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“Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. But make sure you don’t make the same mistake twice.”
—Akio Morita (1921–1999), former chairman Of Sony Corporation
What are some of the advantages of teaching English on Skype? How can you, the English teacher, make the most of Skype as an innovative educational platform? What are some best practices for novice online ESL tutors? What ‘good mistakes’ should you avoid teaching English online?
This modern approach to teaching English remains particularly advantageous to tutors for many reasons. You can work from home, collect some money, and tutor English students beyond your r neighborhood, your city, or even beyond your country’s borders. You can become a global educator from almost anywhere! Skype also allows both teacher and student to “share their screens,” thus allowing for effective, real-time sharing of teaching material and student work. Perhaps the most useful capability is the record option: tutors and students alike can benefit greatly from being able to re-watch videos of their sessions.
Where should novice online English teachers start?
Yet many novice English teachers or ESL tutors may not know where or how to get started. A classic teacher-centric resource library BusyTeacher.org article offers several practical tips and tricks. Their excellent resource You, The Super Teacher: How-to Guides, Lesson Ideas, Print and Go Activities and More, delivers a short, though informative segment on this exact topic.
Some favorite pointers include:
- Prepare for each English lesson in advance. Even when teaching exclusively conversation skills, it remains essential to lay out designated learning objectives. As The Super Teacher asserts, “you want to establish the session as a classroom environment.” The Compelling Conversations series makes this best-practice easy with self-contained lessons on dozens of topics and themes.
- Keep your environment consistent. Host sessions from an appropriate, well-lit room. I’ve used my home office, partly because it has a beautiful bookshelves in the background.
- Ensure your technology is functional before the session begins. Test your microphone, speakers and webcam using Skype’s testing service before hosting any sessions.
- Location matters. Just as you, the teacher, should conduct class in a quiet space, remind your students to do the same; suggest against occupying a place with excessive ambient noise, such as a café.
- Since you can’t gauge student reactions in real-time like you can in a typical classroom, keep presentations short – The Super Teacher suggests a length around 15 minutes. It is also crucial to frequently use comprehension checks. Are you with me? Can I move on? Remember listening comprehension is often an issue with ESL students.
- Give clear instructions. Take time zones into consideration when defining set timetables and implement both cancellation and no-show policies. To add, I would set a clear lesson agenda and share materials with the client pre-session as well.
- Keep conversation flowing. Make the conversations meaningful and memorable. Integrate speaking and writing by messaging follow-up questions as you speak and having students respond in the same way. Make sure to provide both direct and indirect feedback on the students’ “good mistakes” in a friendly manner.
- Consider choosing Dropbox or Google Drive for sharing documents and resources. If you have multiple students per session, The Super Teacher also recommends assigning short, group tasks that can be completed via share documents. This practice is also helpful for both reviewing lessons and creating tests.
- Set “office hours” for students to contact you outside of class – but be strict about them; you have the right to use Skype as a personal tool as well! Boundaries avoid problems.
Common sense is culture sense
Many of the pointers read like common sense (e.g. don’t answer other incoming calls, don’t engage in unprofessional conversation with students in the absence of a traditional classroom environment). However, working from home is far more comfortable than an office or classroom – it can be easy to let your guard down and professionalism slide. Perhaps the more “obvious” pieces of advice are worth reiterating. Common sense, after all, is culture sense. It’s also often the result of prior mistakes made by fellow English teachers and tutors.
English without borders
Teaching English on Skype is nearly interactive as face-to-face. English tutors should consider its benefits when hosting their teaching sessions. Many English students appreciate the ability to review the recorded sessions. You can encourage this reflective practice by asking about their reactions to watching themselves in the previous lesson. You can also create your own portfolio documenting your ESL teaching technique and materials.
Naturally, I’m pleased with this unexpected development and appreciate this 21st century method of holding face to face conversations – across borders – in real time. If you are considering teaching English professionally, becoming a conversation tutor on Skype provides a practical way to explore the field, gain practical experience, and put some nickels in your pocket. You may also want to take advantage of sites like eslteachersboard.com or eslboards.com, where you can upload – for free – your Skype lessons on your resume.
Have you considered teaching English on Skype? What do you see as some advantages? What might be some barriers? What advice would you give to novice English teachers and ESL tutors seeking a few dollars and some experience?