Group lessons on Preply

Preply is an online teaching platform that I’ve been using for the last three months. It’s mostly known for its 1:1 lessons, but recently I received a notification saying that I’d be an ideal candidate for their group lessons. After some thinking, I decided to give it a go and see if this option is as good for me as they claim.

On 28th April, Preply notified me about the possibility of teaching groups via Zoom. This email coincided with another Preply milestone – teaching over 60 hours on the platform, which isn’t quite common (only 50% of tutors reaches this far). The message initially freaked me out, but I decided to take it easy and firstly applied for their internal Teach group lessons on the Preply course.

The idea is straightforward and seems a bit too good to be true. You choose the level and the topic you want to teach. Then you decide on a day and time and you’re set. Preply provides you with lesson plans and presentations, and that’s pretty much it. You can sign up for as many or as few lessons as you want. The idea is to provide students with cheaper lessons which they can take whenever they want. It offers flexibility, exposes them to English speakers from all over the world and gives them the possibility to be surrounded by a variety of accents. Sounds too good to be true? I needed to check it for myself.

Firstly, I needed to register as a group tutor. Since all the classes are on Zoom, Preply provides teachers with the full software version. Before you give them your email, they warn you about all the lessons being recorded, which can’t be switched off, so you should create a new email that you don’t currently use on Zoom. Otherwise, you may have an issue with your private Zoom lessons and personal videocalls. I got the access to group lessons and a full version of Zoom in less than 24 hours after registering.

Immediately after receiving the confirmation, I started scrolling through possible lessons. There are a lot of options from A1 to C1 levels. You have the ability to go over the notes before you commit, so you can teach something that you enjoy and feel comfortable with. Initially, I signed up for one class and got nervous. After some thinking, I decided to fill my mornings with group lessons. In my first week of trying group lessons, I joined six group lessons. The advantage of choosing classes is that you can teach the same class over and over again, which reduces preparation time.

As I was waiting impatiently for my first lesson, something unexpected happened – it got cancelled. I realised that the majority of classes get cancelled. The Preply group lesson policy is that if no one signs up for the lesson 24 hours before, it gets cancelled, and you get paid 50% of your hourly rate after commission. At the moment of writing this post, I registered for 12 group lessons, and only four of them weren’t cancelled. I must admit that this Preply feature is quite beneficial for me and provides me with income that requires minimal effort.

However, four out of these 12 lessons happened, so let’s focus on them instead. Once the lesson is confirmed, you can check its status on your profile under Group lessons – Your lessons. After the cancellation, the lesson disappears from there. If you’re waiting for confirmation, you can check when you have this class and what the topic is. It also shows the number of available spots for this lesson. The class size ranges from 1-to 6 students. 15 minutes before the lesson starts, you get an email with a notification reminding you about the class and information about the number of students who signed up for this class. In two of my group lessons, I had two students who registered and in both, only one of them showed up. In the other two, only one student booked the class. One of the ‘group’ students told me that in the 13 lessons that he attended, he had a partner in only one of them.

The idea of these group lessons is for students to follow a 30-hour course with 30 different tutors. Therefore, you aren’t allowed to bring any new material to class. You can personalise and modify it, depending on your teaching style. I decided to follow the material. If the students were a little bit less chatty, I managed to do more vocabulary revision before the main part of the lesson. The lessons are 55 minutes long, and Preply offers more than enough materials to fill that time. You are also expected to finish the class with error corrections and help students find their homework and pre-lesson task for the next lesson. Yes, students are expected to complete a pre-lesson task, so they should come in ready and aware of the topic. Here is an example lesson plan I followed during my first group lesson on Preply.

TimeProcedure
5 mins1. Welcome the students and introduce yourself.
2. Get to know each other:
– How long have you been on Preply?
– Do you have any questions about the pre-lesson task?
– What task was difficult/easy?
3. Topic related questions:
– When did you last travel by plane?
– Where did you go?
4. Present the lesson objectives.
5. Present the lesson structure.
5 mins1. Warm-up:
– Describe the picture (a family waiting at an airport).
– Answer the questions: Where are they? Where were they going? What are they doing? What has happened? How do they feel?
5 mins1. Pre-teach / Revise vocabulary: read an airport announcement and fill in the gaps with the missing words (reschedule, depart, cancelled, announcement, delayed).
2. Explain any new vocabulary.
3. Elicit the difference between delayed and cancelled.
4 mins1. Set the listening: A woman waiting at the gate when she hears an announcement.
2. Give some time to read and understand the questions.
3. Listen to the recording and answer the questions.
4. Check and discuss the answers.
4 mins1. Pronunciation: Elicit the difference between the word stress -teen and -ty in numbers.
2. Model and drill pronunciation.
5 mins1. Set the listening: The woman’s flight was cancelled.
2. Give some time to read and understand the questions.
3. Listen to the recording and write the answers to the questions.
4. Check and discuss the answers.
5 mins1. Teach – grammar: cause and effect.
– When do we use why?
– How is because different from because of?
because of = due to + a noun
because (conjunction) + a clause
2. Grammar practice: fill in the gaps with because / because of / due to.
7 mins1. Review the use of why / because / because of / due to.
2. Controlled practice: Ask and answer questions about flying using new grammar.
3. Model the activity: write a question starting with why and ask the student to give you the answer.
4. The student writes in the chat three questions starting with why. Discuss the answers.
7 mins1. Set the roleplay: Student A works for an airline. Student B is a passenger. A flight was cancelled. Talk on the phone and discuss the reason why the flight was cancelled, reschedule the flight and ask about any vouchers.
2. Swap roles.
8 mins1. Error correction.
2. Reflect on your class experience – ask for a rating (1-5).
– How well can you understand an airport announcement?
– How well can you use because / because of / due to?
– What vocabulary can you add to your flashcards?
3. Discuss what needs to be done next (repeat the class, sign up for the next lesson, do the post-lesson task).
An example 55 mins lesson plan for A2 level (The flight has been delayed)

This lesson plan is very different from what I offer to my 1:1 students, but I stick to the rules and follow the materials as necessary. I noticed that the material provided by Preply is more than enough to have a successful 55 minutes long lesson. In the case of finishing a bit too early, at the end of each presentation, there are 3 or 4 more slides with extra activities, so there is no need to panic.

Once the lesson ends, you get an email with autoconfirmation of the class and get paid right away. After each class, you can leave feedback about each student, comment on their attendance and suggest their level. I believe that students have to do something very similar after each class and rate their tutor. My first “group” student told me that he would put me in the top 3 of all the Preply tutors he had up to this point, so I believe that so far I’m doing well!

Group lessons are a great way of making extra cash in your free time. I’ll definitely continue signing up for them while I’m waiting for new students. As Preply works on commissions, you still need to have private students to increase teaching hours and decrease the commission rate (group lessons don’t count, unfortunately). Another benefit is frequent cancellations and, of course, ready-to-go lesson plans. You can also keep signing up for the same lessons over and over again, which will decrease your preparation time to a bare minimum. The main disadvantage is that there are more tutors than lessons available, so you need to be quick to book your spot!

Do you teach on Preply? What do you think about the group lessons?

One month on Preply

On 24th February 2022, I had my very first Preply class. Now, a little over a month later, I’ve gathered some Preply experience and statistics that I’d like to share with you and think about my next steps on the platform.

Let me walk you through my humble beginnings and a successful month on Preply.

Becoming a tutor

I’d been thinking of becoming an online tutor for the longest time. When I finally mustered some energy and motivation to proceed, the first thing I did was head to the Preply – Become a tutor. I put all my credentials, wrote a short introduction, uploaded my certificates, and then hit the wall. The thought of recording a video made me delay my experience by a month. I finally managed to sit down, watch their video tutorials and write my own script. The good thing about their introductory video is that it has to be between 50 and 100 seconds long. You can find thousands of introduction videos that you can use for inspiration, and also some guidelines on how to create the perfect video in the Profile video advice section. After watching some of their videos, I noticed a pattern and divided my video into sections:

  • Introduce myself
  • My background
  • My teaching experience + qualifications
  • My teaching style
  • Humblebrag about my current students and what they say about me

I wrote the script in about 15 minutes, but the recording took me a bit longer. I’m not going to lie – I was exhausted at the end of the recording, wanted to upload it and stop thinking about it immediately. Apart from the short length of the video, the other good thing about it is that you don’t have to edit it! I’ve tried recording a video on Italki before, but their video style scared me off, as it seemed to be quite complicated and required a lot of technical skills that I don’t think I have.

Once I hit upload the video I decided to forget about it. The standard video approval takes approximately 48 hours, but I’ve heard stories of people waiting well over a week or being ghosted completely. Much to my surprise, I received a positive message the very next day, in less than 24 hours and felt a sense of euphoria.

Preply courses

Before I completed my profile and made it live, I decided to go over the Preply internal courses to fully understand the platform and how it works. There are four courses that, in my opinion, you should go over to feel a bit more confident:

  • How to create a profile that gets students
  • How Preply works
  • The Preply classroom
  • Preply methodology

Preply has many options that I’m yet to discover and understand, but I thought that this would give me somewhat of an idea of what I’m expected to do. I sat down and completed all the courses in less than an hour. Most of them are short texts or videos that briefly explain the functions of different parts of the platform. I’d definitely recommend going over these courses as they take the initial shock and let you play around with the settings just a tiny bit.

Going live

Once I completed the courses, I revised my profile and wrote an additional description in my native language – Polish. I was wondering about the ideal price and decided to low-ball hard as I was a newbie and wanted to attract some students to get the ball rolling. After using many other websites I had very low expectations, so imagine my surprise when I got booked six times within the first 48 hours. During that time, I doubled my prices and still got new students.

I remember when I watched the video explaining the functions of Preply, I giggled when they mentioned that it’s possible to hide your profile in case you get overbooked. What I hadn’t anticipated was that I’d have to make myself invisible in the first week of teaching. I think that my success rate depended on my knowledge of other languages. Most of my students on Preply are from Poland, and all of them want me to understand them in their native language. I use English 99% of the time, but they want to feel safe and comfortable during this 1% of class when we may need to clarify things in Polish.

I believe that my success rate would be much lower if I hadn’t spoken any additional language other than English. I’ve communicated with some English native speakers who started more or less at the same time as I did, and they had a bit more problems finding new students. I’m not sure how the Preply algorithm works, but I got certainly lucky and was pushed up having a multi-language profile and being immediately booked on the first day.

Trial lessons

Once you go live, you need to organise your schedule. I decided to keep it simple and didn’t offer crazy hours. I thought that I can work 4 hours in the morning and 4 hours in the afternoon, with a 2 hours break in between for lunch. I wanted to work and get money, but I didn’t want to lose my mind and obsessively check my phone every 30 minutes to see if my calendar had changed.

Normally, students book a class before communicating with you, which is a blessing and somehow a curse at the same time. As I mentioned before, I completed the Preply courses and listened to their advice to set trial lesson notice for at least one day in advance. I don’t know about you, but I need some time to prepare mentally before teaching a new student.

Whenever I got booked, I messaged new students and thanked them for choosing me. I informed them about what I was going to do in the first lesson and asked about their preferences and their first lesson goals. Preply also offers placements tests, so you can get an idea of the level and plan accordingly. Before my very first trial lesson, I went above and beyond to deliver the best quality class I could imagine. If you are interested in reading more about my experience and some thoughts that I had afterwards, go to My very first trial lesson on Preply. The only disclaimer I have is that after having exactly 10 trial lessons, my approach has changed, I’m less stressed and I’d normally follow the lesson plan I’d prepared for the first trial lesson and adapt it depending on the level and needs of students.

I also mentioned the curse of being able to book a class with me without any prior communication. I decided to not teach children online anymore and focus on teaching teenagers and adults only. I mentioned it in my profile description, but as it turns out, not everyone reads that. I was booked one time for a child and needed to decline the offer. The class wasn’t actually cancelled, the mum of the child decided to take this opportunity, and we chatted for an hour in English. This was our first and last meeting as she wasn’t looking for a teacher for herself. So, I had a free trial lesson without actually getting a student.

Teaching on Preply

I must admit that at first, I didn’t like Preply that much. The platform is very useful and you don’t stress about not being paid, as the money appears on your profile 15 minutes after the class, but the classroom itself left a lot to desire. I enjoy getting emails notifying me about being booked, or a build-in chat that lets me communicate with students at any given time. It helps me stay organised and I have no difficulties keeping track of everything we do. However, there are many issues with screen and sound sharing, whiteboard appearing and disappearing, calendar blocking certain hours and also students not being able to reserve future times without paying upfront. I have mentioned all this and my solutions to these problems in Videoconferencing software.

Preply claims that they want to implement flipped classroom methodology. Students should choose a topic ahead of time, complete listening, reading and writing exercises and come in to check their homework and chat about the topic. I’m sure that it works for some teachers and I even gave it a go, but somehow it’s not it for me. I have a library of my resources, I prepare my lessons, and of course, focus on speaking for the main part of the class. So far so good! Students enjoy my teaching style and the topics I (and sometimes they) bring to the table. With some of them, I communicate ahead of time and let them know my lesson objectives, so they can prepare themselves and tell me about what they’d learnt. Of course, it depends on students and their preferences. It took me some time to understand their needs and see how well we work together. I use the library from time to time, but more as an inspiration rather than a lesson plan itself.

Cancelling lessons

I haven’t cancelled any classes yet, but I have rescheduled a few. Preply has the policy that students can reschedule up to four hours before the class. If they don’t and they can’t attend, you are allowed to claim this money for the class that didn’t happen. I had a few instances in which students messaged me two or three hours before, informing me about not being able to attend lessons for various reasons. I rescheduled and didn’t ask for payment. I do like money, but also I like working for it. If a student apologises for having an emergency, no internet or a meeting at work, I understand. After all, one day I may be in a similar situation and will ask for understanding, too.

Getting reviews

This is something I didn’t know and didn’t really think about – at the end of each class I’m being rated on my performance! I must say that when I realized that this was the case, I got slightly nervous. I taught 46 hours so far and got an average of 5/5! This makes me feel extremely motivated and happy, but at the same time, it makes me question the quality of other teachers on Preply. I understand that many people use this website as a way of getting some extra cash and probably don’t care too much about preparing interesting and engaging classes, but it’s not my case! No matter the hourly rate, each student gets the attention they deserve.

After teaching five hours to the student, you can ask them to leave a review. I didn’t ask for that, as I think it’s a bit annoying to beg for reviews. I believe that all of my students will leave an honest review whenever they feel like it.

Getting paid

This subject is a bit sensitive. On Preply you don’t get paid anything for trial lessons, so the beginnings require a lot of unpaid work. These classes are paid by students and 100% commission goes straight to the platform. This means that if you are a popular teacher and ask quite a bit per hour, Preply definitely enjoys having you around.

Preply is a free platform, and you don’t need to pay anything to be on it, but they work on lesson commissions. The more you teach, the lower the commissions. In a way, I do understand this model, as the platform is convenient and offers a wide range of functions that maybe you’d have to pay for if you worked on your own. However, the commission rates range from 33 to 18%, so even if you commit to Preply and work solely on their platform, you can’t get more than 82%.

The nice and definitely motivating thing about Preply is that you can see your balance increase after each class. You get a nice e-mail saying that your money has already been deposited and informed about the remaining hours until the lower commission. You can also withdraw your money at any given moment, using Paypal, Wise, Skrill or Payoneer. It is a very quick and sensible action, which lets you have your money within minutes.

End of a month statistics

Last month I taught 45 hours, including 10 trial lessons. From that, I got nine new students. Some of them became regulars, and others booked a class every other week. My average review rating, based on one (voluntarily written) review is 5/5, and an average lesson rating is also 5/5. I haven’t missed or cancelled any lessons.

Overall, despite some drawbacks, I’m satisfied with Preply. I didn’t know that I could be a successful teacher online. It allowed me to focus on my professional development and took most of the free time that now I spend teaching. I’m looking forward to my future on Preply and seeing how it helps me become a better teacher.

Have you ever tried online teaching platforms? Where do you teach, and what’s your experience with them? Would you ever consider teaching on Preply?

My very first trial lesson on Preply

So it finally happened! After months of debating and postponing the recording of the video for Preply, I made it. I sat down, recorded the video and after only one day of waiting, my application was approved. I assumed that just like with any other teaching platform I’ve used before, I will wait a week and book maybe a student or two. Spoilers alert – I was wrong.

Once I got accepted to be a Preply English tutor, I completed their four internal self-study courses:

  1. How to create a profile that gets students
  2. How Preply works
  3. The Preply classroom
  4. Preply Methodology for English subject tutors

It took me about an hour to complete all four of them and to be completely frank, I got a little confused. I assumed that I have some time to play around with it and figure it out before I get booked. What I hadn’t anticipated was that I’d get my very first class booked for the next day.

Let me share my Preply experience with you!

1. Before the class

I have had plenty of trial lessons before. I normally follow my routine and focus on delivering a demo lesson just to give a taste of what my lessons look like and what you can expect of me as a teacher.

However, Preply suggests using their built-in agenda to have a successful trial lesson. This feature got me just a little bit nervous.

I decided to follow some of their steps, but make it my own, so I feel comfortable teaching it. As I was wondering what to do during the first class, I searched for inspiration online and found a perfect video that dispelled all my doubts.

First of all, I was doubtful of the Preply courses and wasn’t sure whether they were optional or I could refer to them from time to time. Martin Sketchley from ELT Experiences discusses this point with his student during the trial lesson. He says that even though there is a library of resources available, he likes to use his materials because they are more complete and aligned for students. I felt relieved and decided to follow Martin’s lesson structure and some of his insightful questions and information about the platform and creating the perfect English course. I adapted it to my very first student (level A2/B1).

Below you can see my idea of the first class with a demo lesson on question word order and question intonation.

TimeProcedure
5 mins1. Welcome the student.
2. Share your screen and make sure that she can see it.
3. Discuss the lesson objectives.
8 mins1. Show questions with missing words.
2. Student fills in the gaps with the missing verbs.
3. Discuss the answers to the questions and get to know your student.
7 mins1. Show a variety of topics, e.g. family, studies, profession, hobbies, etc.
2. Student chooses topics and asks the teacher about anything she wants.
3 mins1. Discussion feedback. Discuss the strengths and areas for improvement based on speaking.
5 mins1. Discuss the Preply classroom and Preply tools.
2. Ask if the student is familiar with all the tools.
3. Talk about your favourite platforms and how you generally teach (the videoconference platform, sharing materials, homework, etc.)
7 mins1. Discuss the placement test and the course focus.
15 mins1. Demo lesson: Grammar – question word order and intonation.
2. Show different ways in which you can return questions. Ask the questions and discuss the answers. Give the student opportunity to use return questions prompts.
3. Mention that one of the ways to return questions is by changing intonation, e.g. Where are you from? – Where are you from?
4. Show more questions and identify words that carry information.
5. Listen and check the answers.
6. Model and drill question intonation.
7. Explain that in English, unlike in Polish or Spanish, questions are never made by intonation, e.g. You are going with us?
8. Go over some questions and elicit the word order in each. Put the words in the table under correct headings.
9. Look at the sentences and discuss which ones are correct and which ones are incorrect. Correct the mistakes.
10. Answer the questions from the exercise.
11. Error correction and feedback.
10 mins1. Lesson feedback. Discuss what the student liked about the lesson.
2. Talk about the future class expectations and what she would like to learn.
3. Schedule the future lesson.

I supported my lesson plan with a simple yet aesthetically pleasing presentation. If you want to see my presentation, you can download it for free at the end of the post.

2. During the class

I entered the classroom before the lesson to see how all of the Preply tools work. I had no issues before the class, so I decided to spend the rest of the time relaxing. The class started on time without any hiccups. We made small talk to break the ice and I decided to continue with my presentation. That’s when the problems began.

On any other videoconference platform, it is possible to choose an application that you want to share. This option was available to me before the class. During the lesson, I was only left with sharing my entire screen. It surprised me, but I decided to do that instead. Another thing I realised was that share the sound button seems to appear and disappear whenever it pleases. It was there when I was playing around before the class, but it conveniently disappeared during the lesson. Luckily, we didn’t do listening, so I decided to model and drill pronunciation myself.

Obviously, I was worried about not following the Preply recommended courses, but as it turned out it worked in my favour. The student has tried other tutors before and said that she’s done many of the courses with them and was pleasantly surprised that I came prepared. She said that it looks more professional and it made her feel that I thought about her before the lesson.

The class continued without any issues. We liked each other, and we booked another class next week! In fact, I was able to schedule it for my student, as accidentally she paid for four hours of classes with me. This was done in the last five minutes. In fact, she was surprised when I told her that it was time to finish because we had a great time talking and getting to know each other.

Class booking is very simple and if you use a Google Calendar, all your other commitments get immediately applied, so Preply students can’t take that spot. I used to use the Outlook Calendar before because it was connected to my laptop. Now all my classes are synchronised with the Google Calendar and the Preply Calendar. It’s just much easier.

3. After the class

The class was a success. I got a new student who I enjoyed spending time with, and I think that we can develop a nice long-term relationship. However, I tend to be a little bit critical of myself and my teaching, so here we go.

First of all, I overplanned. I guess it’s better than underplanning. I will keep my presentation as it is and will reuse it with some of my future students. I think that one day, I may have a student who isn’t as talkative and we may be able to go through the whole demo lesson without any delays.

Another important thing is that for the first time in my teaching career I have Polish students. I’m a native Polish speaker and I decided that I won’t be using it in class, unless necessary. I think that the second I show that we can communicate in Polish, this will be the go-to language, and this isn’t the point of this class. This particular student enjoyed this aspect because it felt more natural for her to communicate in English than in Polish, and we want to keep it this way!

I may be using the Preply recommended courses with some students, but definitely not with all of them. This student enjoyed the personal touch and thought that it showed professionalism. Of course, we don’t always have to use presentations as the main way of delivering information. I’ve been using presentations for a while now and I think that it’s a much more structured way of explaining certain things, for example, grammar. Additionally, some students have been on Preply for some time now and have completed some of the courses. By using your materials, you can make sure that everything they learn is taught in a new way. This student also gave me a lot of creative freedom and said that she’s happy to follow my materials and wants to learn following my methodology.

So that’s my experience using the Preply platform. So far, I’m happy with it because I’ve never been able to get that many students in such a short time. I still have a long way to fully understand all the features, but I’m sure that it’s a matter of time before I’m comfortable with it.

Have you tried Preply before? If so, what was your first experience like? If not, would you like to try it?

5 ways of keeping private students

Ever since I started working with private students, I quickly realized that this is what I’m good at, and as a result, I love doing it. I think that it’s safe to say that I think about my students a lot. I always think about new lesson ideas and plan classes that will benefit them the most. However, once the prepaid classes come to an end, I start to sweat just a tiny bit – what if they quit, and it’s the last time I see them?

Teaching adults and teenagers was always something that I really enjoyed. Now that I work online and the majority of my classes are 1:1, I get to be a bit pickier and teach what I want and how I want to. There are some disadvantages to this situation, which I’ve talked about before in The flakiness of adult students. To be frank, there are more advantages and with the right approach, it’s possible to avoid any issues. In the beginning, I had some hiccups here and there, which were necessary and served me as a lesson. Now I understand 1:1 teaching a bit more. That’s why I thought of five ways in which you can ensure your students don’t disappear from one day to another.

Write down any important information

I’m aware of how creepy it sounds. However, in my opinion, this is possibly the most important piece of information. I came to this realization about a week ago while making small talk with one of my students. She’d mentioned to me before very personal and important news. The truth be told, I’d forgotten about it and only remembered it when I saw her in class. Naturally, I asked about her well-being and noticed that her mood shifted for the better (luckily). I could tell that she appreciated my concern and liked that I checked up on her.

This was my starting point on taking short notes on each of my students. Before, all my notes focused on language-related issues, ways of improving and important dates. Now, each file contains a little note on their birthdays, likes and dislikes, hobbies, family members and some past experiences. I do this with the intention of using it in one of my future lessons. It shows that I listen, care about them and their lives. The notes are there only to help me remember and make sure that I don’t confuse one student with another. Plus, who doesn’t like when a relatively random person remembers and wishes them on their birthdays!

Personalised classes

Once I gather information on their interests, it’s much easier to plan and prepare engaging lessons. There are times when I mind my own business when I stumble upon something that I think one of my students would enjoy, and try to use it next time in my class. Of course, it’s much more difficult to do that when working at an academy or with a larger group of students, when you have a syllabus to follow and all the topics are rather broad. In the case of 1:1 lessons, you can go over general topics, or you can go deep into a rabbit hole and explore any niche possible.

For my aspiring actress student, the lessons tend to be centred around pop culture, musicals, psychology and expressing oneself. For my digital marketer student, I like to prepare lessons on social media, attracting customers and marketing psychology. For my future fisherman, we focus on technical language and environmental impacts of fishing in Spain. It takes more effort to prepare these lessons, but I enjoy learning new things and stepping away (at least for a little bit) from the exam preparation. The most important thing is that I like when they like my lessons.

Be understanding, empathetic and approachable

Even though it’s good to have some kind of insurance and introduce a cancellation policy, it’s also important to be understanding. Private students choose your classes because they may have an irregular schedule and for this reason can’t attend group lessons. Currently, I’ve got three students who need to tell me their availability at the end of each class. At first, I was hesitant, but I got the hang of it now. We always manage to find the day and time that best fits our schedules. They are also more than welcome to message me in case of emergency or if they feel like taking a day off and prefer to postpone a class.

I can’t remember how many times I got a message to postpone the lesson by an hour or a few days, because of a delivery, spontaneous trip or mental health day. It may seem like a hassle, but the truth is, it’s not a big deal. Things happen and I know that if I’m understanding, they’ll be understanding if one day something happens to me. It doesn’t happen often, but there were a few occasions in which I needed to move the class to some other day or even teach on Saturday (or Sunday!). I’m not a big fan of working at the weekends, but it doesn’t bother me too much, now that I work for myself.

Similarly, I don’t get angry if someone cancels English lessons because of personal reasons. People tend to overexplain and make sure that I know that it’s them, not me. I never expect any explanation. If they have a bad personal situation, struggle financially, or just lost motivation – that’s ok! Cancelling English lessons, shouldn’t stress you out.

Be knowledgeable

I always prepare for all of my lessons. If there is a topic that I feel a bit unsure of, I research it and practise it myself first. I read all the texts beforehand and think about the parts that may be difficult. This shows that I put effort into the lessons, and don’t just show up to the class empty-handed.

At the same time, if there’s something that I didn’t predict, I admit it and come back to it next class. I do it in this way because I don’t want to sound and look unprofessional in front of my students. They always appreciate honesty and understand that it’s impossible to know everything. It has happened to me quite recently. I overestimated my C1 level student knowledge and prepared a very basic explanation because I assumed that she knows it. My assumption was based on observation and the fact that she has used this type of structure before. When it came to grammar practice, she got lost and I simply ran out of time to get into it. So the next class was all about this, from start to finish. I apologized for my mistake, and that time we did it properly. There were no hard feelings towards the end and she was thankful, for planning this class while thinking about her and her needs.

Open up to your students

I always welcome my students to open up to me and talk about themselves and their lives (only if they want). Similarly, I include some of my information in classes, too. I tell them about my experience, travels, friendships, relationships (A bad date)… Anything to make the classes more realistic and make them feel that they’re using the language naturally. I love the feeling when they forget that they speak English and just talk. For example, for my B1 level students, I’ve prepared a lesson on prepositions of time, in which I talk about my trip to Singapore. I share my story and normally answer follow-up questions about the trip. I think it’s so much better than a dry textbook story about an imaginary person. It also engages and makes them want to share their pictures and stories with me.

I don’t think that it’s possible to be a perfect teacher. So far, I was able to convince all of my students to stay with me after the trial lessons. Unfortunately, I know that there will be a time when I find someone who doesn’t want to work with me, or who will resign after a few lessons. Until that day comes, I’m not going to think about it. For the time being, I’m going to focus on my current students and help them reach their language goals to the best of my abilities.

How do you make sure that your students are happy and want to stay with you?

Can you be a good teacher after a CELTA 100% online course?

I’ve talked about it many times and I will say it again – taking CELTA was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my teaching life. It boosted my confidence and taught me many tips and tricks on how to be an even better teacher. However, recently I saw something that got me thinking – Can you be a good teacher after taking an (online) CELTA?

The other day, I was scrolling through Twitter when I saw a conversation between two English teachers, Craig Burrows and Javier Martín. They discussed the unfairness of the ESL industry and hiring non-experienced native speakers with a CELTA qualification over non-native speakers with degrees and years of work experience. I read their back and forth with great interest and started thinking about my situation.

In my very first blog post – CELTA – one year later, I talked about my humble beginnings and how the course got me to where I am now. Because of the current situation, I attended one of the very first CELTA 100% online courses. In fact, it was one of the silver linings of the lockdown and being stuck home with ERTE. Getting the qualification was easier than ever, without the hassle of leaving the house, rearranging the schedule and a long commute to Seville. However, there are many times when I wonder if I hadn’t had any prior teaching experience, would I feel the same about this online course? Probably not.

I loved every component of CELTA, but I’m not entirely sure how a month-long course can shape you into a professional teacher. Teaching isn’t easy, and people spend years perfecting this craft. That’s why I understand why so many professionals may feel that such a short course is a mockery, and people with only one certificate suddenly become ‘experts’ in this matter, especially after getting this title online.

Despite having a Pass A, something I talked about here, there are times when the imposter syndrome kicks in, and I question myself. Many times I started wondering if I had taken this course in person, would I still be able to get the same result? Can this online course prepare you for the real world of teaching?

Time management

One of the main differences between teaching online and teaching in class is time management. In my opinion, it’s way easier to follow your lesson plan and stick to the schedule when teaching online. First of all, you can see the time passing without making it obvious. The clock is right there! I remember having my lesson plans right in front of me. Before starting, I would write the starting time and quickly calculate the time when I should ideally finish each activity. For instance, if I started a task at 11:30, I would write the beginning of the next task at 11:37, so once the clock showed the time, I’d swiftly move on to the next activity. I’d say that 90% of the time, I predicted the length of each activity down to a minute. Now, comparing it to my classroom experience, the statistics look a bit worse. In a classroom, I emerge myself in this environment and can’t control the time with that precision. I think it would be just awkward if I kept looking at my watch, the same way I do it when I teach online.

Technical issues

At the beginning of the course, we spent an additional hour or two learning how to use Zoom. We had the opportunity to practise sharing the screen and sound (or both), pausing the screen, opening and closing breakout rooms, becoming and giving away the host, and many more. Luckily, my Internet connection was stable, fast and overall reliable. It helped me reduce some of the stress levels, which were already at an all-time high. Unfortunately, some of my fellow colleagues were not this lucky. I was more than sure that they would have had a much higher success rate if they took the course in person. Just to paint the picture, there were some instances of showing the wrong screen (or nothing at all!), not being able to share the recordings or getting stuck on one exercise and not being able to switch between PDFs and presentations. Even though we were not assessed on our use of technology, the lack of computer skills affected their overall performance.

This reminds me of the time at the beginning of the course, when I was observing a class. The trainee teacher wanted to put everyone into breakout rooms. Unlucky for me, he omitted me and left me alone in the main room. I spent about 8 minutes looking at the black screen waiting for everyone to come back. I didn’t want to bother them and create chaos. We discussed this during the feedback session and had a laugh about it. After all, it was better to leave one of the teachers in a ditch, rather than one of the students!

Now, imagine that you are giving a top teaching performance, but some of your students can’t follow because of some issues on their side. On top of teaching and following your schedule, you are expected to solve their problem. It’s not exactly your problem, but obviously, you feel bad and want everyone to have a good experience. If someone had some kind of problem in a classroom, you would try to help them.

In order to avoid all the technical problems, we would meet up 30 minutes before each teaching practice to test our equipment. In case someone couldn’t open a file or play a recording, one of the trainees would help them out. This was one of the positives of this situation – we created strong and healthy relationships with each other.

Pair work control and teacher feedback

When it comes to pair/group work in a classroom setting, you can easily tune in and out of any conversation. When you teach online, you need to jump in between the breakout rooms and hope that you’ll be able to catch some issues and address them during feedback. As I mentioned before, we had a great relationship with one another.

We quickly reached an agreement that at least one of the other trainees would be always watching a pair or a group for us. In this way, while you were controlling all the technical aspects of Zoom, you had eyes and ears everywhere. Since we were all in a ninja mode (all cameras and microphones were off and all the non-video participants were hidden), it was easy to do and not very intrusive for the students. Zoom has a private message option that we would use with other teachers. If one of the monitors notices some issues with pronunciation, vocabulary or grammar, they would send a short message explaining the situation. Like this, we could finish the class with error corrections and had a solid list of things that we could discuss. This is something that we wouldn’t be able to do in a classroom!

Material preparation

There is something comforting about having all the materials ready and printed out, knowing that they are there on your desk and you can get them whenever you need to. This feeling is a bit more stressful when you need to share all your materials via Zoom. You assume that everyone knows how to download files from the chat, they know how to open them on their computers and share them with everyone else if necessary. It’s also good to know that they can send you their work if you practice writing. The truth is, it wasn’t that easy. When splitting students into pairs, we would normally divide them into one that knew how to use Zoom and the other one that didn’t. We did it for the sake of saving time and making sure that we can fulfil our plans as scheduled. That meant that we didn’t always put them into pairs based on their English levels.

Classroom management

If you have never taught in person, CELTA 100% online won’t help you with it. We had a brief input session on classroom arrangement and how sitting positions can be used for different activities. We never got to play around with this idea, though. I must admit that it did remove a lot of stress, as online, everyone was in the spot where you wanted them to be.

Our trainers encouraged us to practise teaching in many different ways. However, it always ended with a good PowerPoint presentation and following the plan by hopping through the slides. We didn’t have to plan the whiteboard distribution beforehand, as our presentations were used as whiteboards. Even though we did talk about the use of digital whiteboards in online classes, none of us ever took that challenge. We had a lot on our plates and there was no need to make it more challenging than it already was. Now that I think of it, using a presentation saves a lot of time compared to writing everything on the board!

I know that some academies frown upon having an online CELTA course, and before taking the course, the trainers assured us that it wouldn’t be mentioned on our certificates (it wasn’t). Clearly, I don’t regret taking the course. I think that having previous teaching experience helped a lot. I think about it as driving – I knew how to use a car after passing the exam, but I only felt comfortable driving after months of doing it daily! Once no one is watching, you dare to experiment with different methods, you try things that may end up being a total hit or miss…and that’s ok! The bottom line is that it’s better to have a certificate than not. So if you still haven’t got yours and you’re thinking of becoming an ESL teacher, then you shouldn’t wait any longer! I promise that it is worth every penny!

The horror of teaching Young Learners

I feel like this post needs a little disclaimer, so here it goes. Disclaimer: all the stories and opinions written below are my own and come from my personal experience teaching in Spain. Teaching (very) young learners can be rewarding and a lot of fun, but it’s not for everyone! We need to remember that even the youngest students are still students, should be treated with respect and be surrounded by professionals who know how to give them what they need.

Teaching young learners comes with a stigma. During my time teaching ESL in Spain, I have met only ONE person who truly loved teaching young learners. All the other teachers treated those lessons as a chore, this thing that you do twice a week and forget about it as soon as it ends. This thing that you don’t teach – you survive.

I’m not proud to say this, but I was the same. When I first started teaching ESL, I was excited to teach English to adults and teenagers. I was able to discuss many things, play adult games, joke around…with kids it was a different story. Every week, I struggled thinking about the types of activities we could do. I tried to keep it fresh and entertaining, bring a lot of games, research crafts that we could do as a group. I spent hours looking for the perfect tasks. There were times when all my efforts paid off, and the students loved everything we did. However, more often than not, that just wasn’t the case, and I’d finish the class feeling disappointed and stressed thinking about next week. I had six hours teaching non-stop, starting with a group of VYL and ending with adults, and I’d always tell myself, If you survive the first hour, the rest will be a breeze.

I tried to think of the reasons why I felt this way and different ways in which I could improve. Here are some things that came to my mind.

Going outside your comfort zone

I think that this sentiment is shared by so many of my fellow ESL teachers for one common reason – language academies expect ESL teachers to go out of their comfort and expertise zones. I can’t think of a situation in which a public school teacher has such a variety of students, level and age-wise. A kindergarten teacher focuses on VYL, and a high school teacher deals with teenagers. Then why do ESL teachers need to know how to cater for 3 year-olds and an hour later have a business class? One hour you do the Hockey-Pokey and the next you discuss the socio-economic problems of your country.

I remember having a YL class sandwiched in between two adult lessons. Let me tell you, that wasn’t fun. I’d quite literally roll on the floor with the kids, dust off my pants, fix my hair and suddenly act all professional. It was ridiculous. I asked my boss if I could wear more comfortable clothes for the YL classes and I wasn’t allowed to do that, because I had an adult class right after and there was no time to change. Plus, when we did crafts…let’s not talk about the chaotic cleanup and table moving.

I understand that ESL teachers often need to educate themselves on different topics, sometimes the ones that they’re not even interested in, just to provide a topical and engaging class. But this seems to be somewhat extensive, hence mentally exhausting.

Hiring non-professionals to teach children

Another thing that quite literally drives me crazy, is hiring non-professionals to teach young learners. I’m CELTA certified and feel best surrounded by students aged 12 years old and up. However, there is a belief that adult students need to be treated with respect and require a professional (at least professional-looking) teacher to keep them satisfied. The children don’t need that because they don’t know any better.

I strongly believe that kids need to be in the presence of a professionally trained teacher more than adults for many different reasons. First of all, children may need your assistance with most basic tasks like going to the toilet. In my first year of teaching, I had a group of eleven 3 year-olds, and at least two of them had to go and usually needed me to help them out. This meant that I had to leave the other children alone in the class while assisting the one child (I didn’t have an assistant).

Secondly, I knew how to plan an engaging lesson for adults, but I struggled with thinking of new ideas for the children. I was aware that they needed a lot of repetition, so I’d start every class with vocabulary revision. However, I couldn’t think of any new material, which kept me busy all weekends, researching and worrying about the classes. On the flip side, once I got more comfortable, I found a bunch of useful websites that provide ready lessons plans and games. I frequently visited ESL Kids Stuff which offers over 60 free lessons plans! WOW English YouTube channel has many interesting ideas for classroom games. I always tried to use some of their activities to make my classes more engaging and fun. If you spend some time going over their videos, you’ll find some gems that became my all-time favourite.

Another issue is that children often can’t control their behaviour and you need to know how to deal with it. This problem doesn’t come up (at least not that often) in adult classes. I believe that going to university and learning about the psychology, emotions and behaviour of children is difficult to learn on your own. There are so many different tricks that you are taught when you are prepared to work with kids. It’s something that only professionals can control.

Dealing with the parents

The behaviour problems tie in nicely with building a healthy relationship with the parents. In my opinion, constantly reporting about the classes is possibly one of the worst parts of teaching YLs. Parents will be always watching you and getting information on you. It can be a bit annoying, but my advice is to introduce yourself on the first day and get used to talking to them regularly. Once the parents see that the kids are comfortable around you, you are golden. I had a great relationship with all of the parents of my students. It wasn’t an easy task and I put a lot of effort into this, but it was worthwhile.

I was worried that if there were any problems, I’d be the one to blame. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case. Well, it became an issue only once. I was a short-term substitute in a private school and got to teach a group of VYLs. The kids behaved well with one exception. One of the students didn’t want to participate and made it clear by screaming and hitting everyone around. One time she just got up and ran outside of the classroom. I was shocked and frankly, didn’t know what to do. I told the kids to stay where they were and ran after her. I managed to catch her and in return, she bit me. I immediately called the coordinator and reported this. After the class, I went to speak to her father who didn’t scold her just said Oh, Maria! You can’t bite people! And that’s it. The problem wasn’t solved, and from what I heard she bit the coordinator, too. Just on a different day. It was just a one-time thing, but it left me mentally scarred (physically, I was okay).

Non-natives to teach children

I’m very sad to say this, but I have noticed this pattern and was affected by it, too. Native speakers (even those without any experience or qualifications) are given more advanced classes, while certified non-natives get to teach the kids because, as I said before, the children don’t know any better. Just have a class and then do some crafts. It’s good enough.

Being close

Children need to be close to other people, and you need to be ready for that. Mentalize that kids may randomly hug you, will try to sit on your lap and at times try to kiss you! It happens a lot, especially in Spain. My advice is to go with it, obviously don’t cross any lines, but don’t make it weird either. Kids don’t see it as a bad thing. They get to spend two hours a week with you, they have fun with you and want you to know that you matter to them.

As I mentioned before, I assisted children in the toilet. I didn’t think it was a part of my job, but at the same time, I didn’t mind that. However, one of my colleagues felt it was wrong and refused to do that, to avoid any problems. To that I say, it’s only weird because you make it weird. Act cool and everything’s going to be fine. If it worries you that much, maybe talk about it with your DOS or the parents.

Learning how to plan for YL

I have talked about this before in Is it possible to plan for very young learners. Planning for kids is so much different from planning for adults. For starters, you need to over-plan just in case. Children will give you immediate feedback on any activity they love or hate. And oh boy, if they hate what they are doing, it feels awful. Especially, if you had spent hours thinking about it. However, you need to go with the flow and adapt your plans as you go. With adults, the situation is a bit different, as they normally won’t complain to you about an activity that turned out to be a flop. It makes it a bit less stressful.

It’s good to prepare a range of activities, a mix of stirrers and settlers, to give the appropriate amount of stimulus for YL to learn. It’s good to have some reading and colouring time, mixed in with some singing and dancing, maybe some crafts, followed by some kinesthetic tasks. It’s a journey, but the truth be told, a successful YL class will pass quicker than you expect! And if you over-plan, don’t worry about it. You can use those activities in the next class.

Lack of resources

Once I had it all figured out and I knew how to prepare a class for the YLs, other problems started showing up. One of them was a lack of resources. I needed plenty of materials to make classes engaging and memorable. Unfortunately, I was teaching in a village that was far away from the academy (where all the resources were), so if I had to improvise, I couldn’t. I started buying a lot of materials and paying for them out of my pocket, a practice that I don’t do anymore. So if you ever find yourself teaching children, ask for the basics – coloured paper, crayons, markers, glue, scissors, pencils and rubbers. That’s the minimum that you need to have!

Despite all the negatives, teaching YLs can be very satisfying. Once you get to know the little ones, they will show you affection and gratitude like no one else. I can’t tell you the number of drawings and little gifts I received over my time teaching kids. Plus the biggest advantage of teaching children is the fact that you can go completely crazy, let loose and play so many cool games that you are otherwise too old to play!

If you feel like you need more practice on teaching YLs, you should look into IH Certificate in Teaching Young Learners and Teenagers. I haven’t done it myself, but I heard that it’s quite useful. You learn some theory and at the same time, you are being assessed on your teaching. You finish the course with a certificate that will give you leverage when looking for new jobs. Remember that in Spain, ESL teachers will have to teach YLs 99% of the time!

Thanks, but no thanks!

When you first start teaching, saying ‘NO’ will be one of the most challenging things you will have to do. There are so many situations that come to mind when I should have said no, but didn’t and regretted it instantly. I also remember the very first time I stood up for myself and then needed to take a minute to relax as it took a whole lot from me. Here are a few times when you should stand your ground and say, loudly and proudly – Thanks, but no thanks!

I remember teaching for the first time, and the thought of disagreeing with my boss made me shake like a leaf. One of my colleagues always firmly stood his ground. He never did overtime and even dared to ask for days off to enjoy long weekends! I thought that he was crazy. Now I start to understand him a bit more. I think he was just very confident and knew his worth. Something that I learnt with time and started implementing a few years later. Here are some things that I can say a hard ‘no’ to, some things that I started being a bit more vocal about, and some others that are still growing on me (it takes time!)

Knowing your worth

I feel like teaching is often seen as doing someone a favour. Many employers in Spain will give you the minimum teaching wage, act as if you’re incredibly overpaid, and you should thank them for hiring you on every single occasion. First of all, you got hired because of your skills. Whether they are your teaching skills, your impressive resume, or you know how to convince someone at an interview – you still got the job.

There was one time when I didn’t agree to an hourly rate. One language academy offered me 6 hours a week teaching English at a company for 9 euros an hour. It was six months after I’d started teaching, and I already had a better-paid job, working every evening. This job didn’t clash with my previous one, but it started at 8 o’clock in the morning. I couldn’t imagine waking up early and working until 9 or 10 o’clock at night. So I said no. The bags under my eyes have a higher price.

Now that I work on my own and am responsible for finding students, I stay away from anyone who wants economic classes for 8 euros an hour! (I’ve seen PLENTY of students asking for this price, or even less) I have my price, and I am quite happy with it. I always tell myself that it includes more than just the teaching time. It’s also preparation, my materials, my knowledge and of course, the class itself.

Doing things you aren’t uncomfortable with

When you first start, you’ll most likely take any lessons given to you. You’ll realize that being an ESL teacher in Spain means being an expert at teaching all levels and ages, and knowing about all types of English exams. I’m not the biggest fan of teaching VYLs. I think that hiring an inexperienced person to teach a group of 3-year-olds is unethical and unfair for the kids and the parents who pay for these lessons! Unfortunately, most likely you won’t have a choice.

Last year I signed a contract to be one of the main teachers at a private academy. I was told that I was going to have my classroom, teach all ages, including 5 year-olds, but in small groups. On my first day, I realized that it wasn’t entirely true. On my schedule, I saw a mysterious place that I was asked to go to every day before my contract hours. As it turned out it was a private school where I was teaching a middle-sized group of VYLs. This was a temporary situation that lasted three weeks, and I hated every single second of it. After the agony period, my boss offered three hours a week over there – I’ve never said no faster in my life. I needed to explain my decision, but I didn’t care because my misery was finally over.

Choosing your students

The first thing I did when I decided to go solo, I texted my previous students if they wanted to continue working with me. Even though I was in a difficult position and beggars can’t be choosers, I was a chooser. I didn’t message every single one of them. I thought about everyone I’d taught before and made a list (sorry, not sorry!). I crafted a message and sent it their way. I knew that some of them weren’t going to be interested, so I only asked them to write short reviews on my superprof profile. This mission wasn’t either a success or a failure. It was just right.

Another story is regarding choosing brand new students. I always offer the very first class for free. Maybe it’s my fault, but I want everyone to be happy about the situation. I want my students to know what they are paying for, so they get to decide at the end of the trial lesson to either commit or keep on searching. However, it got me thinking – what if I don’t like them after the trial lesson. Could I be the one saying goodbye? I know that I have more to lose in that situation, but at the same time, there is no point forcing a relationship that makes us physically and mentally exhausted. It hasn’t happened to me YET, but I’ll report on it when it does.

Using your personal things in class

At my first job, I was asked to use my own laptop in class. I agreed because I didn’t know any better. In hindsight, this experience shortened the life of my computer, and I was the one paying the price. Now, I don’t agree to bring my personal belongings anywhere, unless it’s for my private classes or it’s my idea to do so. If an academy doesn’t offer the basic devices, that’s a hard pass.

I would often spend my money to buy classroom materials and get no refund in the end! Now that I think about those days, it makes my skin crawl. I just wanted to have cool lessons with interesting things. I tried. I still believe that teaching English to children requires more than just a book and a pencil. In retrospect, my heart was in the right place, but I don’t think I was paid enough to do that.

Covering a class without any preparation

one too many times. At first, when someone wanted me to cover a class, I’d agree without thinking. However, I reached the limit pretty quickly when I was asked to substitute without any prior knowledge of the group (i.e. the size and what they’d done). I entered the room and had to improvise. You can improvise for a little bit, but if you have to do it for a few hours without stopping, you get exhausted quickly. That was the moment when I set clear boundaries – if the cover isn’t an emergency, you need to tell me in advance. I ask for a plan or the most basic outline of the class. I need some time to read it, think about the way I can approach it, and have something that I can report on afterwards.

Working outside your hours

Some jobs ask you to participate in unpaid meetings! I did that and here’s the kicker – the majority of the meetings weren’t even about teaching or my students. They were general meetings about the academy and its future. I was under the impression that I was getting paid for my time there. However, once the teachers started a little revolution and all the meetings got cancelled (sadly), I realized that my salary stayed the same! This means that I did HOURS of extra work for free (I guess I can put it as volunteering on my resume). Once every three months, we were also expected to come on Saturday and work for free. I didn’t do it, but I know that others did.

However, working outside your teaching hours also affects you when you work on your own. I think that it’s important to set some time for being with your family, relaxing and doing absolutely nothing. Just because you are freelancing, doesn’t mean that you can’t have some free time. Unfortunately, I’m guilty of it, too. I’d promised myself that I wouldn’t teach at the weekends. Well…the truth is – I do. It’s not a regular thing, but there are times that I have an hour or two, on Saturday or Sunday mornings! I still need to work on it, but it’s difficult to be judgemental of your boss when the boss is you!

Doing inconvenient things

Last year, I spent 10 hours a week commuting. 10 hours! It didn’t bother me back then, but it does now. I didn’t mind driving and I entertained myself with true crime and mystery podcasts, but it’s 10 hours a week that I could have spent in so many other ways. It makes me even angrier when I think about this time as a whole – 350 hours in the academic year! 350 hours = 14.5 days. The truth be told, this was one of the major factors that swayed me into teaching online.

Another thing I was asked to do, was to stay 2 hours after the meeting to teach children in a private school. Double no. This arrangement ended after a short period. I was also offered classes in the morning and the afternoon. Since I didn’t live next to the academy, and it took me an hour one way to commute, I immediately declined. There is no price that you can put on that wasted time I would have in between.

Going outside your comfort zone

I don’t fully agree with this statement, but there are times when we need to know when to say no. I think that it’s good to come out of your comfort zone from time to time. When one of my students asked me to help him study for his fishing industry exam, I agreed. I had time and more than anything, I wanted him to succeed. It expanded my current vocabulary and knowledge and gave me a break from Cambridge exam preparation.

On the other hand, recently I was put in a similar position but with a different student. I met a girl who wanted me to help her prepare for her university exam on the history and types of insurance. Looking at her notes didn’t motivate me. Quite the opposite actually. I got an immediate headache thinking about the time I need to put into helping her. I felt that it was going to take more time than necessary for the price that wasn’t appropriate for this type of commitment. Maybe next time!

I think that we all need to know our worth and limits. There are still so many things that I need to learn, but I think I’m slowly getting there! When do you say ‘no’ to a student or an employer?

These are a few of my favourite things

The year is coming to an end! It’s been a difficult year, full of changes and new beginnings. I’m happy that it also marks my six months of blogging. Over 2000 of you have entered my website, and hopefully, found in here some useful information. In this last post of 2021, I’d like to share with you my personal favourites, people and places that I visit frequently and often get inspired by.

Without any further ado, let me tell you about my favourite books, textbooks, platforms and people who have got me through this year and filled my head with so many incredible ideas!

Books for teachers

My all-time favourite grammar book that I open at least once a week is Teaching English Grammar – What to Teach and How to Teach It by Jim Scrivener. Whenever I look for a strong lead-in, I immediately go for this book. It’s more than just lead-ins. Each section goes over practice tasks, games and also the most common errors. I learnt about this book a while back but started using it on CELTA. I think what I truly love about this book is its simplicity and range of topics. The book was published in 2010 and some of the tasks need to be adapted to modern times or online teaching, but it’s a great point to start preparing for any lesson.

Coursebook

This title surely goes to English File 4th edition by Oxford University Press. I was introduced to this coursebook last year by no one else but the best DOS I’ve ever had. Gemma swore by these books and it’s hard to disagree with her. If I need to find inspiration or solid and engaging tasks, I always open one of their books. First of all, the range of levels available is overwhelming, all the way from A1/A2 to C1.2. All the topics are interesting, and one short speaking exercise can fill the whole class. What I love the most is their unique and refreshing grammar approach. They stay away from the typical grammar separation you see in other books. Students respond so well to that and not only them! Everything is so well-explained that I often feel like I learn something new each time!

Teacher on YouTube

Anyone who teaches online or needs to up their technology game should head to Charlie’s lessons on YouTube. This man has got everything – knowledge, charisma, sense of humour…What I particularly enjoyed was his series of YT shorts called Websites English Teachers should know. I don’t know about you, but I tend to use the same websites over and over again (looking at you Baamboozle!). Even though I love them, and it’s so easy to find something great over there, I feel like students need some variation. The problem is that it’s not a walk in the park to find a website that is as engaging as Kahoot or Wordwall. Charlie solves this problem for you. Not only that, he manages to give you a full tutorial in less than one minute! Here is a sneak peek at one of his shorts. I highly recommend visiting his YT Channel because it’s an endless source of ESL knowledge.

Teachers on WordPress

There are so many TEFL teachers out there that it’s almost impossible to pinpoint the one that I like the most. The truth is that I follow many teachers and gain inspiration from every single one of them. Instead, let me share with you blog posts that I thought were top-notch.

My all-time favourite blog post of this year was Questions about teaching Very Young Learners (aged 2-5) by Sandy Millin. I’ve said that before and I’ll say it again – I wish I had had this post with all its resources when I first started teaching VYLs. As an inspiring ESL blogger, I found this post to be a top example of what blogging is about. First of all, the research and sourcing of materials used in the blog is another level. From the perspective of a reader or an ESL teacher, it’s got everything you may need – the post starts with the idea of teaching VYLs, ways of dealing with children and a plethora of activities that you can follow. Sandy is an experienced teacher, and all of her posts are worth checking out.

Teacher Influencer

When I first started blogging, I wasn’t sure how to find my people and stand out from the overcrowded ESL teachers community. I started by looking for different people on Instagram. Amongst so many ESL teachers, some of them drew my attention. Let me start with the Dogme expert – teaching_with_tracey. I tend to overprepare for classes and still get nervous when I don’t have everything planned to the minute. Tracey does the opposite. She shows great low/no preparation ideas and talks about going with the flow. Hopefully, with some more time and experience, I will reach this level of confidence!

As a non-native speaker, I often get stressed about being not good enough. That’s why I love seeing other ESL teachers like me who are great, professional and well-respected. That’s why when I learnt about the_non_native_speaker I went through her whole content immediately. She isn’t afraid to speak up and deals with the injustice of native-speakrism. I truly relate to her and this problem as I’m frequently surrounded by native speakers with no experience who are being praised for their place of birth. Meri motivates me to move past this issue and continue being myself.

Tools

Since I’ve completely transitioned into working online, I decided to abandon my good ol’ paper agenda and started recording everything I do on the laptop. As stupid as it sounds, Microsoft Calendar is just the best. It motivates me to see students slowly filling my schedule while helping me stay organized. I also started using Microsoft To-Do. I open it every day, organize my lesson planning and note any new blog post ideas.

As for my blogging and digital resource making, I wouldn’t get this far without Grammarly and Canva. All my Instagram posts are made with the simplest version of Canva. It also helps me create unique worksheets and presentations that I, later on, share or sell on Teachers pay Teachers. Grammarly is like a friend that doesn’t complain about proofreading my writing. It’s so hard to read your material and it’s even more difficult to see your mistakes! I usually draft all the blog posts in WordPress and then go paragraph by paragraph in Grammarly. For sure, it would have been much easier and faster to do it with the paid version of Grammarly, but it’s somewhat stimulating to go over all the yellow lines and try different ways of correcting them.

From me to me

To end this post, I think I should acknowledge some of the things that I’ve created and are my favourites. First of all, I feel extremely proud of my B1 Christmas themed speaking and B2 Halloween themed speaking. They were a huge hit and got recognized by so many of you. These were the posts that went viral and made me feel that maybe I’m doing it for a reason. Another post was about The flakiness of adult students that encouraged many ESL teachers to message me and share their own experiences. It made me realize that I’m not alone in this difficult ESL teaching world and showed me that many people understood my everyday battle.

So these are a few of my favourite things! Let me know if you agree with them and what else you would add to the list! Thank you for being with me and I hope that next year will be even better!

Hope to see you again in 2022!

Videoconferencing software

Once you decide to work online, you are faced with one of the most important questions. What is the best video conferencing software out there? The choice is endless and it seems that every day, it gets bigger. My platform of choice is Zoom, but I adapt to the students and academies I work for. I’d like to present and compare three video conference platforms I currently use – Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype.

I believe that choosing the best online teaching platform is the key to success. You want software that you are most comfortable and confident with. One that gives a lot of options but at the same time isn’t overwhelming for the users. When I first started teaching online, I wanted to limit myself to one platform only. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the reality. At first, I wasn’t too thrilled about being using different software. It can be a bit confusing and requires more preparation and watching tutorials for each one. However, after a few months, I came to terms with it and started enjoying this variation.

Zoom

My first and obvious choice was Zoom. It’s the most commonly used platform in Spain. All the students know and understand it, which means that I need to spend less time explaining its features. If you teach 1:1 classes, it’s a great option, as you can enjoy basic features without any issues. The problems appear if you have more than one student in your online group. The free Zoom version has a 40 minutes time limit for conferences with more than two participants (click here to check all Zoom plans). On top of that, the free version doesn’t offer breakout rooms or any other ‘fun’ options that you may want to use from time to time. It’s a safe and quick solution, as all the rooms are password-protected, so you offer some form of safety.

One of my all-time favourite Zoom features is annotations! Last year I taught hybrid classes to YL. It’s quite easy to control the input and work of in-class students, but I struggled with the online ones. I spent a solid chunk of my class, explaining different Zoom ‘fun’ tools. Of course, we often drew together on the whiteboard or played pictionary, but I needed something more. That’s when I realized that my online students can prove their participation by writing their answers on the screen! This tool made my in-class students a bit jealous, but it also convinced a few of them that online classes can be an option in case they can’t be physically present at the academy.

Here’s an example of how I used to use annotations while making sure that students follow the lesson. The exercise is taken from Kid’s Box 4 workbook by Cambridge University Press.

Zoom’s ability to share the sound without sharing the screen is something that I appreciate a lot. It’s also one of the functions that either doesn’t exist, or I simply can’t figure it out when using other programs. There are times that I want to observe my students as they’re listening to see how they feel about certain parts of it. As I write it, I can hear my CELTA tutor saying that my intuition doesn’t mean hard evidence. I beg to differ! In a typical classroom setting, we can easily observe students and notice the parts they find easy and the parts that they struggle with. If I have to share the screen to share the sound, obviously the videos get smaller! If you have a larger group, some of your students may disappear from your view. That’s why I want to see all my students while they complete a listening task. In this way, I get a better sense of what they may need help with.

I guess my main issue with Zoom is the lack of permanent chat. I often ask my students to write their answers in the chat, or I write new words with their definitions, for everyone to see and remember anything new. However, once you end the meeting, everything that you’ve created disappears. It is possible to save it, but more often than not, I forget to do it.

If all of your students use Zoom and you want to keep it that way, then I would suggest looking into paid plans. Paid versions start from €13.99 per month.

Microsoft Teams

To be perfectly honest, when I first started using Microsoft Teams in May 2020, I hated everything about it. Around the same time, I used to teach via Zoom, and everything about this software seemed so overcomplicated. I must say that I quite enjoy it now, and it is one of my favourite teaching platforms right now, especially when dealing with groups.

Microsoft Teams has it all. First of all, you can keep in touch with your students, individually or in groups, all in one place! Chatting feels much more personal and less formal than emailing. Another great feature is a permanent chat, which I often use to control spelling, seeing sentence structure, or writing new vocabulary. It’s a good way to engage all your students and make sure that everyone pays attention.

Moreover, you can assign and store all homework on the platform. No more lost papers and emails! This program is so massive that I’m yet to discover the plethora of ‘hidden’ functions. If you have large groups, you can control the attendance and the statistics of all the late-comers.

In regards to the class itself, I used to be very unhappy and chose Zoom over Teams for one simple reason – no breakout rooms. That’s not a problem anymore. They aren’t as intuitive to use as in Zoom, but it’s not rocket science, and with just a few minutes of playing around, you can figure out your way around them.

There are a few things that I would have to complain about. First of all, the bugs. My typical problem is with the built-in whiteboard. I can see and use it without any issues, but more often than not, my students see nothing. Unfortunately, it seems that once this error occurs, the only way to fix it is by restarting the meeting, which let’s be honest, isn’t the best option. Another complaint is about sharing computer sound on its own. It seems that there is no other way of sharing the sound without showing my screen. If there is a way, then I assure you, it’s not easy to find!

Despite some drawbacks, Microsoft Teams is becoming my favourite video conference software to use with small groups. Oh, did I say that you can also record and then share the recording with the rest of the team? No more ‘Sorry, but I was absent’ excuses! Your students can rewatch the video at any given time, and if you work for a company, your boss can check how it’s going without being too invasive. Most importantly, it’s not that expensive. The full version of Microsoft Teams costs €10.50 per month per user. This price includes full access to Microsoft Office 365, so overall it seems like a better deal than Zoom (click here to check all the paid plans and what they offer). 

Skype

Now, that’s something I didn’t think I would use ever again. Skype – the video conference platform that I used to use before it was cool. The same platform that I forgot about for many years. Yet, here I am using it again! To accommodate all of my students, I always suggest my platform of choice, but as it turns out, not everyone is familiar with Zoom. One of my student, originally from Russia, said that she is more familiar with Skype. I agreed.

I must say, many things have changed since I used it years ago. The design of the programme looks the same. Imagine my surprise when I connected for the first time, I listened to the classic Skype connecting music and began my lesson. I quickly realized that the free Skype version is trying to compete with the big guns out there. It’s possible to share your screen and sound now! Just like in the case of Microsoft Teams, there is no way of sharing the sound without sharing the screen. It’s a shame, but I guess it’s not too bad.

With Skype what you see, is what you get. There is no full version of Skype per se, but you can invest in the Skype for Business account. I haven’t explored this idea too much, and to be completely frank, I don’t think I will. In the free version, you can call up to 99 people (at the same time!) and continue talking without any limits for 24 hours. There are no breakout rooms, so maybe it’s not the best option to use it to teach groups. I guess if you don’t want to spend money or can’t afford the paid Zoom or Teams subscription, Skype is a good alternative to teach small groups, up to 3 people. In this way, you avoid the need to create breakout rooms and still get to enjoy a positive video conference experience.

Another issue is the lack of a built-in whiteboard. My solution to this problem is to go to my trusty online whiteboard and share my screen. It’s not an interactive experience, but it is an experience nonetheless. The good thing is the chat! I miss that dearly in Zoom. I can always write a quick message, share any files or links. They stay there forever and can be accessed at any given time.

Did I mention that it also has a built-in speech recognition with subtitles? It can be a fun feature to play with, but take it with a grain of salt. It comes with some errors!

That’s almost what I said.

Preply

Ever since I started my solo journey, every day felt like a battle that I seemed to be losing. I was trying desperately to get new students when I saw a post by Martin Sketchley in which he talked about his statistics on Preply. I got somewhat interested, as Martin is a professional and wouldn’t use a non-reputable website, but also because once again – I needed new students! I first created my Preply profile in January 2022 and then got stuck for a month on a video. I finally found some motivation, sat down and recorded the video, sent it to Preply and decided to forget about it as I didn’t want to be too disappointed. Much to my surprise, my profile got approved the very next day.

Preply is relatively simple to use. First of all, you create your profile for free, so even if you aren’t too successful at getting students, you don’t experience any losses. Another great thing is that you don’t need any special software to use it. All you need to do is open the browser, enter the classroom, and you are good to go. By now, I have had more than 10 hours on Preply, and I am happy with the quality of service and the tools it offers.

The best tool is the instant booking feature. I never liked talking to my potential students and trying to sell myself. For a change, I don’t have to do too much. I get a notification on my phone/email saying that I got a lesson booked, and all I need to do is prepare myself and show up. Within the first 48 hours of being on the platform, I booked seven trial lessons and raised my prices by $10. Now my calendar is full, and I finally feel like what I do is worth it. I even got overwhelmed and made my profile invisible as it felt like I won’t have enough time to relax.

Another available feature is a set of built-in courses that technically should help you skip lesson planning. It’s all great in theory, but from what I’ve gathered so far – not many students enjoy it. I have toyed with this idea of just opening a course and speaking for an hour, but most of my Preply students want me to go over grammar points with them – just like they did at school! I try to stay away from it and make it a bit more fun and interactive, but those who have used Preply before and followed the courses told me that they are useful but a bit repetitive. Lucky for me, I have plenty of resources and ready-to-go materials that need just a tiny bit of change, so even though I have a lot of new students, I can provide them with a high-quality service.

There are some buts. First of all, students pay for all trial lessons, and 100% of it goes to Preply. Then for the first 20 hours, the commission is 33%! As I wanted to get new students, I asked for a price lower than usual and needless to say, I am making peanuts compared to my other classes that I do on my own.

Remember how I said that it’s so great that I don’t need to talk to my students before they book me? Yeah, it’s not all that great. On my profile, it clearly says that I offer classes for teenagers and adults. I have decided that since I work on my own, I don’t want to teach children online. As it turns out, not everyone likes to read those pesky descriptions, and I got booked to teach a child. I always message my students to tell me something about themselves, and when I found out that these were lessons for a kid, I had to decline. Of course, people are understanding, but it adds a little bit of anxiety.

From the technical point of view, Preply is great, but not my favourite. I love that the calendar is well-organised, but I can’t reserve some of the future scheduled classes ahead of time. I have a few students who became regulars on Preply and like their routine. Unfortunately, they usually schedule two weeks in advance, so someone else may steal their spot. I managed to find a solution for it. I have informed my students that their favourite hours are available only for them, but since I wanted to avoid someone else taking that time, I blocked them for everyone. If my students want to book a class, they normally schedule it at a different time, and then I reschedule it for their proper time. It’s a bit of a hassle, but I guess it makes some of my students feel special that I have dedicated this time just for them.

And don’t get me started on screen sharing! I love screen/sound sharing on Zoom. It is so simple! That’s why when I see the Preply share window, it instantly gives me a headache. When I entered the classroom on my own and tried sharing a separate screen, it worked well. However, when I wanted to do the same in class, of course, this option conveniently disappeared. I also enjoy sharing sound only from time to time. Guess what? If you want to listen to something on Preply, you need to share your entire screen to do that. Very inconvenient.

I try avoiding screen sharing on Preply at all costs, as it makes everything look just wrong. This is why I started using their built-in whiteboard. This is something that I normally wouldn’t do on Zoom, but may get into it soon enough. I now copy and paste pictures, diagrams, write important information and most importantly, encourage my students to use this feature with me. I feel like it makes classes way more interactive, and I can see them doing all the work. It can get a bit annoying at times, but we are still learning!

Final thoughts

The type of video conference platform depends on learners’ preferences, class types and number of people. Right now, I’m going to stick to the combination of those three platforms and see how the situation develops with time. Do you know of any easy-to-use and relatively cheap solution that would satisfy all of my current teaching needs? What platforms do you use?

Technical language vs. ESL

ESL teachers are expected to know all about the language. Of course, we have no problems explaining grammar, preparing for the exams and of course, going over the most commonly used vocabulary. What happens when you have to teach something you have no expertise on? Should ESL teachers have any other educational background to be more valuable?

One of my students has been preparing for the B1 Cambridge exam.
We’ve been working on all the exam tasks. We practised describing pictures, writing emails, and most importantly, answering according to the key! There are times when I question the accuracy of those exams and if this certificate verifies students abilities to function in the “real” world of English speaking. That’s why when I was asked to leave the exam preparation for two weeks and focus on helping with the fishing school exam preparations, I happily agreed.

I know nothing about fishing vessels, different types of fishing methods and gear used for each one of them. That’s why I started by studying the coursebook on my own. Since it is an adult evening school, there are students of all English levels, ranging from A1 to B2. Although the level is quite low, I found it quite challenging for one main reason – there were many new words to understand and memorise. The coursebook is packed with new vocabulary and explanations. It made me feel quite overwhelmed, so I decided to make a set of worksheets with definitions and pictures. If you are interested in those activities, you can download them for free (with answers!!) at the end of this post.

We went over all the worksheets I’ve prepared and supplemented them with free-hand drawings. I know my most effective way of studying and memorising new material. As my objective is for him to pass the exam, I wanted to give him a variety of different studying methods to make this experience pleasant and useful.

Apart from the ship parts and types of netting, we also revised the types of fish that they are designed to catch and their overall impact on the environment. This student is quite shy and it takes some effort to interest him in any topic. However, this time was a bit different. For the first time in a long time, I saw him genuinely excited about the class. He was happy to label all the pictures and even proceeded by explaining to me the environmental impact and the legal problems with the fishing methods.

Even though it took me a long time to prepare for this class and even longer to learn the new vocabulary, I realised one important thing – my educational background in environmental engineering, definitely helped me understand the topic. First of all, I enjoyed the challenge. Second of all, it reminded me of the marine science course I took in the first year of my master’s degree. I noticed that I was able to engage in a meaningful discussion on the fishing gear and its impact on the environment.

We finished with a discussion about this exam revision. I apologised to him for my lack of knowledge on the matter. I explained that I really tried my best to understand and give him an accurate description of the fishing industry, but I still wanted him to fact check some of the things we talked about. He told me that he appreciated my effort and that it helped him a lot (mostly because he didn’t have to study on his own). Then told me something that truly shocked me…his current technical English teacher doesn’t know anything about the fishing industry and what’s even scarier, apparently she doesn’t know much about the language either. She has a B1 level and all of their lessons are done in Spanish.

How is that even possible? How can a person with a low language level and no technical background be responsible for the education of a group of people? In my opinion, at the end of this course, the students will be able to point to different fishing-related objects and name them, but nothing more than that. These classes won’t prepare them to work in an international environment in the future.

I think that the best combination is to have an ESL teacher with additional educational background. My ESL experience helped me prepare a successful set of revision notes that also focus on possible exam questions. My scientific background helped me focus on the utility of this studying material. I didn’t want to focus on vocabulary only. I wanted to also categorize the items based on their functions.

We still have a few revision classes left. One of them will focus on writing a job application for a fishing expert and an oyster harvester. I’m so happy that I got a chance to work on something slightly different. It woke me up from the Cambridge preparation slumber and doing the same activities over and over again. Most importantly, it gave me the feeling of doing something relevant. I enjoyed getting back into the science mode and refreshing some knowledge obtained in the master’s degree.

What do you normally teach? Do you focus on the exam preparation or do you also dip your toes in more technical or scientific topics? If you are interested in seeing my worksheets, click the links below and get the worksheets with the answers for free