I’ve been a teacher for 15 years, but this past May, I embarked on a new adventure: online teaching. I started teaching English online to students in China! My fifteen years of experience have taught me a lot about teaching, but here are five things I’ve learned from teaching online about life.
The World Is Big and Small!
I’ve traveled a lot in my lifetime, and I’ve always known this, but I realized it again (if that’s possible) while teaching online. I connected with students halfway across the globe. Some of them for only 25 minutes, but many of them I have taught several days a week for months. The connection that I have made during these classes has been extremely meaningful; I never anticipated that. Even though they’re so far away, I still feel like these students are “my kids”; I’m sure the rest of you teachers can relate to that phrase. They are all smiles when they see me! I realize that I’m changing their lives while they are changing mine, and we’ve never even stood on the same continent at the same time.
The Productivity of Five Minutes
I teach classes 25 minutes in length, but I teach several classes in a row. This means that I have five minutes in between each class to write my feedback and get into the next classroom. In the beginning, this was difficult in and of itself. I usually didn’t even write my feedback until after I was done with all of my classes for the day! Now, I use the five minutes to go grab a drink of water, use the restroom, write my feedback, and enter the next class. Do you know what? I’ve become much more productive in my daily life. Instead of seeing all of the tasks around my house as a mountain of things to do, I pick one and work on it for five minutes and magic! I check it off of my list. I have been able to organize and clean my house one five minute chunk at a time. Five minutes, if you really focus, is a long time. Try it! Pick a task around your house, set a 5 minute timer, and, without interruption, devote yourself to the task.
The Appeal of YouTube
By day, I am a middle school teacher. I am surrounded with a generation of YouTube-crazed adolescents. I never “got it” when they would talk about “YouTubers”. I always wondered why anyone would want to watch some random person’s life. Then, I found some YouTube videos helping me refine my teaching skills. I found myself looking feverishly for more videos from the same people. Now, I’ve broadened my YouTube horizons and I have subscribed to many channels, not just teaching ones. I get it. It feels somehow more real to watch regular people than paid actresses and actors. I don’t know how to explain it.
The Complexity of the English Language
Yes, yes, I’m an English teacher. I did actually understand the complexity of the English language a long time ago. That being said, there is something much different about trying to explain rules and exceptions to kids who have no, or very little, English vocabulary. It has definitely upped my visual cue game a lot, as well as my K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, stupid) philosophy. Shout out to all the ELL teachers out there! You are amazing!
The Power of Thank You
The thing that’s been apparent to me in this experience is the power of two simple words: thank you. In education, you don’t tend to get a lot of thank you’s. There is the occasional “gem” of a student who tells you, “Thank you!” after every class, but they are few and far between. Mostly, teaching is a lot like the military: no news is good news. If you don’t hear from a parent, they are probably reasonably satisfied. My students online always say thank you at the end of class. And, so do their parents—either right away during class, afterwards in their written feedback, or both! The company also says thank you regularly via videos, emails, social media posts, etc. It feels good. I feel energized when I read the words of my students’ parents. I feel appreciated! I feel like what I do matters, and of course, it does, but it is nice for it to be recognized. So, for all of you parents out there, go thank your teacher! Thank them when it’s awesome. Thank them when it’s hard. You know your kids…send them a thank you email just because!
The FUN of Teaching Online
I know, I know…I said 5, but here’s #6. This is one of the most surprising things that I have discovered, to be honest. I heard people say how much they enjoyed teaching online, how much they connected with their students. For me, I thought, “No way!” How could you connect with students through a computer? That wasn’t the way I was used to teaching. I never felt any real connection to my professors via my online courses in college and graduate school. I didn’t really think it was possible. What I discovered was just how wrong I was. I look forward to seeing those smiling faces staring back at me—eager to learn. I look forward to having conversations about what happened at school, or the latest Spiderman movie with my more advanced students. Believe me, I am NO morning person, but it make it worth waking up.