Move your private lessons online

Sunday, July 5, 2020 Blog post author: Lauren Lauren
Move your private lessons online

5 conversations to have with your students before making the shift

Have health precautions forced you to stop giving one-on-one lessons? No need to start looking for online teaching jobs, you can create your own.

If you’re a private language instructor who is no longer able to meet with your students in person because of COVID-19 physical distancing measures, here are a few points you should touch on to help you transition to online lessons.

There has been a lot of competition between the different video chat software telling us how easy it is to keep in touch with their tools and technology. Demiks also has a suite of services and online teaching platforms to help you start your own teaching business online. But before you can get to those steps, you need to check in with your students to see where they’re at.

I’ve been teaching English for six years in Montreal. This is my first year of teaching English online. My one-on-one students and I typically meet in a quiet café for our lessons. With cafés closed and in-person meetings strongly discouraged, I’ve had to make the conversion to online teaching. I’ll be honest with you, online teaching is not my number one choice. Over the years I’ve been sent hundreds of recruiting messages from companies offering me supposed piles of money for teaching ESL online… at 4 AM. I never took the bait.

In Person Lessons vs Online

Like me, you and your students probably opted for in-person lessons for a reason. Comprehension through a speaker and a screen can be a real challenge for language learners, so it’s important you take the time and steps to make a setup that works for you and your students. If you take the time to set it up right, maybe you’ll learn to love the no-commute lifestyle of an online language teacher!

In making the transition to teaching online, there are a number of important things to consider:

  1. The physical and mental well-being of you and your student within the context of the pandemic
  2. How you will communicate with your student
  3. The ‘’classroom’’ materials you can use

1. How are you holding up?

This question applies to both of you. Despite the claims of the constant refrain in mainstream marketing of ‘’We’re all in this together,’’ we’re all in this, but differently. After you’ve checked in with yourself and feel ready to dive into the world of online teaching, you can talk to your students and get the lay of the land.

When you reach out to your students to see if they are interested in continuing lessons online, find out how they are doing? That sounds obvious, but for many people, this is a period of job-loss, health concerns, family concerns, emotional difficulty, issues at home, and worries for immigration status.

Take a moment to listen and to get to know their current situation. Are they healthy and safe? What is their home-situation (are there children they need to care for, a partner, noisy roommates)? Are they able to communicate with their family? As I’m sure you yourself have experienced over these past months, emotional strain and stress can do a real number on your concentration. Some people are looking for a distraction from the virus talk. Some people are looking for someone to sink into the headlines with them. This temperature check with your student will help you to establish:

  1. If they are mentally capable of continuing lessons online right now
  2. What kind of content you want to prioritize and to avoid for their lessons
  3. Are there any changes you might recommend to help them continue their learning

2. How go the goals?

Maybe your student was working towards an IELTS exam, prepping for a job interview, working through a school course, learning English for a big trip to Ireland - how have these goals and timelines changed? For some, they may be the same, but some students may have experienced a shift in priorities for the time being. For others, the exam may have been postponed, the trip cancelled, the job opening closed. You and I both know language learning is never wasted, even if the goals have shifted, but we also know that these goals can be essential motivators for language learners.

Talk to your student about how you can adapt the course content in light of their shifted goals.

Language Learning Goals

For example, if your student was learning English for travelling Ireland, perhaps you can go on a cultural journey together working towards a new goal of watching The Commitments without subtitles, transcribing a Van Morrison song, or reading some of James Joyce’s Dubliners.

3. What’s up at the bank?

Typically, online lessons are cheaper than in-person lessons. Because no time or budget needs to be allocated for transportation, people may expect to pay less for online lessons. For those of us transitioning to online because of external pressure, and not because of choosing to work from home, this can be a little touchy. Ultimately, it will depend on your student.

If you know your student is facing financial difficulties due to COVID-19 layoffs, you may want to propose a different pay structure. This, of course, will also depend on your situation. If you are in a position which allows you to lower your hourly rates for online lessons, you may want to do that in order to keep a student.

The most important thing is setting a rate that you are comfortable with and clearly communicating the conditions. For example, you may say to your student that you can reduce your hourly rate by the cost of transportation you would normally spend on a lesson. Alternatively, you can propose a reduced rate for a fixed period and then revisit the discussion at the pre-arranged time.

Students who have not been negatively impacted financially will likely be fine to continue paying their normal fees. This was the case for a lot of my students. What’s important here is making sure you know the deal before you start searching “How to use Zoom for online teaching.” A friendly and easy way of approaching this subject is by verifying payment methods.

Take a minute to just confirm your payment expectations with your student (both method and schedule). Prior to going online, half of my students were paying cash and half were paying by e-transfer. All of them were paying one lesson at a time. For the cash students, I asked if they were able to switch to e-transfer and for the others, I let them know they were fine to transfer the money at the end of each lesson.

4. Is time on their side?

This has been some kind of time warp, hasn’t it? For some people, working from home may have affected their availability. Maybe they split child care time with their partner, maybe they were working nights, but now they’re up in the day. Check to see if any changes need to be (and can be) made for scheduling. Maybe they have more free time and want to double-down on their language efforts. Maybe they can’t concentrate more than 20 minutes at a time and want to switch from one long lesson a week to a few shorter ones. See what can work for both of you.

5. Show me what you’re working with

For video lessons to work, your student needs to have access to a computer with a camera and microphone (can be built-in) and a reliable internet connection. Although Zoom, Skype, Google Meet and other video conferencing tools can be used on most smartphones, video conferencing on the phone will present some restrictions.

Find out what your student has available to them at home to help you plan what kind of lessons you can offer. For example, they have a weaker connection, screen-sharing may be a headache so maybe you need to develop a system of sending them materials before a lesson.

If your student does not have access to a reliable internet connection and computer, you can also propose lessons by telephone. If you do choose this route, I would recommend readjusting the length of your lessons.

online language class means of communication

For example, I had a student a few years ago who was doing conversation classes for professional advancement. Initially, we would meet once a week for a ninety minute lesson. In time, her work schedule and her goals changed significantly, so we started to do phone lessons during her lunch break four days a week and meet in-person once a week. The phone lessons were only fifteen to twenty minutes because it was quite a bit more challenging for her to understand corrections through the phone - particularly when it came to pronunciation or teaching those elusive minimal pairs.

The phone lessons allowed her to meet her goal of practicing her oral language skills daily, but were short enough to avoid frustration. I would take notes from our calls and either send her some information by email, or revisit difficulties from the calls in our face-to-face meeting. In the current context, phone lessons can be supplemented by exercises or prompts sent in advance of the phone calls.

Let me know if there are any questions I missed in the comments section below. Times are changing, but we’re all learning. Whether you’re teaching ESL online or moving your private tutoring to the web, let us know what is and is not working for you!

If you are a language teacher looking to start teaching online or maybe looking to grow your private lessons into your own small business, check out Demiks for Teachers to get started!
Blog post author: Lauren
Lauren Clinton is an English language instructor, PR consultant, translator, and editor based in Montreal. She has lived, learned, and played music all around Canada and beyond.

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