Rescuing the Awkward Classroom- 3 Hacks that Save the Day!

Welcome to the online teaching community! 

My name is Megan and I found my home in the online teaching world about 3 years ago. I start every day with a very large coffee, very fuzzy slippers, and a pile of colorful and fluffy props. My favorite prop is also my fluffiest one- my dog!


Rescuing the Awkward Classroom- 3 Hacks that Save the Day!

There are so many things that we see in our classrooms as online teachers – and many of those could be classified under “hilarious” “adorable” or “please someone get me some more coffee.”

 A personal struggle that I have experienced is the awkward class that sometimes teeters dangerously close to being a complete flop. Some of my least favorite examples?  The classes with very young students paired with older students, or very advanced students paired with beginner students. Maybe everyone is distracted, or having a bad day, or maybe no one seems to understand the lesson material. Personally, I find these types of classes to be a lot to handle- especially if there are multiple classes like this in a row! By the end of a morning like that, I run away from my computer like Usain Bolt. (If he was a slow out-of-shape white woman wearing fuzzy slippers and carrying a cup of coffee). 

After a horribly awkward start, when we think to ourselves “oh no, here we go!” is there still hope? Can we save the class? Definitely! Well, maybe.  Here are some of my personal favorite hacks for the incredibly cringey classroom! 

1. Praise students individually

When dealing with a mismatched class (either due to the students' ages or skill levels being extremely varied) I choose to use more specific praise catered to each student. 
For example, if Tommy has a very limited vocabulary but is doing an excellent job of reading, I will praise him specifically for his reading, and mentally set a few vocabulary goals during the class for him personally. I might even express these goals to him, or at least let him know during the end of class wrap-up which goals he reached so that he feels encouraged by his own personal accomplishments, instead of discouraged because of comparing himself to the other students.

In the same way, if Tommy is running laps around the other students, I will set challenges that apply to Tommy personally, and praise Tommy for reaching those challenges instead of making him feel that success is achieved by besting his classmates. 

Let’s be honest here- this is not the class to emphasize competition, since some students may simply be left in the dust again and again. For student interaction, I will have the more advanced students help the others along (which has the added benefit of preventing them from becoming bored as the slower students complete their work), or at times I will use some other type of conversational English practice so that they can still find ways to interact with their fellow classmates.

2. Meet in the middle

One of my worst nightmares is when all of the students are having an off day at the same time. Maybe they’re uninterested, uncooperative, or distracted. My biggest nemesis? The dreaded “I’d-rather-be-anywhere-than-here” death stare. 

For these situations, I always try to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they had a difficult or tiring day. Maybe they’ve been in one class after another all day long, and now they are just over it. By choosing not to take it personally when they don’t seem engaged, I can choose to focus my energy on being positive and empathetic. I might ask them “oh no, are you tired? What did you do today?” And then say something encouraging such as “Wow, what a busy day! Don’t worry; you will do a great job in class! Then you can get some rest.” 

Sometimes, the issue is that the lesson material itself is not something that is sparking interest in the students. In this case, I will add a few questions to feel out what the students are interested in, and then I will sprinkle this topic or interest throughout the rest of the class. Or I will add opinion-questions throughout the class to let them express themselves, and I make sure to react to each opinion with interest and positivity.  Finally, I will add games or competitions if that is what is needed to get each student involved and motivated.  Throughout this entire process, I continue to call each student by name repeatedly, so that I can help them to focus on me and to feel included.

3. Don’t give up

I wish I could say that there was a way to have a perfect class every time, but some classes will end just as awkwardly as they began. Even if that’s the case, don’t forget that short but true saying - attitude is everything! If you keep your energy positive and engaging throughout the class, the students will have at least received a little spark of encouragement to keep learning English. You never know where that will take them! 

Hang in there all my fellow online teachers!

And for those of you who have heard amazing things about teaching for Qkids, I would like to confirm that Qkids is a fantastic place to be an online teacher. Feel free to leave me a note with any questions or to use my referral link if you’re ready to apply and see for yourself:

Shaping the future of E-learning together! Helping Qkids family grow in your own way!

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