Three years ago, I was looking for some extra income to supplement my wonderful EFL teaching job in Mexico. My son mentioned to me some teaching jobs he had seen on Reddit, and I started researching, then applying and interviewing. I had been teaching EFL for twenty years in brick and mortar classrooms, how hard could this be? Quickly I realized that virtual classroom teaching is a whole other animal, requiring different skills, a variety of approaches, and quite a bit of adjustment. I even failed my first interview and wasn’t hired by the first company I wanted to work for, due to my inexperience of online teaching and mistakes I made in the interview. I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and kept trying and practicing, and was eventually hired by ALO7, a fantastic company of which I am proud to be a part of.
With the recent global pandemic outbreak of COVID-19, many teachers are now finding themselves with the challenge of transitioning to teaching online classes. Here are a few things that I’ve learned along the way that I hope can help teachers and parents stay the path in these mostly uncharted territories.
Online Teaching Tips to Guide Your Transition to Teaching Online
- Encourage your students’ parents to attend class with their children. I don’t have my students’ parents sitting next to them in my brick and mortar classroom, though it would definitely be useful to keep some of my students in line, or at times to show their parents that little Juan isn’t the angel she thinks he is. One very nice thing I have discovered with online teaching is that the parents tend to be sitting next to their child or at least in close proximity.
Feel free to ask the parents of your students to sit with their children while they are taking their online classes. The parents can assist with technological challenges and can help keep the student still and not distracted by the non-classroom environment. Involving parents also helps to keep the classroom space quiet and orderly. Parents can help by turning off televisions and other devices and minimizing ambient noise and distractions like pets or relatives entering the room. As a significant side benefit, the parents are spending time with their kids, learning alongside them, and can reinforce what they are learning in real-world situations.
- Make sure to plan short and concise lessons for the online environment. Many of our lessons in a brick and mortar classroom take a decent amount of time. My current high school classes are 50 minutes long and include review, new concepts, guided practice, individual practice, and then closure time. In an online classroom, it is difficult to have a 50-minute class. The students are sitting in front of a screen, surrounded by their toys or gadgets, and they are often easily distracted. Also, some of the students will be watching a recorded video, so they are even more easily distracted. Try to shorten your lessons as much as possible, use dynamic graphics or even props with your webcam. Try different warm-up activities and make sure to engage them as much as possible. Don’t just be another talking head. Be concise and be amazing.
- Sight and sound matter. My regular classroom is very simple, with few frills and decorations. My biggest concern when going to school is making sure that my clothing is in good condition and it matches, my makeup is decent, and that my hair looks good. I am daily analyzed by high school students, after all. In the online classroom, I’m not too concerned about matching clothing since the students only view me from the waist up. But, the students do need for me to have good technology: Good lighting, a decent webcam, and a microphone with excellent sound are essential. The students need to see you and hear you in order for your class to be effective.
It takes some practice, but be intentional to look into your camera and make virtual eye contact with your students. If you are technologically inclined, you can even look into using virtual backgrounds and have some fun with that. Remember that your students may not have very good internet connections in their homes and try not to use too many digitally heavy applications and activities.
- Brain breaks and free talk are useful tools. My brick and mortar students love recess, and any free time they have to get together and chat about their daily life. They are typical teenagers, and they love to play around and joke with each other. I thought this type of community would be difficult to foster in an online environment. I found, though, that this generation of students is very comfortable interacting online, so I learned that it is good to encourage the students to answer your questions in the chat feature of your platform, if available. Ask them all to mute their microphones while you are talking, but also allow time for them to interact as they would in a real classroom. My high school students are fascinated by all being in a virtual room at the same time and also beaming in from their homes. They want to show each other things, and they want to talk since they are missing their daily school interaction. Create times for them to talk, to show each other things, and maybe even give them a few minutes of recess time in the middle to all get a snack or drink or to stretch. Implementing brain breaks goes a long way in keeping the students actively engaged during longer class sessions.
- Make sure to get some “me” time. In my regular school, I have time between classes to use the restroom, stretch, get a cup of coffee, and not be “on.” Take advantage of these downtimes when you are teaching online as well. I have five minutes between my online classes, and get up and stretch, run for coffee, and use the restroom just like in my school. I find the online teaching environment to be a little more taxing on me because I feel like I need to entertain or be even more engaging there, so I for sure need to take those five minutes to rest and recharge.
- Give yourself time to adjust. I had been teaching in a regular classroom for twenty years when I started my online adventures. I had to learn to be patient with myself. Remember, this is new to most people. You may be a fantastic teacher in a classroom, and find yourself stumbling all over the place while in a virtual classroom. Your students will be adjusting. Some of your rowdiest pupils may be entirely still while staring at a screen while your quiet ones may come out of their shells because they are in their home environment and are comfortable. Start simple, and as you become more comfortable with the online classroom environment, you can add things like props and activities to your lessons. Be patient with yourself most of all! If you fail at one virtual class, remember that you have more opportunities to learn and grow in every area. I’ve had all sorts of issues, from disruptive students to internet failures. Each issue is an opportunity to make things better for my next class.
I would suggest keeping a journal of things that worked and didn’t work in your online lesson. I have kept daily logs of each of my classes and my students’ progress, actually using an antiquated pen and paper! It helps me to look back and see what worked and what I could improve.
Transitioning to teaching online has been a stretching and growing experience for me, but I am convinced that I have improved as a teacher in both environments because of it. Enjoy the changes and the challenges!
Jan Millsaps has been an advocate for the improvement of education models in Latin America for the last fifteen years. She is making a difference one classroom at a time. Jan became an online tutor with ALO7 in late summer of 2017 to help pay off medical bills and to provide for future retirement, if there ever will be such a thing in her life.
Jan has a B.S. in Education, concentrating in Reading (K-12) and Math (6-9). However, she has taught every subject and grade level throughout her 25-year career. The last fifteen years have been dedicated to teaching ESL the majority of the time. She also continues to teach math and reading.
Jan believes education is the key to societal development and works hard to make a difference in the lives of her students both online and offline. She is passionate that her students reach their full potential and become world changers.