Tips and Tricks on Being an ESL Teacher
by Robbie Jean Lorenzo, Guest Contributor
One of my favorite philosophers once said, “Teaching is the highest form of understanding.” --- I definitely agree.
During one of my English for Freelancers online classes, when I asked my students for their expectations of the course and what they want to achieve, about 15 students said that they want to learn more about being ESL teachers.
I could give a few tips and do a few vlogs. But the best way for me to share about it is to write a post – so here goes.
How I became an ESL Teacher
For most of you who do not know my story, I started working at home fulltime in January of 2017. To cut the story short, I resigned from my toxic corporate job bought a laptop on loan, had internet installed in our house, and started looking for online jobs.
It was a really big leap. But this happened to be the start of my journey towards taking charge and full control of my life.
I saw a few ads about working as an online English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher so I gave it a shot and submitted my resume.
A day after sending my application via email (yes, that fast) I received a phone call that also happened to be an initial interview. The interviewer on the other line asked about my background, whether I had teaching experience, whether I was amendable to working from 6pm to 9pm (those are the peak hours) and whether I had a quiet, well-lighted room that I could use in online teaching.
Technical Check, Equipment and Other Specs
All of my answers were affirmative so I moved on to the technical check. Because I bought a new laptop, this part was quite easy. To know more about computer or laptop specs and other technical requirements for ESL opportunities, click here.
I also invested in a Logitech noise-canceling headset, that cost around P2,000. It’s quite pricey, but it turned out to be a great investment. The one I bought is super sturdy. I’ve been using it for recordings and client meetings, and sometimes my kid plays with it like crazy.
Plus, if you’re really planning to make a career in working online as an ESL teacher, you have to have your own headset.
Training and Demo
When I passed the technical check, I then moved on to the two-training. The meeting room we used was skype; we were around 10 participants so the line would always get crowded and sometimes would get cut. But it was a really cool experience.
We had a refresher on grammar, pronunciation, our students’ country’s culture, we were briefed on the demographics of our students- everything we need to know about the job was discussed in the training.
Then we got ready for our demo. Although not everyone passes the demo, if you fail, you can practice, try again, and just retake it.
Preparing for the Big Teaching Day
1. Toys and Props
A lot of ESL companies cater to Asians of all ages. The company I worked for catered to as young as 3 years old to as old as 75.
One great challenge that I faced was the inability of young ones to focus on the lesson. After all, they are a bit too young to grasp certain concepts and ideas. However, this shouldn’t be an excuse, and instead, it should be seen as an opportunity to reach out and teach kids English and communication skills.
Even though the module was colorful and made specifically for kids, I, the teacher, needed to reach out and explore other means to catch the student’s attention.
So, I borrowed my daughter’s toys, practiced my puppet voice, and started coming up with characters to help me teach. Later on, I made finger puppets, paper dolls, and other crafts to help kids really learn while having fun.
This not only enabled me to fully teach and let my students understand the lesson, it also got a lot of regular students who repeatedly booked my teaching slot.
2. Brush up on small talk
As I had different students of different ages, I realized that it was harder to establish rapport and start a conversation with adults than with kids. Imagine teaching a 75-year-old male Asian English terms and conversation skills. Not only will you run out of topics to talk about, but you’ll also find it awkward and uncomfortable if you keep asking him how he is or how the weather is.
To avoid uncomfortable situations like this, I started listing down possible small topics. Other than the weather or his predicament, I ask my students:
- Sports – Do they have a favorite sport, do they watch basketball, who are the teams they love to watch and route for. You can try to find out if they are a sports fan.
- Food – If the class is in the morning, ask about what they had for breakfast.
- Entertainment – This topic is a great conversation starter. It leads to a lot of subtopics and lets you get to know the person more. You can ask, “Do you enjoy watching movies?” If the answer is NO, follow-through by asking, “How about books? Music?”
- Hobbies – Other than their favorite movie or book, a good topic is something like to for fun. Start by asking, “What's your favorite hobby?"
3. Your best accessory is your smile
A lot of people take for granted the power of one’s smile. Your online presence not only provides the first impression that sometimes lasts a lifetime, but it also says a lot about you – a lot of things that you don’t need to explicitly say. A good smile says that you are approachable, friendly, open and easy to talk to.
This is very important if you want to establish a good rapport, have a lasting impression, and later on, have regular students.
4. Mind your background
When I started teaching, the walls in our house weren’t painted yet. It was solid and bare gray. It was acceptable during the first two weeks. But a month after, the company asked me to either find a solid painted spot or place a tarpaulin with the company logo as a background. I opted for the latter.
This directive is actually quite practical.
Our goal is to make sure the students focus on what we’re teaching and learn the language. Anything distracting them would hinder our objective in achieving our goal.
We are, therefore, responsible, for everything that the student sees within the four corners of our screen. We need to make sure everything within those corners is tidy and non-distracting. We can do this by recording ourselves to see if anything is amiss.
What to Remember – Tips on Effective Online ESL Teaching
1. Ask Open Ended Questions – When engaging in a conversation with your students, make sure that you ask questions that allow them to explain further. Don’t opt for questions answerable by yes or no. That'll give them more opportunities to express themselves and practice speaking the language.
E.g. instead of asking your student, “Did you have fun today?” you can ask “What is the best thing you have learned today?
2. Be Animated – Another good thing about recording yourself is you get to know yourself better. I have one student in my Freelancing Course who told me in one of our one-on-ones that when she recorded herself and watched the recording, it made her cringe. She didn’t like what she saw.
That reaction is quite normal. This just shows that we really don’t know ourselves that well. It could be a horrible or an interesting experience – it depends on your perspective.
It’s also an opportunity for us to improve our gestures and body language, online and offline.
Because our students won’t see every inch of us, we’ll have the opportunity to control what they see.
Get to know your gestures, where you put your hands, how you move your head and body, your facial expressions… There are a lot of things you’ll find out about yourself by doing this.
3. Always Encourage – Being positive can be contagious. Our job as teachers is not just to teach English, it’s also to believe in our students and push them further to learn the language.
The best teacher is someone who believes in his students.
Make your students feel that they can make it, that it doesn’t have to be perfect, and that every inch of progress no matter how small should be celebrated!
4. Take care of your voice
When I started teaching, there was one thing I always kept losing – my voice.
At that time, I was also singing for our ministry’s choir. I wasn’t really fond of drinking water in between teaching sessions or paying attention to how I breathe and take in air. This resulted in me having hoarse or no voice at all.
Not only was able unable to sing most times, but I was also unable to teach.
Because of this, I had to research further on proper breathing while singing and teaching, I had to drink a lot of water every day, and look up other ways to take care of my voice. It was, after all, my bread and butter.
A Noble Profession Indeed
It is with so much joy that I finished every class. It’s very true, teaching is a profession that is a mother of all other occupations. May it be teaching young students, professionals or people at the prime of their lives, nothing can give so much fulfillment than knowing that I was able to help out another person learn English and understand another language.