My first stint as an English teacher started five years ago, in the comfort of my house, in front of a laptop, and with a pair of noise-canceling headphones. I had just been accepted by a Philippines-based company to teach English to Japanese students online. My first student was Tsuyo, a cheerful engineer who loved to talk about outdoors and scenery in his city. At the end of the course, he thanked me for the classes and said that he would help me if I ever planned to travel to Japan!
Looking back, getting my first online teaching job was a privilege as it opened a lot of doors for me as an ESL teacher, especially considering that I come from a non-native English speaking country (read about the advantages to being a non-native speaking English teacher here). My job teaching online has allowed me to go on to teach in traditional classroom-based positions for several other institutes in different countries, and time and again my experience as an online teacher not only made my work more interesting but also helped me improve my classroom teaching skills. Here are just some of the reasons why:
Online TEFL made me resourceful
Some people think that studying English online would be a bit dull and limited no matter how advanced the communication means may be. As an online teacher, I learned to be creative, looking for or developing my own activities to hold students’ attention. Whether it was a “Spot the Difference” game or talking about interesting topics – not just the usual ones of work and travel– I used pictures a lot and shared online resources for practicing English. Once, I tried playing a tic-tac-toe speaking game, which I usually utilize in the classroom, in an online class. For this, I used PowerPoint as the game board and shared the screen with my student. It occupied half of the class time, we practiced a lot of new vocabulary, and he said that he liked it a lot!
Knowing different cultures taught me to deal with people better
“Japanese students need to feel that they can trust you before they can open up to you.” This was one of my first mentor’s many reminders before I started teaching. Because of this, I got to be conscious of how I would start conversations and make corrections. It’s fun meeting people of various nationalities, but teaching them requires a lot of awareness about their culture. Some students could be warm and friendly, while others could be straightforward in speaking their thoughts. I’ve learned to adjust my way of teaching simply based on my knowledge of cultural diversity.
I learned to be prepared for anything
Despite having efficient, modern video-chat programs and being comfortable behind a screen, we get those occasional troubles while teaching online: slow connection, distractions from both sides, you name it. Once, I was teaching a student and it suddenly rained heavily. The rain splattering on the roof drowned our voices out so much that I had to run downstairs with my laptop to find a quiet place. In another class, our neighbors’ dogs started barking collectively. Quick as I was to apologize, I used that moment to ask my student if she had pets. Incidents like these do happen, but it’s important to be ready for anything and have a backup plan just in case.
My students are, simply put, my main drivers
How could I forget that Spanish student I taught who used to commute for six hours a day to work? Or that Japanese girl who was having classes on her phone while on the train home? These stories, even the simplest ones, like a lady telling me about her hobbies, are what have made my online teaching experience memorable. And with these, I always look forward to the next classes, knowing that there will always be a fun fact to share, a new story to hear, and a new student to help with his or her English skills.