Teaching English Online to Children: Dealing with Parents

Teaching English online to childrenWhen teaching young students online, particularly if they are beginners to the language or new to your classroom, it’s typical for parents to sit and watch. Often times, these parents will scrupulously dissect your lesson and leave pretty strong feedback. The expectations are high, and you are expected to deliver. Certain elements of teaching should go without saying and be inherently understood, such as a commitment to professionalism and being on time. It should be considered common sense to act courteously, refraining from yelling, aggressive behavior, and giving excessively negative feedback and reprimands. Dress should be modest and not distracting, and personal upkeep is important, as well. While it might seem like a huge bonus to wear your pajama bottoms while working through a computer screen, it’s important to project the impression that you’ve prepared for class and not just rolled out of bed- fixing your hair, wearing a plain top, etc.. Being on time should also go without being said, just like with any other job. However, there are some common complaints from parents that new online ESL teachers might be unaware of. Avoiding certain behaviors will make your ratings higher and your schedule more bountiful, which is good for everyone, right?

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Classroom Setup

Although you will be teaching through a video chat, that isn’t an excuse to have a sloppy environment. It’s more challenging to keep a student’s attention when you cannot be tactile, so attention to small details is extra important here. Avoid teaching from your bed, sofa, or loud public area, especially with children. Dedicate a space in your house to being your classroom, and set it up accordingly. It doesn’t have to be over the top, but a nice wall in the background with a map, poster, whiteboard, etc. creates a nice visual vibe. Rest your laptop on a desk or table to prevent jerking motions and a shifting camera. You ideally want the student to feel that they are looking eye-level to you, all while being able to view the upper half of your torso in order to see gestures. Choose a comfortable seat that will allow you to sit with nice posture, avoiding fidgeting and moving around throughout the class. This encourages students to focus and knuckle down in the lesson, as well-lead by example.

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Teach a Planned Lesson in which Students Speak Frequently

Make the objectives clear from the start and commit to the content as laid out in the lesson plan. Teachers should avoid using too much filler language and complex sentences such as, “Today we are going to do x followed by y then z”; this will likely lose your student unless they are at an advanced level. However, if you are teaching with a program and/or from a Powerpoint, the parents will likely have viewed the objectives of the lesson already and, as such, will have expectations of what their children will learn and be able to produce by the end of it. Even if the parents are not fluent in English, they can certainly tell if a teacher has not practiced his/her pacing and timing. They want to see that the lesson has been planned out, with a warm-up, review, new information, and supplemental activities.

That being said, teachers need to not be afraid to extend and correct students. Each and every one of your students will make mistakes, and they are relying on you to correct them so that they may improve. Parents- at least most of them- understand this. After a correction, use repetition in order to ensure that your student understands. Parents want to hear their children speaking, whether they are making mistakes or not. I aim for a 50/50 split with most of my young learners and try to increase their reading and speaking time as they become more comfortable in the digital classroom.

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Be Adaptable to Individuals and Different Learning Styles

ESL teachers should always try to facilitate and encourage active learning through extension of material. Teaching the material word for word as it is on screen is a good starting point, but you should always try to push the student to use the vocabulary or grammar pattern on their own in speech. This can be something as simple as learning about likes: the character on screen says, “I like football”. You can say to your student, “I like football, too. Do you like football?” This is just a quick example, but this strategy can be applied to any topic conceivable. This will also allow you to understand a student’s learning style and adapt accordingly. If you are teaching one-on-one ESL lessons, the parents are going to assume that you have the ability to change your style to one that suits and works for their child- and rightly so. This is a crucial part of the job, so pay attention to the student’s auditory, visual, and kinetic cues and responses in addition to his/her personality.

Use Supplementary Tools and Techniques

Just because you are behind a screen doesn’t mean that you need to be boring. As I said before, there is actually even more pressure for you to be an ‘edutainer’ online. Of course, no one wants to spend a bucket of money on supplies, but small items like a whiteboard, letter cards/magnets, colorful markers, puppets, balls, etc. really make a difference to the students. They are also extremely useful for teachers when you need to model a dialogue or further explain another activity. I also have an extra computer mouse to show the student when I am acting out ‘circle this’. This and other TPR (Total Physical Response) methods are proven to be effective in language learning and are an important element to include in your lessons. By utilizing supplementary items in conjunction with TPR, you are able to model activities and set the student up for success- something that will keep parent complaints at bay and your students’ spirits raised.

Related Articles:

How to Teach English Online: Free Tutorial by Golden Voice English

Is Teaching Online for You? 5 Qualities of an Online English Teacher

5 Tips for Using Total Physical Response with Online ESL Students