Seven common online teaching mistakes made by TEFL teachers

Seven common online teaching mistakes

Online teaching mistakes can lose your students. They could even cost you your job.

This article deals with common mistakes made by TEFL teachers when teaching online classes and shows you how to avoid them.

If you are currently teaching English as a Foreign Language, you probably know the drill. You know how to prepare a lesson for your classes, you’ve got a great rapport with your students, and you know the English grammar reasonably well.

Maybe you’ve done so many TEFL lessons that you can practically do them in your sleep.

But now, you’ve decided to venture into the world of online teaching. How hard could it be? You’re teaching the same language and utilising the same theories and methodologies. Your students are the same, so why should there be a problem with the lessons?

Let’s stop you right there.

Yes, teaching English online is very similar to teaching English face-to-face. The content of your lessons can remain the same, provided your students have similar needs, abilities, and interests. But there are differences between the two forms of teaching.

Unfortunately, many F2F teachers find it hard to transition to online, live streaming teaching. Sadly many teachers are not fully aware of what they are getting into regarding online education. As a result, they believe they can translate their lessons into online lessons with minimal changes. And this is where the danger lies.

Let’s look at how you can transition smoothly into online teaching.

1. Location, location, location

Where is your online classroom? Your background should be clean and simple with no distractions (audio or visual) and no distracting movements. Make sure your online classroom is quiet and without distractions. Ensure your students cannot hear children crying, dogs barking, or the TV on all the time. It is not professional, and your students will not learn because they will not concentrate on the lesson.

Teaching tip: Invest in a simple, clean backdrop or create your background that you can stick on the wall. When you are in class, turn off your phone, close your room and make sure your students only see and hear you. As their teacher, it is your responsibility to ensure that they have the best conditions for their virtual classroom.

2. Do not constantly check the time

When you’re teaching online, your students can come from everywhere. You can be in a class composed of 3, 4 or 6 different countries and different time zones. Some online teachers feel like they have a mini-United Nations in their classes.

It can be an exciting and unique teaching experience, so welcome online teaching. The difference will be the time zone, so you must be aware of the differences. Imagine you’re in London, and your students are in Madrid, Seoul, Buenos Ares, Moscow, etc. As an online teacher, punctuality is essential. They will schedule the class around your time zone if you are teaching through a language school.

The time you teach will be the best time for all of your students. The same rules apply if you work for yourself; the only difference is that you are in charge of everything, from organising class times to getting paid.

Teaching tip: Have you seen those offices with clocks on their walls showing the times in different countries? If you are teaching students in a different time zone, have a watch or clock on your desk showing the time of the students’ country, so you are always aware of their time. Then, to make sure you are ready and waiting for your students, prepare your materials and lesson plans in the morning or even the night before. If you have students from more than one time zone, you may want to invest in a desk clock showing different time zones.

3. Teaching like you're face-to-face

If you have some experience teaching EFL in a face-to-face setting, you might think you’ll be a natural at teaching English online. And we’re not saying you won’t be.

You need to understand that you can’t directly translate your teaching methods and activities from a face-to-face setting into a virtual classroom.

So while the general principles remain the same, your lesson materials and delivery will need to change.

Teaching tip: You will need to adapt your lesson plans and material using the technology available to you and your students. Some students will have lousy internet coverage, and some will have outdated computers. You need to sort these issues before starting the course, or your online classes will flop. Tell your students that they need to have the technology to enable them to learn effectively.

4. Talking, talking, talking

Like most of us, you’ve probably attended a Zoom meeting, so you’ll understand that talking to someone online can be a stressful experience.

It can be challenging to concentrate when you feel like you’re in the spotlight, and if there are more than two people on the call, it can be challenging to focus.

So now imagine you are a student who needs to simultaneously focus, concentrate, translate, and learn.

Teaching tip: There is a lot for our students to juggle during our lessons. We need to allow our students some moments of silence to process what we are saying and think about how they can contribute.

5. Bad equipment

We understand, times are tough, but that’s no excuse for failing to invest in yourself and your business.

Cheap and cheerful is not going to cut it for teaching online.

Unreliable equipment is the easiest way to lose students. Since online teaching is all about word-of-mouth recommendations and student testimonials, you don’t want to do anything that might hurt your reputation.

Teaching tip: Make sure you invest in a good laptop and a decent headset. Ensure the area where you will teach is quiet and there are no distracting noises. You should also need to invest in a few props or virtual backgrounds to make your virtual classroom more visually appealing and exciting.

6. Going solo

Working from home doesn’t mean you’re alone! Being online all day and not seeing anyone in person, in the flesh all day long, can be stressful. It can also be difficult teaching without the support of your colleagues and other staff members. There are many online teaching forums and groups you can join.

Teaching tip: Connect with other teachers who work with the same online company. Join Facebook groups and forums with other TEFL teachers you can chat to when you need some teacher talk or advice.

7. You are becoming extinct! (Remember the dinosaurs?)

Even the most experienced teachers need to keep an eye on their professional development not to stagnate. Theories of learning and teaching foreign languages change all the time. They evolve and adapt to global changes in teaching and cultural advancement.

One of our jobs as teachers is to make sure we are on-trend with our teaching styles. Unfortunately, teaching online can mean you lose focus. If you are trying to cram in as much teaching as possible in your week, you’re probably not leaving much space for professional development.

Teaching tip: Keep an eye out for webinars or podcasts which focus on professional development. Be sure to involve yourself in professional development to ensure you stay in touch with developments in the teaching field. Look into Continuing Professional Development courses specialising in areas like Business English and CLIL.

Onward and upward

Take note of our suggestions, advice and enjoy this new(ish) world of online English teaching.

If you come across any other newsworthy mistakes that aren’t mentioned here, let us know. We’ll add them to the list and credit you.

Happy teaching!

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