Five minutes with Steve Kelly – Online teaching

I have always been interested in teaching English online. Currently, I have one online learner (a long-time private), but I am very interested in expanding my online teaching experience. So, when I heard that one of my Colleagues, Steve Kelly, had taught online full-time for many years before moving back into the more traditional classroom, I jumped at the opportunity to pick his brain and learn from someone far more experienced than myself.

So, Steve, how did you get into ELT and then how did you get into online teaching?

Well, after I got married, my wife and I realised we were a little over the wet and cold of Ireland, so we did our CELTA at International House Barcelona. After this I worked in a school in Barcelona for about three years, but the problem with living in Barcelona is that you need to make quite a lot of money to stay there comfortably, something we weren’t doing. So I went back to Ireland and enrolled on a course to convert my degree into something else. In the end I didn’t really enjoy the course as much as I thought I would and so when I heard of a school in Almería, Spain, that was looking for an online teacher, I applied for the position and got the job!

Now there seems to be many opportunities for teachers to teach online nowadays. Why do you think online teaching is attractive to teachers and learners?

It’s attractive to learners because it’s convenient, flexible and, more importantly, a fully-fledged one-to-one lesson with a usually qualified teacher. For teachers, however, you can set your own hours, which is important, and, at least for me, I was creating things that were specific to my learners and this felt great.

What do you think are some drawbacks of online teaching?

Well, it’s quite a lonely profession – you don’t see other teachers and you miss out on a lot of the ‘community of practice’ that comes with working in a school or an academy. I would also say that time is a drawback. Yes, you set your own hours, but you work around your learners hours – you’re a slave to the hours and money you’re making. You may be working mornings, afternoons and evenings. Sometimes people cancel and you may or may not get paid for that cancelled hour, which can be frustrating.

Did you find that many learners cancelled?

It depends on the learner and their work life. If they are working for a big company who is paying for the lessons, you are the least important thing in their day, so they will prioritise work over the lesson.

What were the main types of learners you taught?

I didn’t feel too comfortable teaching one-to-one lessons with young learners, so I taught mainly teens and adults. With these teens and adults, many of the classes were exam-focused, some were ESP, and some were to help learners with job interviews, immigration, etc.

Looking back at my experience with online teaching, I can remember times when I’ve had trouble with internet, computers, etc. These issues must occur quite frequently, no?

You are your tech support. You do need to be technology-savy as you are dependent on your this tech.

Now that you’ve returned to a more traditional classroom, how do you feel with the dynamic?

It’s a different skill set that’s needed for face-to-face classroom lessons with groups. Take for example, classroom management and learners getting off track. If this occurs online, learners tend to talk about things not relevant to the lesson and that can be difficult to draw them back. However, in class you have a variety of different tools at your disposal, like pair work and other interaction patterns, to aid in this. Also, when you work online you are your own boss and you dictate everything yourself, to a degree. When you are in an academy you work inline with company policy and you need understand and work with the management structure – this obviously impacts the things you do and include in your lessons.

Do you have any tips of teachers looking to move into online teaching?

Yes!

  • Invest in good hardware. You don’t want to be the point of failure, so good tech is a must.
  • Headphones with a microphone are necessary for clarity.
  • In certain countries, don’t expect online teaching to be your own source of income – sometimes you don’t make enough to cover all your bills. Remember though this depends on how much you make and how much you need to contribute to taxes.
  • Online teaching is very speaking centred, so ensure that you don’t forget to focus on all the skills, especially reading and listening.
  • Be aware of the capabilities of the online platform you use – I used Zoom.
  • The world is your oyster when it comes to materials – just be prepared to modify materials to your learners needs.

Thanks for your time, Steve!

Have you taught online and want to share your experience? If so, I would love to hear about it. Feel free to comment below or get in touch via the contact page.

6 thoughts on “Five minutes with Steve Kelly – Online teaching

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  1. Good read, thanks. I’ve been teaching online for around 5 years, as a way to supplement my face to face lessons and during the summer as my main source of income. I’ve never taught through an online school as many people do, I’ve had to attract potential students and then convert them into paying students which can be fun and also challenging!
    One of my main struggles is finding and adapting material. I don’t want to invest my time into creating lots of my own material but it looks like I might have to soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing, Ben. I can imagine that finding appropriate materials for many learners with varying needs can be challenging – a reason why many schools provide coursebooks. I imagine you must be fairly adept at adapting materials now! I really consider this to be a skill that many teachers in the traditional classroom should develop more.

      If I can ask, how do you go about attracting new learners?

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      1. I had to learn on the go, more through necessity really but I think it’s helped me develop.
        Getting learners is tough sometimes, but again I’ve had to learn through necessity.

        If I want to target the general population I use Facebook and Instagram. I post often and run ads when I need / want to.

        I have an email list and email often, building trust through there.

        I also use LinkedIn if I want to find some business students. Again I don’t try to sell lessons from the off, I offer my free ebook, build trust and when I have an opening in my schedule I usually get it filled within a few weeks. My personal best is getting a Monday morning slot filled within 8 minutes of sending an email 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the article. It was interesting! What I’d like to know is what ‘good tech’ is. At the moment I’ve got a laptop, and headphones but I’m also wondering if I need something to boost my wifi signal.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know, this lockdown has really made me think about ‘good tech’ a great deal. For me, it’s having headphones, laptop and an ethernet cable that connect directly to the router. But even more is having enough RAM in your laptop – I’ve just upgraded my Mac so that it has more RAM and can really run a number of programs at the same time without lagging – I find this is super important when I want to use many interactive tools with my learners during the lesson!

      Like

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