Teaching online to your learners, whatever the subject, can be a challenge if you have never had any experience of teaching remotely. When I first started teaching online to students from South East Asia, I made so many mistakes and in this post I will be sharing some of the mistakes that I made when teaching English online.
Mistake 1: Not Connecting With Other Teachers
Teaching remotely, in your own home, is a relatively lonely profession. You are by yourself, have no other teachers within close proximity and are unable to share teaching tips and ideas with other teachers. The first mistake that I made was actually not connecting with other teachers via other online platforms: I was teaching, planning and thinking about my lessons but never really sought advice or support from other teachers.
I would recommend that you try to connect with other online teachers whether it is with a Facebook Group for the organisation that you are teaching for, as was finally the case for me, or suggesting a staff get together via Skype or Zoom where teachers can share the challenges that they have faced and potential solutions to help alleviate those challenges. Having a platform where you can share online teaching tips and ideas will bring some normalcy of the weekly staff meetings that usually take place in private language schools or the brief catch-ups in the corridors which seem such a distant memory.
Try to connect with other teachers and share your experiences as this will help you mentally and support you during those lonely times.
Mistake 2: Not Looking At The Camera
Obviously, when teaching online, you will have to use either an internal webcam on your laptop or an external webcam for your computer. The main benefits of using an external webcam is it is better quality and will improve the image for potential students. Anyhow, one thing that I was not doing was looking at the camera or lens of the webcam. If you are able to review your online lessons and you spot yourself not looking at the webcam, it may appear as if you are not engaged with the students or the lesson itself.
It may seem strange to look at your camera rather than looking down a little at the screen but after a while you will get accustomed to glancing down from time to time. Try to train yourself when you are having FaceTime or Skype calls to look at the lens rather than the screen, you will find it more engaging for the other person but you may find students not looking at their webcam and you could feel a possible sense of distance.
Mistake 3: Planning Too Much
The next mistake which I made early on with my online teaching was planning too much for the lesson. I was spending so much time creating new PowerPoints, sourcing images, creating worksheets and finding videos. I was hoping to go through around four main activities within a 60 minute class but soon discovered that I was able to get students to complete two tasks.
When you think about the lesson itself, you have to spend 10 minutes welcoming and introducing the topic, putting students into breakout rooms for discussions, returning them and eliciting feedback, setting up the first task, putting students into more breakout rooms, monitoring them and then returning to the main class. Setting up activities for students to complete in their own time and then finishing off the lesson and fielding any questions that may arise.
As you can see, there is so much to negotiate remotely before setting up the class and I found any task in a physical classroom would take around two-times longer in an online environment. Students may switch-off their webcams, start talking more about other topics of interest, or just not complete the task. If you were in a physical classroom, a group discussion would take around 5 minutes but I was finding that students needed 10 to 15 minutes of time in a breakout room before returning.
It is a good idea to plan perhaps a little too much or other tasks to introduce in case things are completed before expected but do not plan too much. It is easy to say not to plan too much but you will start to learn more about what can be achieved with your group of learners. In those first few days, you will discover that things take time especially when teaching remotely which leads me on to the next mistake which I made when teaching English online.
Mistake 4: Expecting Too Much From The Students
When you have put in so much time into the planning of remote classes, there is a natural expectation that there will be an equal amount of contributions from students. I noticed that students were naturally finding it difficult to achieve what had been set out and I was expecting too much from my learners to have completed tasks by the end of a 60 minute lesson.
The next stage was to wonder why students were unable to complete what had been set out but I then soon realised that from all the planning and preparation that I had organised was too much and this contributed towards the idea of getting students to complete was too much for them. This quote really personifies preparing less and being content with oneself.
“Being content with less, creates space in the heart for more love.”Margo Vader
I suppose as teachers, we are assessed on learner achievements: “What did learners achieve by the end of their lesson?”, “What else could have been achieved?”, “What could be done better?”. Thus, it is natural to equate student achievement through more learner activities within the classroom. It is quite unnatural for teachers to be constantly analysed or assessed by students, fellow teachers, senior staff, parents, etc. We lose our sense but remember that we are teaching learners first and all other stakeholders associated with them are secondary. Once you realise this, your life as a teacher will become easier.
What challenges have you faced as an online teacher? What advice would you give to inexperienced online teachers? Please share your thoughts and tips in the comments.
Happy Teaching! 😊