We’ve been writing a lot about online classes lately since that’s become the trend in 2020. More time at home has equated to more people investing their time and budgets toward self-improvement or professional development. In past blogs, we discussed how you can be better prepared for interviews with online ESL teaching companies, how you can submit a practical resume to these same companies, how to engage learners in online lessons, how to teach elderly students online, and even how to gain first-timers in your online classes. Today, we’re going to continue our online teaching tips for 2020 by showing you how you can keep students coming back. 

Go Beyond One-Hit Wonders

It’s one thing to gain a first-timer when teaching English online, but another to keep him or her returning to your classes. When they come back, it means they see the benefit of your classes and they’re willing to invest their time and money in them. So, it’s a win-win for both parties. Therefore, we need to be prepared to go beyond winning first impressions or one-hit-wonders—a term I’ve borrowed, relating to musicians famous for only one song. Nevertheless, we need to be able to deliver consistently helpful lessons to our student-customers. The following tips will help you toward that goal of keeping your students coming back.

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Get to Know Them 

The first thing I like to do when meeting new students is work with them in developing their introductions. I also keep records of those introductions for future reference. Then, when they return to my class, I have their information and can immediately interact with them from where they are. This helps me get to know them at a more practical level. It helps me see what their needs are and how I can make the lessons more relevant for them. 

For example, if I’m teaching a doctor or nurse, I can relate the lessons to their field of expertise and branch out from there (Krashen’s i + 1 if you will or even scaffolding if you like). It also demonstrates to your learners that you’re interested in them—that they aren’t just numbers. And, if you’ve been in this business for a length of time, you’ll begin to notice that many of your students may feel like they aren’t seen as individuals. Having worked with major and not-so-major online ESL companies over the years has given me that realization. But, once you know about your students, it’s time to connect with them. 

Connect with Them 

It’s one thing to know about the people you teach, but another to connect with them. Find things in common through small talk and you have a way to connect with them. Things such as common interests, experiences, or backgrounds can help you establish a connection with your learners that they may not be so willing to break. 

Use what you know about them to engage them in meaningful conversation—conversations that pertain to them. That’s not to meant to use psychology on them, but to show them that they aren’t just numbers. When you interact with them as people with hopes, dreams, and goals, they’ll surely not want to lose you. 

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Develop a Professional Working Relationship 

Keep things friendly, but don’t overstep your bounds into personal questions, awkward situations, unprofessional statements, or flat-out talking too much about yourself. In other words, don’t get too comfortable with your class members. 

It’s possible for teachers to get a little too laid back with regular class members. That can result in being late to class, taking advantage of your students’ good natures, behaving a little less professionally, and not delivering what your learners expect. 

So, try not to get too complacent just because you have a regular learner. Some good teachers have lost customers because they got too comfortable—and talkative. Remember, this isn’t your buddy on the other end of the mic, this is still your student-customer. As such, you need to work toward keeping them. 

Collaborate with Them

So, you have a regular student in your class at a regular time. Now what? Just teach the lessons? Ugh! That’s going to get monotonous real fast—for them and you. After several lessons, be sure to ask them what they like or dislike about the lessons. Ask them what they might like to change or where you can make adjustments as their teacher. The idea is to collaborate with them. Remember, they’re the ones needing to develop their English skills. 

They know what their target language goals are. However, they know what they know, but they don’t know what they don’t know. That’s where you come in. As a teacher, you and your learners should work together toward their common goals. You’re working with them, discovering concepts, structures, and vocabulary they’re not yet familiar with. And, as you may already know, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Each learner is different. Each learner is an individual with specific limitations, needs, learning preferences, and capabilities. Discover what they are and work with students from where they are. 

For example, Michael needs English for a promotion. However, he’s at the Beginner level and often comes to class with a poor connection. So, to relieve the technical hardships, explain things to him and ask him to go without a webcam (and possibly you) to help improve the bandwidth of the classroom/learning environment. 

The purpose is to promote a more conducive learning environment. After that, tailor the lessons to fit his specific lower-level difficulties. Pick and choose what he can handle and what might overwhelm and discourage him. Remember, your purpose in class to develop his English language toward achieving his ESL goals, not to simply teach him. When he sees you actively and sincerely seeking to help him, he’ll likely be more inclined to stay with you. 

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Keep it Real 

As mentioned previously, know about your learners. Know what they do. Know what they need English for—what their English language learning goals are. Then work with them from where they are. Keeping it real means that you’re relating lessons to them as individuals. 

As mentioned, if it’s a doctor, springboard your questions, vocabulary, or grammar examples from a medical perspective. This is what they know. Then, branch out into less known areas such as lateral questions on bedside manner, then conversations with colleagues, then talking in unfamiliar settings, etc. 

The point is to keep things relevant and interesting for your learners. And they’ll surely see the difference between your teaching and another teacher’s who doesn’t do this. They’ll surely see that you’re connecting their lives and English purposes to your lessons. And, they’ll surely appreciate it, leading them to return again and again. 

Give Them a Little Extra Touch 

Giving learners a little extra touch means helping them feel like they’re special—that they’re appreciated. Do little things that they might not get from other teachers or other companies. Things such as offering to schedule a class for them, or extending the class (if possible) a minute more than end time, taking time to explain or repeat certain points, and or giving them your professional email with instructions to contact you if they have any brief questions or concerns. 

These little sacrifices on your part will bear interest in your investment. Remember, these are customers, and customers are what supply our needs as teachers. So, show them a little consideration if you’d like to give them another reason to stay with you for the long haul. 

Final Words

As you see in the tips above, it’s more about your student than about you. We want to be able to get to know them first, connect with them, develop working relationships, collaborate with them, keep things real, and give them a little extra consideration. If you can follow through with these points, combined with skill and professionalism as an ESL teacher, it’s likely you’ll keep your customers coming back. 

I’ve been using these points in my ESL teaching career, whether consciously or sub-consciously, for 16 years with success. Give them a try until they become second-nature for you in class. You’ll discover that learners will respond more to you; and, you never know, they may even have a hard time scheduling lessons with you because you’re in such high demand. 

Tell us your experience with these ideas. We’d love to hear from you. And if you want to develop your skills and knowledge of teaching English as a language, reach out to us and we’ll be happy to discuss the right OnTESOL training program for you. 

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