By now you’ve heard that teaching ESL online is a great job opportunity for digital nomads. “Teach from anywhere! All you need is a stable internet connection and your laptop!” claim many social media posts promoting online ESL teaching positions. But can you really get away with only these two items? Here’s the essential list of what you need to teach online and travel.
- Portable background: Having a neat and tidy background is a must for teaching online as it makes you look professional and prevents outside distractions. But when you teach English abroad and stay in hotels or Airbnbs, you are not always guaranteed a conveniently placed desk to set up. Carrying around a bunch of colorful maps or pictures to hang up may not be very practical either for a world nomad. A simple, large piece of fabric can solve all your problems. You can choose any pattern to make it fun and kid-friendly, and it takes up about the same amount of space as a few T-shirts.
- Selfie Ring/USB light: Lighting can be an issue when trying to teach online and travel. It can be difficult to know in advance what kinds of light sources you will have based on photos and reviews of your accommodation. The selfie ring, a phone accessory, or a USB light that connects to your laptop, will help you avoid teaching in the dark. These are small, portable, and charge easily. Sure, it is a little blinding having a light shining in your face, but it’s better than students complaining that they can’t see you!
- Flashcards and a puppet: While many digital nomad ESL teachers may choose to use webcam software (we’ll discuss those later) to save space, physical props are effective tools for any teacher. Flashcards or a puppet are just a suggestion. But these are two props that you can easily DIY, use for almost any class and do not take up too much space. An extra tip for flashcards is to have them laminated so they last longer.
- Extension cord: With so many modern essentials such as electric toothbrushes, cameras, phones, and smartwatches needing to be charged, you’d think that outlets are almost a basic necessity. Well, that is simply not the case (I’m looking at you Malaysia!) Some places are outlet wastelands with only one or two awkwardly situated outlets per room. Bringing along an extension cord will save you a lot of headaches and allow you more freedom to set up where you need.
- Hotspot: What do you do when you arrive somewhere and realize you don’t have strong enough internet? This is every digital nomad’s worst nightmare. Despite all your planning and research for the best connected Airbnb or hotel room, the speeds may not meet your expectations. A global WiFi hotspot might just save you from canceling your classes. These devices connect to local 4G networks. Keep in mind that connecting this way is not ideal because of network instability. But as a last resort, it will work in a pinch until you find a place with better connectivity. It’s best to do your research about prices, data limits and coverage before renting or purchasing a global Wifi device. Another option is to buy a local SIM card with data and use your phone as a hotspot.
- Webcam Software: Unlike many home-based ESL tutors, it can be impossible for the digital nomad tutor to keep boxes of props on hand. You may be familiar with ManyCam, which has become popular among online ESL tutors. This type of software allows you to add stickers, borders, funny hats and backgrounds to liven up your classes and engage young learners. ManyCam and similar programs give tutors the ability to teach online and travel light because you have thousands of virtual props at your disposal. You can add stickers to illustrate a vocabulary word, use effects as a reward system, or change your background to keep your class environment fresh.
- Additional props: With webcam software, you may not feel like you need any other props. However, you may find that these programs can’t offer everything. Or, they end up being more distracting than helpful. A whiteboard, toy microphone or party horn are a few common ESL teaching aides that are useful to keep in your suitcase.
- Backups: Another digital nomad nightmare is having your technology break down, costing you time and money. Having an extra laptop (since most teaching platforms will not allow you to teach from a tablet) can equal added expense if you don’t already own one, and they can be cumbersome to carry around, no doubt. But if you want to be extra prepared, having a smaller or refurbished laptop as a spare might not be a bad idea. At the very least, having an extra charger and set of headphones is worth the investment in case of unexpected technical difficulties or accidents.
As you can see, you do need a little bit more than just your laptop and internet connection to teach online and travel. But you don’t need to devote an entire suitcase to online teaching materials! Whether you’re setting out for an around the world journey or preparing for teaching at your in-laws’ house during the holidays, these are the online ESL teaching essentials you should remember to pack.
What do you pack when you teach online and travel?
I started teaching English abroad after graduating from Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts with a degree in English Literature. Although I originally planned to teach in Cambodia for a year, I discovered I had a passion for helping students around the world achieve their academic, professional and personal goals through language learning. I’ve been an Alo7 tutor since April 2017 and am currently living in South America.
I am Chinese-Japanese American, but sadly, I’m not trilingual. I grew up in a relatively “Western” household–no Tiger Moms but plenty of fried rice and a healthy dose of Asian guilt. My favorite part of English teaching is getting the opportunity to learn about my students’ daily lives, traditions and customs, so I’m very excited to be writing about Chinese culture on the Alo7 blog!