After days, weeks, or months of preparation and anticipation, the time has come! You are officially an online ESL Teacher! “But what now?” You may be wondering as your new career lies before you. How can I be the most effective teacher? What can I do to improve my teaching style, professional profile, and ultimately, student outcomes? These are all excellent questions that good educators ask themselves time and time again. The answer is goal-setting! The goal of a teacher is to provide the best learning environment possible. Is it that easy? What goals should I be setting? You may now be asking yourself. Don’t fear, I will address all of those questions, along with a few others. Goal setting is just one of seven habits of highly successful ESL teachers.

Online ESL Teacher Nimi
Teacher Nimi creates a welcoming learning environment with lots of props and a colorful background

Why Do I want to be an online ESL Teacher?

Before discussing the habits of a highly successful ESL teacher, you must ask yourself why you became an ESL teacher in the first place. Identifying your intrinsic and extrinsic motivators in choosing this career path is the very first step in setting realistic goals and then seeing measurable outcomes. After all, how can you measure success if you are unsure of what the measure of success is? Is your primary motivation economically charged? If so, and that’s fine, then the goal is to get as many bookings or classes as possible. This article will help you reach that goal. If your motivation lies in transitioning seamlessly from a brick-and-mortar position to an online English tutoring one, then this article can help with that, too! If your motivation is something waaaayyyyy far out and obscure, that’s great! Certainly, you will still find value in this article. Simply speaking, knowing your reason WHY is the first step in becoming a highly successful ESL teacher.

1. Self-Care and the Online ESL Tutor

One of the key components of ESL teaching is self-care. Because much of what we do is online and “virtual,” it may appear to ourselves and to others that we have an “easy” job. As a result, we are naturally less likely to practice healthy self-care. It is vitally important that we online English tutors learn the importance of self-care and implement certain practices into our everyday routines to not only limit potential burnout but also keep ourselves well and fresh in order to be the best possible educators we can be. Let’s face it. Our job is not “easy.” It’s hard! It’s wonderful, amazing, fun, exciting, and fulfilling. It’s also tiring, draining, and energy-zapping. 3-4 hours straight of smiles, high energy, positive interactions, singing, dancing, and full-body TPR can wipe out even the spryest teacher after a few days in a row. There is no shame in admitting this and taking healthy steps to prevent or lessen the effects of being a fully invested and animated educator. Self-care for teachers, both offline and on, is the number 1 tip in being a highly successful ESL teacher. Here are a few self-care ideas:

  • Get a good night’s sleep.
  • Go for a walk. Ride a bike. Commune with nature.
  • Get some sunshine! Yes, it sort of goes with the suggestion above, but could also mean just opening the drapes and the windows and letting in the light and fresh air.
  • Make plans with friends. Don’t get caught in the rut of staying home because you work from home. Get out! Be social! Enjoy the unique lifestyle ESL teaching provides.
  • Give yourself downtime. It’s OK to take a day off and be with family. Often, we become so invested in our students that we forsake our need for downtime. This leads to burnout. If you need a day, take a day.
  • Read a book, watch a documentary, or see a play. Allow your imagination to absorb life while you relax. It can pay off in dividends in the long run.

2. Goals for Teachers

We discussed the importance of setting measurable and attainable goals as an ESL tutor briefly. But, what are reasonable goals for an ESL teacher? We must first recall our motivation for becoming an ESL teacher, and then find ways to support our motivations. After we have determined WHY we want it, we must now examine HOW to get it. Four goals that will meet the needs of most any educator, no matter their motivations, are as follows:

  • Become more organized. Know what you’re doing and when. It will lead to less chaos and a better quality learning experience.
  • Wake up earlier. Getting up a few minutes earlier each day provides you with more time to get mentally and physically prepared to teach.
  • Do some quick exercising. The adrenaline and endorphins will course through you as you teach, leading to a more pleasurable experience for all.
  • Become an expert in your field. Know your courseware! Being familiar with the lesson and placement of each section will allow your timing to be better and your classes a smoother flow.
  • Command the classroom! Learn to own your classroom. Get to know your students and be willing and able to adjust to their needs on any given day quickly. Sometimes you may need to expand the content for more fluent students, while other times you may need to simplify it for beginners.

There are many goals the online teacher could make! What is driving you? How can you achieve what you seek? Make a goal. Set a deadline. Stick to it! If it’s an ongoing goal, then allow yourself the option of celebrating your small successes along the way.

3. Maintain a Work-Life Balance

It may seem obvious, but maintaining a healthy work-life balance is imperative to have a long-standing and successful career in ESL teaching. Telecommuters, as a whole, generally have a problem maintaining a healthy work-life balance. When we work at the same place that we eat, sleep, relax, and play, we are far more likely to intermingle those things, and we may find ourselves working more and playing less. We are home, so we are at work. I’m just sitting here, so I may as well go to the Photobank and download pictures for my classes for the rest of the week. Of course, preparation for class is essential, but finding time to walk away and be present in your personal life is equally as important. Train your body to walk away sometimes. It will be good. It’s necessary for a long-term career as an ESL teacher.

4. Maintain a Teaching Journal or Diary

Understanding our journey thus far can prepare us for the future. Keep a journal. It doesn’t have to be fancy. However, taking the time to make notes about a class (Was it successful? Did the lesson fall flat? Did something you did elicit a huge laugh from the students? Was everyone on task?) can make all the difference between being an adequate teacher and being an exceptional one. Taking detailed notes about each class that includes the students’ mood and the progress made both by yourself as an educator and your students, can lead to higher quality classes and, by default, higher booking rates, and more money! Being an honest evaluator of yourself and your students can lead to much success as an ESL teacher. Receiving constructive feedback from others can prove helpful as well.

5. Save Money!

So often we are bombarded with questions about what’s the best XYZ to get? We all want to be ESL Teacher of the Year, but that does not require breaking the bank or sinking into considerable debt that will cause stress for you or your household. It’s not necessary! Working from home comes with a lot of built-in savings (gas, food, clothing, etc.) and often teachers will use this argument to justify large purchases for their online classroom. That’s great if you have the means, but by no stretch of the imagination should your online classroom break the bank.

  • For props, go to the Dollar store or the dollar section of Target. You’ll be surprised at the gems you’ll find. If you want a green-screen setup, a $1 green tablecloth goes a long way to accomplish that goal.
  • Talk to your service providers. Often, if an internet provider knows you work from home, they will likely try to talk you into a faster internet speed or other services. You can decline, and in doing so, you can also ask for any available discounts on your current plan. They may have a promotion, or they may offer you a higher speed at the price you’re paying now! Whatever the case, a friendly call to your service provider could definitely be worthwhile.
  • Keep your receipts! Talk to your tax expert about what is or is not a tax write off for you on your return. Having the receipts will ensure that when the time comes, you are prepared to get the most deductions possible for the use of your home office, and work-related purchases.
  • Turn off the computer after work and walk away. Remember the sections on self-care and work/life balance? Yeah… There is a cost saving in taking care of you. Class is over. Turn off your computer and walk away.

Effective Online Teacher Habit 1

6. Pedagogy and You

You are a professional educator. Pedagogy, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is: “the art, science, or profession of teaching.” Staying abreast of the latest trends in ESL teacher, linguistics, technology, theories, or basics is integral to being an effective online tutor. Continue to invest in your education, either formally or informally, to be the best educator you can possibly be.

7. Become Tech-Savvy

There is no denying that online learning, working, and shopping is here to stay. If you find that you are struggling with technology now, then take time to educate yourself. Strengthen your tech skills and employ your newfound techniques and ideas in the online classroom. There are many options available to you to become a bit more tech healthy:

  • Attend an Unconference.
  • Take free classes with Khan Academy.
  • Become a Google Educator.
  • Read some computer and technology books. Many are also available at your local library.
  • Attend a free or low-cost coding or computing class in your local community. You can find courses by using search terms such as “computer classes near me” or “free tech classes.”

Above are seven habits of highly successful ESL teachers. Which of the above are you doing now? What do you hope to implement in the future? Sound off in the comments below.

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