So, if you’re interested in the idea of online teaching, there are a few different things to consider before you start applying for jobs. There are equipment and tech requirements, and while these are make-or-break for whether or not you’ll be able to take on an online teaching role, I’m going to talk about these later, because there’s other stuff that’s more important to think about first.
I personally would say the most important thing to consider before starting down the online ESL teaching road, is your personal suitability to take on this type of job. Just because you fit the advertised requirements of most ESL online companies** (it can and does vary, but generally most want degree-educated, native English speakers), doesn’t mean that you’re automatically going to be any good at online teaching, nor does it mean you’ll enjoy it. And the truth is online teaching is hard work, so it’s important that you do enjoy it if you want to pursue a job in this field! Below I’ll break down what I consider to be some of the essential skills and attributes you need to be good at and enjoy an online ESL teaching role.
Teaching Skills For Online Classrooms
So, when you see that there is no teaching degree required for most online ESL teaching roles, it’s easy to automatically assume that this means that anyone could do the role, but this really isn’t the case. Your lessons are not going to go well if you have no idea what you’re doing, and this will translate to parents not wanting you to teach their children, which will mean few or no bookings for you. Online ESL teaching is quite different to bricks-and-mortar classroom teaching; online ESL companies generally requires no curriculum development, lesson planning or assessment development from their remote teachers, so in a sense it’s almost more of a tutoring role, rather than ‘teaching’ in the strictest sense. However, while you are generally delivering pre-prepared content, you need the skills to engage your student, maintain their interest, and make the content accessible to them individually.
You will come across every level of ability and type of personality when teaching online; young children with no English at all yet, fun-loving children who are more interested in playing and laughing than absorbing the content you’re trying to deliver to them, nervous new students who are a bit overwhelmed by the whole process and go mute on you for a while, children who need a lot of support to focus on lesson content, through to quite capable English speakers who you need to teach advanced grammar to, and every other conceivable ability level in-between. It’s important to be honest with yourself here about your skills and experience, to make sure you can deliver the role requirements, and that you’ll enjoy the work. How will you modify content for students with different learning needs? How will you manage the behaviour of an over-enthusiastic five year old over a videolink? How will you make students who are too nervous to speak feel comfortable enough that you can build rapport with them and they can engage meaningfully in their lessons? How will you cope when a lesson just doesn’t go to plan? If you don’t already have a teaching skill-set, you’ll need to develop one to succeed in this role. Fortunately, for anyone who is not feeling 100% confident with their skills in this area, there is lots of information available out there online to help you develop your skills, and I’ll do a post devoted to just this topic in the near future.
English Grammar Skills
As mentioned above, you will have students of every possibility ability level online. You might start your shift teaching the alphabet to a five year old, then move straight to teaching a 17 year old advanced grammar. I’m an experienced teacher and I still need to log-on before class to preview all of my lessons and make sure there’s nothing I need to refresh my knowledge on, and unless you’re a 40-year teaching veteran or a super-genius with Mensa level grammar skills, I suspect you’d be in the same boat. Even though, as mentioned above, the core requirement expected for online ESL teaching jobs is generally ‘native English speaker with a degree’**, do be aware that you need pretty solid literacy skills to do this job properly. Don’t be scared off or think this means you shouldn’t apply if you didn’t get straight A’s at Uni, but you do need a solid knowledge base and a willingness to spend a few minutes preparing for each of your lessons.
Working Under Supervision
This might sound like a strange one, but I thought it was important to mention – if you’re going to teach ESL online, you need to get used to being watched (I actually thought about titling this section ‘Being Watched”, but thought that sounded a little creepy and misleading). Anyway, in addition to your student, generally their parent will be sitting right along side them, monitoring the lesson. The company I work for (DaDa – you can read about working for them here, or go directly to their application page here) also monitors lessons closely; you’ll often receive feedback on your teaching during or after a lesson, and all lessons are of course recorded too. Personally, I love that there is such a high level of monitoring, as it ensures a safe, high-quality experience for students. I’ve also heard feedback from teachers in the wider online ESL community that at times they’ve had a parent recording parts of a lesson with their phone camera (apparently to share with family and friends). So the bottom line is, you need to be comfortable with being watched if you’re going to do this job!
The Other Stuff
The ‘other stuff’ you need in order to be successful in an online teaching role, are things that are required for pretty much any job, and definitely aren’t exclusive to teaching online. Basically you need to be professional, just like you would at any other job anywhere else. While I may wear my slippers and leggings to teach online, it’s all business from the waist up – you need to be in the appropriate uniform, and looking well-presented and professional. Just like any other job, you need to be punctual, polite and enthusiastic. You are a representative of the company you are working with, and as such you need to always communicate with students and parents in a polite and professional manner. Just the normal professional standards and courtesy you’d bring to any other job.
So, if you’ve gotten this far and you’re thinking, “Yep, this job sounds like it could be great for me!”, then you need to check a few things and make sure you meet the tech requirements, and that you have or can get the other equipment you’ll need. I pop Part 2 of this post up for you ASAP (and don’t worry, I promise it’ll be a shorter read than this first past was!).
** Update, DEC 2018: Online ESL teaching requirements are changing in China, and now you will generally need a TEFL or TESOL certificate and a criminal record check, in addition to having a degree and being a native English speaker. There are some great online, budget options for getting your TEFL or TESOL certificate, and I’ll be posting about these in early 2019.
Happy job hunting,