Do online platforms promote ‘lazy’ teaching?

Nowadays, with the online teaching platforms springing up like mushrooms, anyone who speaks English can become an EFL teacher. Even though having a teaching certificate can give you leverage over other unqualified teachers, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be successful with it. For many, teaching online is a side hustle and an easy way to make some extra cash.

The other day, one of my students stayed with me a bit long on a videocall and gave me a much-needed performance review. He told me what he enjoys about our lessons and how he thinks they are helping him on a day-to-day basis. I always prepare for my lessons. For some of my students, I create presentations and files to keep them engaged, have visual stimulus and in case of lower levels, allow them to understand everything I say. For others, I prepare a script and put things on the whiteboard to make the classes interactive.

Going through coursebooks, searching for useful materials and class preparation take a lot of time, but I don’t get discouraged for two simple reasons – positive feedback and visible student progress. Having a list of presentations and ready-to-go lesson plans, calm me down and allow me to reuse and evolve my current resources and lesson structure. No two lessons are identical.

As I wrote a few months ago in The oversaturated market of ESL teaching, currently there are way too many online ESL teachers. However, I think I’ll let my Preply ratings speak for themselves. Up until this point, all of my students liked my lessons. They were always kind enough to give me feedback and discuss with me their ever-evolving language needs. This respect for respect strategy motivates me to sit down and adapt to their current demands.

One-to-one lessons

Preply, which is the platform I’ve got the most experience with, provides teachers with a resource library. Even though it seems like a useful tool, I have never used it. The explanation for this is very simple – I don’t think these materials are good enough to fill one whole hour. My idea of the resource library was confirmed during the feedback videocall with the student who has got more experience with the platform than I do. During his time on Preply, he’s completed a few Preply courses, which in his words were interesting at first, but got boring quickly.

I believe that teachers deserve to have free time and they should enjoy teaching. They shouldn’t think about class preparation when they’re off, and it’s rather unrealistic to expect every single class to be filled with high-energy levels and excitement. Like anyone else, teachers have better and worse days and having a resource library can remove some of the stress related to class preparation. Also, not all the teachers have the access to many coursebooks and resources, and they may not want to or they may not be able to invest in some materials. The ready-made courses may bring some kind of structure and logical order of teaching. On top of that, if you like your students to prepare before the lesson, they can complete a set of pre-lesson tasks. It can also give them homework to practise anything you did in class without the need for you to spend your free time correcting endless worksheets.

However, I listened to those audios and let me tell you something – they aren’t good. Imagine two Google Translate voices having a conversation. On top of that, all the classes follow the same order: listening ➡️ reading ➡️ (optional video) ➡️ gap fill ➡️ writing ➡️ speaking (done in class). If all lessons look the same, they tend to be predictable and boring. If you attend a few Preply webinars or complete some of their courses, you can see that even their main tutors, all of them qualified and experienced teachers, supplement their classes with additional sources.

Whether you’re using online resources or your materials, it doesn’t change the fact that you should stay flexible and see where the class takes you. The main complaint of this student was that the tutor blindly followed the questions found in the resource library and stuck with them, even if they didn’t land and the student wasn’t interested in the topic. This is also one of the main reasons why I was so hesitant to use the library, as many times I found the questions a bit confusing and uninteresting. If I’m not excited about the topic, the class isn’t going to be a success. That’s a guarantee.

It’s not all inherently bad. In fact, I often go through their library to check any new topics, look at the structure of the lessons and try to get inspiration when my head is empty. It’s usually a successful method of looking for something good which saves me a lot of time and allows me to stay organised. After all, all those materials were created by a group of professionals.

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Group lessons

As I’ve mentioned many times before, every now and then I teach Group lessons on Preply. I love that I was given this opportunity. It’s a nice and easy way to boost your earnings on slow days. Additionally, you are given all the presentations and lesson plans that you must follow whether you like it or not! I always go through the materials and write a short lesson structure, so I know how to lead this class. However, I’ve got a problem with some email wording. 15 minutes before the class, you receive an email that says that it is your last chance to review your lesson material. In my opinion, 15 minutes may not be enough. Group lessons consist of up to six new students that most likely you’ve never met before. Add the stress of being recorded and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a disaster. In order for the classes to be good, you need to think about the lesson order that suits you, think about perfect pair work moments and also predict some of the mistakes and ways in which you can tackle them. After all, you are going to be rated at the end of the lesson!

I often find mistakes in those presentations, so much so that it became one of my recurring games Spot and correct the error! Another thing is that at times I feel like their grammar explanations are lacking. I tend to add some of my examples or fun facts if there’s enough time and I feel like the students may appreciate my input. It also lets me move smoothly from one topic to another as I know what I want and how I want it. I have some time to think about my instructions, which are crucial in the case of lower levels. So if you think that the students can’t see the difference between a teacher who had a look at the notes and the one who didn’t, you are wrong. Up until this point, I had three students who complained about their past group tutors and said that the classes were a mess.

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Final thoughts

First of all, I should apologise for the clickbaity title. For sure there are many quote-unquote lazy teachers, but I don’t think online platforms intend to promote them. These websites were designed to create a network of teachers and make language learning accessible for everyone. Unfortunately, the process of accepting teachers should be a bit more challenging. Many teachers see it as a side hustle, they often forget about these lessons and give a bad name to those who care.

The internet is full of bad tutor stories. Some come from teachers, who try the platforms they teach on as students, and see first-hand the type of teachers students may be exposed to. I guess it’s important to remember that finding the perfect tutor may take some time. At the end of the day, amongst the plethora of online teachers, only those who put their hearts into their work, stay.

The number one thing I should learn from these websites is to promote student independence. To some degree, I manage to do it, but I’m far from perfection. My classes often focus on speaking with some grammar sprinkled here and there as I believe that certain things can be done on your own. However, I try to be flexible and if I see that they need my help, I devote some time to one particular issue, until I’m sure that my students are confident using it. I often instruct them to study grammar beforehand either by watching some YouTube videos or by referring them to English Grammar in Use 5th edition by Raymond Murphy. I suggest buying the book or downloading an application English Grammar in Use, so they can have a look at some free units with the possibility to invest in a full version.

For now, I’m going to stick to my current teaching style. I enjoy using ready-made plans from websites such as ESLBrainsLinguahouse, or going back to some of my past lessons! There is nothing wrong with using online materials. What matters is the ability to adapt all the materials to your group size and of course needs and interests of your students. I think that this is the key to success and a constant influx of students.

What is your experience teaching/learning online? Do you think it’s possible to find good tutors on the online teaching platforms?