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What makes teaching online so special?

Transitioning towards online teaching might feel challenging at first to anyone who worries about taking a plunge into the digital world. Surprisingly, virtual teaching tools are accessible to all nowadays, even those who don’t define themselves as techy. Moreover, there is a plethora of online resources available to those ready to make the move and the possibilities are limitless. Online teaching is accessible to all teachers, of all ages, of all abilities.

Our coaches testify

At VivaLing, we believe so strongly in Online Teaching that we made it the core of our very own philosophy. We also lead the worldwide movement with the creation of our very own internal training for coaches, the VOLT, and offering a Masterclass to all those teachers, not only language ones, who wish to discover this modern and captivating field of work.

Who better than our very own VivaLing coaches could testify to what makes teaching online so special?

We’ve asked them about their experience and they came back with a variety of captivating feedback that shows that online teaching is a very strategic and rewarding choice in a teacher’s professional career.

A life balance greatly improved

Mobility

Our coaches all benefit from the comfort of online teaching, which offers true flexibility for all
kinds of lifestyles. Jenica can follow her partner’s work assignments anywhere

As an online teacher, the biggest advantage for me is the flexibility to work anywhere, as long as there is a stable internet connection.

Robert enjoys it for the same exact reason, to which he adds,:

The other great thing about teaching online is that, unlike most other jobs, you can determine your own schedule, so it’s really easy to make time to run errands and partake in your personal interests.

Wellbeing

Kirsty has come a long way since she turned into an online teacher, leaving behind her a lifestyle that was not suitable for her:

I am passionate about education but realised that teaching at a school is just not for me. When I taught in a Kindergarten classroom, I would be at school coaching sport and doing admin until 18:00 and then would spend my evenings marking or preparing resources until 23:00 almost every evening and coaching sport every weekend. I experienced sensory overload daily and felt like I was fighting a war against a never-ending series of admin deadlines that had no relevance to my students.

Wellbeing

Her quality of life has improved dramatically and she feels grateful for every aspect of this new configuration. By having control over how much time I commit to my work, my family-life has improved, and I have been able to ease the stress I was facing on a daily basis. I am more relaxed working in a quieter, calmer environment with the freedom to take a coffee break or walk outside whenever I like.

Financial improvements

Teaching online is also suitable to those families who rely on one carer only. Like Felicity who juggles between her responsibilities with VivaLing, her passion for trail running, and her son’s busy schedule.

Working from home allows me to be a full-time single mum, while making a living. With a flexible schedule, it means that if I need to go to an event that my son is in, I can do this!

Saving time, but also money!

Working from home also means I do not need to battle traffic, or spend time travelling to and from work. Or even being allowed to earn more, like Erica. Online teaching gives me the opportunity to work two jobs, I can do everything at home, it gives me the perfect balance between work life and personal life.

A wealth of teaching materials

There is no shortage of superlatives about the quantity

Massive variety, literally millions of online teaching materials, with the internet at my fingertips the world is my oyster, a huge number of resources, I currently have over 200 sites bookmarked, it is unanimous that there aren’t enough adjectives and superlatives to describe the variety of materials available online.

Confirms Kirsty :

Times have also changed. A few years ago, when online teaching and the ESL (English as a Second Language) world were a new concept, I can imagine that the resources were limited. However, this stereotype has long overshadowed the boundless opportunities and resources available online.

Variety and quality

With online resources, quantity does not compromise quality. As the amount of online materials can sometimes be overwhelming, VivaLing supports their coaches by helping them organise their resources and accessing them easily, with the community ToolKit. As Erica rightly puts it:

There are literally millions of online teaching materials that can be found online, there are books and tons of games. Plus all the materials we create ourselves and share with the VivaLing community.

Variety and quality

Coaches are encouraged to feed their toolkit monthly, with a system of professional points, allowing the database to expand over time with more and more quality finds. Moreover, VivaLing fosters creativity and encourages their coaches to explore their interests and ideas when creating new resources. Kirsty particularly appreciates this community experience when it comes to organising, classifying, and improving the limitless amount of resources offered on the web.

Each coach’s organisational capacity is also important as the digital world requires its very own approach in organising things! Browser’s bookmarks, folders and sub folders, virtual boards, there are plenty of tools available on the web.

Dawn admits that there are a huge number of resources for teaching online.

So many in fact that it can sometimes take a while to look through to find the best one (but that’s my own problem because when I start searching, I don’t stop when I look at the first few but keep looking in case there’s something even better). The good thing is that once you have found some great resources and websites, you can use them over and over again.

Allowing instant problem solving!

Online resources are all about engagement too!

Solving a connectivity issue or the like has never been this fast! One of the great things I’ve noticed about teaching online is how easy and ‘to hand’ the resources are, whether you have incorporated them into your lesson or whether it comes up by surprise, you can easily and quickly flick to the material and resources you need, you don’t need to waste time looking at your physical books wondering

“where did I see that useful thing…”

Felicity adds

I feel that I can always support my learner.

If they are having trouble understanding something, I will always have the answer – a google picture, a game, an explanation. If I were in a classroom and I had a student who didn’t understand a word, I couldn’t quickly pull up a picture to show what it is. Or, if they were having trouble with a grammar structure, I couldn’t bring up an online interactive game for them to relax, enjoy, understand and use the language.

A graphic world: visually appealing and more engaging!

We all recall these old and passed out photocopies of the day-lesson in the classroom. The one that had been copied a million times over the school years and had become barely visible. The one we had to write over the letters who had disappeared as the original document had been lost long ago!

Jenica enthuses, online materials do not lose their freshness:

Online teaching materials can be exactly the same as in-person materials, like worksheets and picture slides. It can also be better than in-person materials. It can be more engaging and modern, without the teacher needing to print out and cut out materials.

To which she adds:

It can also be more efficient, especially with a bigger class. Through websites like Quizziz, every single learner can answer a question at one time, without having to raise their hand or feel insecure when they make mistakes because they can answer anonymously.

Set your dream classroom

A classroom in a box

Like Robert, you may set up your classroom in a corner, and that’s absolutely fine!

My ‘office’ is a part of my bedroom. I have a slightly oddly shaped bedroom, it consists of a square with an added mini rectangle attached to it. I use this part for a white IKEA table that I use as my desk, a comfortable chair and a footrest underneath.

Jenica, often on the move due to her family situation, has adopted the same tactics – opting for minimalism.

I currently live in a small condo unit so my designated teaching space is also my dining room. Half of the table is for eating and half of it is for teaching.

A portable classroom

Some other coaches enjoy the flexibility of their house by locating their classroom according to their mood of the day or their intentions. Just like Felicity, our energetic ultra trail runner.

I have many teaching settings. I tend to keep my learners on their toes by hopping between rooms. Sometimes I am in my office, sometimes my living room, sometimes my kitchen! This means that I can actually invite my learners into my house. I have been known to make a sandwich with my learner – also to stand out on my street showing them my Christmas lights and displays!

A classroom that keeps you fit!

Others combine the pleasure of teaching with exercising, like Erica, who has an office/gym room. VivaLing has run an internal program called VivaLing Living for their coaches, bringing awareness around wellbeing for the last two years and Erica is actively following the different challenges brought by the company.

Meditation, nutrition, yoga challenges, each week brings some new shared experiences between coaches and her setting is perfectly suited for her personal quest of bringing balance between work and personal life.

Always a peaceful atmosphere

While the configuration differs greatly from one coach to another, the atmosphere remains the same for all: plain and allowing focus for both coaches and learners! Whether it is using a plain background like Robert:

It is a relatively plain environment. There’s nothing visible, just a plain beige wall behind me.

Erica describes her fitness/teaching room alike.

I have a clear background to avoid distractions. It’s nice and quiet, it’s my peaceful place. Noise cancelling headphones and a computer is all I really need. Same goes for Dawn, who has only what’s needed in her space. I have a white board behind me which I use occasionally, and all my resources are on some shelves next to me. It makes life very easy.

Sometimes online teaching also comes with its own challenges, such as the South-African regular electricity load shedding, to which Kirsty compensates for with a strategic classroom position.

I have lots of natural light (which helps as South Africa often gets power-cuts), a ring-light and a comfortable chair.

And props available at all time

Props are particularly useful to those visual and kinesthetic learners who need to be stimulated with some visualisation or actions. That’s why all our coaches always have a set of props available, varying from colourful costume parts to very specific tools or even teddies and dolls for the younger learners.

On my desk are a few useful items, a couple of teaching books and some items of various sizes and colours which, from time to time, I use as teaching aids, explains Robert.

Even in the smallest settings, like for Jenica, the props are somewhere within reach:

I have a small box of realia under the table that I use when needed.

A true bond beyond the virtuality

Those unexpected moments

Erica remembers dancing the “macarena” with her 5 year old French student.

I was shocked that she knew the song and the dance that goes with it. Or getting a surprise birthday song like Felicity did. When my learner signed on, she was there with her mum and Grandmother and they all sang me Happy Birthday. It was a very special moment. I also have some other learners who send me little gifts and cards at the end of every academic year and also for Christmas and other occasions. This gesture is so lovely.

Laughing is the best emotion to share!

Dawn’s creativity when it comes to having fun with her students never fades.

I give my students an extra point if they can make me laugh. I have one student who takes screenshots of my funniest slides and then puts them as his background in Zoom. So when the student enters the class, he hides and the first thing I see is the background. It works every time, I laugh, he gets an extra point.

Cultural bridges

Kirsty loves those moments when teaching a language goes well beyond the linguistic experience – allowing some real cultural exchanges.

I hosted a summer camp with one of my long-standing learners. It was during lockdown, and he was feeling frustrated about being house-bound. So, we spent five days having a ‘staycation’ and learning about different countries across the world. We ended off by learning how to make a traditional South African ‘Braaibroodjie’ so I contacted his mom before the time with a list of ingredients and equipment. We both made and ate our ‘Braaibroodjies’ together from opposite sides of the world. His mom reported that he loved it so much that after we said goodbye, he proceeded to make one for every family member so that they could also experience it.

Sometimes more than a coach, they’re a friend or a family member

Robert shares this one experience that comes to mind:

A session from a few years ago, the online session started and as usual I asked “How are you today?” and with sunken shoulders and a gloomy face she proceeded to talk about her job and the pressures and stresses of her work. She was comfortable opening up to me, in a way that I doubt she would with someone physically within her community. By the end of the session she was visibly happier, having unloaded the burden from her shoulders.

Jenica also realised she belonged to one of her learner’s families.

A learner’s parent told me that they watch the recording of my sessions as a family. They watch it when they are in a car, in a restaurant waiting for food, etc. The parent said that it’s like I’m part of the family. It’s very touching!

Combatting the online teaching cliches

Online teaching is a rich experience in all aspects.

By taking control of your own classroom setting and adapting it to suit your lifestyle and environment. By creating a true balance between work and personal life and allowing more time for hobbies and family. By optimising the abundance of resources on the internet and boosting your teaching skills. And finally, by creating a strong bond with your learners, in spite of the virtual classroom, and allowing each one of them a full expression of their potential.

As Felicity expresses it in this vibrant conclusion:

Inviting my learners into my house – there can be nothing more personal than this. The learner also enjoys showing me their things – clothes they have bought, pets, photos, their own Christmas displays. The relationships I have created with my learners and their parents – I have never had closer and stronger bonds. I have even had learners come over to the UK and we have met up a few times. I really do love my job and I feel very blessed and privileged to have every single one of my learners. I care for them all very much.

So does Kirsty, who’s been trying both systems and can relate:

Online teaching is not impersonal. I feel that it is more impersonal to have a class of 30 students fighting for one teacher’s attention, a teacher who is exhausted and frustrated by a system that doesn’t work. It doesn’t matter how good a teacher is, there will always be a few students that ‘fall through the cracks’ at school. Online teaching, however, allows the teacher or coach to be able to design a personalised lesson with a specific goal in mind to be able to provide every student with the best possible opportunity to learn.

So, if you weren’t convinced to take the step towards a new career before, we hope you are now!

VivaLing's Coaches

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