Did you know that there are 9 types of online teachers? I’m not talking about different jobs here like teaching ESL to children or business English teaching. No, this is more of a Buzzfeed article about which Disney princess you are. But for ESL teachers.
From the tech guru, to the social media star to the edutainer, the online English teaching world attracts a lot of weird and wonderful characters. But the question is – which one are you!? Or even, which one should you aspire to be (or not)?
Keep reading to discover your online teaching personality. And be aware, this post was written with tongue very firmly in cheek!
1. The Grammar Geek
While most ESL teachers, especially new ones, aren’t the biggest fans of teaching grammar (and some don’t bother at all), the grammar geek thrives on it.
The grammar geek can explain the stickiest ESL learner problems such as the finer points of the English verb tense system (past perfect continuous anyone?) as well the difference between transitive vs intransitive and separable vs inseparable phrasal verbs.
And they even avoid mistakes with grammar that usually trip up native speakers, such as the difference between “less” and “fewer” or “further” vs “farther”.
You’ll find the grammar geek surrounded by grammar reference books, perfecting their visual grammar teaching techniques, such as using timelines, and stressing out every time they see a dangling modifier.
While some students love the grammar geek approach of accuracy-focused English acquisition, many just want to be left alone to speak and make mistakes. If you’re a grammar geek, try not to overly fixate on your students’ grammar errors, as frustrating as they may be.
2. The Conversation Curator
The conversation curator does so much more than just ask learners what they did at the weekend or what the weather is like where they are. Or worse, talk at you instead of listening and being a supportive conversation partner.
The conversation curator helps their students to express themselves better in English by treating conversations as something you prepare for.
So they’ll send them an article to read or a podcast to listen to ahead of time. That way they learn new words and expressions and can use them in the session, to try them out.
Perhaps this is not everyone’s idea of a conversation lesson, but the just show up and talk method can quickly run out of steam. The real gift of the conversation curator is their ability to create a supportive space where the student can express themselves without fear.
3. The Coach
You can spot the coach a mile away as they’re probably clutching their shiny new certificate or showing it off on social media.
The coach is all about “brain-friendly” language learning techniques. Don’t expect them to teach you any words, phrases or grammar though. The coach is all about guiding you through your language learning journey.
Coaches will bombard you with questions to help you figure out the best tools, techniques and methods to help you learn best. If you like to be told what to do, don’t work with a coach!
As cynical as I might sound here, I actually believe that all language teachers should adopt a coaching approach to some extent. That’s because so much of language learning depends less on the teacher and more on what the student does outside of class.
4. The Social Media Star
The social media star has thousands if not millions of followers on TikTok, Instagram or YouTube.
They take the boring lessons out of the grammar book or textbook and stick them back on the internet in the form of slickly produced videos to help students learn while having fun. Or binge watch videos whilst making them think they’re learning something.
If you’ve taken lessons with a social media star, it’s probably because you clicked a link on their profile and got sent to their booking page. Despite their star qualities in online videos, you might not find them to be the edutainer you thought they were in class.
That’s because making funny TikToks about English is not the same as actually knowing how to teach. In class, the student needs to be the star. Best case scenario is that the social media star is a qualified and skilled teacher with the added bonus of social media skills.
5. The Edutainer
Edutainers used teach ESL to kids on platforms like VIPKid before the Chinese government changed the rules about online tutoring and the industry virtually collapsed overnight.
Edutainers can be found in front of a colourful backdrop, weilding a set of finger puppets to try to get kids to concentrate in an online lesson for at least five seconds. Back in the day, you could recognise them from the bags under their eyes, from their nights spent teaching Chinese kids.
And they don’t necessarily all teach ESL to kids. Some edutainers love to stick on a pair of mickey mouse ears, a silly moustache or use cam effects with adult learners, possibly to distract from the fact that they have no idea what they’re doing.
6. The Tech Guru
The tech guru loves modern technology and knew about Zoom and a host of video conferencing platforms WAY before the pandemic hit.
They’ll send you invites to the latest chat app, teaching or learning application and more. And you know that they’ll be the first ESL teacher giving lessons in the Metaverse if Zuckerberg ever makes it happen.
The good thing about the tech guru is they have workarounds for tricky situations such as receiving payments from Chinese students. So if you’re not one yourself, you’ll probably want to make friends with one.
While the tech guru’s ways look slick and shiny, sometimes tech is just a distraction from the rather boring realities of learning English or any other language – showing up, day after day and committing to the process.
7. The Digital Nomad
A constantly changing teaching background from one Zoom call to another can only mean one thing: a digital nomad teacher on the road.
If you’ve ever ended up clicking on an affiliate link for one of the Chinese edtech companies like MagicEars or VIPKid etc before they all stopped hiring, then you were funding the travels of a digital nomad. Beware their online TEFL course reviews, also sponsored by affiliate links.
The digital nomad’s priority is travel, and, much like the hobbyist (see below), they were looking for a remote job that paid okay-ish money. Pre-pandemic, before many jobs went remote, working as an online ESL teacher for Chinese companies was a pretty decent gig, with pay in the $20 an hour and over bracket.
8. The Hobbyist
The hobbyist heard some guy or gal on YouTube explain that to teach ESL online, you just need to be a native speaker, no experience or qualifications needed. If you’re a warm body with a Zoom account, then you’ll do! Even if you failed high school Spanish.
The hobbyist is doing ESL as a side hustle to make a bit of extra money in the evenings. Even though being an unqualified native speaker doesn’t pay particularly well, you do make bank compared to filling out online surveys.
Hobbyists are most-likely to be found on Cambly making $10 bucks an hour talking to random people from all over the world. They don’t worry about getting burnt out on Zoom calls because they won’t be around for long so they’re not trying to cram in 10 per day.
9. The Old-School Teacher
Old-school teachers have just about figured out how to unmute themselves on Zoom by now. But they still love their old-school tools such as textbooks and worksheets.
They love to scan pages of coursebooks or grammar books or their favourite worksheets from 1993 for their students to print off before class. Think of it like a sort of antiquated version of the screen share.
Old-school teachers also make their students buy physical copies of books they want to impose on them, where most online teachers just screen share ESL quiz websites. This can me holding pages up to the webcam or better, using a document camera. Pens and paper at the ready!
The thing is, materials, whether online or offline, aren’t everything. Rather than a textbook, the old-school teacher might be better off giving their student a physical book of short stories in English to read, rather than the traditional textbooks or coursebooks.
Types Of Online Teachers
So there you have it, the 9 types of online teachers. Have you seen these teacher personalities, in ESL forums, on social media, or even in class?
Are there any that you aspire to be? Or not?
If you do want to become an online English teacher, your best bet is to be as well-rounded as possible. And not pigeon-hole yourself as a particular “type”.
With a touch of grammar geek, a splash of the coach and sprinkle of tech guru for instance, or many other combinations, you're well-equipped to succeed as an online ESL teacher.