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Recently, I celebrated my one year anniversary as an online English teacher to Chinese students with ALO7. I have been a regular classroom teacher for more than twenty years, but this online frontier has challenged me in new and fun ways, as I’m sure it has for everyone pioneering this relatively new education technique. I’ve had to step out of my comfort zone in many areas, and have had to analyze my classroom delivery in order to improve as an online teacher.

I’ve compiled a list of five strategies I use to be a better online teacher, and I believe these ideas will help you, too.

1) Be prepared.

The longer we teach, the more temptation there is to fall into a teaching rut. We have seen our lessons time and time again, and don’t even feel the need to prepare much for them. Don’t allow yourself to get into a routine so much that you lose your edge. Look over your lessons before classes, organize your props, and find new activities to keep the classes exciting for both the students and for yourself.  

Keep notes from previous classes about your students’ personal lives. Did they travel this past week? Did they start school or have a family change? What are their passions or motivations?  Review these before each class to refresh your memory and to ask them questions and break the ice. The students will appreciate your personal comments, and the class will always be fresh and exciting for them when they know you took the time to remember details from their lives.

woman studying to improve as an online teacher2) Keep learning.

If we become stagnant as educators, our classes become stagnant as well. In brick and mortar schools, we are often required to take continuing education classes for our license renewals. Online education companies are yet to expect that, but we as professionals should be willing to take the time to invest in ourselves and in our students.

There are several online educator channels available on YouTube that will help keep our educational edge. ALO7 English, for example, has examples of successful classes as well as teacher tips and ideas. You can also browse this blog for more educational articles, such as “Teach Your ESL Students Using Music” or “How to Work With Different Personality in Your Classroom.”

If you feel comfortable with your teaching style, may I suggest brushing up on your English grammar using Khan Academy? Perhaps you would like to familiarize yourself with your own learning style and how to meet individual student needs by taking online quizzes and doing some research.

Group of ALO7 online teachers

Members of the ALO7 tutor community in the Shanghai office

3) Be in a community.

Teachers’ lounges and staff meetings at traditional schools are an excellent place to exchange ideas and to help each other through teaching struggles. A disadvantage to an online education company is we don’t always have that available to us.  ALO7 has an excellent Facebook community forum, called Pili’s Playhouse, which is exclusively for ALO7 tutors. If your company doesn’t have that available for you, consider creating a Facebook group or a forum or joining an existing one where you can ask questions, share ideas, and encourage each other in the online education journey.

4) Keep up with technology.

As the online education field progresses and changes over time, so will your technological needs. Make sure to always keep the software updated and keep up with your company’s tech requirements. We all know that technology glitches and problems can absolutely ruin our classes, or at least cause distractions and time loss in our lessons. Making sure that all of your equipment is running optimally before you teach minimizes headaches down the road.

5) Assess yourself.

If your company provides a QC (quality control) score, keep tabs on it. Are you doing as well as you could? Watch your class videos from time to time if they are recorded. Pay attention to your parent ratings and bookings and make sure you are doing your very best. There is always room for improvement, even if your score is at the higher end. Set goals for yourself and keep them up.

“We can’t improve what we don’t assess.”
― Michael Hyatt, Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want

This summer I set a goal to use more props in my classroom, which included having to invest in a few new ones and then figure out how to incorporate them into my lessons. I did see improvement in my QC score, and I also saw more enthusiasm from my students. My next goal is to change up my games and activities, and I have slowly been introducing new things to my students. I set these goals for myself because of the weaknesses I observe in my self-assessments.  

Improvement should always be at the forefront of our minds as we continue in our professional development. I hope these five tips will help you as they have helped me to become a better teacher and to improve my virtual classroom for my students. 

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