The Top 3 Struggles of Teaching English Online and How to Overcome Them
Welcome to the online teaching world! My name is Megan and I have been working online as “Teacher Megan” for about three years now. One of the things I enjoy now that I never did before? Snow days! Working from home (and a little hot chocolate of course) has made snow days some of my favorite days of the year!
Every morning I turn on my computer, flip on my twinkle lights, and set down my coffee somewhere within arm’s reach. At some point, as I arrange my props and steady my headset on top of my head, I transform into the “Teacher Megan” that the students have been eagerly waiting for.
As much as I prepare, I never know what to expect when I enter the classroom. Will all of the students have their clothes on? Will they be eating, sleeping, wearing a mask, holding a pet turtle? It’s different for every class. Teaching online has its own very unique set of challenges, and three years and thousands of students later, I have seen it all. Here are some of the biggest challenges that I have faced as well as some lessons that I have learned along the way!
1. The Students
One of the best parts of the job can also be one of the biggest challenges. Many online teachers face a revolving door of hundreds of students in a short period of time, each with their own needs, expectations, and learning struggles. Not to mention those students who are tired, grumpy, or maybe in the middle of scarfing down dinner. What can help us to help them? One of my favorite quotes sums it up well- “Students don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." —John C. Maxwell.
When we care about the student- each student- then it shows. It shows in how we patiently wait for them as they struggle to form the new vocabulary sentence. It shows in how we get excited when they succeed, and try our best to help them when they don’t. When we care about the student, then we work to bring out the best in them. While it might seem easier to switch into automatic mode, in the long run it brings so much more joy when we put our heart into our teaching and we make real student-teacher connections.
2. The Energy
Caring so much, so early in the morning (or late at night) takes a toll on every teacher! Weeks and months of this schedule can lead to burn-out. When we don’t feel like being in class, students are quick to pick up on this and it can ruin the class atmosphere. Over time, we can start to resent instead of enjoying teaching. How can we keep up with a demanding schedule? Here are a few ideas that might work:
2.1 Have Something to Look Forward To
If it’s a vacation or just a day off, having something to look forward to gives you a light at the end of the tunnel. Even a daily treat such as an after-class brunch can help you power through those last classes!
2.2 Know Your Needs
Do you need coffee to function before 9 o’clock? Do you need 7 hours of sleep? Do reach your limit at doing 4 classes in a row? Know your limits, and work with those. Any schedule might work short- term, but if your goal is to create a good sustainable long-term schedule, this will take some planning and trial and error. Everyone is different, so find out what is best for you!
2.3 Have a Good Support Team
Working from home doesn’t mean you are working alone! Try viewing YouTube videos with tips and morning routines, or become a part of the online community of ESL teachers. Other ESL teachers are a great source of inspiration and encouragement!
3. The Ratings
No matter how many good reviews we have received, it can take just one bad review to make our confidence plummet! It can also leave us with the feeling that giving our best isn’t good enough, which can be very discouraging. Here are some reminders for when ratings are stealing your joy:
3.1 Have Reasonable Expectations
Don’t set yourself up to fail by expecting the impossible. You can’t please everyone, and you can’t be a perfect teacher. Doing your best and learning from your mistakes is the best that you can ask of yourself.
3.2Teaching is Not a Stagnant Skill
“Maybe I’m not a good teacher.” Don’t let negative thoughts like this cause you to doubt yourself. Tomorrow you will be a more experienced teacher than you were today. With every class, you are growing, learning and improving. Instead of being overly disappointed when a class doesn’t get good reviews, just take away what lessons you can and move on. And even when you are receiving all good reviews, continue to build on your skills and look for ways to make your classes even better.
After class, I turn off my computer and put away my empty coffee cup. I might just be regular “Megan” for the rest of the day, but tomorrow I will be ready to do it all again. So for all of those online teachers out there, hang in there! We have a challenging job, but teaching can bring more joy than challenges if we let it.
Happy teaching everyone!
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