Teaching languages at home from your laptop sounds like a dream, but there are some pitfalls to avoid for online language teachers.
Once the initial excitement of figuring out the tech and giving your first few lessons wears off, you can hit a wall. Your fridge is empty. You’re not sure when you last had a shower. And every time you close your eyes, you see faces floating in Zoom squares.
In this post, you're going to discover the 9 tips for teaching online that will help you with your online teaching journey. By the end of this post, you'll feel more confident and less stressed in your role as an online language teacher. So let's get into it.
Top Tips for Teaching Online Language Classes
#1 Try to Avoid Giving Back to Back Lessons
The problem with online teaching (and advantage) is that you don't have to travel anywhere. So you’ll be tempted to give lessons back to back with no break so you can do as many as possible. But the problem is you don't even have time to go to the toilet! Never mind taking a real break.
One of the most important virtual teaching tips is to remember to take care of yourself! Start by scheduling breaks between classes so you’re not chained to the screen. That way you can be at your best for your classes.
One thing you can do is use your scheduling software to add some buffer time between classes. You could add 5 or 10 minutes between each booking to take a breather between students.
Plus you can set up scheduling software to show times you're not available. You can add lunch breaks and you can also set a maximum number of hours per day. This way you get a break between your lessons so you can come to each one feeling more refreshed.
#2 Don't Get Stuck Hiding Away In Your Online Teaching Cave
When you work as an online language teacher, the danger is that you spend all your time on the internet. So you fill your day with online lessons and then you spend your free time scrolling social media. Or even pursuing some of your hobbies and passions online by taking online courses.
So that you can be at your best for your students, you need to make time to go offline. One of the online teaching tips that helped me most, is making time to do activities outside the house away from a screen. That can be something as simple as going for a walk.
You can also schedule offline activities. For example, you could sign up for events happening in your community. Salsa dancing, book groups, volunteering, whatever it is. That way you're obliged to get outside and stay connected to the offline world. Plus you get a break from all that screen time teaching lessons.
#3 Find Your Online Teaching Community
Another mistake that online teachers make is related to the previous pitfall of retreating into your online teaching cave. Teaching online from home can be isolating because you work with and interact with students all day. So you don’t have a chance to chat with colleagues like you would in a school staff room.
Having colleagues and peers to talk to isn’t just a nice bonus. In fact it's important to make time to connect with other online teaching colleagues for support, professional development and more. Even if where you live there are no other online teachers you can find groups and communities online where you can connect.
And these can be great places to share ideas, to collaborate or to meet people who understand your job.
Other people in your life may not understand what you do all day. And they may not be able to support you when it gets difficult. So make sure you find your online teaching community. It's great to have people to share your wins with, as well as pick up some new online teaching tips and tricks.
#4 Avoid Devaluing Your Services Because They're Online
Service providers who move online often make this mistake. They lower the price of their online service because it's not in person. But people aren’t paying you to show up in person. They're paying you for the results that you help them to achieve with your expertise.
A common misconception is that online lessons should be cheaper because you're not paying for transport between lessons. But as an online teacher, you have other expenses. You need to invest in a good internet connection, a webcam, headphones and more. And you still need to do professional development, like taking courses.
You also need to buy materials like textbooks because you can still use offline materials with your students. Plus, you’re saving them time and money – they don’t need to take time out of their day to travel to the lesson either! So there’s no need to give a discount for online work.
#5 Remember You Don't Need to Talk All the Time
When you give a lesson via video chat, especially if it's a 1:1 lesson, you may feel pressure to talk all the time. Or to make sure the student is talking all the time. But a 1-hour online lesson for you, and for the student especially is tiring. Zoom fatigue is real!
So experiment with communicating differently. You could stop talking at different points in the lesson and write to each other in the chat. You could also take a break to watch a video or you could give the student something to read. In addition, you could do an exercise where the student needs to write something, perhaps in Google Docs.
Remember, you don't need to have the camera on all the time. Try one of many tips for virtual teaching without your camera. Try turning the camera off for part or even all of the lesson. You can also experiment with non-verbal communication. You can hold up pictures or use gestures to experiment with not talking.
#6 Minimise Distractions
One problem with online learning compared to the traditional classroom is that there are a lot of distractions. Your students could get distracted by their telephone. Or by other tabs they have open on their browser. As I said, a 1-hour online lesson is tiring for you and especially for your students so that can make them lose focus.
You can avoid distractions by keeping your workspace clean and working in a quiet environment. If you can, you should work in a separate room where you can close the door so you can focus more easily. As for online distractions you can put your phone in airplane mode, close tabs and put your video conferencing software on full screen.
You can also ask your students to do similar things. So make sure that they connect to the lesson from a quiet place where they won't be interrupted. Ask them to put their phone on silent or airplane mode if possible. If they're at work, they can let colleagues know that they're in class, so please don't call or expect fast email responses. This will help you both concentrate.
#7 Bring the Outside World into Your Lessons
It's easy to bring online tools into an online lesson. You can easily watch a YouTube video together on Zoom or share an article on your screen with the screen share.
But you and your students have a life in the offline world that you can also bring into the lesson. For example you could ask the student about the photos on their phone. They could discuss the most recent ones they took and why.
You could ask them to give a tour of their home or office. Or hold up some of their favourite objects to the webcam and talk about them. And you can do the same!
You could also encourage them to use offline material, for instance my short stories in English book. You could ask them to read a chapter before your lesson and then discuss it in class. That way they're not spending all the preparation time on the screen and neither will you!
#8 Try Creating a Routine
Working for yourself as an online language teacher sounds tempting. You can choose who you work with and you can be flexible about where and when you work. As long as you have a decent internet connection, you can work from anywhere.
But you can also struggle with the lack of routine and structure. When you go into an office or a school to work you have set hours and breaks in the schedule. Your employer structures your day for you, with all its advantages and disadvantages.
But when you work for yourself and especially when you teach languages online, you have to create that structure. This can be very hard in the beginning. It can be tempting to not bother going for a shower or to eat at strange times due to your lesson schedule.
And after a while it becomes a constraint because most people need structure. So you need to create your own routine. You can of course have a bit of flexibility in your schedule. But it's a good idea to stick to regular wake up and bedtimes like you would in a normal job. And to shower and dress as if you were going out to work.
As I mentioned before, it's also good to schedule other activities, especially offline ones like getting outside for a walk or spending time with your friends and family.
You will also need to organise your day and your week with times for both planning and preparing lessons. That way you won't fill your schedule all day every day with lessons. You can keep a half-day or a day for other types of work like planning, admin work or even promoting your work.
#9 Don't Forget to Promote Your Lessons
If you decide to become a self-employed online language teacher, then you'll need to let people know you're open for business! There's no point following these tips for teaching online classes if you aren't going to promote yourself.
You can tell your friends, family and colleagues that you're looking for students. You can send simple emails telling them what you're doing and the type of student you're looking for. Who knows who might send someone your way!
Also, you can also set up a referral system with your existing students. For example, when they refer a friend or colleague, you can give them a bonus lesson or a small, free gift, like a book in their target language.
You can also promote your work using tools like social media, YouTube or your own blog or podcast. But that's a post for another day!
Follow These Tips For Teaching Online & Improve Your Work Life
So there you have it, 9 ways to become a successful online language teacher.
Even if you’re working for yourself, you need to be a good boss. By following these online teaching tips, you’ll be healthier and happier and enjoy your teaching more. Your students will be happy too because you’re bringing your rested and relaxed self to the lesson.
By the way, if you want to start off your online teaching career on the right foot, then check out the Online Teaching Accelerator. The course bundle will show you how to teach and how to make money working from home, with support, feedback and community.