Whether you are a reluctant online TEFL teacher forced into a new role by Covid-19 or, you are already established online and just thankful that your job is Covid-proof, there is an increasing amount of competition out there in the virtual marketplace. Refining your techniques as an online teacher is crucial if you are to attract and keep TEFL students, whether your online classroom is intended to be long-term or just temporary during this global pandemic.
When you teach online, you are no longer a teacher but also a presenter and personalising your online persona with empathy towards your students is crucial to acquiring and keeping TEFL pupils. Here is some guidance for those TEFL teachers who have been reluctantly hurried into the online classroom and for those who are already teaching virtually and want to improve their offering.
Get Tech familiar
Whichever platform you are using whether it is Skype, Zoom, Adobe Connect, Google Hangout or one of the many others available, familiarise yourself with all its features and functionality fully before you start teaching. There is nothing more guaranteed to give a poor and unprofessional impression than technical issues or just a lack of familiarity. If you are not used to virtual teaching then the online world can seem a little overwhelming at first but it doesn’t take much practice to become accomplished at all the different features but this is always best done in your own time and away from the eyes of students.
Online teaching techniques
The fundamental principles of language teaching remain the same whether they are presented face to face in a classroom or online. However, there are unique issues which surround virtual teaching and which are neither applicable nor relevant in a normal teaching environment and successful TEFL teachers are aware of these:-
- Students respond best when they are personally involved in their learning journeys so always choose content which is specific to their learning needs and personally supports the outcomes that they want
- Think about functionality for your student’s private study time – nearly all TEFL students do work away from your classroom some of which will be online. Access to content will be dictated by their environment; in the same way that if students require access to books, they may have to pay to join a library so there can be restrictions or challenges to overcome in the virtual setting like bandwidth, licences and device compatibility. There is a digital divide which will vary depending on where in the world your students are located so always consider their private access to internet resources
- Just as in the real classroom, remember that students all consume digital media – podcasts, video and website content – differently and often this information is received and studied whilst the students are separate from their teacher
It is crucial yet ever more challenging to create a genuine and authentic professional teacher presence so how can you humanise your online teaching sessions?
- Be aware of time – the global pandemic has radically changed the lives of many and time management is under increasing pressure as people have become more stressed and fraught. With time so precious, TEFL teachers should understand and value the commitment their students have made to show up at their online course so be time-efficient – don’t spend two hours teaching something that could be covered in fifty minutes. Work through some of your planned tasks yourself as a trial so that you are completely aware of how long they take – being realistic about how you manage your time and deliver teaching and also how long it will take your students to complete set tasks and assignments will engender trust and encourage a positive online working environment
- The human touch – be online five or ten minutes ahead of the planned session time so that you can greet your students much as you would do in the real classroom – you might even chat inconsequentially about the other stuff they have planned for their day or what the weather is like. Likewise, don’t just switch off your screen as soon as the lesson finishes, stay connected in case one of your students wants to talk to you. This will encourage a relaxed and friendly atmosphere and help to combat some of the artificiality of the online teaching environment
- Test your equipment before each class – always check your connectivity and that your computer audio and video is functioning properly before every session. Little things like an inexpensive lapel microphone could really enhance your session rather than relying on basic computer audio. There are YouTube clips and sessions about how to use your voice as an online instrument and also plenty of guidance about where to sit and how to present yourself in front of a screen to your viewers. Covid has given everyone ample opportunity to see what speakers can look like via Skype or Zoom and everyone has learned not to hunch forward and peer into the screen which you see so frequently on television news clips
- Create an attractive classroom – experiment with lighting, this can make a huge difference to how you appear and how appealing your face can look and therefore how friendly you seem. Use virtual backgrounds to mix it up and create a fun tone – they can also be useful as settings for different teaching sessions. Change the backdrop regularly, this will create interest and anticipation amongst your pupils
- Mix it up – once you and your students are comfortable with the online environment then start to use some different types of media and social media within your lessons. Short video clips of up to five minutes which are on-topic add variety and interest, open a class Twitter or Instagram feed and encourage students to post on it – the latter can be a great homework device
It’s not just TEFL teachers who have become pupils at the school of virtual teaching technique; virtually every primary, secondary and higher education teacher or lecturer has found themselves communicating with their pupils via an online video network during 2020. Consequently, there are now lots of supportive resources available to help you ace that virtual lesson irrespective of who your pupils are.