While there are definite advantages to good old-fashioned in-person lessons, the digital classroom offers a vast array of benefits for ESL teachers as well. In this article, Berlin-based online tutor Liam Porter is showcasing the convenience of teaching English remotely and sharing some practical tips.
Teaching English in Berlin: mind the gap!
As an English teacher in Berlin you are probably being stretched thin. You are limited in your earning power by the number of hours in the day. Your students will rarely all live in the same city block. Traversing space on the BVG eats up time to be potentially earning money elsewhere, not to mention your leisure time. Many must drive as much as teach in order to increase their catchment area.
Unless enjoying rare pampered status, most ESL teachers bounce from office to office like travelling salesmen, sitting in cafes during that two hour break on Wednesday with nowhere to go and nothing to do. You tap around on Google calender trying to suppress posing yourself the question, “Isn’t this actually worse than minimum wage?”.
Why not stay home and set up your own digital classroom instead?
With none of the disadvantages mentioned above, an online teacher additionally gains access to a huge pool of potential work. Much of teaching online takes place on platforms such as Learnship and italki.
Teaching online, you might never need to leave the house again.
Students come not only from across Europe, but the market is ever more channelling unfulfilled demand from the East. Teaching online, you might never need to leave the house again. This liberation from commuting will not only increase your earning potential, but it will reduce your costs in ink, public transport and – in summertime – laundry days.
One can go further with online teaching. Learnship and italki are limited by their business models. They provide the administration for booking students and the payroll: quite necessary ‘middle-man’ functions for any language school… yet are they still necessary in the age of savvy customers with search engines at their disposal?
Pick the best learning platforms
In Germany, a search for the keywords “Englischunterricht online” or “Nachhilfe” throws up thriving sites like Superprof, Preply, and Mylingotrip (and of course, Ebay Kleinanzeigen). These platforms do nothing more than take a commission: from the student, and not from the teacher. They then simply link the contact details of the learner with the ad-poster. Unlike the employer business model of Learnship and italki, these sites leave it entirely up to you how to run your course and what you charge.
A digital teacher therefore has the chance to teach students beyond his own city and charge beyond typical Berlin rates. Geographical limitations dissolve, and your teaching performance also loses constraints. Say goodbye to never having a wet pen in the classroom (and never a black one); turning up late and out of breath due to unexpected delays; or being unable to wander from a set lesson plan, if the planned topic has little appeal to the student.
Use clever software to enhance and personalise your online lessons
Most language lessons require students to convey aspects of their lives in a foreign language that the teacher will lack personal experience in. This is something which is inherently difficult to do.
Yet with creative use of software, one can make the desktop into a theatre of visual input; far more easily eliciting speech from the student who lacks confidence in explaining what he knows in spite of the restrictions of a foreign tongue.
Make the desktop into a theatre of visual input.
The next time your student answers the question of where he comes from, you can immediately throw the very town he grew up in onto the screen in photographic detail. When you ask, “What are your hobbies?” you can, in a matter of seconds, find a video showing exactly their brand of car, snowboard, or sewing machine in action. If they have recently watched a show on Netflix, and they want to practice speaking about it, you could go to exactly that platform to show the same scenes they are trying to account.
The right equipment and decorum pays off
The full exploitation of this new horizon of teaching online requires some adaptation on your behalf. You should certainly have digital versions of your books, requiring scanning and software know-how. You ought to have a good quality audio/visual setup and a quiet keyboard and mouse. A drawing tablet is an excellent investment, as is a ‘gooseneck’ webcam mount to avoid noise conduction.
Cosmetic changes, such as using an attractive desktop wallpaper, subconsciously add value to your lessons.
You should take care over the appearance of your room – which is your classroom now – and over your webcam manner; you must get used to seeing your own webcam feed on-screen (I recommend the MPC media player) while interacting with another person. Cosmetic changes, such as hiding your taskbar and desktop shortcuts, and using an attractive desktop wallpaper subconsciously add value to your lessons.
In my experience, my investment of money and care into the presentation of my lessons has been a virtuous circle, reigniting my pleasure in my work and motivating me to work smarter.
Take charge of your time, money and teaching style
As an independent online teacher you must get accustomed to being entirely responsible for your own successes and failures. This also means being entirely free to teach how you wish.
For me, this has been the most valuable part of my move online: not merely the end of frustrating obligatory commutes, the increase in earning potential, and the increase in working comfort, but the opportunity of taking my teaching into my own hands, and to deliver my lessons in a way that is ever more authentically personalised to the student.