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Several years ago, I decided to leave the commercial/legal world I had been bound to for decades. A few years before, I had heard about people teaching English as a Second Language in Asia and was intrigued. From an early age, I loved reading. Anything. The more varied, the better. I didn’t just read books, I consumed them at a rapid rate. I have always enjoyed playing around with the English language and find the etymology of words fascinating. As with everything, languages evolve. Even before the advent of the internet, I found it astounding how a phrase that had been coined on one continent could become used on another. Knowledge knows no bounds and moves around the world at a rapid rate.

online teacher working“I have always enjoyed playing around with the English language and find the etymology of words fascinating.”

When I realized that online ESL teaching had taken off and had become a “thing,” I knew what I wanted to do. I love being at home–I should as I’ve spent many years paying off the mortgage bond! I resent having to go out of my gate for such mundane things as shopping and generally tie in any trips to the shops with taking my dogs to a large park nearby. I’d spent several decades battling through traffic, either for work, or for my children’s schools, or both. I felt I deserved to work at home.

“When I realized that online ESL teaching had taken off and had become a ‘thing,’ I knew what I wanted to do.”

I could see that what had started as a pipe-dream could actually become a reality. I’ve often been accused (and rightly so) of running before I can walk. I can see the bigger picture and see what I want, but I let the minutiae of formulating a plan overwhelm me.  Details are for amateurs! By the same token, I like to be as prepared as possible when it comes to something. Luckily, I could tick off the required bachelor’s degree. I researched various different kinds of certifications and finally decided to complete my TEFL certificate part-time. Although a TEFL isn’t necessary to tutor at Alo7, it gave me a vast understanding of how to engage students and how to structure classes, so I felt more confidence going forward.

My online ESL teaching career started with me volunteering to tutor Brazilian adults via Skype and hosting a Saturday morning class at home for six and seven-year-olds. What initially struck me was the students’ enthusiasm, regardless of age. We had a lot of fun, and they also learned some English along the way. These sessions initially started out as self-tests for me to see whether I could be unleashed on unsuspecting, paying students. Once I had that confirmation, my confidence grew, and I haven’t looked back.

“We all want to pass on our knowledge of this beautiful language.”

Online ESL teachers like myself come from all walks of life and have different academic backgrounds. There are ESL teachers still in college just beginning their ESL careers, and seasoned pros shifting their emphasis from brick-and-mortar positions to online ones. Regardless of experience, online teachers have one thing in common: we are passionate about teaching. For some people it’s a full-time job, for others it’s part-time. Either way, we all want to pass on our knowledge of this beautiful language.

“Regardless of experience, online teachers have one thing in common: we are passionate about teaching.”

Before discussing the tech requirements, you need to determine whether or not online teaching suits you personally. I had to answer the following questions of myself, and encourage you to do the same.

Am I dependable?

In short, yes I am. I work better with a set schedule. Can you commit to having a set schedule for at least 6 months? This one was easy for me. My children had left home to study (they both chose to study at a university that was as far away as possible…) so I was a free agent with regards to scheduling. As in all aspects of their life, students need stability and consistency. Alo7’s partner schools prefer tutors who maintain a stable attendance record and who are in for the long haul.  Remember that you are committing to this just like any other job. Obviously, Alo7 understands if you are ill or have an emergency and need time off, but also be considerate. There are several students and their respective parents depending on you to be in your scheduled class. Admittedly for some students, it won’t be an issue if their tutor changes, but then there are other students, the ones that are less confident and who have started to trust you, who may be affected. The purpose of having long-term tutors is to garner a rapport between tutor and students.

“Schools prefer tutors who maintain a stable attendance record.”

If you’re in the Americas, the time zones that apply to the peak tutoring times in China (6 pm to 9 pm BJT) may be in the early hours of the morning. Are you able to commit to getting up and being enthusiastic at that time of the morning? Also, bear in mind that you may have daylight savings which will affect you. China only has one time zone and doesn’t observe daylight savings, so their tutoring times remain the same.

Can you work independently?

You will be working independently and will be working set hours of your choice. If you choose to teach with ALO7, you’ll also have access to an excellent tech team and a network of support. 

Working independently can be challenging. If you’re like me, I find that I need to set a multitude of alarms (cell phone, computer, smartwatch) that do everything from waking me up to ensuring I check-in on time before my first class. Sometimes I have to set additional alarms if I have time in between lessons as I tend to wander off and start doing something else. It’s freeing to not be micro-managed within a time-frame; however, you must do your due diligence to stay on top of your schedule.

Are you patient?  

I may not be patient with myself, but when it comes to students, I have infinite patience because I enjoy helping them. I am happy to repeat something or explain it differently so that the student understands the concept or until they get the pronunciation right. This is fundamental to online teaching and is non-negotiable. We all learn at different paces, and it’s up to us as tutors to determine each student’s learning pace. As soon as your students realize you are patient, they will trust you and become more confident. It’s incredible to watch a student gain confidence, especially when they grasp what they have accomplished.

“Patience is fundamental in online teaching and is non-negotiable.”

teach onlineDo you enjoy teaching children aged 4 to 16?

Educating growing minds is one of the most fulfilling jobs I’ve ever had, and I can’t believe I get paid to do it. Initially, when teaching varying age groups, it can be quite challenging to go from a kindergarten class to a bunch of pre-teens on the same day. However, it does get easier and certainly keeps things interesting. That’s the thing about online teaching, it’s never dull!

Are you engaging?

There are many ways to inspire students to learn. The most natural and most important is to use your smile. Nobody wants to smile all the time but consider this; you may be the first native speaker a student has met. They’re probably nervous, and English is their second language. A genuine smile goes a long way. Smiles are contagious and broach any language. Use yours to your advantage. 

Pay attention to your tone of voice. There is nothing worse than listening to someone speak in a monotone voice. Your voice alone can bring a story to life for a young mind. Vary your tone as much as possible, and encourage your students to do the same when they’re reading. Reading in silly voices can also make the class more fun for everyone.

Many students are young or less fluent, so it is essential to use Total Physical Response (TPR) to help them learn vocabulary. TPR is a method of language teaching where the instructor uses physical motions to convey the meaning of a word with the intent of having the student mimic the movements while saying the new word. You’ll know you are a TPR expert when you start to use TPR in “real life” speaking to your own children and friends. Enabling young students to move around to express themselves helps to create a mind/body connection and helps to keep the students engaged.

“A genuine smile goes a long way.”

Props are also an essential tool for engaging students. Finding props is as easy as looking around your own house. Everyday items are perfect to illustrate word meanings. For example, I keep a toothbrush on my desk to ask students about their daily habits. Sometimes I even test their knowledge by asking if they use a toothbrush to brush their hair. This tactic gets giggles every time, and everyone is always able to answer correctly.

Are you enthusiastic?

Our students feed off our energy and perform better when we are enthusiastic. This doesn’t mean you have to act like a clown, but again consider what time it is in China when you’re tutoring. Peak tutoring hours are evening hours in China. The children are likely to be exhausted after a long day at school and need a boost, so be enthusiastic.

Besides the qualifications, what is needed for online ESL teaching?  

Having a reliable and fast computer and internet connection is essential. Although some people are able to teach with limited resources on their computers or with the minimum internet connection speed, it isn’t ideal. There is more chance of something going wrong, which could result in lost classes, revenue and ultimately being viewed as unreliable. It is essential to have a minimum of a Core i5 processor and 4GB of RAM when teaching for ALO7. This will ensure you have the speed and memory necessary to run the courseware and teaching platform, without overtaxing your machine. The minimum internet requirement for tutoring is 4Mbps upload and 8Mbps download with a maximum ping of 100ms. I’ve invested in higher specs for my computer and internet connection to make things more efficient, which ultimately reduces my stress levels.

“It’s essential to have a reliable and fast computer and internet connection for online ESL teaching.”

Do consider a backup internet connection and a small uninterrupted power supply, especially if you are in an area known to regularly lose power. They may be costly at the onset, but they will pay for themselves when your main internet supplier or power goes out. My area is notorious for having power and fiber outages, so I’ve made an investment in my backup systems. 

By teaching online, I challenged myself and got out of my comfort zone. I’m still not comfortable listening to myself or watching past classes, but it is vital to do so to critically evaluate how I can improve.

Get out of your comfort zone, in front of your computer, and experience the joy of teaching Chinese students online. 

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