A Day in the Life of an Online ESL Teacher
I never planned on being an ESL teacher and it was always supposed to be a side job while I finished my BA. I studied translation and I was certain that I would graduate with a job in the field. However, machine translation and sites such as DeepL and Lingue had started rising in popularity. I soon came to realize that the chances of graduating with a job would be slim due to that.
Nevertheless, I fell in love with teaching a few months after I started, and I soon realized that it was something that I could see myself doing long-term and even turn into a career. I was motivated by the interaction with the students and teaching them was second nature to me. I found that teaching was more rewarding and challenging than translation had ever been.
Manuela Stef is a graduate of OnTESOL’s 250-hour TESOL diploma, specializing in Teaching English to Young Learners , Teaching Business English and Teaching IELTS. She is currently teaching online and with a language school in Laval, Quebec, Canada
No Commute, More Income!
When teaching English online, the first benefit is the opportunity to work from home. This is something that I particularly appreciate during the winter when I don’t need to drive on the icy roads to get to work. Another perk is the steady income; I make more than I would make working an entry-level position outside the house. Lastly, I teach English one-to-one and it allows me to focus 110% of my attention on the student I have in front of me. The students feel more at ease because the class goes at their pace.
The Challenges of Teaching English Online
That being said, teaching online still comes with its challenges. First is the time zone difference. It takes a while to get used to the early mornings and, depending on whether or not you are an early bird, it does become difficult in the long run. Another big challenge is the language barrier.
Most of the online ESL companies are based in China. In most cases, students do not speak English when they first start taking online lessons unless they are older, so they speak in Mandarin quite a bit. The students sometimes forget that not all teachers understand nor speak Mandarin. Therefore, if they have something they are trying to communicate in their first language, they become frustrated.
Student misbehaviour can result from language barrier issues. It’s clear that some students do not want to take lessons and that their parents force them. As a result, when these students are older, they quickly figure out that if they simply don’t listen to their teacher and speak Mandarin or gibberish, there isn’t much the teacher can do.
The Rewards of Teaching English Online
The first reward I found with online teaching stems directly from the last challenge I mentioned. A student who did not want to take the classes quickly began to understand that I would not tolerate his behaviour. In hindsight, there were classes where I probably was too strict with him. However, it paid off because he started enjoying and participating in class.
Another reward is that, as teachers, we meet students who don’t know the alphabet or how to say anything other than “yes” when they first start. Over time, these students become confident readers and speakers. Last but not least, nothing is more rewarding that the bond that develops between the teacher and the student. Students are well-aware that I am firm, but they also think of me more as their friend instead of their teacher. Consequently, they feel more at ease trying to speak and express themselves in class.
Lessons From Teaching English Online
The greatest lesson I have learned while teaching English online is working in a virtual classroom is nothing like working in an actual classroom. Thus, the dynamic changes.
Another great lesson is that patience is invaluable. When I have a three-year-old student or a student with disabilities, I have learned that keeping a big smile on my face and repeating as many times as necessary is the best way to go. Otherwise, students can immediately pick up on any signs of impatience.
Advice To Teachers Interested in Teaching Online
To start off, think about this: are you alright with getting paid only once a month (around the 24th) or not? I also encourage everyone to consider how many hours are you willing to put in every month.
Also take into consideration whether you are willing to sacrifice some sleep in the mornings because of the time zone difference. Or, is this not something you see yourself handling well in the long run?
I also advise potential teachers to have a secondary reward system, which is a requirement now. In addition, I encourage teachers to make a big deal out of the rewards. My regular students receive stickers that they stick onto their sticker cards. They love seeing all the stickers add up.
Lastly, I advise learning basic sentences in Mandarin to make the students feel more at ease. I have learned to ask what students like/dislike doing, eating, and so on. In addition, I have learned to ask for their names and ages. I have also learned to ask, “what is this?” in Mandarin. I encourage this because students become more comfortable if they don’t understand my questions in English. Google Translate is another great tool to use in the classroom. It is a great option if learning basic Mandarin is too challenging.
Advice For The Application Process
Use props! I used plenty of props during my demo lesson because kids like props and potential candidates are usually demoing with a recruiter pretending to be a five-year-old. Total physical response (TPR) is something that the recruiter pays a lot of attention to during the demo, so ensure to use a lot of it. TPR plays a major role into whether or not you get accepted and which base pay you are offered. Moreover, learn the slides as much as possible beforehand. Do not be afraid to expand on them, because there usually isn’t that much text on the slides. Lastly, OnTESOL offers a 10-hour Teaching English Online specialist course that will provide you with all the training you need to teach young Chinese learners online!
How has OnTESOL’s course prepared you for your current job?
OnTESOL has taught me how to use the Communicative Approach with my students. This, in turn, allowed me to add more conversational English to my classes. Before, I would stick to the courseware and use the direct method. OnTESOL has also provided me with more tools for establishing objectives and for classroom management. This has helped tremendously to manage my students’ behaviour!