these netiquette tips to make sure you don’t commit any online faux pas.
One of the major benefits of teaching English online is that you can do it from anywhere. You can do it from a holiday house, a coffee shop, or even from your bed. And yes, we understand that it can be tempting to dress business from the waist up and party from the waist down, but we think it’s a better idea to put as much effort into your outfit as you would for any job. After all, how you are dressed will make a big difference to your frame of mind – and wearing your pyjama bottoms won’t exactly make you feel like you’re in work mode.
Obviously, you should be neat and tidy. If you are teaching adults or Business English, opt for more neutral colours. If you are teaching kids, choose brighter colours. But no matter who you are teaching, avoid patterns or prints which can be distracting. The same can be said for over-the-top makeup or extravagant jewellery or headgear. You want your students to pay attention to what you are saying and not what you look like.
Check your background
Remember that your students can see not only you but also your background. Make sure there is nothing risqué or offensive behind you. This could be an item on your bookcase (we all know that story) or a picture on your wall. It’s a better idea to have a plain background behind you. There are a few options for virtual backgrounds but you can even hang a plain sheet behind you to cover the wall if necessary. Teachers of Young Learners often prefer to have pictures or a whiteboard in the background. You can have your name written up and the date, and maybe a flag from your country or a map of the world.
Besides the visuals of your background, consider any background noise as well. Your students don’t want to see people walking behind you and they don’t want to hear them either. If they can hear anyone besides you, they will be self-conscious about speaking. Imagine trying to speak a foreign language with someone listening to your lessons? Also, any sudden noises like traffic, the doorbell or a dog barking can be really off-putting, so you need to make sure you are teaching in a quiet space.
Because your students are focussing mostly on your face, you need to be extra careful about your expressions and your body language. You should smile to come across as open and friendly, but don’t overdo it! Be mindful of constantly touching your face or fiddling with your hair – and for goodness’ sake don’t yawn or roll your eyes! Sit up straight and make eye contact with your students so they know you are paying attention. This can be tricky if you have more than one student in your virtual classroom but it’s still doable.
You also need to take your body language into account. You need to be more expressive than usual, but make sure you don’t act like a clown. Watching a screen for an hour can be mind-numbing for students, so you need to incorporate movement and actions into your lessons to keep your students’ attention focussed on you and the lesson. Too much, however, and they won’t be able to focus on the aims of the lesson.
Think before you speak
As teachers, we are used to speaking clearly, but this is even more important online. The sound quality of our equipment or internet connection can make hearing more difficult than usual, so be sure to enunciate your words and speak as clearly as possible. Allow time at the beginning of the lesson for everyone to adjust their volume to their required level to make hearing optimal. If you notice there is background noise on your students’ side, don’t be shy about asking them to make sure they are in a quiet space – for Young Learners this might mean speaking to their parents after the lesson to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
It is also important to consider not only how you speak but what you say. Humour and sarcasm can be lost through the screen so try not to make subtle jokes which could be misunderstood. As with any classroom, be mindful of the cultures and backgrounds of your students so you don’t unwittingly offend anyone with the content of your lessons.
Don’t forget about discipline
It can be easy to be a lot more relaxed in online lessons due to the nature of the medium. However, there is still a need for discipline and classroom rules. Make sure your students are aware of the different techniques you use for communication – raising their hands when they want to speak or if they have a question. Everyone should be on the same page when it comes to using the mute button, as it is a very useful tool when used correctly.
Online English lessons can be very successful tools for language learning – as well as a lucrative business for English teachers – as long as they are executed effectively. For online English as a Foreign Language teachers, this means not only understanding the basic principles of teaching the language but also the principles of teaching online. Rest assured, if you are new to teaching online you will get the hang of it soon. So many of us had no idea what we were doing online a year ago, and look at us now!