Building resilience as an online teacher is just as important as building resilience as a brick and mortar one. Persevering and bouncing back from stressful situations can make our experiences great instead of miserable. There are so many things we cannot control, but we can control how we react to stressful situations. We can even be proactive and work on avoiding difficult situations.
Get Plenty of Sleep:
This is important for any job. One can never underestimate the importance of sleep. There is no downtime in online teaching: you cannot assign ten minute long silent individual work as one could assign in a brick and mortar classroom. If you have about thirty minutes to teach a class, you must get the students speaking as much as possible. You need to be “on” at all times. It is possible that your schedule will be at odd hours: assuming you live in the west and tutor students in the east, your classes can start very, very early in the morning. Getting enough sleep is essential to performing well.
Choose a schedule you know you can commit to. The temptation to open as many time slots to teach as possible is great, especially in the beginning. However, it is a good idea to start off slowly and add time slots as you acclimate to your schedule. Even though you may feel energized while tutoring, you can also feel drained afterward. Overcommitting to more than you can handle can cause premature burnout.
Pamper Yourself Between Classes:
If you only have five minutes between each class, then that is five minutes to sip coffee, walk around a little, or close your eyes and meditate for a moment. Those small actions can relieve tension and give your mind time to reset before the next class.
Foster Academic Stamina:
ALO7 tutor, Lauren Tracey, reminds us to remember the duration of academic stamina among the youngest of students. A five year old would struggle to be able to hold concentration for the same amount of time as a teenager or adult would. To reduce frustration, on the part of both tutor and student, try not to spend too much time on any given activity. Adding new activities and keeping students moving mentally and physically builds resilience.
Change Things Up:
Try to make the courseware engaging for both the tutor and the students. If you come up with warm-up and closing activities that incite interest and engage the students, you will most likely be more engaged yourself. Something as simple as putting a new picture in your virtual background can spark a discussion and encourage “oohs” and “aahs” from even the youngest learner. Kids pay attention to details, and visual input is more meaningful to a language learner. Use photos, sing songs and think of thought-provoking questions for your students. What if you have to teach the same lesson three times in a row? Offer a variety of activities and change them for each class. The more you tailor the lesson to match your student’s interests, the more excited your students will be to learn.
Keep Your Cool with Challenging Students:
We have all had the occasional student that would rather play with his toys or dance in circles instead of paying attention to the lesson and follow instructions. Some students turn their screen on and off, mute their mics and generally disrupt the class. The only thing we can control is how we react to the situation. We can choose to get frustrated and give up, or we can see it as a challenge and try to reach the student and connect with him.
If the student is playing with his favorite stuffed animal, rather than discipline him, ask him about it. Form the questions in a way that makes the student reply using the sentence structure that is being presented in the lesson. For example, ALO7 tutor Dalissa McEwen had one student who initially presented as disruptive because he liked to play with his Ironman doll during class. She was able to turn the class around by asking his Ironman doll questions directly. Lo and behold, Ironman started attending class each week, and the student was happy to follow the lesson as long as Dalissa included Ironman in some way. More than anything else, being flexible and cultivating the skill of adapting lessons on the fly goes a long way in building resiliency and improving as an online tutor.
But, wait, what about issues like a student refusing to speak or turning off their video feed? Before interpreting this behavior as a discipline issue, tease out if the student is doing those things for another reason. Is he less fluent? Is he shy? Is the material too easy for him? If you find the answers to these questions reveal that the student is genuinely acting disobedient, follow this step-by-step guide to get class back on track:
1. Try to get the student’s attention by calmly saying his name, stating your expectations, and then modeling the rules with the other students if necessary.
2. If step one fails to work, contact support and explain the situation as quickly as possible. Of course, you want to keep your comments confidential, so make sure you aren’t sharing your screen or speaking to them so they can hear.
3. Carry on with the class as best you can. Maintaining professionalism and your composure will be the best way to handle difficult situations. Model the proper behavior at all times and treat the students as you want to be treated…no matter how they try your patience.
Anticipate Unforeseen Issues:
The most stressful situations that afflict us are often ones that are unforeseen and out of our control. It can be discouraging and so frustrating when we are up and ready to give a class, looking forward to seeing our students, and then POOF!…the electricity goes out! It is a horrible feeling when you have done everything to prepare for an exciting class, and are unable to follow through. Don’t despair. Electrical and internet outages, computer technical problems, sudden illnesses, and personal crises are a part of life. When these troubles arise, simply go through the protocol established by the company for which you tutor. Notify support as soon as possible, and have your cell phone handy in case you need to use your data to communicate with them. The more information you can give support, the better. Screenshots that are time stamped are good to have on hand should support require it.
Change is inevitable and the more you can roll with the punches, the more resiliency you will develop. When the company changes a policy or procedure, it may feel inconvenient at first. However, try to trust that these changes are in the best interest for everyone. Online work IS change…constant change. If you accept that it comes with the territory, you can embrace it.
Find Your Tribe:
It can get lonely working online from home, so consider joining one of the many online ESL tutor groups that can be found across the internet. Reaching out to fellow tutors can be one of the best ways to feel supported and to pass that support on. For example, ALO7 tutors benefit from two different private online groups used to build community and foster friendship; Pili’s Playhouse and Nani’s Newbies.
Building resilience is what ultimately builds success. It takes patience and practice. You CAN get up early, teach challenging students, roll with changes, handle technical problems and still love your job.
Susan knew she liked people, traveling, learning about history, reading, studying languages and sharing what she had learned with others, but she didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life until her English professor suggested teaching. She was inspired!
Susan earned a masters degree in Bicultural-Bilingual Studies with an emphasis in Teaching English as a Second Language. After teaching in Texas, she decided to move to Mexico to immerse herself in everything she loved: a new culture rich in history, and the opportunity to improve her Spanish. Susan has worked in a university as an adjunct professor of English and in various schools as an English teacher, academic administrator, and coordinator of the English department. Today she resides in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico, with her husband, daughter and little dog. She is an ALO7 tutor and loves it!