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Today I’m sharing five things I didn’t anticipate would happen when I started teaching English online. I’ve been teaching for over a year now, so it’s been interesting to look back and see how reality matched up with my expectations! While my experience has been overwhelmingly positive, especially in terms of professional development and personal satisfaction with my work, I’ve tried to identify here a few things that truly surprised me.
Pretty much the first unexpected consequence of working online I noticed immediately was an increase in eye strain. I have pretty poor eyesight to begin with, and bright sunlight and screens have always affected me, but I was still surprised that even spending just a few hours a day teaching online made a difference in my eye health! Over time, I realized that there are actually lots of factors at play, like the early morning hours, the bright lights I turn on while I’m teaching, and the fact that my allergies tend to be worse in the morning.
About six months into online teaching, I discovered blue light filtering glasses from Zenni, which I think have really made a difference! (Psst - you can get $5 off a pair of glasses with my referral code by clicking here). I also make more of a concerted effort now to rest my eyes from screens for a few hours after teaching, and limit my blue light intake throughout the day. Other things that have helped are wearing glasses instead of contacts, not wearing makeup, closing my eyes for a few moments in between classes, and getting up early enough to shower before I start teaching. In the winter especially, I use a light therapy lamp to help myself feel more awake.
TAKING CARE OF MY VOICE
It sounds silly now, but I hadn’t realized how important my voice would be for every aspect of this job! When I first started, my voice would be very hoarse by the time I was finished teaching, even just from a few hours of speaking at a normal volume. During most lessons I sing, change the speed and tone and volume of my voice for variety and pronunciation practice, make silly voices, etc., which quickly adds up! I have started paying much more attention to how my voice feels, and researching ways to keep it healthy, like doing little warm-ups before I start, using my breath to support my voice, and keeping a humidifier in my teaching space.
I didn’t anticipate that working online could cause fatigue just like any other job! I’ve actually never really had a “desk” job before, and I’m used to working with kids in more active environments. Teaching online results in a different kind of fatigue for me, where my upper body and neck feel sore and my lower body and legs feel restless or fall asleep. My arms get a mini workout every morning from all the TPR, and my legs get tired from sitting in the same position. I’m still figuring out ways to manage this, but I try to work in much more physical activity throughout the rest of the day, teach from different positions, and do little ankle or calf movements while I’m teaching. I also try to resist the temptation to sit back during my breaks and take a walk around the room or do some stretches instead. I have tried teaching everywhere from my yoga mat to the couch. I’d really love to try a standing desk!
FEWER PROPS, BETTER TECH
When I first started, I really focused on the props and rewards and decorations side of things rather than the tech, which I feel like I’m still figuring out over time as requirements change or as I understand my own preferences better. I got lucky and already owned a touchscreen laptop, which ended up being so incredibly helpful for writing and drawing and circling on the slides! I don’t have an iPad, so my laptop is the only way I teach. I don’t know what I would do without the touchscreen feature!
I quickly learned the importance of having good lighting, a comfortable headset with a mute button, backup power and backup wifi, a way to cool down my laptop, and a digital camera for good profile photos/intro video. I have heard really good things about a selfie ring light and an external webcam, as well. I think having a more professional looking photo helped me get bookings in the beginning, so I really recommend borrowing a digital camera or having a friend take photos when you start, if you can! Public libraries are also a good place to look for tech to borrow for the interview or setup process.
CONNECTING WITH STUDENTS
I had heard teachers talk about this before I started, but I honestly never expected that I would feel so connected to students I’ve never seen in person! I am so grateful for this chance to meet so many different students and hear about their lives and experiences. It has really broadened my worldview and continues to be one of the best parts of my day.
Thanks for reading! I would love to hear what surprises you about working online. Let me know on Instagram!