Mike on the Challenges of Being an Online Teacher
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Canadian Mike Veenstra from Good Air Language talks about the online teaching industry, using your time wisely, and appealing to students.
Can you give us a brief introduction of yourself – how did you get started teaching, do you have a specialty, etc?
I am a 30-year-old Canadian currently living in Argentina. I decided to start teaching English in 2009 after struggling to find a satisfying job in Canada. I really just wanted an excuse to travel and teaching English in a foreign country seemed like a good way to finance my travels and to get to know another language and culture. I was not interested in going to Korea or China like many other English teachers. I wanted to go to South America. I wanted to be close to a beach, some mountains or the Amazon rainforest. I ended up in Quito, Ecuador because a company guaranteed me a job when I was still in Canada. Anyway, I have traveled much of Latin America and I am now teaching and living in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
I suppose my specialty is business English because I have taught so much of it over the past 5 years. Since I started teaching online the websites and their platforms have really improved. These platforms offer grammar, vocab, writing and listening activities for the students to do by themselves and the speaking activity to reinforce and practice what they have learned in the other activities. Many platforms have flashcards, dictionaries and pronunciation sections to further help the students.
How has online teaching changed since you started and where do you see it going in the future?
The online teaching industry is still growing. One thing that will have to be improved in the future is the communication programs. Skype is not the best program to teach with. Teachers need a better program with whiteboards, screen-sharing and other functions. I definitely see touchscreen technology being used more in online learning and teaching in the near future too.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome as an online teacher?
When teaching online you really have to use your time wisely. I always have more material than I need just in case we go through everything quickly. Time management is super important. One of the biggest challenges a teacher faces when teaching online is how to explain things. Grammatical concepts can be hard to explain sometimes, Google can come in handy and online dictionaries, pictures and actions are great ways to explain new vocab. Technical problems can also be really frustrating, but the students usually understand. One time, the power went out at my house and I had to run to an internet cafe to give a class. 30 minutes later I finally opened my email to find out he had canceled the class for that day.
What is some advice you can offer people that are considering teaching online?
To anyone considering teaching English online I would tell them to go for it, but think of it as a part-time job, at least at the start. It is hard for me to fill my day with online classes. I combine teaching online with face to face classes here in the city.
In your opinion, what makes a great online teacher? Are the characteristics similar to a great classroom teacher?
There are 2 things that make a great online teacher:
1) The teacher has to be engaging. He/she must make the material practical, useful, exciting, etc. If your class is boring, you might see students start canceling.
2) The teacher has to be a motivator. Teachers must motivate and encourage their students to study, practice and do the homework. Being thousands of km’s away from their teacher, unmotivated students can become lazy.