Teaching online is not for the faint-hearted. It’s not a predictable, mundane task. Every student comes with their own unique personality, challenges and learning ability. This produces an array of experiences that further your development as a teacher.
I’ve already discussed the pros and cons of teaching online. Now let’s look at some of the interesting, if not weird, experiences you may have teaching English online.
Moments like these are what make an ESL teacher realise they’ve had enough internet for one day.
Students Falling Asleep
I’ve been teaching students online for a few years now. You are almost certain to have a student fall asleep during class. Are you boring the student? I believe this is not the case. Many students you meet are extremely hard-working and dedicated. Sometimes they cannot stay awake long enough to complete the class.
I have a slide designed on Manycam so that if students leave the class or fall asleep, I can put that slide on the screen. I can then drink something, put on lip balm or whatever little thing I want to do. Some online teaching platforms are designed in a way such that the teacher can voluntarily turn off their webcam.
You cannot leave students who sleep during class, because you have to be present for the whole lesson. This should not affect your pay rate in any way! If you leave early from the session, you could be penalized by the teaching system. Check what the company rules are about leaving early and take appropriate action if necessary.
New Student Problems
If you have a student who is new or learning for the first time, expect some level of chaos.
There could be disconnection problems on the student’s end, lots of noise, unlevel cameras, or the whole of their family looking at you as if you are an alien. Bear in mind that some people don’t even know how to use a computer, let alone connect with someone from the other side of the world.
If you are teaching young kids, their parents will most likely monitor the situation. This is a good thing because they can help if any problem arises.
You may need to give students clear instructions on what to do and how to use the platform. If you cannot communicate with them, you can let the company know that you are experiencing an issue, technical or otherwise. They will be sure to contact the student and help them get started.
Teaching Students at Ungodly Hours of the Morning
You will be surprised by how late or early people book English classes. I’ve been working for iTutor for a number of years, and I could have students at 2 am, 3 am, 4 am… It’s pretty crazy.
These people usually fit the ‘students falling asleep’ category that I mentioned above. Some people are so busy that it suits them best to have class at these unpopular hours. You will find that many students who choose these late hours never arrive to class. I won’t complain as I still get paid and continue with my other online work.
I’ve often had students at these times, sometimes group sessions. Students miss most of these lessons, so I am pretty happy to receive payment for these lessons by just having my computer opened.
Often students are a bit grouchy during these hours. I wouldn’t blame them! Just to note, I am eight hours behind Beijing time, so I am not actually teaching really late! It is just evening hours in Ireland.
Questionable Messages in the Chat Bar
Sometimes little kids like to write strange messages in the chat bars. When they don’t have the proper English to do so, they will write it in their own language and allow the chat function to translate it.
Who knew my innocent student enjoyed writing such rude language?! This could be anything from butt jokes to nonsensical messages.
Don’t ever accept threatening messages from a student, as I’ve heard some teachers speak out their concerns. If the student is forced to learn and doesn’t particularly like you, it may not be a pleasant situation. Report insensitive messages to relevant staff members who can assist you.
You may also be interested in: The Best English Teaching Companies in 2022.
I’ve had students write words that they thought were funny like ‘poo’ and ‘butt’. You can choose to react to these messages by frowning and saying “That’s not very nice language.” That’s usually all I do and resort to ignoring repeated offenses as they may be getting a kick from my reaction.
You may be exposed to some naked scene, such as the Dad walking around the background with no top on. Maybe you are teaching a young student and he is getting ready for bed and he hasn’t his pants on. I have never seen any X-rated scenes myself but it is certainly possible to experience moments like these.
I’ve witnessed young students jumping on their beds, throwing off their clothes as they got ready for bed as our session draws to a close. As the lesson is over, I can say goodbye and leave. If you find it happening during the session, communication is always key. Express your concerns if necessary.
Asking About Your Personal Life
Some students like to get to know their teacher and the teacher’s personal life.
They might wonder if you are married, single, in a relationship or have kids. They have a natural curiosity about their teacher and that’s okay. You don’t need to flinch when you are asked these questions.
Another thing you might experience is sweet compliments. If people give you compliments, thank them and move on. You don’t have to give in to unwanted attention, you can remind them that you are their English teacher if you have to.
For example, I have had many students ask if I am single, to which I always reply yes. In some countries, they get married quite young, and would expect me to be thinking like this right now.
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I’ve learned not to discuss topics such as religion and politics. You will have to be culturally sensitive as you are probably talking to people from a range of backgrounds.
Don’t bring up taboo topics or you might find yourself expressing an unpopular opinion that students don’t like. While it is okay to mention special events like Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter, it is not appropriate to talk about religious beliefs.
The role of men and women in society may be another taboo topic, as well as political and economical issues. It’s best to keep quiet and avoid these topics if possible.
I once said something about women and their right to work outside the home, even if they have kids. I heard a few disgruntled replies. I knew they didn’t understand what I was saying. It’s best to realise that there are great cultural differences between Eastern and Western culture and to leave it at that.
These are just a few of many moments I’ve had teaching online! Did you ever have any situation similar to me or caught you off guard? Write it in the comments section below!
Think you can handle it? Check out our jobs list for potential online teaching opportunities!
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I'm an Irish tutor and founder of TPR Teaching. I started teaching in 2016 and have since taught in the UK, Spain, and online.
I love learning new things about the English language and how to teach it better. I'm always trying to improve my knowledge, so I can better meet the needs of others!
I enjoy traveling, nature walks, and soaking up a new culture. Please share the posts if you find them helpful!