Online Teaching or Classroom Teaching?
What are you more suited to – online teaching or classroom teaching?
Here we’ll delve into the ins and outs, and compare online teaching with classroom teaching…
So, you’ve got your TEFL – now what?
The world is your oyster. But where do you start – and how?
Before we get to student’s ages and ability levels, there’s a major thing to decide – do you want to teach online or in the classroom?
Whilst a TEFL course has given many the freedom to travel and live in other countries, covid has severely impacted those options. Teaching from home has given many another type of freedom – to work safely, set their own hours and enjoy the independence of self-employment. All whilst making rewarding contribution to the future of young minds.
Where and how you choose to teach is very much going to depend on you, your skills, personality type and ultimately, what you enjoy. I have done both, so I will outline here the pros and cons of teaching online versus classroom teaching.
Teaching in a Classroom
Teaching in a classroom typically involves being employed by a school or other educational establishment.
They set the rules and you (ideally) abide by them.
Typically you’ll be faced with a class, the size of which will vary from school to school. So expect a sea of faces. Some teachers view teaching very much as delivering a “performance”. After all, keeping a large group of young students quiet and interested is no mean feat.
With a class of rowdy students, teaching skills can sometimes feel of secondary importance to behaviour management skills.
Lessons and Lesson Plans
If you’re lucky, the school will provide the teaching materials and details of what they expect you to cover, in what timescale. Depending on which school you’re at, the amount of structure that’s set up can vary widely. Ditto for the teaching materials provided.
You might enjoy planning all your lessons from scratch, or even dare to ad-lib. Alternatively you might prefer to be given all the material and simply deliver the class. Make sure you’ve got a good idea of the level of lesson planning you’ll be doing before you join, so there are no nasty surprises.
Some schools (including mine) require lesson plans to be submitted each week for their perusal.
Social and Teaching Support
A major advantage of teaching in a classroom in a new country is the social side. You’ll become rapidly acquainted with both local and expat teaching staff, some of whom might become friends for life. Whether you need teaching advice or want to know where’s good to eat locally, someone will likely be happy to help.
Sometimes you may be given a teaching assistant. They can help to support you by keeping the class quiet, clarifying instructions or communicating other fundamentals – if their English is sufficient. Generally, they should not be regarded as a translator or a substitute for your communication skills.
Their role is also likely to involve feeding back to the the headteacher how the class is responding to you.
The Classroom and Behaviour
If you enjoy interacting with children en mass, teaching in a classroom certainly provides a great environment for being truly involved with the kids. Naturally, there’s a lot more scope for interacting with kids meaningfully in person, without the limitations of being behind a screen. Be ready to get creative!
The other side of this is the challenge of behaviour management, noise, and kids pouncing on you at any time of day you’re in school. Or indeed out of school, minding your own business walking around town. There is no escape!
For teachers working in schools, work is rarely over when the class finishes. In addition to lesson plans, marking, report writing, parents evenings and tests, ensure you find out about other activities you may be obligated to do. For example, the occasional weekend activity or school outing, sports days, parents’ evenings, local and national events that the school celebrates and welcome days for prospective new students. These can all add up over the course of the year.
For many teachers, this is a great way of bonding with the kids and having fun in a less formal environment. For others it’s an unwanted encroachment of their free time.
In many ways, teaching online is the exact opposite of teaching in a classroom. Although some online platforms offer group classes, one-to-one is more common. And I’ve found the teaching skills required are very different teaching one-to-one, compared to group classes.
Teaching online typically involves being self-employed. Whilst this comes with a degree of responsibility, the freedom of being able to work your own hours and generally be left to your own devices (excuse pun) can often outweigh the obligatory tax return and initial effort you might need to put in to learn the ropes and attract students.
So, I’ll be talking predominantly about my experience with the Palfish Official Kids Course here. Other online teaching platforms will likely be similar – find out before you commit.
For full details of everything you need to know about teaching with Palfish…
Check out my feature Teach English Online With Palfish.
Palfish provide all the teaching material. By that, I mean you’ll be given a set of (usually) 20 – 30 short slides to teach for each 25 minute class. You soon get familiar with the format, which involves students circling, tracing, clicking, colouring and dragging things on the screen, in addition to reading, speaking and listening practice. There’s normally a song or two as well to beak up the learning!
Unlike teaching in a real classroom, you’ve generally only got one kid to teach here! Mum, Dad or a brother or sister could be lurking in the background too. Parents can be helpful in keeping their children focussed, encouraging them and translating. Occasionally they are less helpful and try to take over teaching.
Writing in class is minimal – the kids get homework. Palfish staff mark this so you don’t need to get involved.
Most students have a fairly basic level of English so once you get familiar with the slide format, lesson prep time is usually minimal. There’s still plenty of scope for getting creative with your props and lesson delivery if you wish to though!
Palfish give you 100 yuan (approx $15) towards props once they accept you. Knock yourself out with some flashcards, stuffed animals and/or puppets to keep the kids entertained. It’s useful to have props of different shapes and colours since these are recurring topics you’ll be teaching.
Hint: My flashcards of shapes and large colour-card are my two most commonly used props. Animals and fruit are super-useful too. (Either pictures or real ones!)
As a travelling teacher, I spent my yuan on some thin card for flashcards and got myself a small tripod and lightweight tablet stand. I also bought two small stuffed animals to entice the littl’uns.
Social and Teaching Support
Working online can seem to lack a personal side. Firstly, you’re probably never going to meet your boss. Or speak on the phone, or even email if the platform is app-based. This seemed very strange to me at first.
Every new job, whether employed or self-employed, typically requires a certain amount of extra effort to learn the ropes. When you’re starting out teaching online, this is even more true. Being proactive in getting acquainted with everything can save some stress later and get you off on the right path.
Teaching English Online With Palfish is easy enough to do as there are plenty of support networks in place. For example, you’re allocated an admin and a mentor, given access to training material within the Palfish app and you have access to further support groups for different aspects of teaching. You can join as few or as many as you like.
The Classroom and Behaviour
Thankfully, behavioural problems are less of an issue online, mainly as you usually only teach one kid at a time. With parents paying considerable money for them to have these classes, the child is usually motivated and focussed.
Chinese kids are probably some of the best-behaved children in the world. Additionally, all classes are recorded and accessible to you, the parent/kid and Palfish on replay. You can report major issues during class, or report other issues afterwards to the parent and / or Palfish.
Teaching one-to-one means it’s much easier to identify a student’s strengths and weaknesses and tailor the lessons to their needs. (Usually this is within the scope of the current lesson you are allocated to teach.) For me, this is a much more rewarding way to teach. I feel I can really make a difference by focussing on an individual student, without the distraction of managing a whole class’ behaviour and trying to cater to all students’ needs.
With no significant lesson prep to do, the amount of time you need to spend working outside of teaching time is fairly low.
However, it’s important to familiarise yourself with the slides prior to teaching. Naturally this takes a little time when you’re new and it’s well worth investing time into training. By proving your teaching skills early on, you may be be able to build up your student numbers faster.
Additionally Palfish require you to fill in feedback after class. For most classes, you are given a form where you click on the words/sentences the student did well / badly on and select a star rating for their comprehension, focus and attitude.
Every 10 classes, the student will have an assessment where you’ll have to complete more detailed feedback. Once you’ve done this a few times, it’s easy to write a template which you can adapt for a specific student.
A Note on Teaching During Covid…
During these pandemic times, it’s worth noting that school closures may affect your income, depending on where you are based and the covid situation. Whilst some teachers may be asked to teach their existing students online instead, others could find themselves out of work or working reduced hours for reduced pay.
Additionally if you have pre-existing medical conditions or are concerned about catching covid, this might not be the ideal time to teach in a classroom. Let’s face it – kids are full of bugs at the best of times. Although I rarely get ill, especially in hot countries, I caught a sore throat and a cough at least twice during my 4.5 stint teaching in Thailand. This is NOT normal for me and other teachers reported the same. Thankfully this was pre-covid so no-one panicked. Even so, it’s not much fun trying to teach when you’re not feeling 100%
Teaching online however poses little threat to health or income. Last year, bookings soared as many students’ schools closed, so parents booked extra English classes for them. Naturally you can’t catch covid through your tablet screen, so when your student logs on looking worse for wear and coughing their way through class, you can breathe easy knowing you can’t catch it, or anything else, from them!
Summary of “Online Teaching or Classroom Teaching”
Here we have compared online teaching with classroom teaching. Whether you choose to teach online or in a classroom is a personal decision. Your personality type and skills mean you’re likely to favour one or the other. Is it important for you to immerse yourself in all aspects of school life and build close meaningful relationships with colleagues and students? Do you prefer teaching a large group of students?
Or do you favour more independence, the freedom to set your own hours and work from anywhere? Do you prefer to focus on an individual student in a lesson?
For details of Palfish pay, how to apply and to find out more about what it’s like to Teach English Online with Palfish, check out my detailed feature! Best of all, I will personally help you if you join through my link.
I hope this article helps you to identify which would suit you better. Thanks for reading!
Interested in Teaching English as a Second Language?
Many schools and Online Companies require / prefer you to have completed a TEFL course or similar.
If you don’t have one yet, check out my article, Want an TEFL course? for further details.