Distinguishing yourself as an online teacher - Part 3

Having fun in the classroom

Fun is an amorphous concept. Fun in the classroom is even more so. People associate it with laughing but this is not true at all. Laughing is just one aspect of having fun. You can have great fun doing something serious and challenging without even smiling. I would go out on a limb here and say that having fun is simply doing something you like. So only one person could be having fun in a class. The desired effect is for all to have fun, teacher included. The magic times when that happens are great.

To give an example, I was teaching recently in a physical classroom in a company’s office, and the non- participants heard laughter regularly and some of them approached me and said they wanted to join the class the next time. However, I was worrying a bit that the students were enjoying the jokes a bit too much and were maybe not making as much progress as I would have liked. Maybe you can chase popularity too much by making people laugh at the expense of their learning.

If students are focused, absorbing the material, and not even noticing the time passing, then you have hit the jackpot. They are having fun. I have mentioned before about tailoring classes to suit learning styles, this will help.

Online teacher advises: Having fun in the classroom
Online teacher advises: Having fun in the classroom

What will also help is what you enjoy about what you teach. What attracted you to your discipline?
What makes it fun for you? Think about this deeply. Try to put across that feeling. If you are enthusiastic and having fun the students will pick up on that and can get caught up in the flow. I strongly believe the best teachers are the most enthusiastic about their work.

Teaching teachers

Over the past 10 years, I have taught many teachers how to use various online systems, from the early, mostly text based ones such as Atlas, through to Blackboard and more direct ones like Vedamo. I have to put my hand up here and say I have never taught anyone to use IM (instant messaging) as a teaching platform although I have myself taught often through Skype. IM is a cheap, easy way to teach and a surprising number of schools use them. They have their limitations, though. A whiteboard, grading, forums, tests and other aspects are where they fall down.

I will concentrate here on using dedicated systems because I feel that a career as an online teacher will truly only happen that way. A good school, that looks after their teachers and students, and upgrades their software to make it future proof, is far more likely to survive and adapt than those who rely on IM to deliver their needs.

Teachers are often quick to pick up things as they have been in education all their lives. Strangely enough, though, some don’t like going back into the role of students. Try to pick up on that and allow those ones as minimal instruction as you can get away with. Allow them to learn by themselves as much as possible. With some teachers, who are tech savvy, I have got through the training modules in double quick time, with others, more technophobe, it can be painfully slow and frustrating. Accept this and your life will be easier. Let the quick ones through quickly while assuring them you are available in the future, and be patient with the slow ones.

The reality is that no-one masters a system after the training. Only by using it can they acquire true competence. Try to pick up on any teacher who is reluctant to ask for help, and they can be both technophiles or technophobes, and reassure them that you are aware that mastery comes with using, and emphasise that you are available and happy to remind them of anything. Those that don’t want to ask for help are a bugbear for anyone training them and being aware of this means that you can try to overcome it. You have to be approachable and patient.

In the modern world of tech, everything is changing, and so will the software, requiring refresher courses, learning and remembering how you taught the different teachers in the past will make it easier to upgrade their skills. Separating them into technophobes and technophiles is one way. Those that like to learn by themselves and those that like plenty of instruction is another. The objective is to make sure they use your system correctly and, crucially, to the best of its abilities. You will always need to monitor them and systems such as Vedamo allow you to monitor invisibly. Gently get them to do things right without annoying them and you will have a happy team of teachers.

Online teacher advises: Teaching teachers
Online teacher advises: Teaching teachers

Teaching one to one

If you can get individuals willing to pay well enough for your needs then one to one is an easy and cheap way to go. IM teaching works well with one to one and, of course, it is free. You only need to coordinate with one student and flexibility can be very high. Here a word of warning, though, teaching one to one is intensive and tiring. Generally, I would advise against long classes because of that. Try and have your classes as short as possible and more of them as that will combat student fatigue. The fact that you don’t have to travel means you can get away from the old academic hour restriction. Classes can be anything from 5 minutes upwards. And of course, if you specialize in shorter classes you may be able to charge more per hour and it becomes more economically viable.

Online teacher advises: Teaching one to one
Online teacher advises: Teaching one to one

Of course, dedicated systems are also great for one to one instruction but there will probably be a cost. It all depends what you wish to do. Dedicated systems have a host of extra features that make comprehensive teaching possible. If you are happy with IM then it can work but professional instruction does require all the things that can be done with a professional system. As long as the cost per class is reasonable it should be worth it to use the best system.

All the other areas mentioned in this series apply to one to one but many things are easier. You can tailor a class exactly as they like it. You can find out their learning styles quickly and utilize that. Another point is that as a classroom teacher, maybe you didn’t shine. However, as a one to one instructor, you could find your forte. Maybe it is you. It is certainly worth trying. They say everyone has a novel within them, and maybe everyone has a teacher inside them.

Related articles:

Gus Worth is a highly experienced writer and educator having worked in universities for nearly 20 years and being first published at the age of six. Currently in the English department of the American University in Bulgaria, he also writes extensively for the web and in print for many companies. He has a particular love of online teaching and enjoys helping teachers take their first steps in the exciting world of the future where you can connect with, and help students develop, all over the planet.
VEDAMO Virtual Classroom
For the past six years we have been providing a platform with all the functionalities an online tutor needs.