Teach English through online apps

Teaching a little closer to home

A TEFL qualification can take you places. It might be to the sizzling Dubai skylines, or zipping through the bike-crammed streets of Vietnam. But did you know your TEFL can also come in handy a little closer to home?

When we think of online teaching, we may think of a stern teacher barking instructions through a monitor in some Orwellian nightmare. On the other hand, you might be reminded of educational YouTube videos showing you how to tie a Windsor knot or create a cat-flap out of a cardboard. However in 2017, an evolving online teaching market is growing, with particular emphasis on learning English.

For many, English is a key part of attaining top grades, university places and prospering in a competitive job market. However, while those with socio-economic mobility living in international cities may have easy access to real-life tutoring, it may not be so easy for others.

What’s the status of the online teaching market?

This is where online teaching comes in. At present, rival companies and start-ups are competing to release the best software for students to learn English, but also to make it easier for native speakers such as myself to act as tutors.

Most companies pay teachers an hourly rate via online transfer with no minimum time commitments or contracts.

The set-up varies across platforms, but there is likely to be an app suited to your schedule, allowing it to become the perfect pairing with your TEFL studies. Some websites have formal structures requiring you to set a regular class timetable and provide detailed lessons. However, most apps and sites are simply for Skype-style conversation practise, involving everything from favourite football teams to favourite crisp flavours (Cheese and Onion, for the record).

What’s the application process?

I decided to undergo the online hiring process myself in order to get a feel for the industry. After researching the most popular online teaching companies, I finally downloaded an app to my phone directly from the company website. Overall, the application took only ten minutes to complete, and a week for the company to approve me.

Requirements depend on the software you are using, but in this case, the app integrated a short self-introduction video into the sign-up process. You can use your phone to record this several (million) times until you are happy with it. Remember – be calm, you’re in the sanctuary of your house, and there’s no judging panel with Dermot lurking backstage waiting to comfort you. Take a deep breath and if it goes wrong, just try again!

A self-introduction ought to include an overview of your education, relevant work experience and why you like to teach. Unlike a full time classroom position, there isn’t any paperwork, but a smile goes a long way.

As first impressions count here, companies advise that you dress smartly, enunciate and demonstrate a friendly, approachable personality. That includes clearing any waste-paper baskets, movie posters, dirty dishes and pet dogs from the background. An informal online teaching rule might be that if it isn’t in classrooms, it shouldn’t be on camera, so leave aside munching on snacks and slurping coffee to after class.

Do I need a TEFL or teaching qualification?

A TEFL qualification isn’t a prerequisite for online teaching, but it certainly impresses companies and students. The app I used allowed me to upload photographs of my qualifications to prove my familiarity with the basics of teaching and the challenges the students may face. If you are still studying for your TEFL, online teaching is also a great chance to practise what you’ve learned and build experience for job applications.

Do I need to plan my lessons?

A full lesson plan is often unnecessary, but it doesn’t hurt to be over-prepared. The app I used had an integrated messaging system so that students could introduce themselves prior to calling, but I also used this to ask what kind of instruction the student was looking for.

Each student has different needs, so it’s helpful to have some tools on hand to make sure you’re not caught out. Children often respond well to silly voices, exaggerated facial expressions, flash cards and movement. Teenagers and adults who are preparing for oral exams often want a more authentic day-to-day conversation.

What should I do during class?

I found a big smile helped to dispel any worries the students might have had before calling. Teaching online is physically limiting (no high-fives) but this also keeps lessons calm and informal.

Once the tutoring session is underway, a good start is asking the student’s name, age and home. These three simple questions are a chance to gauge the proficiency level and the speed. If the student looks to be struggling, slow down and provide examples. If the student can speak at length, introduce more complex topics. On that note, it’s best to stick to family, work, travel and hobbies and avoid politics and personal convictions. For children, I like to have rough 30-minute lesson plans covering simple vocabulary and prepositions. You can even flip your phone camera around to show your student books and pictures.

Like most ESL teaching, online students should be doing the majority of the talking with as little interruption as possible. Don’t be afraid of short pauses. Unless the student requires a lot of assistance in producing sentences, teachers can correct recurring mistakes towards the end of the session.

In addition, online teaching is mostly one on one, so it might even be a sound idea to brush up on the art of conversation. Ask for specific details, locations, reasons, and bounce students’ questions back to them. A great technique is to ask for instructions, for example: If I was on vacation in your hometown, what should I do? How would I get from place to place?

Speaking to strangers can initially be nerve-wracking, but you are unlikely to encounter disasters. Any online teacher should be over 18, and I recommend ensuring the app you are using has a block and report system in place for inappropriate callers (unfortunately, it happens from time to time). Avoid giving out personal details about yourself, and don’t hesitate to hang up if you feel uncomfortable. Fortunately, the majority of callers are lovely and just want to chat!

If the thought of online teaching gives you butterflies, why not try limiting your sessions to ten or fifteen minutes for each student and gradually extending the appointments as you build your confidence? You’ll find the time soon starts to fly by.

Who teaches online?

Online teachers come from all over the world. The main top-teacher credentials tend to be a good understanding of ESL, a friendly introduction video and of course, availability. Students often review teachers’ patience, interpersonal skills and the speed at which they speak, and most students will shy away from a teacher who speaks quickly and interrupts frequently.

It’s unlikely that a website or app will require you to have minimum hours, so many tutors log on in their spare time. It’s not a guarantee that you will accumulate enough long term students to achieve full time hours, so bear that in mind if you’re aiming to use this app as a sustainable form of income.

Online teaching can be very fluid, and some students just want to try out the app’s free sessions for the novelty. Still, it’s really fun to meet people from all over the world from the comfort of your own home.

In conclusion, while online teaching is fun and convenient for both teacher and student, it won’t be overtaking classroom teaching any time soon. However, it’s a great tool for teachers on any point of the career path. Whether you want to put your newfound TEFL skills into practise, maintain your teaching ability during some downtime, or even make a little pocket money over the weekend, online teaching could be for you. My major recommendation, however? Remember to charge your phone!

Want to read more of Cat’s blogs? Visit Putong Press